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Luggage Transfer Correos

Canterbury to Bruay-la-Buissière

0 Euro Camino Bank Note

Raggy

Veteran Member
Camino(s) past & future
Camino Mozarabe Almeria (2017)
Cherhill to Canterbury - Pilgrims' Way (2018)
Via Francigena (2019)
Just returned from a few days walking from Canterbury to Bruay-la-Buissière (a couple of days short of Arras).

My planning was zero - I just made things up as I went along. I used maps.me and wikiloc to find my way. Signage in France is very good. I had a tent but stupidly forgot to bring a pole so I stayed in Airbnbs and hotels every night. With the benefit of hindsight, there are a few things that I'd do differently, but I enjoyed it.

Here are a few notes on the route and the places I stayed. You can find more ramblings and photos on jonagrams.com

(16/Aug/2019): Canterbury to Shepherdswell

I waited for the cathedral to open at 9am to get my credential stamped again. It’s covered in scaffolding but everyone there is delightful. Left Canterbury via St. Augustine’s monastery and St. Martin's church. Breakfast at the golf club on the way out of Canterbury.

A couple of ancient churches on the way – St. Martins is Roman (the oldest continuously used church in the English speaking world) and St. Nicholas’ in Barfrestone is a beautiful Romanesque (12th century) church. It served pilgrims on their way to Canterbury and I think I spotted a pilgrim in the extraordinary frieze above the entrance. All made of Caen stone, apparently.

As orchards gave way to arable and livestock, more entertainment was provided by the animals – sheep, long horned cattle, and prancing horses. (Also partridges but they were too quick for my camera).

I couldn’t find a place to stay in Shepherdwell - I took the train to Dover, where I’ve booked two nights at the execrable “Adventure Backpackers” hostel. Poorly maintained, damp, moldy, and dirty. I did not stay a second night, even though I had paid for it.

(17/Aug/2019): Shepherdswell to Calais

Following a night of disturbed sleep in the fetid dormitory of the execrable Adventure Backpackers Hostel in Dover, I left my heavy rucksack in a locker and walked past early morning swimmers to the station for the train back to Shepherdswell.

In the visitors’ book at the church in Shepherdswell, I saw that I was the second pilgrim to pass this way today (Veronique must be a short distance ahead – I didn’t catch up with her) and there was an Italian pilgrim yesterday.

Maps.me recommended a route along the road but I stayed off the road and followed footpaths, which allowed me to run through fields of wheat, like a former prime minister.

I reached the hostel again shortly after 1pm and decided to cut my losses and jump on a ferry to Calais. Booked the Holiday Inn with points - which turned out to be a great decision. After the boat docked, pedestrians are taken by bus to the ferry terminal - from there, you walk up a ramp and along a walkway to exit the port. Once you're out of the port the first Via Francigena signage is on the road into town.

Calais is a much more pleasant town than Dover and I was able to have a healthy couscous for dinner at the Restaurant Sesame near the hotel.

(18/Aug/2019): Calais to Guînes

The official route of the Via Francigena takes pilgrims along the coast from Calais to the port of Wissant, which is where Sigeric, the tenth century Archbishop of Canterbury landed. Since I’m not interested in complete adherence to Sigeric’s itinerary, I took a direct route to Guînes with the added advantage that it allowed me to view Rodin’s sculpture of the Burghers of Calais.

Despite an unpromising drizzle at the start of the day, it was a mostly dry walk along a pleasant canal path.

In Guînes I found a wall mural to commemorate the field of the cloth of gold – a grand summit between Henry VIII of England and Francis I of France. The two kings spent three weeks impressing each other with elaborate entertainments, fine banquets, and extravagant clothes before signing a treaty.

The "Camping La Bien Assise" at Guînes is a lovely facility - a Norman farmhouse with a 5* campsite (with pool), hotel, restaurant and beautiful pilgrim refuge. I didn't anticipate a dedicated pilgrim hostel here - I just booked a room at the hotel online. (Kicking myself). The refuge looks awesome. You could probably just show up and ask to stay but better to call ahead and let them know you're coming. Very friendly staff. They have a pilgrim stamp and they enjoyed talking about the VF with me.

(19/Aug/2019) Guînes to Licques
A beautiful day for walking – windy but dry. I decided not to take a shortcut to reach Écotte outside Licques where I’m staying tonight. I followed the official Via Francigena route which took me around three sides of a square – an oddly indirect, but very rewarding path that took me through the forest of Guînes and then through countryside very much like the South Downs.

The route is well marked and not too strenuous – mostly flat. But it has been planned with a different philosophy than the Caminos in Spain. The Spanish routes tend to take pilgrims through the centre of every settlement and past the church. By contrast, on this section of the Via Francigena, the route often skirts small towns and villages – In my opinion, is often unnecessarily zig-zaggy - Later in my walk (Difques), for example I found that the signs directed me around three sides of a square, and past a nasty industrial depot with trucks coming in and out, just to show me a modern sign that says this was once a Roman road. With hindsight, I should have ignored more of those detours and followed the direct routes through towns and villages.

