Dieppe to Clères on the Chasse Marée

Day 13b to Longueville-sur-Scie and Day 14 to Clères, in Walking Out of the World, a two thousand kilometre 86-day pilgrimage to Compostela on foot, now crossing France and heading to Spain.

(Previous post: Day 13a Dieppe: Parish church of Saint-Jacques de Compostelle)

Leaving Dieppe from the church door the pilgrim walks out on the rue St Jacques, which is satisfying symbolism; then by the rue de Barre and across the place des Martyrs the steep ascent out of the town is up the rue Montigny, following the red and yellow waymarking (now to be referred to throughout the journey to the Pyrenees as balisage.) This walking path is the Chasse Marée, also designated the GR21 on the balisage.

It is named after a two-wheel cart which carried the fish from Dieppe to Rouen, drawn by four or six horses, leaving Dieppe at five o’clock in the afternoon before the town gates closed for the night. The fish carts would travel overnight the eighty-eight kilometres to the market in Rouen. English pilgrims to Compostela, coming off the boat, would follow the fish to Rouen, hence the Chasse Marée is the name of this section of the Chemin des Anglais and our pilgrimage follows the fish to Rouen.

Like all traditional pilgrim routes, we soon run into questions of authenticity trying to keep to mediaeval routes because those routes often became the main road and are now straightened out with fast traffic and dual-carriageways unsuited to pedestrians. Pilgrim routes must default to a parallel alternative through the countryside, a facsimile of an original mediaeval route. Jean-Noël Toulouzan of Les Amis de Saint-Jacques de Normandie, in Rouen gave me detailed information during my preparation and this will be accessible in the maps and distances section (drop down menu) shortly.

A short distance beyond the long steep hill out of Dieppe, White Van Man is striding around his van at a roadside service station across the N27 dual-carriageway from a vast shopping mall. In the 15th century this had still been the Chasse Marée on a main branch route – the Chemin des Anglais – to Compostela. White Van Man neither knows nor cares about that. He is explaining to a mechanic – in shouted English, mime, and some bad Spanish – that the spreading pool of dark oil on the tarmac beneath the van prolly means the engine’s f**kin big-end has blown up.

All French garage mechanics, the man in blue overalls here being no exception, are trained to look entirely disinterested in the problem. He shrugs, following the guidance he learned in his apprenticeship. Tous les mécaniciens automobiles doivent faire preuve d’une sérénité totale envers l’automobiliste et une attitude completemente blasée face au grave problème mécanique.*

However, we are taking the quiet walking route, two kilometres to the south west of White Van Man and will never see him again, nor his Elvis impressions. He is our last glimpse of England, mouthing obscenities opposite a shopping mall on the outskirts of Dieppe, and is now slipped away from our sight and mind along with the white chalk cliffs and briny scent of the sea.

* Psychologie Automobiliste: un guide pour les professionnels. Académie Française, 1909

The GR21 takes us past the Canadian War Cemetery where we pause and contemplate the sacrifice of 1,200 young Canadian men in the failed raid on Dieppe, a German stronghold in 1942. Then the route criss-crosses the railway line, the river Scie and the quiet D3 road, on a winding walk through woodland and pretty Normandy farms to Longueville-sur-Scie (see maps and distances page) where I found the Mairie de Longueville open and went in to demand a tampon.

“Pourriez-vous laisser votre gros bâton dehors s’il vous plaît?” said the Secrétaire de mairie who was wearing a beige linen jacket. I put my big stick outside the door and returned to have the tampon thumped onto my credencial. All town hall tampons in France have an identical image of the figure of Justice, which makes a town hall stamp boring and a merte functional acquisition – as proof of passage – only to be sought out in the absence of more exotic tampons gathered from churches and pilgrim associations. Outside the door I picked up my gros batôn and went on my way, wondering if the beige clothing worn by personnel in town halls was purchased in bulk from the same suppliers as the boring rubber stamps.

At the end of the first day’s walk, which had been very wet, I pitched the tent in a wood outside Longueville where I had bought food and wine from a small shop. Half hidden in the dusk among the leaves and the closely spaced trees of the dense Bois du Vieux Montigny, I was suddenly astonished by a deer running right past, going at full tilt. I think it saw me at the last minute, veering off suddenly into the trees. I must have pitched the tent exactly in the deer’s well-worn track through the woods. That night I slept badly because everything was damp and in my wild imaginings I also expected to be trampled by bison at any moment.

