Monday, 10 September 2007

Day 4 - St Omer – Bruay en Artois – 70km

No, this is the day I have never been so tired before. How can there be more ups than downs? Why is it raining and freezing in July? Where is the other sock to the pair I wanted to put on this morning?

In spite of all this, we have cycled through some truly beautiful countryside, predominantly rolling hills and picture postcard towns, prompting another, worrying attack of bucolia on Paul’s part. We also found our first via Francigena signs, along with a mad Scandinavian couple riding vintage electric-powered bikes and carrying a very bad attitude on his part – he seemed more intent on berating his wife than finding the VF.

Interestingly and rather depressingly, we are now in the Artois region, previously the centre of France’s coal mining industry, but now all too obviously suffering from the decline. I think this is the first time we have encountered really badly made roads, no hotels and a population displaying many of our own UK ‘problems’.

I guess the lovely wooden via Francigena signs have been provided by the regional tourist authority in Artois en Lys that have recently joined the Front for the Liberation of Judea (aka the European Association of the via Francigena - EAVF). In much of the spirit of the St James Way, the signs lead you away from the trail you thought you were going to follow, past the small villages and their vestiges of commerce. This is good news for everyone as it means we get to eat and the villages get a small, but much needed input of business. But all good things come to end leaving us kilometres from our planned route and with no option, but to follow the “historical route” along the tarmac of the D341.

There are chamber d’hôtes in Auchy au Bois and Amettes and a steadfastly shut “Pilgrim Shelter” also in Amettes. After this there is nothing until Bruay and here, to pile on the agony, the hotels are in the industrial far, far west of the town, a good 4 kilometres from the D341. We stayed in the Cottage hotel for the standard 2 star price and were pleased with the welcome and facilities.

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