Sunday 6 October 2013

Scenes from a Norman Jaunt

Le Bec-Hellouin, in the lush-pastured, well wooded Risle valley, is now a pretty picture-postcard village (above). It's a quiet, sleepy place - so quiet that we weren't able even to get a coffee; the young man in charge of the single cafe was for some reason unable to provide us with any until the arrival of monsieur le patron, whom he awaited... Such is Le Bec-Hellouin now - but in the tenth and 11th centuries, the Abbey here (of which only a fine tower remains) was a major European centre of learning and faith, the Oxford and Cambridge of Normandy, whither the great Lanfranc came to escape his celebrity and spent three years in prayerful meditation before catching the eye of William of Normandy, who in due course appointed him the first Archbishop of Canterbury of Norman England. Lanfranc was succeeded as Abbot of Le Bec-Hellouin by another great churchman, St Anselm, who himself was to become an Archbishop of Canterbury. Le Bec also gave England other Bishops, including Gundulph (no relation to Gandalf), who was not only Bishop of Rochester but architect of Rochester Castle and the Tower of London.
 And now you can't even get a cup of coffee there...

It was while he was besieging the Duke of Burgundy at the nearby Brionne Castle that William spotted Lanfranc. Nothing remains of that castle but the battered keep, high above the town. We toiled up to it - and found the sunny flowery slope below the keep alive with butterflies. Clouded Yellows, Peacocks and Red Admirals galore, bright Small Coppers, a Painted Lady, various Blues too lively to settle and be identified (and an equally lively French brown I couldn't identify) were dancing and basking in the mellow autumn sunshine. A magical finale to the butterfly year.

As the ferry pulled out of Dieppe, nobody on the jetty was paying much attention as the huge boat passed alongside on its way to the open sea. This is usual nowadays - little or no waving. But then, just along the rail from me, a young girl (16 or so?) suddenly came alive, waving wildly with both hands and jumping up and down - she had spotted her family, and they her. Waving back with equal verve, her father sprinted towards the end of the jetty, followed by her mother and sister. All three arrived at the end in time to wave the girl off until she and they could no longer see each other as more than fast-fading specks of colour...
  As the ferry docked at Newhaven, an announcement came telling foot passengers (I was now travelling alone) where to muster. I made my way there and all seemed well, so I went to wash my hands - in the course of which there seemed to be another announcement saying much the same thing as the first. Returning to the mustering point and not getting the call for les pietons, I began to wonder if I was in the right place after all. No doubt you're ahead of me here: it was indeed not the right place. That was at the other end of the ship, my passage to which was now blocked by a mighty throng of motorists. I barged my way through them, then down into the bowels of the ship (seven decks) to find no evidence of a pedestrian exit, then back up the seven flights of stairs, barging my way back through the same appalled throng. Above decks I found a deserted ship - deserted by all but one other bewildered foot passenger. It was the waving girl, now wandering like me in search of a member of staff...
  It ended well enough and we were shown off the boat and into a waiting car, which took us to customs. And so home. And tomorrow I'm off to Venice for a few days.

No comments:

Post a Comment