Saint-Valery-sur-Somme and Le Crotoy
For the four nights that we stayed in Saint Valery, Catharina Elisabeth remained rafted up to the cruiser, as no other spaces along the pontoon ever opened up and we had confirmed the first day that it would be no problem for our neighbours on Sentor who planned to be there longer than us (despite the posted 72 hour limit).
So every day, we walked into town, accompanied by the well-travelled Panache and explored around.
Saint-Valery-sur-Somme is situated on the coast, next to the picturesque Baie de Somme at the mouth of the river Somme. At one time, this was a seaside resort just for the wealthy, which is still clear to see from the large, beautifully-maintained houses that line the bay. Now of course, it is a popular resort for everyone with some of these houses set up as holiday apartments and others as restaurants. This pretty town supports some 3,000 residents and is host to a thriving tourist industry. As it was still summer holidays in France, the whole area was pretty packed.
While the day started off very wet, it soon brightened up and we decided that an afternoon walk through the town was in order, to be followed by the treat of a meal in a restaurant. We made our way in, dodging the steam train as it crossed our path, and started exploring.
One claim that St Valery has to fame is that it was from this port that William the Conqueror departed on the evening of September the 27th 1066 to invade Saxon England.
There is a monument just as you enter the town, several other artefacts in other parts and, of course, plenty of tourist trinkets celebrating the town’s contribution to English history.
When the tide is out, it is possible to walk across the bay from Saint-Valery-sur-Somme to Le Crotoy (and back again). While some people choose to make their own way across the marshland, there are also guided tours. Walkers are supposed to register their intent to make the journey, and helicopters circle overhead as the tide begins to come in again, so any strays can be rounded up and returned safely. We all chose to enjoy watching others make the two-hour crossing. Some activities are better observed than undertaken.
At the far end of the town, there is still the remains of a magnificent mediaeval village, that cloaks the steep hill that bore the old fortress.
Here we found ourselves walking – nay climbing – steep cobbled streets framed on each side with an endless variety of endearing and colourful cottages, adorned with bright flowers growing up the walls.
For Lisette it was very reminiscent of childhood holidays in Cornwall on the south-west coast of England.
We continued on to the mediaeval part of the town and found ourselves in front of an old church.
Inside, you could clearly see the influence of the fishing history of these coastal villages with the interior of the church decorated with exquisite models of ships.
We then walked around the old part of town, through the intermittent remains of the fortifications
that looked down on the windswept shore and across to Le Crotoy.
At the highest point was a memorial that reminded us that we were in a fishing town and that making a living from the North Sea was and is a dangerous business.
We made our way back down to the beach and rewarded ourselves with a beer before walking back along the front where we had a very pleasant meal in one of the many restaurants.
The next day, it was time for Rebecca and Michel to depart – but not before a bit of excitement with the neighbours.
A few boats upstream from us was a French-flagged cruiser. Not terribly large, it was covered with all sorts of paraphernalia, festooned with fenders, complete with a large watertank on deck and a trailing dinghy.
It was clearly the home of the elderly man and woman on board. They had three small dogs that they would walk periodically. The day before, there was a loud shouting match going on early in the morning between the French man and a passerby who was walking his dog. Both were furious but the Frenchman was brandishing a stick at the passerby. So, the next day, Ian returned from a short walk to the upstream bridge to find the local gendarmes interviewing some of the folks in boats moored to the pontoon – apparently, there had been another argument and someone must have complained.
Nothing seemed to transpire and the “Angry Frenchman” as we had dubbed him, seemed not to be around. We will meet him again.
Later in the morning, it was time for Michel, Rebecca and Panache to leave us and return home to their own beautiful barge.
We waved goodbye to them and walked back into town with the aim of taking the little steam train around the bay to Le Crotoy. The changeable weather was moving from light rain to sun, so there was the promise of a pleasant remainder of the day. It turned out to be a very full day, so we’ll cover the rest of our time on the coast in the next blog.