|Calais: Rodin's sculpted group Les Bourgeois de Calais in front of the fancy, red-brick hôtel de ville (town hall).|
In July 2013 I walked for three days along the old pilgrim route of the Via Francigena. I began in Canterbury, took a cross-Channel ferry from Dover to Calais, then followed the Canal de Calais to Guînes, where I camped at the 5-star campsite, la Bien Assise — free to pilgrims. However, because of various problems, I returned home, vowing to complete the 1000 km trek to the Italian border another time. Just over a year later I fulfilled that vow. And now my vow is to carry on through Italy to Rome — a momentous project for a future year. But back to this year's pilgrimage, from Guînes to the Great St Bernard Pass . . .
|The hôtel de ville at Guînes, which overlooks Place Foch. A market was in full swing, and I'm a big fan of markets, so I spent a while there. I remember the stalls of cheap clothes and jewellery, the speciality cheeses, the fish, the horse-meat sausages, the two black evangelists selling Christian CDs and the old crone selling her garden produce from the back of a van. Guînes is famous as the site of the Field of the Cloth of Gold, where Henry VIII of England met King Francis I of France in June 1520 to seal a bond of friendship (though the two countries were at war again two years later).|
I set off on 24 July, heading for Guînes on train, ferry and bus. It was a lovely, warm day, and everything seemed so much better than last year: I was free of ailments, I had a lighter backpack, I was given a much better pitch on the campsite (free again) and the weather was not as punishingly hot. Despite the drunken antics of an English couple on the campsite, I did manage a little sleep, and was packed and ready by 9 am, eagerly anticipating the first day's walk . . .
|Pleasant countryside between Guînes and the Forêt de Guînes.|
I skirted fields of wheat, beans and potatoes, crossed the TGR railway line and had a mid-morning open-air brunch at the edge of the Forêt de Guînes . . .
|Picnic site in the Forêt de Guînes.|
I entered the forest, escaping a busload of schoolchildren who had come for a picnic and 'educative' games . . .
|Err . . . Is it left or right?|
Although in this department of Pas-de-Calais I did come across 'Via Francigena' signs, they seemed to be randomly placed, and often pointed in a quite different direction from the route described in my guidebook (The Via Francigena — Canterbury to Rome 1: Canterbury to the Great St Bernard Pass by Alison Raju). More on the inadequacies of signposts and the ambiguities of guidebooks later . . .
|On the ridge to Licques.|
Very soon, at le Mât, I survived my worst 'dog experience' of the whole trip. A vicious dog howled at me as I went by, then jumped through a hole in the gate, chain at full stretch. His companion, however, was loose, and started to chase me down the road, teeth bared aggressively. Luckily at that point an unkempt, eccentric-looking owner emerged from a tumbledown cottage and managed to exert some control . . .
On the ridge to Licques I found the countryside prettier and hillier than expected, with a narrow, wooded valley to the left and a wide view of hamlets and farmland to the right . . .
I surprised a green woodpecker, and two deer with black rumps, then came down from the ridge, passing this combine harvester trailing dust . . .
|Harvest time in Licques.|
|The Église de la Nativité de Notre Dame in Licques, all that remains of the Premonstratensian abbey founded in 1075.|
|I relax at the campsite in Licques.|