Day 14: Rain, hail and thunder on the road to Auffay & Cléres and more encounters with dangerous wildlife

The wildlife of Normandy had done its best to surprise me, next it was the turn of the weather. I packed up the tent and crossed a railway bridge over the Dieppe to Rouen line, then spent the morning walking in the wooded valley alongside the river Scie. The sky turned black when I was crossing a stretch of open country without any kind of shelter when a sudden fierce rush of wind was followed bya violent thunderstorm.

I quickly made an instant decision to erect the tent. I had hardly begun to put it up than the storm struck, and it was not rain but a prolonged hailstorm of hard balls of ice. I crawled into the half assembled tent and sat upright inside as I was pelted with what seemed like a ton of ballbearings dropped upon me from the sky. The tent was instantly demolished and I sat with the thin wet material draped around me! It felt as if I was being stoned to death! “Nobody is to stone anybody until I blow my whistle!” The hailstorm pelted me for twenty minutes, and when it was finally safe to emerge, I came out of the wreckage of the tent to see a landscape suddenly transformed into winter, the fields and road completely white with hail. Within minutes there were sounds of distant sirens. I presumed emergency vehicles were attending various incidents caused by the freak storm; and I passed by such a scene a little while later – entering the little town of Auffay.

At least I was simply soaking wet and cold; others here were injured. The wet day had turned to wintry ice in a few seconds and caught many drivers completely by surprise with dangerous conditions. I waited in the rain for a quarter of an hour to watch the jacquemarts, clocktower figures who come out with hammers to chime the bells. In the dry at Café Les Jacquemarts across the square, I spent a pleasant interlude watching the jacquemarts four more times through the water running down the window.

A red-faced customer at the bar lifted his own glass in salute as I bought my third vin rouge. He was clearly impressed with my rapid consumption. I was on my third glass to his single verre très prolongé, and he said, “Vous allez a Compostelle?”

“Oui, bien sur!” I replied, with half an eye on the jacquemarts as the half-hour approached. “Par Rouen, Chartres, Vendôme, et la Via Turonensis depuis Tours vers l’Espagne…”

“Ici la Route des Anglais!” he smiled. I had heard it first in the boulangerie in Dieppe and the folk memory was intact here. But there was more. ” ‘La pluie de le matin n’arrête pas le pèlerin.’ ”

I must have looked a little surprised because the bartender interjected, “Proverbe français!” The jacquemarts came out and started banging the bells with their little hammers, as the bartender translated for me. “The raining in the morning does not stopping the peregrine.”

I smiled and thanked them for the encouragement. I wondered how many English pilgrims had passed through Auffay over the centuries, weighed down by the Normandy weather, and had received some encouragement from the locals, while drinking a glass and watching the clock and the rain on the windows. As I left Auffay, my fingers began to tell the wet green woollen knots of the Orthodox prayer rope, but instead of the Jesus Prayer, I had some new words to repeat.

La pluie (right foot forward…)
de le matin (left…)
n’arrête pas (right…)
le pèlerin (left…)

Two steps forward and repeat…!

There had to be a tune to go with this. My mind began to work on it but it would take a few days to properly evolve. An hour later I strode through Saint-Victor l’Abbaye in the rain without stopping at the Café de l’Abbaye, since the rhythm of the ‘prayer’ was driving me on. Customers peered out of the café at the drowned pilgrim swinging his bourdon down to the junction for the D3 to Clères, and I recited n’arrête pas le pèlerin with added vigour.

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In little over two more hours through unrelenting non-stop rain, I reached Clères, a pretty town with a mediaeval tythe barn in the centre with a small stream channeled by its side. I bought some food from a shop – just bread and cheese and tinned sardines – and went out of the town looking for a wooded hide-away to pitch my tent. I thought I must be near Rouen by now, but I did not dare take out the next map in case I should be disheartened. In fact I was only two thirds of the way there and it was still raining.

I had another encounter with the wildlife: more serious this time. Again I found a quiet spot in a remote wood immediately out of Clères and pitched the tent within sight of the path – now following the GR25D balisage to Rouen – and everything was still soaking wet from the thunderstorm. As I was pitching the tent, there was an extraordinary – and very frightening – high pitched shrieking noise near to me.

A wild boar ran straight past. It was not a fully-grown animal but nevertheless fierce in appearance, particularly for an English pilgrim unaccustomed to the experience. As a teacher I had seen enough of Lord of the Flies, repeated every year with Year 10 as the only GCSE exam novel text they could successfully cope with. Now I was confronting the Beast in a remote wood. Armed only with my trusty bourdon, a replica 15th century pilgrim staff with two blunt stubby iron prongs. It was another sleepless night in a damp tent with a real menace out there lurking in the dark.

Addendum: maps

I’m indebted to Jabbapapa for his comment below, with link to a Czech map website that I didn’t know about. Through England I have been linking to “Streetview” maps, which provided quality OS-grade walking detail but that stopped at Newhaven.

