La Ferme des Deux Tilleuls

Our overnight lodgings at Amettes were warm and comfortable. Our hosts Collette and Jean Batiste were most kind and helpful. Collette’s parents used to run a dairy herd here, but when they took over they diversified. Amongst other things they bred rabbits for the table. Julie’s mother also tried rabbits on their farm in Devon, but it was difficult to make it economic.

The Church of St Benoit at Amettes

After saying goodbye to our hosts, we headed up to the church of St Benoit in the centre of the village. It was open and gave the impression of being well used. The story of Saint Benoit is a major theme of the church. He was born and grew up in Amettes. Concern for poor people played a big part in his life and his ministry. He is said to have walked more than 30 ooo km on pilgrimages criss-crossing western Europe. There are some lovely cartoon drawings of his life around the walls of the nave.

He died in Rome at the age of 35, and is buried there in the Church of Santa Maria di Monti. We made a mental note to visit his tomb, when we reach Rome.

Saint Benoit

The road out of Amettes took us down the hill and then back up onto the plateau where yesterday’s snow had half melted and frozen overnight. Fortunately we were late enough getting going this morning for most of the ice to have begun to melt!

Rejoining a minor road we walked past an interesting looking chapel and the church in Ferfay, both firmly locked against visitors. We were repeatedly told about thefts from churches which had led to them being closed except for services. We thought this rather sad as when churches were open there were people coming in to sit quietly or light candles, finding peace and solace.

Locked church at Forfay

As we were leaving Forfay we were first accosted by a driver asking if we would like to come with him for lunch, but as it was too early for lunch and we had a long way still to go we politely declined. Another man, noticing us checking the map near his house, came over to help and was interested in what we were doing.

The next stretch was very pleasant walking on a woodland track with the sun shining and shelter from the cold northeasterly wind still blowing. We inadvertently disturbed a bird of prey which had been feeding on a baby rabbit. We hoped it returned to collect its meal after we’d gone.

Walking into Auchel centre

Most of the rest of the day was spent walking through a former coal mining area, with many old slag heaps now regenerating naturally as wildlife sanctuaries and row upon row of miners’ cottages. First, though we walked into Auchel where the centre has been regenerated and found a convenient ly placed bench to sit on to eat our lunch.

Just around the corner Auchel’s church was locked up except for services, and so we continued our way southwards out of town. A lady stopped and asked about our pilgrimage. It is so reassuring when strangers ask about what we are doing. She wished us bon courage and we continued on our way. Round the next corner was a greengrocer’s still open – unusual on a Saturday afternoon in rural France – so we stocked up on more oranges. The shopkeeper noticed the banners on our rucksacks and started chatting to us in very good English. He said he was from Morocco and was very encouraging about our pilgrimage, pressing us to accept free bottles of water. He likened it to the haj.

One of many rows of miners’ cottages

South of Auchel the former mining villages merge one into another, with hundreds of back to back rows of cottages, each with its shed and a fair sized garden. It didn’t look as if the British lockdown passion for growing your own vegetables had arrived here, and although there were public sports facilities we were surprised that no one seemed to be using them on a Saturday afternoon.

Looking back towards Auchel

Before coming into Bruay-le-Buissiere, our destination for today, we walked through one more stretch of abandoned mining works along a level paved road blocked off at each end to prevent motorised vehicles from using it – though not E-bikes!

The last few kilometres were a bit of a slog along busy roads, taking us into and across Bruay-la-Buissiere as hotels are located on the other side of town. This is because they are primarily used by people on work projects who zoom in from the motorway. As they only stay during the week, hotels don’t offer evening meals over the weekend. After a very unprofessional rant in French the receptionist offered to book us into a restaurant said to be only a five minute walk away at an out of town entertainment centre. It took us 20-30 minutes so she had clearly never actually walked it herself! We would recommend that pilgrims bypass Bruay in favour of somewhere more hospitable to those travelling on foot.

Unusual dramatisation of Stations of the Cross at Amettes

Highlights of the day were the lovely church in Amettes, and the woodland walks, plus the friendly Moroccan shopkeeper who seemed to understand why we had chosen to do such a long walk.

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