My accommodation near Licques was at Youri and Linda’s Airbnb, where the welcome is sincere. It's a few km outside of Licques, which is a little inconvenient, but very reasonable price and seriously good hosts - Linda put my clothes in her washing machine and made me an awesome dinner for an additional 10 Euros.

Linda recommended that I watch Bienvenue chez les Ch'tis to better understand people around here - looks very amusing:

(20/Aug/2019): Licques to Wisques

Another fine day on well marked paths with some interesting historic ruins along the way - la Chapelle de Guemy. Beautiful spot to stop for some lunch and look over the countryside. Similar to the South Downs at this point.
Very little not to like ...

The monastery at Wisques offers accommodation to male pilgrims. There's a convent up the road for females.

I’m happy that I stayed at the abbey in Wisques. It added a feeling of real pilgrimage that had been missing from this walk. But boy do those monks lead an austere life. Dinner involved lots of prayers in Latin, followed by a grey soup and some lightly seasoned carrot and cucumber, while listening to someone intoning something about Jerome.I had a glass of wine to boost the calories. No conversation with the other guests at the table with me – men who were on spiritual retreats or helping out at the monastery. The monks were very nice, though.

In hindsight, I would buy some food on the way to Wisques because I was really hungry after this stay - and I had a bit of a struggle to find food the next day.

(21/Aug/2019): Wisques to Inghem

The monks invited me to join the low mass at 6:50AM, which involved about half an hour of kneeling on a narrow, hard-edged, kneeler while priests said mass in Latin at four altars around the chapel. I couldn’t stand the pain and had to sit a couple of times. I think I would have found this extremely strange, even in my teenage years when I was a practicing Catholic.

Following mass, I had a light breakfast (bread and jam) with the other guests, who thankfully ignored the sign recommending guests to eat in silence. I got to know them a little – all very friendly, nice, young men.

In the next town, Esquerdes, Le Philips Bar has no food. And the boulangerie is closed on Wednesdays. Tremendously friendly place - the locals who came to the bar all shook my hand and welcomed me. But I needed fooooood... so after a coffee I detoured from the Via Francigena to the town of Hallines, where the bar Le Petit Bonheur brought me no bonheur at all, being closed despite Google promising that it would be open. Fortunately, the boulangerie across the road was able to sell me a fougasse and some chicken salad.

This area was known as the valley of paper for the paper mills that existed along the river in the past. I think the working water wheel in Hallines might have once powered a paper making workshop. Quite what a santiago shell is doing on the railway tracks there, I don’t know. I hope nobody follows it.

I made my way back to the Via Francigena – a joy to be walking through lovely countryside under blue skies. Lots of activity in the fields. But at Cléty I diverted to Inghem where I had booked an Airbnb with Sylvia – even though it’s far off the trail.
On my way to Inghem, I passed a farm with a vending machine for vegetables and bread but I didn't need it because my host gave me eggs and tomatoes from her garden.

With hindsight, I wish I had pushed on to Thérouanne, which turns out to be a real gem of a town with an archeological museum and a gite with a Francigena pilgrim sign.

(22/Aug/2019): Inghem to Auchy-au-Bois

The great discovery of today’s walk was the town of Thérouanne – a settlement with Pre-Roman origins that became a huge cathedral town. Twice sacked by the English in the Hundred Years’ War, but rebuilt each time. It was finally razed and utterly deleted from the map by Charles V of Spain in 1543. One can see the layout of the old walls in a ditch/hedge border around the town. The town has a new archeological museum with displays of the mosaic floor of the bishops residence and small vials that pilgrims on their way from Rome filled with holy water after paying their respects to the relics of Saint Maxime which were housed there. I wish I had walked there yesterday and had more time to explore.

I picked up a salad and some treats in the supermarket and had a splendid day of walking under blue skies – a well fed pilgrim is a happy pilgrim.

In Auchy-au-Bois I stayed at the farmhouse bed and breakfast of Madame Brigitte de Saint-Laurent. She’s becoming quite a celebrity on the Via Francigena and she proudly showed me her guest book, full of photos of pilgrims and their messages of thanks – and post cards that they sent her from Rome. The house is quirky and charming in an old fashioned way - wooden beams, flowery wallpaper, and ornaments on every vertical and horizontal surface.

I had been hoping that I might persuade Mme Brigitte to offer dinner for an additional fee – but two pushy cyclists arrived and wrecked any chance of that. I don’t think she liked the way they were acting and when they asked about dinner she pointed them to the chip van up the road. One of them wanted me to translate a request for Madame Brigitte to cook up some spaghetti – but I sidestepped the dubious honour of being the intermediary for a pushy cyclist who turns his nose up at chips. I don’t mind chips. And the barman didn't mind me eating chips in his bar. So I was fine.

