3 – 7 October 2016
It was lunchtime on Monday 3rd October when 21 6Cs and four members of staff arrived at the seaside town of St. Valery-sur-Somme in northern France. The town is a charming, seaside resort with an interesting historic old town of cobbled streets and attractive, brightly painted fishermen’s cottages – the floral displays outside these cottages are very pretty. The town has medieval ramparts, which overlook the town and La Baie de Somme, and close by are several bird sanctuaries. The sun was shining as the children enjoyed a delicious picnic on the waterfront overlooking the picturesque harbour. This followed a walk around the town, where the children were able to appreciate its medieval character and glorious views over the bay. They noted that St. Valery-sur-Somme is a very cheerful place with fishing and sailing boats bobbing about in the harbour.
We visited St. Valery-sur-Somme specifically to commemorate the historical importance of the place where William the Conqueror’s fleet waited impatiently for the wind to change direction, before finally sailing to England in 1066. Our visit was only four days away from the actual 950th anniversary and HSW was the only school to visit and mark the anniversary of this momentous departure.
About half an hour’s drive from St. Valery is the hamlet of Incheville and site of Le Chalet du Pêcheur, which was to be our home for the next five days. The chalet is beautifully situated beside a lake and a running river, and surrounded by meadows and pine forests. The house has been superbly renovated and provides all modern amenities to make its guests feel “at home”. Accommodation is arranged over three floors, with all rooms having fine views over the nearby lake and forest.
When we had free time we played in the garden. There was a pond with loads of fish – I think they were shrimps. Also there was a trampoline: it was quite big. Inside the chalet, there were many different rooms and the girls slept on the top floor. Decorations hung in all the rooms and there was a really big chandelier in the dining room.
Once the children had been allocated bedrooms, unpacked and explored the outside areas, it was time to hop back on the bus and into cars and head back to St. Valery for supper. Crêperie les Remparts was the venue for supper on our first night, the idea being that the children ought to have the experience of eating in a restaurant typically found in France and in this instance where a variety of crêpes are served. The children hungrily devoured a selection of savoury galettes and sweet crêpes and drank some jus de pomme. Delicious!
On Monday evening we all went to a crêperie and it was amazing. We all had one crêpe and one galette and they were both delicious. I had a cheese, ham and egg galette. With the crêpe you could have chocolate sauce, sugar or salted caramel sauce. I had salted caramel and it was absolutely brilliant!
Tuesday 4th October began with an early alarm call. While chocolat chaud was warming on the hob, Mr Hobbs and the boys visited the local boulangerie to fetch baguettes for breakfast. A breakfast of chocolat chaud, baguettes ‘avec du beurre, s’il vous plaît’ and an assortment of confitures was offered and quickly consumed by the children.
Our first trip of the day was to visit La Baie de Somme, a conservation area with alandscape that includes sand dunes, forests and marshes. Sightings of many different species of birds have been recorded here and at certain times of the year migratory birds from Russia, Africa and Scandinavia fly in to rest here ‘en route’ to their destinations. Maxim, our knowledgeable guide, took us across the vast, marshy beach explaining the flora and fauna typical of this wild place. We were able to spot a variety of birds, including some oystercatchers. Maxim encouraged us to walk faster across the beach with the promise of showing us something extraordinary. Sure enough, a colony of seals could be seen resting on the sandbars. A closer look with a telescope and binoculars showed the seals stretching and frolicking. The tide was on the turn and this prompted the seals to put on quite an amusing show for us. The light and atmosphere of this landscape was astonishing and quite unexpected. Another surreal moment took us by surprise when a horse and cart filled with tourists ambled by.
The shells crunched and crackled under my feet as we stepped on them and were glazed in many colours. The tide was out, leaving sandy beaches to admire. At first the seals looked like a chubby rock. They had round furry faces and long whiskers and bright starry eyes.
On Tuesday we went to a nature reserve at the beach. We trekked through the salt marshes and a guide showed us plants shaped like pig’s ears and small crabs and much more. My favourite thing was seeing the seals. There were Common Seals and Grey Seals. My favourite were the Common Seals.
Soon it was time to return to St. Valery to take a ride on a steam train. The Chemin de Fer de la Baie de Somme is a narrow gauge steam railway whose carriages date back to the 1920s. It runs at a leisurely pace along the entire length of the bay from St. Valery to Le Crotoy. The children had a lovely time looking out of the windows on either side to view and take photographs of the marshes, lagoons and streams via which we passed. Cormorants, egrets, swans and ducks were spotted and we were entertained by a swarm of dragonflies intent on following the train.
On Tuesday afternoon we went on a steam train, which had really old wheels. It was great fun. We could look out of the window at the magnificent French countryside.
