A Heatwave, a Day in Arras and a Respite

Day 81 – Bapaume – Arras

Sunrise in Bapaume … another scorcher of a day.

Sunrise in Bapaume … another scorcher of a day.

Another extremely hot day was forecast, 94F+ (35C). The walk was a long one… 16 miles… so we left our hotel at 0500 to avoid as much of the heat as possible. The streets of Bapaume were silent and empty. The sunrise was beautiful, but there was no doubt it was going to be a scorcher of a day.

We’ve been on and off the Via Francigena, but rejoined it again today.

We’ve been on and off the Via Francigena, but rejoined it again today.

We have been on and off the Via Francigena, but joined it again today. We met two Kiwi pilgrims today who had started in Canterbury and were heading to Rome. We chatted for several minutes, exchanging info about the paths before us, then headed in opposite directions.

bapaume_war cemetery.JPG

We passed cemetery upon cemetery of war dead … French, English, Australian,German, Canadian. There are so many military cemeteries and war monuments here and signs point to many more. David’s Blue View ‘All Quiet on the Western Front’ will provide more detail on this part of France.

Village church steeple silhouetted in the blazing sun.

Village church steeple silhouetted in the blazing sun.

We were thinking about the fact that each village, though it may have not much else, always has a village church. We conjectured that in years past, a large labor force was required to manage the agricultural lands and therefore communities were larger. Now with more efficient means to cultivate and work the land, less labor is required and communities are smaller. Smaller communities have a hard time supporting and maintaining their churches, hence the reason so many of the churches we see are in such disrepair.

Busy streets of Arras

Busy streets of Arras

We passed several sleepy villages today with not much going on. Streets were empty. There were no shops to speak of and even the traffic was fairly non-existent until we reached the limits of Arras. We negotiated the city streets and found our hotel, Ibis Arras Centre Les Places. The room was small, but it had A/C and BBC World News in English. It was so hot, we settled for a cold beer in the hotel and a nap, before venturing out to a local grocery long enough to gather dinner supplies … a picnic in a cool room is all we wanted.

Day 81 – Bapaume – Arras

16.47 miles walked / 38,300 steps

Leg distance: 16 miles / 7 walking days to Canterbury


A Day in Arras

An all-time high temperature for parts of France was reached today. Here in Arras, the thermometer soared to 105F (40.5C). Thankfully, we’d already planned this as a layday as walking would have been nearly impossible. We had all sorts of ideas as to what to see and do, but with the heat, our energy and ambition limited our activities.

Place des Héros in Arras

Place des Héros in Arras

 Arras has two huge cobblestoned plazas, Place des Héros and Grand Place. According to Wikitravel, the Hôtel de Ville (Town Hall) on the Place des Héros, was destroyed during WWI, but was rebuilt in its original style with a collection of 155 unique Flemish-Baroque style facades known as Les Arcades. In 1492, Arras had become part of the Spanish Netherlands and which helps to explain the style of the architecture and layout of the huge plazas. Arras was only retaken by the French in 1640 during the reign of Louis XIII.

Les Arcades

Les Arcades

It is the Hôtel de Ville, however, and not the Cathedral, that dominates the plaza and steals the show in Arras. The beffroi (belfry) is the outstanding feature and we climbed (via elevator and 40+ steps up a steep, metal spiral staircase) to a viewing platform just below the town clock, about 40m (130’) for panoramic albeit heat-hazy views of the city and the surrounding countryside. We were all alone up there in the coolest, quietest part of the day and it was absolutely lovely.

Hôtel de Ville (city hall) in Arras dominates the market square.

Hôtel de Ville (city hall) in Arras dominates the market square.

We climbed to the top of the belfry, just under the town clock.

We climbed to the top of the belfry, just under the town clock.

Every city seems to have an iconic symbol and for Arras, it is a golden lion rampant holding the sun. A 2m (6.5’) tall leonine statue sits atop the bell tower. It was installed during the reign of Louis XIV (the sun king), commemorating his visit to Arras in 1667.

The iconic symbol of Arras … a golden lion rampant holding the sun

The iconic symbol of Arras … a golden lion rampant holding the sun

In the Visitor Center, we happened upon four ‘géants d’Arras’. The giants have been around in France for centuries and it is said that they originally represented religious figures. Nowadays they represent local or imaginary heroes, famous folk and animals and they are a major attraction at carnivals and festivals especially in northern France.

We kept seeing signs and references to Ch’ti - (Scha-tee ) around town, and didn’t know what it was. After a little research, we discovered it’s also called Picard … an old French dialect, a patois, still spoken in the northernmost part of France and southern Belgium and also refers to the customs, culture and cuisine of the area. We learned there is a French top-grossing film, a comedy about the area and its people called Bienvenue Chez les Ch'tis (Welcome to the Sticks) that we plan to see.

