Next day we packed up the car and headed for Honfleur near Le Havre, some 70 minutes south. We would be heading northwards to Calais that evening so had checked out of the hotel and bade Rouen a fond farewell.
As we neared Honfleur, we saw a sign for Pont L’Eveque, my first ever overseas destination as a fourteen year old on a school exchange. I had not realised it was so close and was tempted to detour there first. However, on the basis that I would remember nothing at all of the place and also that Mrs Wilbur would have been pretty bored I am sure, we decided to head straight to the pretty port town.
I had remembered reading an article about twenty-five years previously that had stated how concerned the mayor of Honfleur had been about the number of Brits buying houses in the lovely area. Indeed, as soon as we parked up we could see, hear and feel the British presence. It seemed the mayor liked the colour of British money if little else regarding les boeufs.
It was a touch overcast so we decided to eat first, choosing from one of the many eateries dotted around the harbour. After a less than satisfactory tourist menu of mush and gristle, happily the sun was peeping through the cloud and the sky started to take a far bluer hue. Time for a long coffee and a linger as we sat right by the water’s edge and drank in the impressive view.
There was something Dutch or Scandinavian about the tall narrow buildings that flanked the harbour walls. Arranged higgledy piggledy fashion, each one had a different structure and colour, their uneven roofs slicing the skyline with a serrated edge. Mrs Wilbur was content to remain for a second coffee and a few chapters of Chocolat, whilst I went for a wander.
Away from the colourful harbour with its modestly sized yachts and boats, stood the main town with its superior restaurants and less tacky shops. I was in for a real treat. St Catherine’s Church dominated a lovely medieval square, whose buildings if not their functions seemed to have changed little for centuries. The church itself was wonderful. Tudor style timbered walls, gothic black steeple, striking brickwork and ornately carved window frames. Inside the layout and decor was simple, aside from a lovely example of a wooden vaulted ceiling.
The square was also home to another medieval jewel. The 15th century bell & clock tower looked to be perfect accommodation for wizard folk, a building straight out of Hogsmeade Village of Harry Potter fame. The clock tower itself looked as though it had been latched on to the roof as an after-thought, as though the town had a clock that it needed placing somewhere, so the residents had decided to place it on the small brick and wooden dwelling opposite the church. In fact it was actually part of the main church but placed separately in case of lightning strike and fire, to protect the parishioners from burning to death in the largely wooden church.
I strode back purposefully to tell Mrs W of my ‘discovery’ and happily retraced my footsteps to see it all again.
Shortly after we were Calais bound, but had a couple of modern highlights in store as we crossed the Seine over a particularly impressive suspension bridge, followed by a second curved construction that resembled something straight out of a boys racing car set. Some stunning engineering all round that assuaged somewhat my irritation at the fast accumulating tolls we paid on the journey north.
As I drove, thoughts turned to the trenches of WWI as we cut through the flat lands of the Somme. That was when the fun and inspiration ended as we reached the far from exciting Calais, a means to an end.