‘Its eyes blaze and with quivering tongue it licks its mouth,which opens wide; the dragon hisses through its gaping jowls. Its monstrous head bristles with bloody crests, the rest of its body skims the boundless air behind’
Jacobius Sylvius – epic poem about the Field of the Cloth of Gold composed in 1520.
For some reason the propriétaire thought there were two people staying the night ( THERE WEREN’T!) and had provided petit dejeuner accordingly! I smiled sweetly and accepted the bounty without demurring – lunch of baguette and nutella/cheese was sorted.
It’s only day 2 of my walk on the VF admittedly, but so far I’ve been pleasantly surprised by how well sign posted the VF/GR145 is. So far I haven’t had to resort to my GPS or IGN maps, and am beginning to wonder whether bringing hard copy maps in addition to not one but two guides to the VF may be erring on the side of overkill!
Leaving Wissant and the Côte d’Opale behind me, my route took me up the Mont de Couple, a 163m high vantage point over the surrounding countryside. The panoramic view from the summit was awe inspiring, tempered slightly by the sign which indicated that it was still 1,284 km (as the crow flies) to Rome and 610 km to Geneva!
I lingered awhile on the summit, and as I did so, a murmuration of starlings suddenly appeared, circling and swooping around the slopes of the Mont de Couple in the fading morning mist.
As I descended from the summit I passed a cohort of lycra clad walkers, leki poles flailing at the double. “Bonjour Monsieur!” they acclaimed gaily as they sailed past. I couldn’t help but be struck by the contrast with the walkers I had passed in Kent, who at worst had ignored me and at best grunted ‘ Youarighthen’, apart from one lady on the outskirts of Wrotham ( pronounced Root’em) who had complimented me on my stick – walking that is!
At this point, I realised that something was missing ( not for the first time on this walk!). It was the crucifix from Pluscarden Abbey that Harry Bucknall had kindly sent me to ensure my safe passage to Rome. Damn, I thought to myself, I must have left it in my room at Chez Edwige in Wissant. There was only one thing to do – contact Claude.
Claude is one of my oldest friends, whom I first met in Korea over 30 years ago. We have travelled together extensively in Asia and Europe and I am the proud godfather of Georges, his trumpet playing son. Now based back in Brussels, we had agreed to rendezvous in Arras and spend a weekend retracing the final steps of my great uncle, Charles Dutton, who lost his life on the Somne aged 26 in 1916 and is commemorated at Thiepval. If anybody could secure the return of my crucifix from the propriétaire of the Chez Edwige in Wissant, it was Claude.
At Caffier, a fairly nondescript village between Wissant and Gûines, something possessed me to enter the church. If I’d been following my guidebook religiously, I would have taken a left turning before reaching the church. But as usual I wasn’t paying attention – mungchacha as they used to call me in Cantonese in Hong Kong – head in the clouds!
As I opened the door to the church I was aware that music was playing – it seemed like a Jacques Brel melody. It was curiously soothing like a siren call. I was immediately overcome with a sense of peace. Whether it was the effigy to La Pucelle (Joan of Arc) who was burnt at the stake as a witch by the English at Rouen in 1431 or the the stained glass windows glinting in the midday sun, I don’t know, but I was overcome by the need to pray.
As I knelt down, I said a prayer for my departed parents and asked their forgiveness for having spent so many years away from home. As the church bells struck midday, a shaft of sunlight came streaming through the stained glass windows and I found myself crying, tears streaming down my cheeks, the first time I had cried for ages.
Before leaving the church, I lit three candles in memory of my father, my mother and Cavell, my father in law. May they rest in peace.
As I left Caffier behind and headed towards the Forest of Guines, I felt curiously light headed, as if a burden had been imperceptibly lifted from my shoulders. For some unknown reason I was overcome with the need to sing. Not a hymn, nor a pop ballad but a folk song from the 18th century – ‘ Over the hills and far away’, popularised by the legendary John Tams when it became the theme tune for the Sharpe TV series in the 1990’s starring Sean Bean!
Here’s forty shillings on the drum
To those who volunteer to come
To ‘list and fight the foe today
Over the Hills and far away.
O’er the hills and o’er the main
Through Flanders, Portugal and Spain.
King George commands and we obey
Over the hills and far away.
As I entered the Forest of Guines I came across another walker, taking a breather. His name was Hans, and he was a Belgian from Ghent walking thr GR128 to Wissant.He loved walking and revealed that he had walked most of the South West coastal path in England.
After a hour or so of walking through the forest, I came to a clearing in the trees in the middle of which was a large column, commemorating the first crossing of the Channel by balloon by Jean-Pierre Blanchard, a French balloonist who accomplished the feat with an American doctor called Jeffries. Their flight from Dover on the 7 January 1785 took an hour and 45 minutes. The column doesn’t reveal the tale of skullduggery ( see separate blog post!) behind the flight!
As so it was on to Gûines – site of the historic meeting between King Henry VIII and the French King Francis I in 1520. Nobody is completely sure where the actual meeting took place, but it was somewhere between modern day Gûines in the English Pale ( whence the expression ‘beyond tgexpale’ is derived!) of Calais and the town of Ardres in France. It was the first post medieval summit where the young English King went to great pains to impress the French King, Henry I, with his power and wealth – hence the description of the meeting as the ‘Field of the Cloth of Gold’.
Masterminded by Henry VIII’s Chancellor, Thomas Wolsey, the summit meeting comprised 18 days of lavish entertainment.
The lavish banquets were accompanied by archery displays and wrestling matches between Breton and Cornish fighters. Moreover, the two young and boisterous royals were naturally drawn to competition once more and in a raucous atmosphere Henry VIII chose to challenge young Francis I to a wrestling match. Losing the match, Henry then challenged Francis to an archery competition.
Whilst the two kings were trying to impress each other with their strength and skill, in the king’s large retinue the women were treated to great banquets, dances and theatre performances.
On 24th June, after many lavish days and nights of celebration, the summit had reached its conclusion and Cardinal Wolsey assembled a great crowd in order to say Mass. At the end of the service, a great awe-inspiring dragon was sent flying through the air. This great kite combined the salamander emblem of Francis I with the Welsh Tudor dragon, and was flown to signify the end of the meeting. All that was left was one further banquet and the exchange of gifts. These expensive tokens included an enamel jewel box given by Francis I to Cardinal Wolsey.
In 1521, only a year after the grand event, Europe appeared once again to be in the midst of battle, with Francis I and the Emperor Charles at loggerheads and England embroiled once more. The alliance looked set to crumble and once again peace in Europe looked to be a distant and unattainable dream.
Another day full of surprises and history. A good day I thought to myself, as I pitched my tent for thr night in the camping La Bien Assise. A good day became even better when the lady at reception smiled and told me that there was no need to pay – camping is free for pilgrims!