(23/Aug/2019): Auchy-au-Bois to Bruay-la-Buissière

Well that was a long day – I was expecting about 15km but it turned out to be 34. The Via Francigena really takes you the long way around.

From Auchy-au-Bois, I set off toward Amettes, which turned out to be a rather lovely little village with a museum dedicated to Saint Benoît in the house where he was born. I put together lunch from the boulangerie and the boucherie in Ferfay, and sat on a bench just outside town to enjoy it.

The route zigged and zagged around various remnants from the days when this was mining country- Emile Zola country. Mostly on pleasant forested paths and disused railway beds. Eventually I emerged in the mining company town of Marles les Mines.

No more posh houses around here - The urban landscape is “mining company town” with rows of identical houses. But not much sign of decay – and not much evidence of unrest. I understand that there’s unemployment and deprivation here. I see that businesses are closed. But it appears to be in better shape (in any way that a casual observer might notice) than post-industrial towns in England. I’m fascinated by the quality of the brickwork in the old buildings. It’s very beautiful in places.

On my way through Marles-les-Mines I saw a hotel right by the path - in the suburb of Calonne-Ricouart. It surprised me because it didn't appear on Google maps when I was planning this day. It's called L'auberge des gourmets

With hindsight, I wish I'd stayed there because the hotels in Bruay-la-Buissière are far off the VF route and my hotel "Le Cottage" was unsatisfactory. Marles has a railway station which would have been handy for getting back to London.

This is one of the stages where I think pilgrims struggle to find decent places to stay - Mme Brigitte told me that most people go to a hotel in Bruay after they leave her place. I think that Le Gourmet might be a better option than the hotels in Bruay. I wonder why they don't appear in online searches.

(24/Aug/2019): Eurostar to London

Bus to Béthune. Train to Lille. Eurostar to London.
Well it was a great trip. I'm sorry it wasn't longer. With a couple more days I could have made it to Arras, which is supposed to be beautiful. I look forward to rejoining the path one day. I'll probably do a bit more planning when I do that.
I hope my account is of some use to people who are planning a trip on this route - It can be done with no planning, but I think a little planning will help you to get more out of it than I did.
 

mspath

Veteran Member
Camino(s) past & future
Frances, autumn/winter; 2004, 2005-2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015
Raggy,
Thanks for sharing your memories and many tips with the Forum. As you mentioned blue skies may be great but most important is easily available good food.
Where might you next walk ?
Wherever/whenever you do
Ultreia!
 

Raggy

Veteran Member
Camino(s) past & future
Camino Mozarabe Almeria (2017)
Cherhill to Canterbury - Pilgrims' Way (2018)
Via Francigena (2019)
Where might you next walk ?
Wherever/whenever you do
Ultreia!
Thank you. I'll be on the Sanabres again next week with two friends. Looking forward to that.
 

kazrobbo

Tassie Kaz
Camino(s) past & future
CF(2012)
CP(2015)
St Olavs Way Norway(2016)
88 Temples Japan(2017)
PWC & VF(2019)
Israel (2020)
Just returned from a few days walking from Canterbury to Bruay-la-Buissière (a couple of days short of Arras).

My planning was zero - I just made things up as I went along. I used maps.me and wikiloc to find my way. Signage in France is very good. I had a tent but stupidly forgot to bring a pole so I stayed in Airbnbs and hotels every night. With the benefit of hindsight, there are a few things that I'd do differently, but I enjoyed it.

Here are a few notes on the route and the places I stayed. You can find more ramblings and photos on jonagrams.com

(16/Aug/2019): Canterbury to Shepherdswell

I waited for the cathedral to open at 9am to get my credential stamped again. It’s covered in scaffolding but everyone there is delightful. Left Canterbury via St. Augustine’s monastery and St. Martin's church. Breakfast at the golf club on the way out of Canterbury.

A couple of ancient churches on the way – St. Martins is Roman (the oldest continuously used church in the English speaking world) and St. Nicholas’ in Barfrestone is a beautiful Romanesque (12th century) church. It served pilgrims on their way to Canterbury and I think I spotted a pilgrim in the extraordinary frieze above the entrance. All made of Caen stone, apparently.

As orchards gave way to arable and livestock, more entertainment was provided by the animals – sheep, long horned cattle, and prancing horses. (Also partridges but they were too quick for my camera).

I couldn’t find a place to stay in Shepherdwell - I took the train to Dover, where I’ve booked two nights at the execrable “Adventure Backpackers” hostel. Poorly maintained, damp, moldy, and dirty. I did not stay a second night, even though I had paid for it.

(17/Aug/2019): Shepherdswell to Calais

Following a night of disturbed sleep in the fetid dormitory of the execrable Adventure Backpackers Hostel in Dover, I left my heavy rucksack in a locker and walked past early morning swimmers to the station for the train back to Shepherdswell.