For supper that night we enjoyed a starter of crevettes avec betterave, followed by the main course of Tartiflette, which is a French dish from the Savoy region in the French Alps. It is made with potatoes, Reblochon cheese, lardons and onions. Rather full tummies meant we did not have room for a dessert!
Next day, after a fantastic night’s sleep and a hearty French breakfast we drove to Arques la Bataille, achâteau. We were truly charmed by this ruin. First we walked up the steep sides of the castle’s motte to view the strategic brilliance of the its position, which has clear sight of all surrounding countryside. Mr Hobbs delivered an excellent talk about the history of the castle through the centuries. The remains we admired were built in the 12th century, when thick defensive walls and high towers were needed as much as strong armies. It was built for Count William of Talou who was uncle to William the Conqueror. They subsequently fell out! We walked around the outer earth rampart of the castle. Some of the paths were slippery but the views, and a particularly breathtaking one northeast all the way to the sea, were magnificent.
From there we made the journey to Montivilliers, specifically to see the restored abbey. As part of the 950th anniversary of the Battle of Hastings, the cloister of the abbey is the setting for a photographic copy of the Bayeaux Tapestry reproduced on wood panels. Every detail has been faithfully reproduced and captions have been translated. Once again, Mr Hobbs donned his historian’s hat to give an amusing and informative talk on the events depicted on the replica. We then enjoyed an audio tour of the abbey and visited the church attached to the abbey, where Jessica lit a candle for the school. Intriguingly, news of our visit to Montivilliers had spread and a reporter from the Paris Normandie newspaper requested an interview with us. An account of the article written by the reporter can be viewed here: http://www.paris-normandie.fr/region/de-jeunes-anglais-a-l-abbaye-de-montivilliers-CY7067411#.V_ycKnjzdY4.
Supper that night was a five course French menu consisting of an ‘amuse bouche’ with saumon fumé, betterave and pommes de terre sautées, a cheese tasting course, Bill’s Biscuit (created by Mrs Thomas and in honour of William the Conqueror – representing Norman boats) and crème caramel to round off.
Thursday saw us taking a more leisurely pace and able to enjoy the facilities offered by the chalet and its surrounding area. Once breakfast was over, we set off on an unhurried five kilometre walk, which took us around the lake and allowed us to appreciate the fabulous scenery of this tranquil setting.
Mers-les-Bains was our next destination. As we neared the beach we were astonished to find an extraordinary area of villas all in a similar style built in the “Belle Epoque” era, painted in vivid colours and given unusual names. We had a picnic on the promenade, which was sheltered by white cliffs rising dramatically on each side of the bay. The top part of the beach was covered in white wooden beach huts with wooden walkways winding through. It was rather windy on the beach so we played for a little while there but were quite happy to retire to the chalet for a few hours of relaxation – some decided to play in the gardens while others enjoyed making paper replicas of the ships in which the Normans invaded England.
On our last night in France, we returned to Mers-les-Bains for our final supper, at a restaurant called ‘Octopussy’! Moules marinière with frites was the popular choice for the majority of the children. For some it was their first taste of this quintessential French dish and they very much enjoyed it. Dessert was a tarte aux pommes.
All too quickly Friday morning dawned and we broke our fast with a selection of pains au chocolat and croissants from the local boulangerie. With bags, bus and cars packed we bade farewell to the chalet and set off for home. En route to Calais we stopped at Le Crotoy, an attractive little fishing town. In the week before the trip to France the children had taken a test of French vocabulary that they had been memorising. All the children scored brilliantly and Mr Hobbs rewarded their efforts by giving each child some pocket money, which they were allowed to spend at the market in Le Crotoy. The children were given time to walk around the market and browse and there was a multitude of interesting things for them to purchase.
On the last day we went to the market. It was very picturesque and there was lots to do. I visited lots of stalls and I travelled around in a group with Esther, Sophie D, and Jess. There were stands with fruit, pyjamas, hats and even sausages. Mostly we just looked around. Then we came to a stall with watches. Sophie and I bought one. Then Esther and Jess bought a scarf and Eiffel Tower key rings. It was amazing!
When we arrived at the market everyone in the class was split into groups. We were each given five euros to spend. I was with Safiy and Jack. Safiy and I got nice watches that looked as if they would cost £100 and I was extremely happy.
Our next stop was Calais, where we boarded Le Shuttle and were soon back on English soil.
So, what did the 6Cs learn from the trip?
During the five days in France the children learned to appreciate and understand a different culture. They spent time with their friends. They spoke French. They tried different French dishes and enjoyed them. They saw some amazing places. They impressed their teachers with their enthusiasm, knowledge, good humour and ability to care for each other. They gained tremendous pleasure from simple pastimes and pursuits. Most notably, they thoroughly enjoyed themselves and, hopefully, will have fantastic memories of this very special trip!
An album of photographs from the week can be viewed here: https://hsw.co.uk/news/photo-gallery/6c-field-trip-to-france.