Monday 3rd April
Up early Sunday morning and after a very short stroll found this great vantage point for Amiens Cathedral.
We set off heading East passing through the Somme battlefields. Here, the cemeteries are even closer together with monuments in almost every direction. The land is very flat here with only small hills which were made into defensive strong points wherever possible.
We were aiming for an aire at Peronne, it supposedly has a large castle and a great museum about the First World War. We found the aire but we didn’t feel comfortable staying there, so went looking for the castle. Two things I know about castles:- 1. They are on the top of a hill, and 2. They are big and imposing.
Lets just say we couldn’t find it! At least we now have a good reason to come back this way another time. A couple of people pointed out some great places that we have already missed but that is part and parcel of the type of travelling we are doing. At the moment we don’t know where we will be tomorrow night, that makes planning to see everything along the way that much harder to do, there’s no point researching everything and then not visiting. Easier sailing past a point, letting someone else point out that we’ve missed a great place and then incorporate that into a future trip. So far we have missed Vimy Ridge, Thiepval Memorial and La Boisselle mine crater. We have a guide to the Somme battlefields, with various tours, but unless you want to visit every cemetery in the area it isn’t a great deal of use.
Eventually we found a nice quiet aire on a farm and set about sunbathing for the afternoon and reading kindles. When I say quiet, all we could hear was birdsong:- Turkeys, chickens and ducks.
Monday morning and it is even warmer, time for t-shirt and shorts. We have arrived in Laon, a six van aire next to the city walls, and made our way into town. The first thing that we noticed were the notice boards, all in French and English with a lot of useful information. For example, the first sign we saw said that in 1594 it took Henry IV two months to conquer the town which had sided with the League. Usually you are left guessing who the League might be but a footnote tells you that it was a Roman Catholic alliance backed by the Pope, the Jesuits, and the King of Spain.
Laon Cathedral was built between 1150 and 1180, just 30 years, and was built in the interval between Romanesque and Gothic architecture. The Chapter (a community of Monks who live in a Chapter House) was very wealthy and own lots of land in the area. It was also famous for it’s wine.
Inside it was light…
…and to my humble eye, well proportioned, nothing like the over high Gothic cathedral in Amiens.
Outside were the cloisters with behind them hints of flying buttresses which were to dominate the later gothic churches.
And beer of the day goes to Leffe Royal and a Leffe Dunkel for the boss. Since we’ve paid nothing in site fees so far and only €2 for water Lucy felt it was high time I treated her to lunch – cold roast beef with salad and chips. It wasn’t roast beef as we know it but was very tender and very tasty.
Continuing our walk around the town we found this defensive tower which started tilting very shortly after being constructed. The whole town sits on top of a large hill made out of limestone, from which the buildings were constructed and a deep layer of clay, into which the tower sank.
The Soissons Gate also shows signs of leaning.
The Cathedral from a distance, in fact we could see it from 10 miles away, the towers are 100m high and can be seen from all directions.
Every so often we will see a memorial dated 1870 so we’ve had to look it up, it was the Franco-Prussian war which we in Britain are unlikely to have ever heard about. During that campaign the Prussians managed to walk into Laon without a shot being fired! I think more research is needed here!