In the visitors’ book at the church in Shepherdswell, I saw that I was the second pilgrim to pass this way today (Veronique must be a short distance ahead – I didn’t catch up with her) and there was an Italian pilgrim yesterday.

Maps.me recommended a route along the road but I stayed off the road and followed footpaths, which allowed me to run through fields of wheat, like a former prime minister.

I reached the hostel again shortly after 1pm and decided to cut my losses and jump on a ferry to Calais. Booked the Holiday Inn with points - which turned out to be a great decision. After the boat docked, pedestrians are taken by bus to the ferry terminal - from there, you walk up a ramp and along a walkway to exit the port. Once you're out of the port the first Via Francigena signage is on the road into town.

Calais is a much more pleasant town than Dover and I was able to have a healthy couscous for dinner at the Restaurant Sesame near the hotel.

(18/Aug/2019): Calais to Guînes

The official route of the Via Francigena takes pilgrims along the coast from Calais to the port of Wissant, which is where Sigeric, the tenth century Archbishop of Canterbury landed. Since I’m not interested in complete adherence to Sigeric’s itinerary, I took a direct route to Guînes with the added advantage that it allowed me to view Rodin’s sculpture of the Burghers of Calais.

Despite an unpromising drizzle at the start of the day, it was a mostly dry walk along a pleasant canal path.

In Guînes I found a wall mural to commemorate the field of the cloth of gold – a grand summit between Henry VIII of England and Francis I of France. The two kings spent three weeks impressing each other with elaborate entertainments, fine banquets, and extravagant clothes before signing a treaty.

The "Camping La Bien Assise" at Guînes is a lovely facility - a Norman farmhouse with a 5* campsite (with pool), hotel, restaurant and beautiful pilgrim refuge. I didn't anticipate a dedicated pilgrim hostel here - I just booked a room at the hotel online. (Kicking myself). The refuge looks awesome. You could probably just show up and ask to stay but better to call ahead and let them know you're coming. Very friendly staff. They have a pilgrim stamp and they enjoyed talking about the VF with me.

(19/Aug/2019) Guînes to Licques
A beautiful day for walking – windy but dry. I decided not to take a shortcut to reach Écotte outside Licques where I’m staying tonight. I followed the official Via Francigena route which took me around three sides of a square – an oddly indirect, but very rewarding path that took me through the forest of Guînes and then through countryside very much like the South Downs.

The route is well marked and not too strenuous – mostly flat. But it has been planned with a different philosophy than the Caminos in Spain. The Spanish routes tend to take pilgrims through the centre of every settlement and past the church. By contrast, on this section of the Via Francigena, the route often skirts small towns and villages – In my opinion, is often unnecessarily zig-zaggy - Later in my walk (Difques), for example I found that the signs directed me around three sides of a square, and past a nasty industrial depot with trucks coming in and out, just to show me a modern sign that says this was once a Roman road. With hindsight, I should have ignored more of those detours and followed the direct routes through towns and villages.

My accommodation near Licques was at Youri and Linda’s Airbnb, where the welcome is sincere. It's a few km outside of Licques, which is a little inconvenient, but very reasonable price and seriously good hosts - Linda put my clothes in her washing machine and made me an awesome dinner for an additional 10 Euros.

Linda recommended that I watch Bienvenue chez les Ch'tis to better understand people around here - looks very amusing:

(20/Aug/2019): Licques to Wisques

Another fine day on well marked paths with some interesting historic ruins along the way - la Chapelle de Guemy. Beautiful spot to stop for some lunch and look over the countryside. Similar to the South Downs at this point.
Very little not to like ...

The monastery at Wisques offers accommodation to male pilgrims. There's a convent up the road for females.

I’m happy that I stayed at the abbey in Wisques. It added a feeling of real pilgrimage that had been missing from this walk. But boy do those monks lead an austere life. Dinner involved lots of prayers in Latin, followed by a grey soup and some lightly seasoned carrot and cucumber, while listening to someone intoning something about Jerome.I had a glass of wine to boost the calories. No conversation with the other guests at the table with me – men who were on spiritual retreats or helping out at the monastery. The monks were very nice, though.

In hindsight, I would buy some food on the way to Wisques because I was really hungry after this stay - and I had a bit of a struggle to find food the next day.

(21/Aug/2019): Wisques to Inghem

The monks invited me to join the low mass at 6:50AM, which involved about half an hour of kneeling on a narrow, hard-edged, kneeler while priests said mass in Latin at four altars around the chapel. I couldn’t stand the pain and had to sit a couple of times. I think I would have found this extremely strange, even in my teenage years when I was a practicing Catholic.

Following mass, I had a light breakfast (bread and jam) with the other guests, who thankfully ignored the sign recommending guests to eat in silence. I got to know them a little – all very friendly, nice, young men.

