Tag Archives: Chateaux de Tourelles

Weekly Photo Challenge: Door to Abbeyville Cathedral

Saint Vulfran Collegiate Church Abbeville France

Guidebooks say that Abbeville was once an attractive place but it was destroyed in the German blitzkrieg of 1940 when the town was reduced to rubble as the German Panzer divisions advanced towards the English Channel but I have to say that I found the rebuilt modern town to be very attractive itself, so attractive as it happens that I can only begin to imagine just how picturesque the original town might once have been.

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Northern France, Montreuil-Sur-Mer (Not Near The Sea)

Montreuil-Sur-Mer Post Card

Having abandoned plans to carry on south to the city of Amiens we now plotted our route back with the intention of stopping off for a short while in the town of Montreuil.

The pretty little town, which was one of the settings for the Victor Hugo book ‘Les Misérables’ about the turbulent years of the Napoleonic Empire and the 1830 revolution,  is officially called Montreuil-Sur-Mer but this now seems rather inappropriate as the sea is actually some considerable distance away from the town as it has retreated a few kilometres to the west.

Montreuil was once an important strategic town on the English Channel but by the nineteenth century after the sea had withdrawn over ten miles away which meant getting a boat in the water was becoming increasingly difficult it had become a sleepy medieval town of no real importance except for passengers on the coaching road from Calais to Paris.

It became important again during the First-World-War when Montreuil became the headquarters of the British Army in France.  Army bigwigs seem to have a talent for finding nice places for themselves and General Haig was no exception and quartered himself and his staff in the nearby Château de Beaurepaire. A statue commemorating his stay is outside the theatre on the Place Charles de Gaulle but it isn’t the original because during the German occupation of the town during the Second World War, the statue was taken down. It was never found and is thought to have been melted down for its metal content so it was rebuilt in the 1950s using the sculptor’s original mould, which had luckily survived.

Montreuil-Sur-Mer old town walls

We parked in the large attractive town square near the statue and went for a long raking walk around the walls and battlements that surround the town.  The weather was warm and we enjoyed good views across the surrounding countryside.  From the top of the ramparts which circle the town there are splendid vistas across the surrounding countryside.  A river meandered through the valley and fresh bales of golden hay shimmered in the distance as swallows swooped theatrically close to the vertical stone battlements.  An old man behind the wall attended his abundant allotment, stooped to pick a marrow the size of a rugby ball and families ambled at an appropriately slow pace along the top of the battlement walls.

The scene had a timeless grace that I remembered and I actually never tire of going back.

Eventually we turned away from the old defensive walls and strolled back into the town through the twisting uneven lanes. The walk returned us to the centre of the classic French market town and we walked through its attractive streets with its lively fountains and vibrant floral displays, its elegant shops, tempting chocolatiers and patisseries, the chattering customers in the pavement restaurants and cafés, its estate agents with properties that had prices way beyond my budget and we finished back in the town square right next to a convenient bar where we declared it time for a beer.

After half an hour or so sitting in the warm sunshine we took a scenic route back to the hotel through unremarkable but non-the-less quite beautiful countryside insisting first, and for no particular reason, on looking for the cottage that we had stayed at a couple of years previously at the village of Longvilliers.

It hadn’t changed and the neighbour who had befriended my granddaughter was working as usual in his vegetable patch.  I opened the window and shouted to him ‘Bonjour Camille’ but he didn’t recognise me of course and he probably spent the rest of the day wondering who the English strangers were who drove by his house and knew his name.

Camille Longvilliers France

Ignoring the motorway toll road we took a tortuously twisting route back to the hotel along precariously narrow roads and through unremarkable but non-the-less quite beautiful countryside.  I have grown to really appreciate this part of France and think it sad that most people roar past it as quickly as they can on the autoroute from Calais heading to the south. Here there were soaring wind turbines, quaint villages, sun-dappled fields, tranquil streams gliding at their own gentle pace, and fields full of immaculate dairy cows all plump and sleek and so obviously contented.

Back at the Chateaux de Tourelles we opened our own personal bar and had two or three aperitifs at supermarket prices before making our way down to the terrace for a final drink at hotel prices and then making our selections from the excellent menu and then enjoying a leisurely evening meal in the dining room.