I shall now use this Czech website for map references as we walk through France. Here is where we are now, in the wood outside Clères. South east from Clères you see a footpath – dashed line – through that wood, cutting off the curve of the tarmac road Route de Fontaine-le-Bourg / route de Clères, which we join in the morning. Next stop Rouen!

An interlude: The Midnight Ferry to Dieppe

Leaving England now, the virtual pilgrimage from Worcester to Compostela encounters White Van Man on the cross-Channel ferry and discovers his name is Elvis. (This post is in homage to Geoffrey Chaucer.)

(Previous post: Day 12 Wych Cross Newhaven ferry.)

Newhaven: the midnight ferry departs.

I bought my ticket for the midnight ferry in the old railway terminus in Newhaven. The departure car park outside was sparsely filled with two short lines of vehicles waiting to board the midnight ferry to Dieppe. There was a white van at the front of the queue near the ticket office, and at the coffee machine just inside the door White Van Man was hitting the machine with his fist.

“Come on! I’ve put me coin in! Where’s the f**kin coffee?” He hit it again and reached into the opening. Coffee trickled over his fingers and disappeared down the drain hole. No cup appeared. I stood nearby, my passport and ferry ticket clutched tightly against the bourdon in my hand.

“Haven’t I seen you somewhere before?” asked White Van Man, wiping his coffee-stickied fingers on the left sleeve of his grey track-suit top. “With that f**kin big stick!”

“Yes,” I replied. “You drove past me in the rain on the main road from Worcester to Tewkesbury. I was tired and cold. You made a rude gesture with your middle finger and shouted something I didn’t hear, as you showered me with muddy water from the puddle that you swerved into deliberately and it drenched me to the skin. Then five days later you passed me again on the M4 near Reading and shouted something rude again. Or maybe it was another White Van Man?”

“What you on about, you prat? This ain’t the only f**kin white van in England.” He spoke in the Estuary accent that now covers the entire south of the country from the Cinque Ports of Kent to somewhere roughly on an east-west line between Kings Lynn and Hereford. (The line would take 53 hours walking, approx 160 miles, if you were to do a linguistic walking-and-listening Estuary-accent survey.)

“I’m surprised they f**kin let people with f**kin big sticks even f**kin get onto international transport, what with f**kin towel-heads and terrorism all over the f**kin place nowadays! Pardon my French, mate.”

“And where are you heading in France?” I asked, trying to show interest in my fellow compatriot gentleman traveller, as we boldly embarked on our separate journeys in the Englishman’s beloved Grand Tour of Europe.

“Dieppe, mate!” He walked out of the ticket office, as the announcement for boarding came over the tannoy. “That’s where the f**kin boat’s goin.”

All the way, walking from London, I had been looking forward to boarding the boat to France. I had so many memories of leaving Kent or Sussex on a boat and crossing the Channel to arrive in a land of croissants and funny trains and the pungent smell of drains and garlic. But the boat was always an exciting foretaste of that different world, a nautical experience like going on a foreign cruise but barely losing sight of the white cliffs of England.

Leaving the docks behind and climbing up the gangway to board a ferry had once been to enter a world of adventure, and passengers would be whistling sea shanties as they went aboard. There had been a smell of paint, a salty taste in the air, and gleaming polished oak furniture. On the white painted bulkheads and passage ways there were paintings of ferry ships and paddle steamers and lighthouses. The decks were full of deck chairs, which is why they are called deck chairs, and they must have had the same on the Titanic, occasionally re-arranged to provide a future political metaphor. The onboard shops sold postcards of sailor’s knots and bottles of rum. And seasick pills for when you became giddy with the knots and rum.

On this occasion, however, I went into the interior of the ferry and found myself in what could have been Croydon High Street. Most of the inside of the ferry was now an enormous Macdonalds and the old sailing boat paintings had long gone, replaced by brightly lit panels displaying burgers, chips and plastic buckets of Coca-Cola so large you could sail a toy boat in them.

It is often said that any High Street in any town looks much like another these days; or the city centre of London looks much like the city centre of Rome, give or take a Big Ben here or a Colosseum there. But when a boat begins to look like a shopping mall, the pleasure of the voyage is somewhat diminished. You might as well sit on a bench in the High Street and sing your sea shanties.

I walked quickly through the ferry looking for a bar, and finding one that resembled the average fast food outlet, I rested my rucsack and bourdon at an uninviting nearby metal table with upright-backed plastic easy-wipe chairs entirely unsuitable for a relaxed five-hour voyage, and I went to the bar.