In the next town, Esquerdes, Le Philips Bar has no food. And the boulangerie is closed on Wednesdays. Tremendously friendly place - the locals who came to the bar all shook my hand and welcomed me. But I needed fooooood... so after a coffee I detoured from the Via Francigena to the town of Hallines, where the bar Le Petit Bonheur brought me no bonheur at all, being closed despite Google promising that it would be open. Fortunately, the boulangerie across the road was able to sell me a fougasse and some chicken salad.

This area was known as the valley of paper for the paper mills that existed along the river in the past. I think the working water wheel in Hallines might have once powered a paper making workshop. Quite what a santiago shell is doing on the railway tracks there, I don’t know. I hope nobody follows it.

I made my way back to the Via Francigena – a joy to be walking through lovely countryside under blue skies. Lots of activity in the fields. But at Cléty I diverted to Inghem where I had booked an Airbnb with Sylvia – even though it’s far off the trail.
On my way to Inghem, I passed a farm with a vending machine for vegetables and bread but I didn't need it because my host gave me eggs and tomatoes from her garden.

With hindsight, I wish I had pushed on to Thérouanne, which turns out to be a real gem of a town with an archeological museum and a gite with a Francigena pilgrim sign.

(22/Aug/2019): Inghem to Auchy-au-Bois

The great discovery of today’s walk was the town of Thérouanne – a settlement with Pre-Roman origins that became a huge cathedral town. Twice sacked by the English in the Hundred Years’ War, but rebuilt each time. It was finally razed and utterly deleted from the map by Charles V of Spain in 1543. One can see the layout of the old walls in a ditch/hedge border around the town. The town has a new archeological museum with displays of the mosaic floor of the bishops residence and small vials that pilgrims on their way from Rome filled with holy water after paying their respects to the relics of Saint Maxime which were housed there. I wish I had walked there yesterday and had more time to explore.

I picked up a salad and some treats in the supermarket and had a splendid day of walking under blue skies – a well fed pilgrim is a happy pilgrim.

In Auchy-au-Bois I stayed at the farmhouse bed and breakfast of Madame Brigitte de Saint-Laurent. She’s becoming quite a celebrity on the Via Francigena and she proudly showed me her guest book, full of photos of pilgrims and their messages of thanks – and post cards that they sent her from Rome. The house is quirky and charming in an old fashioned way - wooden beams, flowery wallpaper, and ornaments on every vertical and horizontal surface.

I had been hoping that I might persuade Mme Brigitte to offer dinner for an additional fee – but two pushy cyclists arrived and wrecked any chance of that. I don’t think she liked the way they were acting and when they asked about dinner she pointed them to the chip van up the road. One of them wanted me to translate a request for Madame Brigitte to cook up some spaghetti – but I sidestepped the dubious honour of being the intermediary for a pushy cyclist who turns his nose up at chips. I don’t mind chips. And the barman didn't mind me eating chips in his bar. So I was fine.

(23/Aug/2019): Auchy-au-Bois to Bruay-la-Buissière

Well that was a long day – I was expecting about 15km but it turned out to be 34. The Via Francigena really takes you the long way around.

From Auchy-au-Bois, I set off toward Amettes, which turned out to be a rather lovely little village with a museum dedicated to Saint Benoît in the house where he was born. I put together lunch from the boulangerie and the boucherie in Ferfay, and sat on a bench just outside town to enjoy it.

The route zigged and zagged around various remnants from the days when this was mining country- Emile Zola country. Mostly on pleasant forested paths and disused railway beds. Eventually I emerged in the mining company town of Marles les Mines.

No more posh houses around here - The urban landscape is “mining company town” with rows of identical houses. But not much sign of decay – and not much evidence of unrest. I understand that there’s unemployment and deprivation here. I see that businesses are closed. But it appears to be in better shape (in any way that a casual observer might notice) than post-industrial towns in England. I’m fascinated by the quality of the brickwork in the old buildings. It’s very beautiful in places.

On my way through Marles-les-Mines I saw a hotel right by the path - in the suburb of Calonne-Ricouart. It surprised me because it didn't appear on Google maps when I was planning this day. It's called L'auberge des gourmets

With hindsight, I wish I'd stayed there because the hotels in Bruay-la-Buissière are far off the VF route and my hotel "Le Cottage" was unsatisfactory. Marles has a railway station which would have been handy for getting back to London.

This is one of the stages where I think pilgrims struggle to find decent places to stay - Mme Brigitte told me that most people go to a hotel in Bruay after they leave her place. I think that Le Gourmet might be a better option than the hotels in Bruay. I wonder why they don't appear in online searches.

