Day 18: Thérouanne to Amettes (19 km) In search of the birthplace of cricket

If the French noblesse had been capable of playing cricket with their peasants, their chateaux would never have been burnt.

G.M.Trevelyan

Having been assured by Alain, the caretaker,that I would be the sole pilgrim staying the night at the gite d’étape ‘Eden, the arrival of Dean came as something of a surprise.

Dean, it transpired, had not booked to stay at the Eden. This was because, he explained to me in a broad mid western drawl, he didn’t speak any French. He was also having problems with his phone as the deal he had signed in the US with his mobile operator, didn’t enable him to make calls in Europe!

Dean, who works as a medical orderly in a prison in Seattle, had been having a tough time of it since starting his walk from ‘CalaiSSE’. Although he had been vaccinated in the US, he didn’t have a QR code, so couldn’t get served at a bar or restaurant. This meant he had to periodically go into a pharmacy and get a lateral flow Covid test. The only problem here, is that these tests are only valid for 2 days!

Dean was also struggling to follow the route – he had got lost several times and couldn’t use a GPS location app because his phone didn’t work! The day ended badly when he came back to the Eden from the supermarket up the road where he had gone to buy his supper, looking rather ashen faced.

“They threw me out before I could buy much, because they were closing at 8pm”, he fumed, “but my phone said it was 7pm”.

Dean from Seattle

I bade him good night and wished him well for the morrow.

On the surface Thérouanne doesn’t have a whole lot going for it. It’s s bit of a one horse town, with heavy traffic constantly rattling the house windows on the high street. But the street sign ‘ Chaussée Brunehaut’ gives a hint of it’s fascinating history.

The Chaussée Brunehaut or Brunhilda’s Way is named after Brunhilda the 6th century Queen of Austrasia. During an extraordinarily eventful life, she oversaw the ‘rehabilitation of the roads’, repairing and renovating many of the Romsn roads which had fallen into a severe state of disrepair following the collapse of the Roman Empire at the beginning of the 5th century.

Brunhilda, the Frankish Queen if Austrasia

After a long life, Brunhilda suffered a grisly death. In 613 AD, tied by her hair and legs to the tail of two galloping horse, she was brutally eviscerated. As a postscript to her colourful life and death, Brunhilda found immortality in Wagner’s Ring Cycle!

Death of Brunhilda

Capital of the Morinie territory, an historic stopover on the road leading from Nemetacum (Arras) to Gesoriacum (Boulogne), Thérouanne was once a flourishing town. Its cathedral could be seen from far and wide, much as Salusbury cathedral today. Sigeric would have found shelter and hospitality here on his journey to Rome in 990 AD.

Centuries passed and Thérouanne became a French enclave in the Netherlands and a favourite stronghold of the French King Francis I ( who met Henry VIII at the Field of the Cloth of Gold in 1520 near Gûines). In 1553, Charles V, the Holy Roman Emperor, decided to destroy Thérouanne. Churches, hospitals, monasteries and the cathedral were all razed to the ground. It was even said that salt was thrown on the fields so that nothing would ever grow again!

Destruction of Thérouanne in 1553

Interestingly in 2019, after an interval of 450 years, Thérouanne appointed a new ‘auxiluary’ bishop, called Jean-Pierre Vuillemin. It is unclear, however, how many services he will be taking each month in Thérouanne as he is based in the Vosges region of France in the diocese of Saint-Dié, over 500km away as the crow flies!

Jean-Pierre Vuillemin, the new bishop of Thérouanne

As I headed out of Thérouanne I was reminded of the French love of fast cars. There was a beauty standing in somebody’s front drive.

Va va vroom!

My first stop of the day after leaving Thérouanne was the pretty village of Liettres (pop 360) which can lay claim to be the home of cricket or ‘criquet’.

Allée de Criquet in Liettres

Now you might have thought that Hambledon or Lords was the birthplace of cricket, but you would be wrong, at least according to the French.

Liettres – the home of cricket?

In 1478, a young man called Estiavannet came across a group of disagreeable people playing an unusual game. It involved “boules” or balls and a wooden post or “criquet”.

According to a letter of grievance to the king, which survives in the French national archives, an argument broke out. One of the players said: “Why are you staring at our ball game?” There was violence. Someone was killed.

This may be the first mention anywhere of the game of cricket, almost a century before the first written record of the game in England (although there are also suggestions that an early form of the game might have been mentioned in 1300).

Early histories of cricket suggest that the game may have begun as a pastime for shepherds in Kent and developed from bowls using a post, which had to be defended with a sheep crook.

This is compatible with the 1478 French account of what may be the first known cricket match – and the first cricket riot.

Did you ever wonder what the French might be for deep backward square leg? The answer is “Barrière oblique côté fermé”. An off-spinner is “un tricoteur” or “knitter”. A leg-spinner is a “tournicoteur” or “prowler”. And a wicket maiden is “une vierge couronnée” (a crowned virgin)

Cricket aficionados will doubtless need no reminding that the French won the silver medal for cricket, on the only occasion it featured in the Summer Olympics when the games were held in Paris in 1900.

England v France cricket match at the 1900 Olympics

Originally, teams representing Belgium, France, Great Britain, and the Netherlands were scheduled to compete in a knockout tournament.

After Belgium and the Netherlands withdrew, this left Great Britain to play France in a one-off match. Neither team was nationally selected: the British side was a touring club, the Devon and Somerset Wanderers, while the French team, the French Athletic Club Union comprised mainly British expatriates living in Paris.

The two-day game commenced on 19 August 1900. Great Britain batted first and scored 117, and bowled France out for 78. Great Britain then scored 145 for 5 in their second innings and declared, setting the hosts a target of 185 to win. The tourists bowled out France for 26 to win the match by 158 runs, a significant margin, but with only five minutes of the match remaining. The Great Britain team was awarded silver medals and the French team bronze medals, together with miniature statues of the Eiffel Tower.

Cricket at the 1900 Olympics

Actually a few English cricket teams have come to Liettres in recent years – a British ‘select’ team from Kent played a match against the French national team on Bastille Day 1998. History doesn’t record who won!

English cricket team at Liettres in 1998

After the excitement of visiting the birthplace of cricket ( le berçeau de criquet) in Liettres, not a huge amount of interest occurred during the rest of the day as I made my way to the village of Amettes, the birthplace of St Benoit Labré, about whom more tomorrow.

There was an interesting looking 15th century château in Liettres but it was privately owned and not open to the public. I was half tempted to wander up the drive, introduce myself as an ex international cricket player (for S.Korea!) and inquire if I could have a private tour. In the end I decided that on balance it might be prudent to err on the side of caution!

Chateau de Liettres

It did occur to me, mid afternoon, that having evaded passport control at Dover and Calais, I might technically be an illegal immigrant!

Post Brexit, UK citizens are restricted to a 90 day visit to any country in the EU. But how does that apply to me when I don’t have a Visa or entry stamp in my passport? Ah well, I’m sure everything will work out well. As my friend from Shrewton, Brian Franklin (who is currently also walking the VF) is fond of saying, “Pilgrims always find a way!”

La Ferme des 2 Tilleuls – my accomodation in Amettes

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