It was raining harder when I reached the crossroads in Wisques. I turned off the route and headed along a busy road across open fields into the nearby town of St Omer. Why? Because I craved shelter: there might be a hotel and they make beer, don’t they? I was ready, already, to go off piste!
I was also worried by repeated hobbling and a back and shoulders that were complaining under the weight of the backpack. I booked into the most French-looking hotel within 500 metres the helpful woman in the Tourist Information could find.
All Night Party
I wandered the town and rested. I finished copying the two guide books I was carrying, sent those home and binned several ‘essentials’, thus relieving the pack of over a kilo. I worked long into a warm, damp evening at a lamplit desk by my attic window. I woke in the morning feeling the worse for wear, having hosted an all night party – all the local mosquitos were invited.
Struggling for accommodation at the right point rejoining the via, I took a bus down to Aire-sur-la-Lys and the Logis de la Lys hotel, a solid, modern hotel on the edge of town. In high spirits and enjoying the prospect of a second night of hotel accommodation, I determined to make use of all the facilities; breaking the habit of a lifetime, I hung my jacket in the wardrobe.
The hotel had cornered the market in hosting working men on the road, men who knew what to do with a piece of bread and sauce still on their plate, and who did their best to engage me in their cheerful banter. In the morning, I took a taxi to Amettes, thus missing Thérouanne from my journey. Frederick runs Delrue Aire-sur-la-Lys Taxis and they transport everything, including the sick – being, among many things, the local ambulance service.
Slag Heaps and Emergency Services
The area was a centre for coal mining but the slag heaps have (ironically) greened over and look nothing less than pyramids to a dying civilisation, worshippers of gods of fire and fossil fuel.
Just as the fields truly opened up, it started to rain again. I reached for my rain jacket. It was, of course, still hanging in the wardrobe of the wonderfully appointed Hotel de la Lys. My thanks to them and to Frederick who, in my opinion, also runs a fifth or sixth emergency service (for forgotten clothing), for rescuing a hapless (and wet) traveller.
On to Divion and a campsite at the end of a municipal park. The park consisted of what appeared to be carp lakes and the whole community seemed sustained by its love of fishing: a poster for a supermarket-sponsored contest in the frîterie; the rules of fishing up on the walls of the local bar tabac; and, the town, all ages and genders, gathered by the ponds in the evening.
The accommodation I had anticipated in Frévin-Capelle never materialised (euphemism for another cock-up on my part). In fact, there was (sadly not untypical of these northern French villages) nothing there at all. Except a train station. And the last train of the day leaving in twenty minutes. In the opposite direction. The wrong direction for Arras, the following day’s destination, and one due to arrive in Calais in an hour and a half. (In my despair, I nearly stayed on that train.)
However, I was able to catch another back from further up the line which went through Frévin and into Arras for two nights in the fabulous Mercure hotel. Two nights, one to allow me to travel back up the line to do the walk into Arras, blissfully packless, and two because Ange is to join me once again, this time for over two weeks.