30 September 2017
At the beginning of the week Anton and Debs came over for a few days break, away from the rigours of actually having to work for a living. We didn’t do a great deal just bimbled around the coast, went up to Saint Omer to visit La Coupole and the space museum, had a beer on the square in Arras.
Whilst up and around Boulogne I took us out the road passed the quarry at Marquise. You pass the signs along the Autoroute and I have often wondered what does ‘marbre de Marquise’ actually look like ? I had some fancy idea of polished statues and figurines.
Instead, what you get is a lookout point towards this immense stone quarry. Napoleon’s column is made of its stone as are parts of the Palais de l’Elysée — home of the French President. Here at Marquise the blocks are hewn out of the rockface. And the blocks are enormous. You can see them lining the road towards the quarry in the distance but is only when a car drives passed one that you appreciate their size. Now when I see a lorry coming onto the Autoroute from Marquise I give it room because theose boulders on the back would flatten you if they fell off. They look rough old things but once sliced and polished the stone provides a rather pretty beige marble.
From there we continued out to the coast to visit the Batterie Todt with its railway gun pointed towards England. It has been a while since I was last here and it has undergone a refurbishment. Built in 1942 the 380 mm naval gun had a range of forty-two kilometres and could thus easily reach the English coast just twenty-nine away. The museum is housed in Turm 1 and there are three other turrets nearby all similarly equipped — though not open to the public.
On a more peaceful note we got a sunny day on the Saturday and took all the back roads up to Hardelot where there is a castle. Apart from knowing that it existed I didn’t know much about the place as this was the first time that I was visiting.
It is definitely hidden amongst the back streets and trees because I drove past it. Once there though you are struck by the flag on top. Half tricolore half Union flag and there is a reason for this.
Way back in the XIII century The Count of Boulogne, Philippe Hurepel built himself a heavily fortified castle to ward off possible encroachments by the English, French and Flemish. The complex served not just as a military fortification but as a very comfortable home from where the Count could hunt and invite his guests.
In the XV century Picardie and the Côte d’Opale became part of France (the French would say rejoined) and the castle became a royal fortress. That remained the case until the revolution when the castle was sold off to Parisian lawyers who let the grounds out to the local farmers.
That would have pretty much been the end of the story if it hadn’t been bought by the English industrialist Sir John Hare in 1848 who had the farm buildings knocked down and reconstructed the donjon. On his death the castle was bought by another Englishman, Henry Guy who constructed the impressive building that we see today. Following his death it was bought, in 1865, by a third Englishman and co-founder of the seaside resort of Le-Touquet — Paris-Plage, John Robinson Whitley.
He had the idea of creating a seaside resort fit for the English and French aristocracy — or at least well to do. He created a society to run Hardelot and houses and sports facilities began to spring up. Louis Blériot was one of those who built a house and designed and constructed what would become the char à voile that you can see racing up and down the local beaches.
During the Great War the town was in the hands of the British Army with many of its senior officers being greeted by Whitely at his home. Many bought ground and built their own villas. The resort flourished after the war but the Nazi occupation put an end to its continuing prosperity. The Castle’s ownership passed from one group to another until the Pas de Calais too over its management, on behalf of the village of Condette who own it. Dry rot had been found in many of the timbers and a lot of work had to be carried out before the building was re-opened in 2014 as the Centre culturel de l’Entente cordiale. The entire theme inside is a showcase to the relationship between the French and British and is furnished in an end of XIX century style.
The garden houses the only Elisabethan theatre in France which was opened in 2016.
Posted : 30 September 2017