They shut the road through the woods
Seventy years ago.
Weather and rain have undone it again,
And now you would never know
There was once a road through the woods
Before they planted the trees.
It is underneath the coppice and heath,
And the thin anemones …
Rudyard Kipling – The Way through the Woods
My previous night’s sleep had been somewhat intermittent. At around 1pm I awoke to hear a pair of tawny owls amorously calling to each other in the distance. How romantic I thought to myself. Over the next 60 minutes they were joined by a 3rd interloper and proceeded to move closer and closer to my tent until they decided to take up station for the night on a tree branch directly above my tent, thereafter making an unholy racket for what seemed like an eternity!
Eventually after I’d grabbed a few hours sleep, bleary eyed I emerged from my tent and ambled over to the washroom for a shower, hoping that I wasn’t going to be faced with a repeat of my experience at the Pitton campsite, a fortnight previous….
Call me a wimp, but I’m not a huge fan of cold showers at 7am in the morning! Camping la Bien Assise has many things going for it, sadly warm water at the crack of dawn isn’t one of them! It was Pitton all over again!
Things cheered up considerably when a foray into Gûines in search of breakfast (pain chocolat) and lunch (baguette) was amply rewarded. In rural France the local supermarkets may have moved out of town, but so far, everywhere I have visited has had at least one boulangerie.
It is a sobering thought that until a little over 500 years ago, Gûines was English – part of the English Pale which comprised Calais and the surrounding countryside. The statue to the Duc de Guise in Gûine’s town square commemorates the liberation of the town from the English in 1558. Calais fell the same year. Queen Mary was said to have died with Calais inscribed on her heart such was the shock and anguish in England when Calais fell to the French.
For over 200 years from the Battle if Crécy in 1346, Calais had been a valuable source of taxation for English monarchs as the bulk of English wool was exported through the Calais Staple. Calais sent two MPs to Parliament and amongst the luminaries who were in charge of the Calais Staple, were Dick Whittington, who went on to become Mayor of London three times.
The Forest of Gûines, through which I walked for a good hour in the morning,was full of weekend walkers and trail bikers enjoying the late summer sunshine. A couple of joggers passed me and wished me ‘Bon route!’ when I confirmed that I was walking the VF to Rome.
I reached Licques at lunchtime. It was Sunday and the town, dominated by the imposing Abbey of Notre Dame, seemed largely deserted.
Sadly, the brewery, for which it is famous, was closed. I fancied a bottle of La Licquoise to wash down my baguette and turkey sandwich.
The story goes that it was in the 11th century, after four years of war alongside Godefroy de Bouillon during the 1st Crusade, that Raoul the Bearded, lord of Licques and his suzerain Baldwin of Boulogne brought back from the Holy Land the secrets of the La Licquoise.
Sadly I wasn’t able to discover the secrets of La Licquoise and had to settle instead for a pilgrim stamp to add to my growing collection from the town Tabac.
As I headed out from Licques, for some reason my thoughts turned to etymology. What is the difference, if any, between the French words for sheep – Mouton and Brébis? I dimly seemed to remember my French master at school telling me that Brébis referred to a ewe while Mouton was the generic term for sheep.
His name was Mr Murdin and he insisted on calling me ‘Mutton’ ( it rhymed with Dutton). He was a good teacher if somewhat eccentric. At breakfast he insisted on proper English usage. You couldn’t ask for the marmalade, you had to ask for the ‘delicious marmalade’ or the ‘sublime sugar’ before he would pass them to you. “Mutton”, he would say, “would you like another helping of shark infested custard?”. Invariably I would shake my head – I’ve never been a fan of banana custard!
As I slogged up the hill from Licques in the heat of the early afternoon, my eye was caught by a stone memorial by the side of the road. The inscription read:
A la memoir de Madame René Lacoche née Christianne Maguin. Tué en ces lieux par un V.1. Le 23 Âout 1944. A l’age de 23 ans.
It was a sobering reminder of the grim reality of war and its seemingly random collateral damage.
The V.1 bomb or doodlebugs as they were known, were introduced by the Germans during the final 12 months of WW2 after the Allied D-Day landings in June 1944. I can remember my mother recounting the terrifying experience of the whine of the Doodlebug cutting out and the minute’s silence before the ensuing explosion and the obliteration of her bedroom window.
Thankfully she survived to tell the tale, but many, including Madame René Locoche, weren’t as lucky. Now just a solitary roadside memorial records their random and untimely death.
There were flashes of roadside colour as I entered the tiny hamlets of Yeuse – manicured roses and Californian daisies brightening the late summer burnt umber landscape.
And then suddenly on the ridge ahead of me, loomed the ruins of the Chapel of Saint Louis in Guèmy.
On a clear day they say you can see the coast of England 70km away. Not today though! Built in the 16th century by Anthony the Bastard ( illegitimate son of Philip the Good Duke of Burgundy) the chapel of Saint Louis has long been the subject of local folklore with some claiming that it was once a site where Druids worshipped.
It was late afternoon by the time I finally made it to Tournehem-sur-la-hem ( which sounds and originally was Flemish) and sought out my lodging for the night chez Madame Lysensoone. I tracked her house down without much of a problem and was welcomed in by the kindly proprietaire and her in laws who were visiting from St Omer.
No sooner had I been given a whistle stop tour of the house and garden than two things happened in close succession. First another pilgrim and her dog ‘Ipso’ arrived and then a swarm of wild bees materialised and set up shop in a tree in the garden right outside the kitchen!
As nobody seemed either able or willing to speak English I was forced to wheel out my extremely rusty French, struggling to remember that ‘saignant’ meant that I wanted my steak done rare and numerous other bits of obscure vocab that had been in hibernation since my O levels nearly 40 years ago!
After a hot shower, an evening meal of steak and chips, cold beer and a cheese plate I was feeling distinctly mellow. It was all that a ravenous pilgrim could ask for after another day on the road to Rome!