What a day! But we made it to Wissant, the little seaside town some 20Km south of Calais. Wissant was a busy cross channel port until about 400 years ago when the harbour silted up and P&O moved their cross channel ferries up to Calais. The official Via Francigena therefore travels here from Calais to follow the actual footprints of Archbishop Sigeric. However there are few pilgrims who venture down to Wissant nowadays because it adds a whole day to the pilgrimage.
Our day started well. The Rolles Court B&B in Church Whitfield was a dream. Everything was perfect. The owners couldn’t have been more helpful and the breakfast was delicious. We are talking home made preserved peaches and apricots, homemade jams, croissants, cereals and scrambled eggs. Green tea of course. We enjoyed it so much that we forgot about our schedule and the need to check in for the boat by 10.10.
The walk into Dover was about 7Km and we arrived at the foot passenger terminal with just a few minutes to spare. On the way to the boat we were selected for a special security search which yielded nothing of interest.
Once aboard you realise that nothing much has changed on the cross channel ferry in 40 years. Except most people now use the channel tunnel or they fly. Why does anyone inflict this punishment on themselves? But I have so many happy memories of crossing the channel in the 1970s that it is now more about nostalgia than efficiency for me.
The English Channel can be very rough. I once took a small ferry from Newhaven to Dieppe when I was about 18. An elderly couple invited me to join them for tea and we took a table in the restaurant as the small boat headed out of the harbour. Soon a waiter appeared with a teapot and warned us that the sea was a little choppy and advised us to keep hold of the pot. It was good advice. The sandwiches and cakes held firm but keeping tea from spilling on a pitching boat is an art that my seasoned companions had mastered. “Don’t you get seasick?” I asked. “Not at all” they replied. We were the only ones in the restaurant and when we emerged we saw people throwing up on the deck and even down the stairs.
French immigration welcomed us in Calais (but for how much longer?) and then our troubles began. Channel ports are not designed for disembarking foot passengers and we went the wrong way across hectares of unused car parks and kilometres of very high security fencing. Eventually we were forced back to the starting point and out into Calais itself. Paul had expressed an interest in seeing a statue in the town and so we trekked around town until we found it. We then returned again to the harbour to start our 20Km walk to Wissant at 4pm.
When I first proposed the Wissant diversion some months ago, I imagined a promenade des Anglais like Nice or Beirut lined with bars and pretty girls in bikinis. There were certainly many kilometres of golden sandy beaches stretching into the distance. But there wasn’t a single bar between Calais and Wissant. It was windswept and the only interest was watching the P&O ferries passing offshore and disappearing into the mist.
We soon realised that walking on the beach was too painful for those with good feet. For me, the suffering was beyond any words that Apple can suggest. We took to the hills and the GR145 footpath which climbed every mountain and forded every stream until it brought us back to the beach.
Wissant is the kind of place that makes Frinton look trendy. We got lost looking for our B&B. Having missed lunch we knew that our only chance of dinner would be to arrive by 7.30pm. But the clock struck 8.49 pm as we finally arrived. We downed an unpleasant Belgian beer and then collapsed into our room.
If it wasn’t so awful I’d spend a week here to recover but if it’s possible we’ll continue the fun tomorrow with a 26Km walk to some place I’ve forgotten which is just 12Km inland from Calais. Rome is getting farther away by the day.