Tuesday, 29 September 2009

Back to the Land of the Great Grey Cloud



From Menton we said goodbye to Madame and 'Spike' the dog and set off very early. It's quite a contrast to drive up from the hot south of rocky outcrops and maritime pine trees, to the flat prairies of central France with their massive grain silos like agricultural cathedrals.

And then up into the wooded farmlands of northern France, through a recitation of names in the Book of Human Misery. Amiens, Arras, Crecy, the Forests of Roland, the Field of the Cloth of Gold, Picardy, Ypres, Somme, Vimy Ridge, Calais. The landscape is scattered with war memorials that commemorate the ancient battles of Charlemagne, Joan of Arc, Henry Vth - to name only a few, as well as the graveyards of both First and Second world war victims. When you see how closely packed they are, you get the impression that the fields here must be soaked with the blood of over a thousand years of conflict.


The old car was doing very well and we were just congratulating ourselves when, just short of Reims, heading for the Calais ferry, one of the back tyres suddenly deflated and the rear end of the car began to dance across two lanes of the - fortunately quiet - autoroute before I could bring it to a halt on the Bande d'Urgence. Neil managed to keep his cool with great fortitude in the passenger seat! We had barely opened the boot to look for the jack when a breakdown patrol pulled up behind us with flashing orange lights and the mechanic had us back on the road again within twenty minutes. But by then we were both tired and not up for more adventures so we stopped at Reims.

It was a beautiful, lively place, though it was too late when we arrived to see much of it. We got up early the following morning to explore the cathedral. But typically (this always happens to me) the exterior was shrouded in cling-wrap for restoration! Inside, the stained glass windows are almost too big to take in. Very few of the originals survive - having been blown up in the 1914-18 conflict, but there are four huge rose windows in glorious medieval glass. The whole effect when they were all intact must have been incredible - though very dark.

The cathedral originally had a labyrinth like Chartres, Amiens, St Quentin and several others in this part of France, though it was destroyed in the 18th century.



Like these other cathedrals Reims is dedicated to the Virgin Mary and no one seems to know what the significance of it was, though some of the others also have Black Madonnas. Reims feels very female orientated and has chapels dedicated to Joan of Arc and to St Therese.




Taking photographs was difficult because of the light levels, but I managed one of the nave with its glorious stained glass as well as the modern windows of Marc Chagall.







On the ferry approaching England there was a long line of smoky haze overhanging the white cliffs of Dover. As we drove further north the haze deepened and by the time we reached Cambridge a line of darker cloud appeared on the horizon, growing wider and wider until the sun disappeared and the sky was uniformly grey. Welcome back to England!




5 comments:

  1. What a beautiful post! I felt as if I made the journey with you. The photograph of the Chagall window is stunning - I must see it one day soon

    Avril x

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  2. Welcome back Kathleen
    The little red car looks like a brave survivor. I am awed, impressed by all that driving...
    More delighted with the journey, seen through your wide open and generously sharing eyes.
    I wonder about all those labyrinths. Was there a more than playful reason for them, I wonder? Ill look that up.
    wx

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  3. I am pleased that the only problems your little red banger (or bomb as we call them here) caused you was a flat.
    Central France looks much less alien to an Aussie eye than does the north, or for that matter England, and the odd concrete grain silo only reinforces that. So many little places in the wheat belt here are dominated by the old silos (many no longer in use).
    I love your the photos of the glass, so hard to shoot.
    As I said last time you went home at least it is to a great spot, and by the sounds of it Neil is going with you.

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  4. That was quite a journey - and thank you for the photo of the Chagall windows. I've always wanted to see them and now I think I really must. You are so right about the landscape of northern France; impossible to travel across it with anything but a heavy heart.

    I was walking with a friend and our dogs on Exmoor yesterday; she had also just come back from France. We were looking up at the grey lid above us and thinking that, for the next few months, the sun will be a rare visitor.

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  5. Glad you all liked it! I'm still recovering from travel lag and knowing I've got to be off again next week. There are pros and cons to this travelling thing.
    X kj

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