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Published: September 8th 2019
Emma with a balloon
Finding a balloon can make you really happy
Hiking via WWII bunkers to a monastery
The rest of the first week of the vacation we continued our hike in northwestern France. We arrived with the ferry in Calais. The Via Francigena
first follows the coast south to Wissant. From there the trail goes east via Guines, Licques and Tournehem-sur-la-Hem to the town Wisques where we right according to plan finished the hike. Most people have never heard of these places. Please don't look at a map where we actually hiked these four days. We did actually hike a decent distance each day. But it looks embarrassingly short if you view it on a map of France.
The first day's hike in France was very different from what we did in England. The trail from Calais to Wissant follows the coast and much of it actually is on the beach. These are not the Normandy beaches of D-Day fame. But there are still ruins and remains left from the Second World War in the region. When France was occupied by Nazi Germany the French coast was heavily fortified. There were bunkers, forts and anti-aircraft guns all along the coast. There were landmines on the beaches.
From Calais to Wissant
From Calais to Wissant the trail followed the coast
In the waters there were all kinds of devices to prevent an invasion. Much of this was removed directly after the war. But the biggest bunkers were too large and massive and are therefore still there as a reminder of what madness mankind is capable of. On the way from Calais to Wissant we saw many bunkers. Most of them show traces of neglect and are often covered with graffiti. For obvious reasons the French can't be bothered with preserving this particular "cultural heritage" for future generations,
Since we are writing about bunkers from the Second World War we can now mention two sites we visited these days - Fortress of Mimoyecques and La Coupole. Fortress of Mimoyecques
is an underground bunker complex built during World War II. The Via Francigena trial goes right behind it so we had to go in and have a look. It was built to house several so called V3 cannons which were designed to bombard London with up to 600 projectiles per hour. As it turned out they never fired a single shot. The British were aware of the location of the fortress and they bombed it so heavily that
To Rome 1648 km. To Canterbury 107 km
The Via Francigena goes from Canterbury to Rome. The entire route in just over 1750 km. We hiked only maybe 150 km or so. So less than 10%...
the Germans never managed to put it into use. Interesting fact: one of the airmen who was killed on a bombing mission of the Fortress of Mimoyecques was Joseph P. Kennedy, brother of John F. Kennedy. La Coupole
is a large World War II bunker complex just east of Wisques. It was built as a rocket launch site for V2 rockets aimed for London and other English cities. It was built late in the war and the construction was interrupted by allied bombing raids. The site was only in use for a short time and it is uncertain how many rockets they managed to launch. Today the site is a museum covering the history of the site and history of space travels. It makes sense, because after the war German rocket scientists were recruited to USA and to Soviet Union and both countries relied heavily on their expertise when they developed the space programs.
Now back to the main purpose of us being in France - hiking the Via Francigena. Just like in England most of the trail goes through farming country via villages and small towns.
We can mention that we
When France was occupied by Nazi Germany the French coast was heavily fortified. There were bunkers, forts and anti-aircraft guns all along the coast.
were lucky with the weather in the days we spent hiking. The temperatures were almost perfect and in five days we only had one hour of rain. That hour we hid under some trees.
The last day of the hike we finished in the small town Wisques. In Wiscques there are two monasteries, one for monks and one for nuns. Both monasteries have rooms for hire for people who are hiking the Via Francigena. We stayed with the nuns. It felt a little bit awkward being there, a monastery is very far from the places we normally stayed at, but it was OK.
After we finished the hike our plan was to leave France and go to Luxembourg. In Wisques there are no train stations so we had to walk to Saint-Omer. Yes, we can walk even when we are not hiking a pilgrim route.
In Saint-Omer we stopped at the cathedral to have a look at Saint Erkembode's tomb. We don't have any relation to Saint Erkembode. As a matter of fact, one month before we set out on this trip we had never heard of him. The reason we
Typical section of the trail
Much of the route follows roads like these
wanted to see the tomb is because for some reason people leave shoes on his tomb. A tomb decorated with shoes is very much us and we just had to see it now that we were passing by.
From Saint-Omer we took the train to Lille. But to go from Lille to Luxembourg was not as easy as we thought it would be. We had to take a train to Brussels in Belgium first and from there take another train onward to Luxembourg. But Brussels is a nice city, and Emma hasn't been there before, so we were totally OK with lurking around in the Belgian capital for half a day. We will write about that in the next blog entry.
Before we finish writing about our hike in France we would like to mention something that we found really strange. In the French towns and villages we found that shops, restaurants and cafés surprisingly often were closed during the days. We could arrive in a town centres at 11 o'clock and not be able to find a single café or restaurant that was open. We are not disappointed or angry. We just found
Most of the trail goes through farming country
it odd and something we didn't expect.
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