We took our campervan, The Blue Lady '0ver from Dover' The alarm went off at 5am and we got away smoothly and onto the 6.50 P&0 ferry for Calais
By just after 9 am we had visited a boulonger for croissants and were sitting outside a café near Bleriot Plage enjoying coffee. We headed south on the coast road , which in rural areas gave access to attractive beaches. It took us up and down affording wide views over the fields and the cliff tops to the Channel We stopped briefly at a massive gun emplacement which was now in business as a World War Two museum and near Cap Blanc-Nez where we we saw a statue of the early aviator Lieutenant Latham. He had travelled over a little earlier than us, back in July 1909, and was the first to attempt a flight over the channel, unfortunately he 'landed' in the water!
Driving on we wondered what he might have thought of the twenty or so brightly coloured motorised Para gliders that we saw ahead of us in the sky above the cliffs. They were riding the thermals before descending to the beach near Wimereux.
It was near here that we managed to be the last customers in a supermarket before it’s noon Sunday closing. We stocked up with a few essentials. Camping Gaz, wine, asparagus, chocolate and bread .
At this point having no firm plan in mind we decided to try and head inland and find a rural place to stop for a couple of days. We took a number of small roads to nowhere then fate took a hand as we came out on to a two lane dual highway, the N42 Signposted for St Omar. The Blue Lady fairly purred along the empty highway and eventually looking for a campsite we picked up a sign for one in Aire sur la lys.
It was the Municipal campsite located beside the water and we parked on a a garden style individual pitch with hedges on three sides. Our new neighbours were friendly folk and we were welcomed by Marie and Bernard who told us about a parade in town due to start at 3.30. We went along and joined the crowds and after waiting for an hour having had the sense to find an outdoor table at a café, the parade came by. We were entertained by five marching bands, Some stopped and counter marched. Some groups even danced.
There were giant statues that moved along, the legendary Lyderic, the grand forester of Flanders, followed by his bride Chrymilde, a Scottish Princess .
Towering over us she was a stunning beauty.
Add to all this a variety of entertainers that included Disney characters and sweets being dispensed for the children and you will understand that it was a good show and worth the walk from the campsite. In the evening we heard the sound of fireworks but by then, although it had been a pleasant day we were too weary to get involved and ready were for a cosy night in The Blue Lady.
It was a really warm evening and as the sun set we sat outside enjoying our dinner by candle light.
The next day we went for a walk along the canal path outside the campsite and watched a few massive barges pass by. They looked as though they had very smart living accommodation and some even carried a small car on the rear deck.
It was qite a busy waterway and a junction at he Bassin d' Aire enabled craft to reach to Paris, Calais and Dunkirk. We followed the waterside path which was lined with houses and gardens and headed into town where we were fascinated by the variety and style of the buildings. Many had very old metal door and there was an almost Dutch or Flemish feel to some of the back streets.
Small canals seemed be everywhere and there was evidence of buildings that had been ancient warehouses some with doors opening out onto the water.
We rounded off our visit a with a coffee and a lovely cold beer outside a café in the Place Grande and considered ourselves lucky to have had such an interesting start to our visit to France.
Aire-sur-la-Lys is a rather sleepy little town on the border between Nord and Pas de Calais, the two departments of Nord-Pas de Calais.
It wasn’t always so tranquil though the Lys River after which it is named still runs through the town as it has for centuries.
Thanks to its strategic position between the mountains of Flanders and hills of Artois it has been coveted and fought over, and has been by turns Spanish, English, Dutch and Burgundian. It wasn’t until 1713 that it finally became French for good.
Aire-sur-la-Lys was created in the 9th Century by the counts of Flanders, it became a fortified town and is today sprinkled with reminders of its historic past.
There be Giants
in the Pas-de-Calais
Aire-sur-la-Lys has a tourist office Website: www.ot-airesurlalys.fr
You can book a guided tour, or pick up a booklet (French, English, Dutch).
How to get there:
Aire-sur-la-Lys is about 10km from St Omer; approximately 50 minutes from Calais
If you visit on a Friday morning and you’ll discover a vibrant little market in the cobble stone square under the watchful eye of the UNESCO listed Belfry clock which chimes every half an hour, surrounded by tall Flemish style buildings.
A touch of serendipity as Allan Rogers enjoys a parade in Aire-sur-la-Lys