(24/Aug/2019): Eurostar to London

Bus to Béthune. Train to Lille. Eurostar to London.
Well it was a great trip. I'm sorry it wasn't longer. With a couple more days I could have made it to Arras, which is supposed to be beautiful. I look forward to rejoining the path one day. I'll probably do a bit more planning when I do that.
I hope my account is of some use to people who are planning a trip on this route - It can be done with no planning, but I think a little planning will help you to get more out of it than I did.
Lovely to read of your experiences @Raggy.
I really enjoyed navigating my own way across Northern France...it cut out those annoying zig-zags you mentioned & also unearthed some otherwise missed gems.
And yes, food is an ongoing issue.
I also stayed at Le Cottage in Bruay & thought it was fine...better than expected & my room was lovely! 😄
Happy trails...hope you can do more of the VF.
👣 🌏
 

HaraldS

Member
Camino(s) past & future
2011-2017: Home(Germany) to SdC via Cologne-Taizé-Le Puy-Somport-Camino Aragones-Camino Frances
Why do I always remember the "Canterbury tales" when someone writes his Via Francigena experiences ;) ? Brilliantly written, I'd love to read more of you! I crossed the VF in Langres on my way from Germany to Spain. Be sure to stay in Langres.
Yes, the French GR ways tend to evite towns and villages. It's best not to stick to closely to the GRs at the end of the day (literally...).

What really made me smile was that nice allusion:
Maps.me recommended a route along the road but I stayed off the road and followed footpaths, which allowed me to run through fields of wheat, like a former prime minister.
MAYbe it was even the same field, eh? Very naughty ;) !
 

Raggy

Veteran Member
Camino(s) past & future
Camino Mozarabe Almeria (2017)
Cherhill to Canterbury - Pilgrims' Way (2018)
Via Francigena (2019)
I also stayed at Le Cottage in Bruay & thought it was fine...better than expected & my room was lovely! 😄
The room was alright - Quite small, tired carpet, worn paint, but that's okay for the price (€50). What let it down was the service. After an impersonal check-in (hotel is unstaffed after 2pm on Friday) and poor communication (misled me about nearby restaurants), I provided some constructive feedback, which led to a series of three unpleasant emails from the manager / owner. I would find it hard to recommend the place after that.
 

kazrobbo

Tassie Kaz
Camino(s) past & future
CF(2012)
CP(2015)
St Olavs Way Norway(2016)
88 Temples Japan(2017)
PWC & VF(2019)
Israel (2020)
The room was alright - Quite small, tired carpet, worn paint, but that's okay for the price (€50). What let it down was the service. After an impersonal check-in (hotel is unstaffed after 2pm on Friday) and poor communication (misled me about nearby restaurants), I provided some constructive feedback, which led to a series of three unpleasant emails from the manager / owner. I would find it hard to recommend the place after that.
Oh dear...that wasn't my experience.
Refurbished room, lovely staff who were waiting for me (Tues), I paid less (different time of year) & I easily found the supermarket they directed me to.
Guess it's just the luck of the draw. 😉
Ah well...all part of the story of your VF.
Looking forward to your next instalment...whenever that may be! 😊
👣 🌏
 

Harington

Active Member
Camino(s) past & future
Vézelay/Francés 2011, Primitivo 2012, VdlP 2013, Via Domitia 2014, Inglés 2015, Francigena 2016
Just returned from a few days walking from Canterbury to Bruay-la-Buissière (a couple of days short of Arras).

My planning was zero - I just made things up as I went along. I used maps.me and wikiloc to find my way. Signage in France is very good. I had a tent but stupidly forgot to bring a pole so I stayed in Airbnbs and hotels every night. With the benefit of hindsight, there are a few things that I'd do differently, but I enjoyed it.

Here are a few notes on the route and the places I stayed. You can find more ramblings and photos on jonagrams.com

(16/Aug/2019): Canterbury to Shepherdswell

I waited for the cathedral to open at 9am to get my credential stamped again. It’s covered in scaffolding but everyone there is delightful. Left Canterbury via St. Augustine’s monastery and St. Martin's church. Breakfast at the golf club on the way out of Canterbury.

A couple of ancient churches on the way – St. Martins is Roman (the oldest continuously used church in the English speaking world) and St. Nicholas’ in Barfrestone is a beautiful Romanesque (12th century) church. It served pilgrims on their way to Canterbury and I think I spotted a pilgrim in the extraordinary frieze above the entrance. All made of Caen stone, apparently.

As orchards gave way to arable and livestock, more entertainment was provided by the animals – sheep, long horned cattle, and prancing horses. (Also partridges but they were too quick for my camera).

I couldn’t find a place to stay in Shepherdwell - I took the train to Dover, where I’ve booked two nights at the execrable “Adventure Backpackers” hostel. Poorly maintained, damp, moldy, and dirty. I did not stay a second night, even though I had paid for it.

(17/Aug/2019): Shepherdswell to Calais

Following a night of disturbed sleep in the fetid dormitory of the execrable Adventure Backpackers Hostel in Dover, I left my heavy rucksack in a locker and walked past early morning swimmers to the station for the train back to Shepherdswell.

In the visitors’ book at the church in Shepherdswell, I saw that I was the second pilgrim to pass this way today (Veronique must be a short distance ahead – I didn’t catch up with her) and there was an Italian pilgrim yesterday.