In the plaza, we happened upon a Timescope, a virtual reality experience that provides a 3-D view and audio of the city as it was in 1518, 500 years ago. Pretty cool … despite the heat!

Timescope view of  Place des Héros, then known as  Place du petit marché …little market square.

Timescope view of Place des Héros, then known as Place du petit marché …little market square.

We wandered around the streets till just before Noon, trying to see as much of the city as we could. The Cathedral Notre-Dame-et-Saint-Vaast was closed as was the adjoining Abbaye St. Vaast, a Benedictine monastery founded in 667. We took pictures, but nothing more. The heat beat us back to our hotel which was luckily only a block off the square.

St. Vaast Cathedral was closed

St. Vaast Cathedral was closed

Entrance to Abbaye St. Vaast, now occupied in part by the Fine Arts Museum, was also closed.

Entrance to Abbaye St. Vaast, now occupied in part by the Fine Arts Museum, was also closed.

Had we had more time, more energy and less heat, there was lots more to see. We only ventured out in the late evening for dinner on the square. It was still hot and humid and uncomfortable and in retrospect, we would have probably enjoyed a picnic in our air-conditioned room just as much.


Day 82 - Arras – Noeux-les-Mines

We walked through the quiet streets of Arras at 0600, making our early departure. The heatwave had broken and the temperature had cooled to the low 70s, a welcome respite. From the belfry, we had seen the ruins of the 11th century L’Abbaye du Mont Saint-Éloi in the distance and now we passed quite close to it as we walked.

L’Abbaye du Mont Saint-Éloi

L’Abbaye du Mont Saint-Éloi

The path was interesting today as we walked along shady forest paths and farm roads. Some paths were rough walking with two feet deep tractor ruts, once muddy and now dried and hardened up and difficult to maneuver.

Deep, rutted roads made walking somewhat difficult at times

Deep, rutted roads made walking somewhat difficult at times

The walking day was long and we welcomed the sight of our hotel, La Maison Rouge. It was a lovely place, but quite pricey. We ate a late lunch on the hotel’s terrace and it also sufficed for dinner. The room had A/C and was well-appointed, but the bed was uncomfortable (always something, huh?) and we suffered a poor night’s sleep.

Day 82 - Arras – Noeux-les-Mines

15.76 miles walked / 36,651 steps,

Leg distance: 16 miles / 6 walking days to Canterbury


Day 83 – Noeux-les-Mines – Isbergues

Rain, rain, rain. We hit the snooze button at 0445 when we heard the rain against the windows and clash of thunder. It was still pouring hard when we finally left at 0630. We figure we’re being challenged on the last few days of our trek what with the heatwave and now the foul weather … the gods need to make sure we’ve really earned the right to say we’ve walked the Via Francigena. Perhaps, Sigeric the Serious is watching from on high.

It was gloomy and raining hard when we left La Maison Rouge.

It was gloomy and raining hard when we left La Maison Rouge.

As we left town, we walked by the quiet venue of the ‘world-renowned’ Reptile Circus, touting giant crocs, snakes, tortoises and camels (??). Unfortunately, we had to give it a pass, we had 18 miles to walk today. Another disappointment we’ll have to live with.

We walked on an asphalt path along the Canal d’Aire for a good part of the day … hard on the feet. We watched barges filling up at the canal-side granaries. We’ve found it difficult to get lunch at times though it’s our preferred larger meal of the day. Most places serve lunch only between Noon-2pm and then close till 7pm + when they reopen for dinner. Depending on our mileage, we many times arrive after 2pm and go without if there are no supermarkets nearby. Today, we lucked out and found a grocery and bought lunch supplies which we proceeded to eat between rain showers.

We walked along the Canal d’Aire on a grey day.

We walked along the Canal d’Aire on a grey day.

It was a long day, nearly 18 miles and we arrived at our hotel, Le Buffet, with sore feet and tired bones. The hotel was nice and comfy, but once again the restaurant was, in our estimation, $$$. We were too lazy, however, to venture out in the rain to find another restaurant.

All of our rain gear was soaked and we laid it all out to dry in every available spot in our room. We only hoped it would dry by morning … especially our shoes.

Day 83 – Noeux-les-Mines – Isbergues

17.82 miles walked / 41,438 steps

Leg distance: 18 miles / 5 walking days to Canterbury

Next time, we’re on the Road to Calais and nearing the end of our time in France. Join us as we reach 3 million+ steps on this trek of ours from Rome to Canterbury. If you want, you can even kick off your shoes … we’ll do all the walking.