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Montreuil was once an important strategic town on the English Channel but by the nineteenth century after the sea had withdrawn over ten miles away which meant getting a boat in the water was becoming increasingly difficult it had become a sleepy medieval town of no real importance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