Well, here we are back at the blog after a week’s holiday. I left you 2 weeks ago with a drink in hand and plans for a week away on holiday with Mrs. Parish. We duly set off to stay in the Bay de Somme. We had booked a gite near the sea at a place called Quend Plage. It was very pleasant but I have to say not up to the standards of our gite. The kitchen definitely lacked in cooking utensils and the shower only stayed hot for long enough for one person to have a shower unless you liked the cold shower alternative! I felt a bit like one of those reality TV shows where B&B or hotel owners go and stay in other B&Bs and then make all sorts of catty criticisms.

The place was OK and suitable as a base for exploring this area of northern France. This included visiting the nature reserve at Marquenterre which has lots of lagoons for migratory as well as local birds. It is a big place with lots of hides and although a little early in the migration season there were lots of birds and we managed to see 35 different species during a day long visit.

One of the highlights was a small island in a lagoon which was full of spoonbills. A wading bird with a spoon like bill (hence the name!!) which feeds by swishing the spoonbill sideways across in the water in front of the bird.

Spoonbill Island

When we were back at the gite we went for a walk down to the beach and back. The road was very straight with a cycle path on one side. It was about 3km to the beach. From time to time there were pedestrian crossings across the road. In France the traffic does not have to stop to let pedestrians across so you can wait at the side of the road for a little while before crossing. If you are already on the crossing the traffic is supposed to stop and the French do consider it bad form to knock down pedestrians actually on a crossing.

French road traffic engineers leave much to be desired and I have reported before on the peculiarities of French road signs. On our walk we discovered a new innovation in French road furniture. A pedestrian crossing that goes directly across the road and then stops as there is a hedge between the crossing and the footpath! A bizarre and somewhat confusing arrangement.

Crossing to a hedge at Quend Plage

The road to nowhere and a somewhat allegorical introduction to our other main holiday activity in visiting the sites of major battles. We visited both Agincourt and Crecy, battles fought during the hundred years war between England and France. Crecy was fought in 1346 between English forces led by Edward III and the black prince and the French led by their king Philip VI. The battle resulted around 1200 deaths mostly of the French who were decimated after attacking in the face of arrows unleashed by 7000 English and Welsh archers with their deadly longbows.

The archers were able to fire at a rate of 6 arrows per minutes resulting in a hailstorm of arrows falling on the French with devastating consequences.

The French clearly did not learn very quickly as at Agincourt some 69 years later in 1415 they tried the same tactic of charging the English army, led this time by Henry V. This time, the French lost between 6 to 10 thousand killed in the battle with the damage once again being done by the 5,000 longbow men in the English army.

The French army was led by Charles VI also known as Charles the mad. He was the king who thought he was made of glass and would break into pieces if he was touched! Not a good leader to have for a major battle. Mind you one might think that all military leaders are mad men, this one actually was!

Anyway, these battles led to the English recapturing much of France and being in the stronger position. That was until the English met an army led by a woman, Joan of Arc. She was far to sensible to send her troops charging against hailstorms of arrows. Instead she managed to trap English troops inside the town of Orleans and led an attacking force which eventually captured the town and eventually the French recovered all the land lost to the English.

The lesson seems therefore that the French should have appointed a woman to lead the French forces in the first world war. The English and French forces launched an attack at the Somme on 1st July 1916. Having learned nothing from the 100 years war and several since then, the allied forces sent their soldiers over the top to walk towards the German lines. The generals told the soldiers that they only needed to walk as there would be no defenders left after the allied bombardment which sent nearly 3 million shells into the German trenches.

The Generals (all men) were wrong! The Germans had dug themselves deep defences and once the bombing stopped they got out of their holes and instead of getting out their longbows they got out their machine guns. The result was the same – slaughter, just this time on a much greater scale. There were 57000 British troops wounded of which 27,000 were dead by the end of the first day of fighting. The worst casualties in the history of the British army. When the battle ended in November 1916 there were over a million wounded or killed and the offensive achieved no significant gains.

This was the most sombre part of the holiday battlefield tour. We visited the battlefield and museums at Peronne and at Thiepval where there is also a memorial to the missing dead whose bodies could not be found. There were so many shells fired that every year farmers are still digging up bits of metal and unexploded bombs. They estimate that it will take another 700 years before the land is clear.

We also visited the Lochnagar mine crater. The Lochnagar mine south of the village of La Boisselle in the Somme département was an underground explosive charge, secretly planted by the British during the First World War, ready for 1 July 1916, the first day on the Somme. The mine was dug by the Tunnelling Companies of the Royal Engineers under a German field fortification known as Schwabenhöhe (Swabian Height).

Lochnagar mine crater

The British named the mine after Lochnagar Street, the British trench from which the gallery was driven. The charge at Lochnagar was one of 19 mines that were placed beneath the German lines on the British section of the Somme front, to assist the infantry advance at the start of the battle.

The mine was sprung at 7:28 a.m. on 1 July 1916 and left a crater 98 ft (30 m) deep and 330 ft (100 m) wide, which was captured and held by British troops. The attack on either flank was defeated by German small-arms and artillery fire, except on the extreme right flank and just south of La Boisselle, north of the Lochnagar Crater. The crater has been preserved as a memorial. It is quite amazing to see the size of the crater.

Having experienced the madness and destruction of war through these visits we were in much need of some light relief and so stopped on our way home for a night at a French Logis hotel where we had a great meal of 6 courses of tastes of Normandy. Including the great trou Normande which is an apple sorbet with calavados and is served as a palate cleanser before the main course. I had beef with a lovely camembert sauce.

So, now back home and we find that all is well at La Godefrere. We left my daughter Jo in charge ably supported by her partner, Nicky and two friends Sally and Kali. They had an enjoyable and mostly relaxing time. Although Sally got a bit confused about our friend Emile who tours the area visiting friends in his little red car. Sally could not work out why Emile would drive around all day with a vet in the car with him. She thought this must be some quaint French arrangement for animal care. Eventually late at night she realised that we had not been talking about Emile and the vet but Emile and Yvette! 

The cats are as crazy as ever. Petit has taken to sitting on the shoe rack. The other two have taken ownership of a pile of hay bales that have come from the grass in the sheep’s paddock.

Petit and shoes

Moggie and Archie take over the hay bales

We finished our holiday by celebrating that Mrs. Parish and me have now been married for 46 years and we took Jo and her friends together with our friends Sarah and Ian to La Marjolaine for yet another slap-up meal to help us cope with such a momentous occasion. I am a lucky man! As it is bank holiday in the UK I think a drink is in order!

Bonne chance