Saint-Valery-sur-Somme to Abbeville
Back up the Canal du duc d’
Although we had had such a great time at Saint-Valery-sur-Somme, we really did have to leave to begin the return journey along the Somme. But our regret at moving on was tempered by the knowledge that we were due to meet up with our next guests in just a few days.
As instructed, we called the Somme Department in the morning to say Catharina Elisabeth was ready to leave. We knew the two Belgian boats were also planning to cruise at the same time, and that we were all headed back to Abbeville for the night. We checked in with them, so we all knew that we would be sharing the mooring at Abbeville. Good.
The ‘angry Frenchman’ as he had become known, had left the day before, so we thought we were clear of him. However, we were told by one of the guys tasked with opening all of the bridges for us that a fourth boat would be meeting up with us along the route (having only gone a little way along the river the day before). He went on to say that it was a grumpy fellow, and when we realised we were all talking about the same person, the Somme guy couldn’t help himself: “He is no Frenchman!”
We would hate for anyone reading this to think we thought this was typical of the French. We have never before encountered a grumpy French man or woman. Everyone is always so very friendly and helpful, and when Lisette tests her knowledge of the French language with the natives, it has never been met with anything other than extreme politeness and a willingness to help.
So off we went in a convoy of three until we came up to the French boat, and then the four of us had a pleasant enough run back towards the Abbeville lock.
We were not sure how this would play out but expected they would take through two boats at a time. So we held back and were planning on mooring to the temporary waiting pontoon until the éclusiers called for us to join the others in the pond. Obviously, all four boats were not going to fit in the lock chamber, so they got the other three snugged in with ropes around bollards, left open the middle gates, and Catharina Elisabeth was waved into the lower chamber and did the floating-around-under-control thing that Ian had managed beautifully on several previous occasions. The lock filled slowly, and without further ado, we were all spat out for the final few hundred metres along the canal to the landing pontoon.
We had chatted with the two Belgian boats before we left that morning, and knew that they were planning on staying overnight at Abbeville.
When we arrived, the pontoon was almost empty, except right at the upstream end there was a service boat. So, the first Belgian cruiser would snug in behind that boat? Right? Wrong. The feeble-minded twit moored almost at the start of the pontoon. Then his equally clueless buddy moored upstream of him, leaving a sizable gap. Last, the Angry Frenchman cruised up to the remaining space and, give him his due, tucked his boat right behind the service boat at the far end of the pontoon. Of course, there now was no room for anything other than a tinny on the pontoon. (‘Tinny’ or ‘tinnie’: in Aussie slang, this is a small, non-powered tin boat. Not to be confused with ‘tinny’ or ‘tinnie’ which in New Zealand can be a small package of cannabis wrapped in tin foil.)
We watched this idiotic behaviour with amazement. So Lisette gathered up her bow ropes and called out to them – “do you want to move forwards or backwards along the pontoon?” Because otherwise, we were coming in to raft up against them They, somewhat sheepishly, scurried around, untying ropes and pulling their cruisers up towards the Angry Frenchman and closer together, leaving us with a little over 15 metres of pontoon for our 20 metres of barge. Lisette easily got a bow rope on, Ian brought Catharina in neatly towards the pontoon and Lisette dropped the stern spud pole. That, folks, is how it should be done! We ended up with about 3/4 of Catharina against the mooring with the spud pole to keep us held in place. As it happened there was a post we could have tied up Catharina’s stern to if we’d wanted. What a couple of prats! They moved on next morning and we never saw them again thankfully.
Also, after a grumpy “Who are you?” in French as a response to our greeting of “Bonjour” when we walked past his boat, the Angry Frenchman also left the next day, leaving Catharina alone on the quay.
With the afternoon available, we hopped on the bikes and toured some of the places of interest at Abbeville.
The first stop was just at the end of the quay. Here was the Monument La Barre. Rich in significance, it memorialises the execution of a local knight in 1776 for merely “walking twenty-five paces from a procession without taking off his hat, which he had on his head, without kneeling down, to have sung an impious song …” and other crimes such as quoting from Voltaire. This 18-year-old was sentenced to have his bones crushed, right hand and tongue torn off and head cut off. This is depicted in the plaque (which was saved from destruction during WW1 when, on its way to being melted, it was stolen and hidden in a stream).
Pretty steep for mocking a religious group – however, there were also significant social and political dimensions to his ‘crime’. Sections of French society thought the same and as early as 1792 the event was already being commemorated as a stand against religious superstition. Eventually, statues were erected in Paris and this monument created in 1907. There was considerable resistance to its establishment and it required a march of 15,000 demonstrators from all over France arriving in Abbeville to ensure its inauguration. It was, and remains, a focal point for annual rallies for secularism and free-thinking.
Next stop was the Gardens at Emonville. Originally the home of the botanist Arthur Foucques and designed by the architect of the Louvre, it was eventually passed to the town of Abbeville which now maintains the gardens and the greenhouses. The park is dotted with sculptures, ponds, statues and beautifully maintained garden beds. It’s quite extensive and leads to the monastery dating mainly from the 17th century, through a series of gateways, each leading into another garden with a different theme. We thoroughly enjoyed a long, relaxed saunter through the jardin.