Maps.me recommended a route along the road but I stayed off the road and followed footpaths, which allowed me to run through fields of wheat, like a former prime minister.

I reached the hostel again shortly after 1pm and decided to cut my losses and jump on a ferry to Calais. Booked the Holiday Inn with points - which turned out to be a great decision. After the boat docked, pedestrians are taken by bus to the ferry terminal - from there, you walk up a ramp and along a walkway to exit the port. Once you're out of the port the first Via Francigena signage is on the road into town.

Calais is a much more pleasant town than Dover and I was able to have a healthy couscous for dinner at the Restaurant Sesame near the hotel.

(18/Aug/2019): Calais to Guînes

The official route of the Via Francigena takes pilgrims along the coast from Calais to the port of Wissant, which is where Sigeric, the tenth century Archbishop of Canterbury landed. Since I’m not interested in complete adherence to Sigeric’s itinerary, I took a direct route to Guînes with the added advantage that it allowed me to view Rodin’s sculpture of the Burghers of Calais.

Despite an unpromising drizzle at the start of the day, it was a mostly dry walk along a pleasant canal path.

In Guînes I found a wall mural to commemorate the field of the cloth of gold – a grand summit between Henry VIII of England and Francis I of France. The two kings spent three weeks impressing each other with elaborate entertainments, fine banquets, and extravagant clothes before signing a treaty.

The "Camping La Bien Assise" at Guînes is a lovely facility - a Norman farmhouse with a 5* campsite (with pool), hotel, restaurant and beautiful pilgrim refuge. I didn't anticipate a dedicated pilgrim hostel here - I just booked a room at the hotel online. (Kicking myself). The refuge looks awesome. You could probably just show up and ask to stay but better to call ahead and let them know you're coming. Very friendly staff. They have a pilgrim stamp and they enjoyed talking about the VF with me.

(19/Aug/2019) Guînes to Licques
A beautiful day for walking – windy but dry. I decided not to take a shortcut to reach Écotte outside Licques where I’m staying tonight. I followed the official Via Francigena route which took me around three sides of a square – an oddly indirect, but very rewarding path that took me through the forest of Guînes and then through countryside very much like the South Downs.

The route is well marked and not too strenuous – mostly flat. But it has been planned with a different philosophy than the Caminos in Spain. The Spanish routes tend to take pilgrims through the centre of every settlement and past the church. By contrast, on this section of the Via Francigena, the route often skirts small towns and villages – In my opinion, is often unnecessarily zig-zaggy - Later in my walk (Difques), for example I found that the signs directed me around three sides of a square, and past a nasty industrial depot with trucks coming in and out, just to show me a modern sign that says this was once a Roman road. With hindsight, I should have ignored more of those detours and followed the direct routes through towns and villages.

My accommodation near Licques was at Youri and Linda’s Airbnb, where the welcome is sincere. It's a few km outside of Licques, which is a little inconvenient, but very reasonable price and seriously good hosts - Linda put my clothes in her washing machine and made me an awesome dinner for an additional 10 Euros.

Linda recommended that I watch Bienvenue chez les Ch'tis to better understand people around here - looks very amusing:

(20/Aug/2019): Licques to Wisques

Another fine day on well marked paths with some interesting historic ruins along the way - la Chapelle de Guemy. Beautiful spot to stop for some lunch and look over the countryside. Similar to the South Downs at this point.
Very little not to like ...

The monastery at Wisques offers accommodation to male pilgrims. There's a convent up the road for females.

I’m happy that I stayed at the abbey in Wisques. It added a feeling of real pilgrimage that had been missing from this walk. But boy do those monks lead an austere life. Dinner involved lots of prayers in Latin, followed by a grey soup and some lightly seasoned carrot and cucumber, while listening to someone intoning something about Jerome.I had a glass of wine to boost the calories. No conversation with the other guests at the table with me – men who were on spiritual retreats or helping out at the monastery. The monks were very nice, though.

In hindsight, I would buy some food on the way to Wisques because I was really hungry after this stay - and I had a bit of a struggle to find food the next day.

(21/Aug/2019): Wisques to Inghem

The monks invited me to join the low mass at 6:50AM, which involved about half an hour of kneeling on a narrow, hard-edged, kneeler while priests said mass in Latin at four altars around the chapel. I couldn’t stand the pain and had to sit a couple of times. I think I would have found this extremely strange, even in my teenage years when I was a practicing Catholic.

Following mass, I had a light breakfast (bread and jam) with the other guests, who thankfully ignored the sign recommending guests to eat in silence. I got to know them a little – all very friendly, nice, young men.

In the next town, Esquerdes, Le Philips Bar has no food. And the boulangerie is closed on Wednesdays. Tremendously friendly place - the locals who came to the bar all shook my hand and welcomed me. But I needed fooooood... so after a coffee I detoured from the Via Francigena to the town of Hallines, where the bar Le Petit Bonheur brought me no bonheur at all, being closed despite Google promising that it would be open. Fortunately, the boulangerie across the road was able to sell me a fougasse and some chicken salad.