It had been a good day, Abbeville had surprised me but Montreuil-Sur-Mer had been everything that I remembered and expected.  The weather had been good and prospects looked good for the next day when we planned to visit Boulogne-Sur-Mer which, unlike Montreuil, really is next to the sea.

Longvilliers Northern France

Northern France, Abbeville and The Battles of Crécy and The Somme

Picardy Artois Postcard Map

When I woke in the morning the sun was reluctantly peeking through a veil of high thin cloud, the day looked promising and I thought how good it was to be on holiday once again with my brother, the World’s undisputed early morning farting champion!

The Chateaux had served a wonderful evening meal and after a final drink we had slept for a few hours until they served an equally wonderful breakfast and when that was finished at around mid morning we set off for a drive south towards the city of Amiens but intending first to stop at the town of Abbeville where we arrived at around midday.

Abbeville has a lot of nearby military history.  It was here in 1939 that an Anglo-French conference shamefully decided that it was too late to send assistance to Poland in the face of Nazi aggression and then, five years later, was ironically liberated by a division of the Polish army in 1944.

As we drove we passed nearby the site of the Battle of Crécy that took place on 26th August 1346 and was one of the most important battles of the Hundred Years’ War. 

The English Knights knew the importance of being willing to fight dismounted elbow to elbow with the pike men and archers, a tactic which was learned from the earlier Saxons and also by their battles with the Scots from whom they learned tactical flexibility and the adaptation to difficult terrain and this made Edward III’s army extremely powerful, even when outnumbered by the French forces by an estimated two to one.

History makes many exaggerated claims about the size of armies and number of casualties but modern estimates say that as many as forty thousand soldiers fought in the battle and although it was an overwhelming victory for the English, as few as two and a half thousand men were killed (lots more wounded and permanently maimed obviously) and this pales into almost insignificance compared to the estimated one million soldiers who were killed or wounded in the more recent World-War-One Battle of The Somme in 1916 fought in the mud and the trenches just a few miles east of Abbeville.

Saint Vulfran Collegiate Church Abbeville France

The sun was shining as we drove into the town and parked the car and then we just strolled along the streets and around the main square, the Place de Jacobins, a name which betrayed the socialist and revolutionary heritage of the town and indeed only fifty kilometres or so away is the town of Arras, the home town of the French Revolutionary leader and dictator (some say monster) Maximilien François Marie Isidore de Robespierre, the architect and gleeful exponent of the French Revolutionary Terror.

Guidebooks say that Abbeville was once an attractive place but it was destroyed in the German blitzkrieg of 1940 when the town was reduced to rubble as the German Panzer divisions advanced towards the English Channel but I have to say that I found the rebuilt modern town to be very attractive itself, so attractive as it happens that I can only begin to imagine just how picturesque the original town might once have been.

And this is an important point – In France and Germany war damaged towns and cities were rebuilt in a traditional way with buildings that recreated the spirit of the old communities whereas in England our heritage was swept away by the town planners of the 1960s who approved the destruction of anything of value and replacement with concrete and ugliness which condemns English towns for the next couple of hundred years or so to all look the same whereas in France they have recaptured and preserved their individual identity.

So we stopped for a while at a bar in the square and had a beer and a croque-monsieur which is simply a ham and cheese toastie but which seems to enjoy an almost iconic status here in north-east France.  The sun was shining so we took our time and around about now decided not to continue on to Amiens but to take a leisurely drive back to Boulogne but this time avoiding the motorways and the tolls that had already cost us an eye-watering, knee-buckling, stomach churning €7.90 on the way down.

Before we left there was one last thing to do and that was to visit the impressive Saint Vulfran Collegiate Church that suffered considerable damage in the German offensive of 1940 but managed to avoid total destruction and has today been fully restored. 

And thank goodness for that because it is a flamboyant Gothic masterpiece with all the characteristic elements of this architectural style: flying buttresses and pinnacles on either side of the nave, stone filigree, rose windows and large window tracery that along with gargoyles and statues depicting the various guilds of the town decorate the exterior of the church. 

I was left uplifted with the thought that sensitive reconstruction can restore the past and that despite the worst deeds of man history will always prevail.  I really liked Abbeville!

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