We next visited the church of Saint-Sépulchre erected on the site where knights gathered at the end of 11th century before departing on the first crusade to the Holy Land.
Most of the church dates from the 15th century
but, following damage in both the first and second world wars, the church now features a recently completed set of stained glass windows that “celebrate the victory of life over anguish, suffering and death.
Heading back towards Catharina, and in the centre of town is the Collegiate church of Saint Vulfran, built between the 15th and 17th centuries on marshy ground and still unfinished. It is described as ‘Flamboyantly gothic’ and its facade is certainly very ornate.
Inside, there were many painted wooden decorations including this very ornate piece.
The church also has one of the more striking vaults that we have seen in a while.
In amongst our touring, it was still necessary to take advantage of opportunities for reprovisioning. There was one of the large hypermarkets on our route and we stopped in for some essentials. There we saw the largest selection of tinned duck products we have ever seen. Ian was paralyzed with indecision by the stupendous range of choice.
Overnight our guests decided to stay an extra day in Paris (who wouldn’t) and then join us by train so we decided to take the bikes for a bit of an excursion to the nearby town on Eaucourt-sur-Somme.
When we had been at the ruined castle in Picquiny we had learnt that is was one of only two ruined, ancient castles on the Somme open to the public – the other was at Eaucourt near Abbeville. So we took off eastwards towards the castle for a mild 7 km cycle.
The route took us through a couple of pretty villages and we had no difficulty in locating the ruins. Although, given the limited structure that was actually standing, you could be forgiven for missing it. (Which we had, apparently cruising right past it a few days earlier, none the wiser.)
In terms of the actual ruins, there really wasn’t much to see. Really there was only the main entrance which had been partially restored.
However, there was plenty of excavation going on, led by staff and students from the nearby Jules Verne University in Amiens. Several visitors were in deep discussion with the staff and there was plenty of historical information around giving us a sense that it had been a more imposing structure in its day.
Sited in a strategic location on the Somme and able to control the traffic up and down the valley, the castle was built in the 12 or 13th century and occupied until the 18th century when it fell into disuse and eventual ruin.
In and around the excavations there were there were a few canvas awnings with some recreations of mediaeval activity – demonstrations of the use of weapons, the making of stained glass, producing tooled leather and making medallions and buttons. There were several school groups milling around, providing ready volunteers for demonstrations, especially for those associated with weapons.
We had a very interesting lesson in stained glass techniques through the ages where the young maid had an excellent grasp of English. Next we took in a demonstration of how molten pewter was used to make buttons and decorations in stone moulds. This chap spoke only in French, but we understood enough to enjoy the session.
When we were about to leave the small compound, we strolled down to the river and found a small but viable pontoon. It was at this point that we realised we had passed this way when we were cruising towards the coast but had not recognised the location at the time. We made a note to look out when we passed this way again in a couple of days.
Next was a very steep bike ride up to see an old windmill high on a hill above the ruins. This was probably the steepest climb since Geraardsbergen. Fortunately, Ian had remembered to attach his battery to the bike today, so we were able to make it to the top without his being severely winded.
There was a restaurant (closed) at the top of this hill and out front, an information board comparing the local, Picardy, variant of French with the official language. That is, of course, one of the additional challenges of dealing with the French language – like many European countries there are strong local dialects and, even as we see here, different grammar and vocabulary.
Guests and Visitors Arrive
Our good Australian friends Deb and Peter duly arrived the following morning at the nearby, and charming, Abbeville train station.
Peter and Deb own Fairhaven (named after where they live on the Victorian surf coast) a tjalk built in 1905. They allow some friends to take her on extended cruises and were about to take over from one group immediately after they left us in a couple of days’ time.
Once we had them settled, chatted about toilets and so forth, we all went into town to have a look around. We brought up the second set of bikes and as we were independent, split up for our afternoon’s touring. Our main objective was the 13th-century belfry and the Musée Bouches-de-Perthes.
There is a bas-relief sculpture at the bottom that commemorates the execution of a local sailor, Emmanuel Ringois, in 1368 for refusing to swear loyalty to the king of England – by being hurled off the top of Dover cliffs into the sea.
While we didn’t take many photos inside this excellent museum and art gallery, we found the collections to be extensive and varied. There are substantial holdings of prehistoric materials, Medieval art and paintings and sculpture up to the modern age. One the striking types of art were carved wooden figures with delicate and ornate workmanship garnished by spectacular painting.
It’s worth remembering that in the 18th and 19th centuries, this town and region was very wealthy and collectors we able to afford (and eventually pass on) significant artworks. Highly recommended.
That evening, Passe Lagom arrived from upstream and rafted up to us for the night. We all had a great time on Catharina’s aft deck swapping stories and future plans. Torild and Nils were continuing on the next morning on their relaxed journey towards the mouth of the Somme.
We were headed off upstream to towards the gorgeous and much-anticipated town of Long.