This area was known as the valley of paper for the paper mills that existed along the river in the past. I think the working water wheel in Hallines might have once powered a paper making workshop. Quite what a santiago shell is doing on the railway tracks there, I don’t know. I hope nobody follows it.

I made my way back to the Via Francigena – a joy to be walking through lovely countryside under blue skies. Lots of activity in the fields. But at Cléty I diverted to Inghem where I had booked an Airbnb with Sylvia – even though it’s far off the trail.
On my way to Inghem, I passed a farm with a vending machine for vegetables and bread but I didn't need it because my host gave me eggs and tomatoes from her garden.

With hindsight, I wish I had pushed on to Thérouanne, which turns out to be a real gem of a town with an archeological museum and a gite with a Francigena pilgrim sign.

(22/Aug/2019): Inghem to Auchy-au-Bois

The great discovery of today’s walk was the town of Thérouanne – a settlement with Pre-Roman origins that became a huge cathedral town. Twice sacked by the English in the Hundred Years’ War, but rebuilt each time. It was finally razed and utterly deleted from the map by Charles V of Spain in 1543. One can see the layout of the old walls in a ditch/hedge border around the town. The town has a new archeological museum with displays of the mosaic floor of the bishops residence and small vials that pilgrims on their way from Rome filled with holy water after paying their respects to the relics of Saint Maxime which were housed there. I wish I had walked there yesterday and had more time to explore.

I picked up a salad and some treats in the supermarket and had a splendid day of walking under blue skies – a well fed pilgrim is a happy pilgrim.

In Auchy-au-Bois I stayed at the farmhouse bed and breakfast of Madame Brigitte de Saint-Laurent. She’s becoming quite a celebrity on the Via Francigena and she proudly showed me her guest book, full of photos of pilgrims and their messages of thanks – and post cards that they sent her from Rome. The house is quirky and charming in an old fashioned way - wooden beams, flowery wallpaper, and ornaments on every vertical and horizontal surface.

I had been hoping that I might persuade Mme Brigitte to offer dinner for an additional fee – but two pushy cyclists arrived and wrecked any chance of that. I don’t think she liked the way they were acting and when they asked about dinner she pointed them to the chip van up the road. One of them wanted me to translate a request for Madame Brigitte to cook up some spaghetti – but I sidestepped the dubious honour of being the intermediary for a pushy cyclist who turns his nose up at chips. I don’t mind chips. And the barman didn't mind me eating chips in his bar. So I was fine.

(23/Aug/2019): Auchy-au-Bois to Bruay-la-Buissière

Well that was a long day – I was expecting about 15km but it turned out to be 34. The Via Francigena really takes you the long way around.

From Auchy-au-Bois, I set off toward Amettes, which turned out to be a rather lovely little village with a museum dedicated to Saint Benoît in the house where he was born. I put together lunch from the boulangerie and the boucherie in Ferfay, and sat on a bench just outside town to enjoy it.

The route zigged and zagged around various remnants from the days when this was mining country- Emile Zola country. Mostly on pleasant forested paths and disused railway beds. Eventually I emerged in the mining company town of Marles les Mines.

No more posh houses around here - The urban landscape is “mining company town” with rows of identical houses. But not much sign of decay – and not much evidence of unrest. I understand that there’s unemployment and deprivation here. I see that businesses are closed. But it appears to be in better shape (in any way that a casual observer might notice) than post-industrial towns in England. I’m fascinated by the quality of the brickwork in the old buildings. It’s very beautiful in places.

On my way through Marles-les-Mines I saw a hotel right by the path - in the suburb of Calonne-Ricouart. It surprised me because it didn't appear on Google maps when I was planning this day. It's called L'auberge des gourmets

With hindsight, I wish I'd stayed there because the hotels in Bruay-la-Buissière are far off the VF route and my hotel "Le Cottage" was unsatisfactory. Marles has a railway station which would have been handy for getting back to London.

This is one of the stages where I think pilgrims struggle to find decent places to stay - Mme Brigitte told me that most people go to a hotel in Bruay after they leave her place. I think that Le Gourmet might be a better option than the hotels in Bruay. I wonder why they don't appear in online searches.

(24/Aug/2019): Eurostar to London

Bus to Béthune. Train to Lille. Eurostar to London.
Well it was a great trip. I'm sorry it wasn't longer. With a couple more days I could have made it to Arras, which is supposed to be beautiful. I look forward to rejoining the path one day. I'll probably do a bit more planning when I do that.
I hope my account is of some use to people who are planning a trip on this route - It can be done with no planning, but I think a little planning will help you to get more out of it than I did.
For the sake of others who will follow in your footsteps....https://pilgrimstorome.org.uk/the-journey/accommodation/
 

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