White Van Man was already there, drinking a pint of chilled John Smith’s bitter with condensation running down the glass; a brewing curiosity which is a marketing invention. Lager drinkers uneducated in actual beer think it is a traditional northern English pint, with a thick creamy Guinness-type head to top-off this draught freak show of a drink. I ordered a small glass of Stella Artois. When you are nearly in France – and good English beer lies well behind you in Harvey’s brewery beside the river Ouse – then it’s time to drink as the French do. A small beer in a stem glass, sipped frugally like Jean de Florette celebrating after selling a basket of rabbits at market in Aubin. White Van Man half-sneered at the sight of a small beer in a stem glass. Poofs’ drink. Not for proper men.

“You didn’t say where you were heading,” I said.

“Straight down the f**kin middle of France on the A75 – over the new Millau suspension bridge – and down to Spain. I’m doing light removals with me van. For expats movin to the Costa Blanca.”

“I’m heading for Spain too,” I said. “Walking all the way.”

“F**k off, you tosser! Nobody walks to Spain!” He drank from his John Smith’s. “Unless you’re some f**kin gyppo! Look mate, if you’re tryin to hitch a lift with me you can just f**k off.”

“I’m not,” I said. “I’m a pilgrim. I’m walking.”

“Everyone f**kin knows me down there. I’m f**kin famous in Benidorm, the best Elvis Presley look-alike for karaoke nights in the whole f**kin Costa Blanca.”

“Really?” I stood back and looked for some resemblance. “You mean look-alike from when Elvis was going downhill, overweight, no charisma and a bit like someone’s embarrassing teacher at a school disco?”

“F**k off, you c**t,” he said. He clearly thought we were good friends by now. “I also do weddins as well.”

I tried to picture such a wedding but – after a long day’s pilgriming and getting lost in Sussex – my imagination was not up to the task. In any case, with that, the conversation had ended, in the same casually insulting bonhomie as it had begun. We continued drinking in silence, each in our own private thoughts, on our voyage to the exotic shores of Dieppe: two Englishmen, disconnected from England and from each other, in a time-honoured ritual of brutal alienation which had once forged a mighty empire.

“Don’t look now, Sigfrida, but that dreadful man with the
White Van is doing his awful Abba impressions again.”

Historically, a pilgrim to Compostela crossing to France from England would have set off from somewhere like Newhaven or ports much further west in Devon. Some sailed directly to El Ferrol in Spain. If you remember my reference to Monty Python’s Life of Brian and the blasphemy debate, on the walk a few days ago, the writer of that article, Kevin Dixon sent me a link to a piece on pilgrim voyages.

“Throughout the pilgrimage period Dartmouth and Plymouth were by far the places that provided most capacity. Yet the demand was more than the two medieval ports could satisfy and it became a much larger enterprise. And so, for more than half a century, Brixham, Topsham, Exeter, Exmouth, Teignmouth, and Portlemouth contributed their ships.”

Kevin Dixon, https://wearesouthdevon.com/on-medieval-pilgrimage/

Then he points out the parallel with today, as we shelter and are confined by Covid: “But the pilgrimages weren’t to last. The route was most popular in the first half of the fifteenth century, but then the Black Death and political unrest across Europe led to its decline.” The first half of the fifteenth century: the period that my replica bourdon dates from. The time of the Worcester Pilgrim. He sailed down to Nantes, it was reckoned, and I would join his walking route when our paths converged at Saintes.

I found a quiet area behind some uncomfortable looking inclining chairs, spread out my sleeping bag, and intended to spend the next four hours sleeping, recovering from the long walk from London. Marion Marples (R.I.P.), the much-loved Confraternity of Saint James Secretary, had given me a booklet when I left Westminster Cathedral. It was the new CSJ publication called Roads to Santiago: a Spiritual Companion, “Twenty-five pilgrims share their journeys.”

“Put it in your rucsack, it doesn’t weigh much!” Marion said, with her characteristic cheery smile. “It will come in handy for the moments when you want to pack it in and go home.”

I took the booklet out from a side pocket of my rucsack and opened it at random in the middle, at a page headed “Seeking and finding,” with a photograph of a thirsty pilgrim cupping his hands at a drinking fountain on the Camino and the text, “So do not start worrying. Your Father in heaven knows what you need. Instead first seek the kingdom of God and what he requires of you, and he will provide you with everything you need.”

I needed a stamp in my pilgrim passport and the parish church of Saint-Jacques de Compostelle in Dieppe should provide the first one in France. I woke up as the boat entered the harbour at 5.30 in the morning.

The steamer “Newhaven” enters the port of Dieppe in 1911:
the tower of the church on the hill above the cliffs can be seen next to the funnel.