09/22/2010, Dieppe-Picquigny-Albert-Vimy, FR
Photo: Vimy Ridge
From Pourville we drove east to the top of the cliffs overlooking Dieppe, where the Canadians staged their disastrous raid of 19 August 1942. From our vantage point high over what was the landing areas, it is difficult to comprehend why this particular spot was chosen, even with the advantage of surprise, which in the case of the Dieppe raid was lost when the assault force was discovered by the German Navy in the middle of the night as it crossed the English Channel. While the lessons learned at Dieppe were certainly applied to the D-Day landings two years later, it is still understandable why the decision to raid Dieppe remains controversial to this day.
From Dieppe we drove along the coast to le Tréport and then inland along the Somme River. Our first stop was at Picquigny, which is where my mother's family originated. Her ancestors crossed the Channel with William the Conqueror, and the name has been anglicised to Pinkney. We decided to check out the the Château de Picquigny, and found the deserted ruins of a splendid old castle, but unfortunately the main door was locked shut. Not to be deterred from checking out ancestral stomping grounds, I looked for alternate entry points, but the walls were simply too high. However, a second and closer examination of the barred gated revealed that it had a large enough gap at the bottom of the door, so I simply stuck my hand under, lifted up on the deadbolt, and voilà! I was in, with Marine hot on my heels immediately wanting to find secret stairways and dungeons. Steph and Judy soon joined us, and we spent the next hour roaming through various rooms, spiral staircases and pitch black vaults, using a headlamp to illuminate the twists and turns in the passageways. I locked up after we left, and Steph suggested that I reclaim the castle in the family name and set up summer residence there.
From Picquigny we drove to Albert, a town that was heavily damaged in the First World War. An iconic symbol of that war was Albert's cathedral, and its steeple that was partially shot away by artillery shells, causing the statue of the Virgin Mary to lean right over. Eventually, the rest of the cathedral was destroyed, but it was painstakingly rebuilt after the war to its original splendour. Next to the cathedral is the Somme 1916 Museum, which actually occupies a 250-metre long tunnel that was first built as shelter against invading Spaniards in the 1400s, and then was rebuilt to serve as an air raid shelter during the Second World War. The museum is stuffed with artefacts from the 1914-1918 War, and one factsheet illustrated that if the dead from all sides of the war were to march four abreast at 120 paces per minute, it would take eighty-one days and nights for them all to pass by.
From Albert we drove north, and one can not help but notice the increasing frequency of Commonwealth War Graves dotting the landscape, the scene of many bloody battles fought to gain a few kilometres of mud in either direction. We arrived finally at Vimy Ridge. This was my fifth visit to the Ridge, and familiarity certainly does not diminish the surge of emotion one feels when one first glimpses what I think is the most physically magnificent of any of the momunents built to commemorate Canada's sacrifices. For emotional impact, only Beaumont-Hamel surpasses Vimy, in my opinion, but I still think every Canadian should visit Vimy. The Vimy monument has been renovated, and the late afternoon sunlight against grey skies in the distance made the Ridge fairly glow. We we treated to a personalised tour of the monument by one of the Canadian guides working there, and we promised the girls to return the next morning for a tour of the tunnels.
09/21/2010, Pourville(Dieppe), FR
Photo: Overlooking Dieppe from the west atop an abandoned German bunker
Today was our dash across the north of France from Bretagne towards Picardie and the Somme region. Our long drive through Rennes, Avranches, Caen, and Le Havre was temporarily halted by a vehicle accident that backed up traffic on the autoroute several kilometres for nearly an hour. While waiting, Judy struck up a conversation with a family who were out of their car walking their dog; it turned out that the husband was a former captain of the sailing vessel "Concordia" (see entry above), and was onboard the "Sorlandet" from Norway to Saint Malo to help orient the crew to working with West Island College's Class Afloat programme. Small world!
We arrived at Pourville on the Channel coast late in the afternoon. Pourville is the next town over from Dieppe, which was also raided by the Canadians in 1942. Pourville first became fashionable in the late 1800's when Monet spent some time there to paint his impressions of the coastline and the Channel.
09/19/2010, Le Mont St-Michel, Saint-Malo, Tréhorenteuc
Photo: the girls at Le Mont St-Michel.
Today we took leave of our friends in St-Agnan and headed east, first to Le Mont St-Michel, and then to Saint-Malo. As this weekend marks "Les Jours de Patrimoine" (Heritage Days), all museums are free, and so both towns were fairly bustling with tourists from far and near. At Saint-Malo, we saw the arrival of the Norweigan tall ship "Sorlandet", which has been chartered by my former school, West Island College, for its "Class Afloat" programme. The "Sorlandet" replaces the "Concordia", which sank last year off Brazil, fortunately with no loss of life. We managed to exchange a few words with the students, including a Nova Scotian at the "Sorlandet's" helm, and found they had just completed their inaugural passage from Norway.
After we left Saint-Malo, we headed south-east and wound up spending the night at a "gîte" in Tréhorenteuc, on the edge of "la fôret Brocéliande". En route, we saw a sign advertising a "festive dinner", and since we were just a little to the left of starving, we decided to check it out. When we arrived at the dinner site, we found a deserted courtyard inside a very old manoir. However, the owner soon materialised to explain that we had unfortunately missed the big dinner as it had been held the day before, and it was evident from the décor still hanging inside the courtyard that it had been quite the affair, with medieval banners on display and enough tables and benches for nearly two hundred. After introductions and a brief explanation of our predicament (no dinner, no place to stay), the owner (Alain) and his family and friends who were still cleaning up the leftovers from the night before promptly offered (a) a beer, (b) to call around and find a place for us to stay, and (c) a tour of the manoir. The original manoir was built by nobility in the 1400's, and the "modern" part of the manoir was built in the mid-1700's. We left with directions to a place to stay and wanting to come back for next year's medieval dinner. We also found out that the Brocéliande Forest is the site of many of the Arthurian Legends, such as Merlin's Tomb, the Valley of No Return, and the home of the knights Lancelot, Gawaine, and Morgana la Fey.