On Sunday morning the weather was rather mixed and it was difficult to predict with any real degree of confidence just how it might turn out later on. Sally was up early with Molly and complained about the television channels all being in French (I’m not sure what she was expecting) and the others stayed in bed a while longer waiting for improvement. Eventually Richard joined me and while we sat and had a cup of tea I thought how good it was to be on holiday again with the world early morning farting champion.
After breakfast we peered into the sky and out towards the horizon looking for clues and not being at all certain we set off for nearby Montreuil sur Mer.
Montreuil sur Mer is a delightful town which despite its misleading name is nowhere near the sea at all but is an inland market town with spectacular walls, traditional architecture and a pretty market square with a statue of Lord Haig who lived nearby during the First-World-War.
We have visited Montreuil before of course but it is difficult not go back because it is a “ville fleurie”, which means it is colourful and vibrant and does not show any self restraint on the planting up of window-boxes. Flowers cascade over the walls lining the approach to the town, rambling climbers cling to the old stone balconies and every roundabout is a floral work of art. Inside the Market Place colourful petunias ran riot in front of the town hall and scarlet geraniums drizzle over the surrounding buildings with their tiny garret windows and haphazardly sloping roofs.
We needed a few extra provisions and with supermarkets being inconveniently closed on Sunday in France the girls went looking for somewhere to get provisions and although Montreuil is not a big place, just a few charming squares linked by ribbons of uneven cobbled streets, this managed to take longer than it really should have so Richard and I took responsibility for finding a bar with a vacant table and ordered a beer. Eventually everyone returned and sat for a while at the pavement bar and we all watched nervously as a few spots of rain began to fall and umbrellas started to go up all around but we needn’t have worried too much because the solitary rain cloud soon passed over to be replaced with a promising blue sky.
Montreuil was once an important strategic town on the English Channel but by the nineteenth century after the sea had retreated over fifteen kilometres away it had become a sleepy medieval town on the coaching road from Calais to Paris. The famous writer Victor Hugo spent a brief stay here and during that time was inspired to use it as the setting for his famous novel, Les Miserables, about the turbulent years of the Napoleonic Empire and the 1830 revolution.
It was lunchtime and the bar was filling up with diners so not proposing to order food and feeling in the way we left the bar and walked through the square and out onto the walls that surround the quiet town. From the top of the ramparts, which circle the town, there are splendid views across the surrounding countryside. A river meandered through the valley and fresh bales of golden hay shimmered in the distance as swallows swooped theatrically close to the vertical stone walls. An old man behind the wall attended his abundant allotment, stooped to pick a marrow the size of a rugby ball and families ambled at an appropriate pace along the top of the walls. The scene had a timeless grace that I remembered and I actually never tire of going back.
Eventually we turned away from the old defensive walls and walked back into the town through the twisting uneven streets past elegant shops and chocolatiers, more flower displays that wouldn’t survive a weekend in an average English town and estate agents with properties that had prices way beyond my budget.