It was rather foggy as we left the Auberge de la Jeunesse close the beachfront, but the sun was already beginning to break through promising another unusually warm day for March.

The seafront here is a strange mixture between ‘functional’ apartment blocks possibly dating from the sixties, and newly created public leisure space. The latter, most likely funded by EU money, does rather well in improving what would otherwise appear rather shabby and down at heel. It was good to see that even at this hour there were a fair number of people out exercising.

Calais beach’s well used skatepark

After a kilometre or so the route disgorged us onto a wide sandy beach. Quickly we learned to look for the harder sand as that closer to the dunes was worse than freshly fallen snow to walk on.

Bleriot plage – miles of sand

Although the sun shone all day, it never burned off the sea mist which obscured views of the Channel, with frequent ferries emerging out of the haze as they plied to and from Calais. We noted many more people out walking, running and exercising their dogs than we had seen in Kent.

First stop was the modern looking church of Notre Dame de Cap Blanc in Sangatte. In one corner stands a large model of a cave with the Virgin Mary and kneeling below a young girl praying, symbolic, we presume of the Lourdes appearance. No recognition of the pilgrim route since this stage is a modern addition to connect with Calais after the lagoon port at Wissant silted up.

From Sangatte the path rises gently uphill at first through rolling arable farmland and nature reserves, with glimpses of Cap Blanc Nez in the distance. On a clear day we would have been able to see the Kent coast, but it was not to be. All along this coastline there is evidence of the concrete fortifications of Hitler’s Atlantic Wall, and pock-marked ground from the heavy shelling inflicted on this part of France during WW2.

Heavily shelled area behind Cap Blanc Nez

A steep climb to a radar station and descent to the road brought us down to Cap Blanc Nez where a prominent obelisque visible for many miles in every direction recognises the heroism of the First World War Dover Patrol, a combined Anglo-French operation to keep the Channel open for shipping. Many local fishermen were lost attempting to disarm the mines laid by German warships. Sadly we found the monument covered in graffiti, though all the paths around it are very well maintained thanks presumably to EU funding.

The road to Wissant has attracted motorcyclists for its steep undulations and thrilling bends since the last century, and that tradition seems to continue, so we were glad that our path took us away from the road and back towards the more restful sound of waves breaking on the beach. Curiously, and despite extensive areas of fenced off nature reserve, we heard few birds other than larks and saw no wild flowers other than daisies. We wondered whether the way the adjacent land was being farmed, with obvious use of artificial fertilisers and no hedgerows, may have had something to do with the lack of biodiversity.

Descent towards Escalles and the beach

A winding descent down to the small hamlet of Escalles brought us back onto the cliffs above the beach, and an undulating path towards Wissant, the original port for English pilgrims setting out for Rome before the harbour silted up.

WW2 fortifications beyond Cap Blanc Nez

The final stretch into Wissant took us along the beach, which was even better used than around Calais, with many people out walking and a group of kite surfers enjoying the brisk easterly breeze. We were very fortunate that the tide was in our favour today, enabling us to use the beach and avoid either struggling through sand dunes or tramping along a busy main road.

Back onto the beach heading for Wissant

With the tide well out all day we enjoyed good firm sand to walk on

At Wissant we found the Church of St Nicolas where the choir was doing some note-bashing after a service, judging by the air heavy with the smell of incense. Surprisingly, they appeared to be unaware of the Canterbury cross inside the church or the plaque outside commemorating Thomas a Becket’s departure from Wissant on 1st December 1170, on what turned out to be his way to martyrdom at the hands of Henry II’s knights. Here was another church on the Via Francigena – in this instance, at the original port of arrival/ departure of pilgrims from/ to Canterbury – which seems to be completely unaware of its historical importance and role as a pilgrim church. No pilgrim stamp to be found here either. Rather disappointing.

However, we did find an excellent restaurant with fresh seafood on the menu which, with a nice bottle of Muscadet, did much to assuage any disappointment about being unable to stamp our pilgrim passports today! As we leave the coast behind this was probably our last opportunity for fresh seafood until we reach the Italian coast…….so we decided we would splash out!

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *