I’m happy that I stayed at the abbey in Wisques. It added a feeling of real pilgrimage that had been missing from this walk. But boy do those monks lead an austere life. Dinner involved lots of prayers in Latin, followed by a grey soup and some lightly seasoned carrot and cucumber, while listening to someone intoning something about Jerome. (Saint Jerome? Or a modern day Jerome? I think the latter, but I found it very hard to follow). I had a glass of wine to boost the calories. No conversation with the other guests at the table with me – men who were on spiritual retreats or helping out at the monastery. The monks were very nice, though. The abbot washed my hands before dinner as a traditional welcome and I was invited to join the low mass at 6:50AM…
… which involved about half an hour of kneeling on a narrow, hard-edged, kneeler while priests said mass in Latin at four altars around the chapel. I couldn’t stand the pain and had to sit a couple of times. I think I would have found this extremely strange, even in my teenage years when I was a practicing Catholic. After this I had a light breakfast with the other guests, who thankfully ignored the sign recommending guests to eat in silence. I got to know them a little – all very friendly, nice, young men. One is teaching French in London. They were surprised that I wasn’t on my way to Saint Omer, which has a beautiful cathedral thanks to the fact that it was spared looting and destruction during the revolution. I’m toying with the idea of heading there to end this walk.
I left with the abbey stamp in my credential, blessings from the père hospitalier, and a craving for a substantial, English breakfast.
But Le Philips Bar in Esquerdes (seems like a Spanish name surrounded by villages with Dutch names) has no food. Not even a packet of crisps. And the boulangerie up the road isn’t open on Wednesdays. I had a coffee and decided to detour from the Via Francigena to the town of Hallines, where the bar Le Petit Bonheur brought me no bonheur at all, being closed despite google promising that it would be open. Fortunately, the boulangerie across the road was able to sell me a fougasse and some chicken salad.
This area was known as the valley of paper for the paper mills that existed along the river in the past. I think the working water wheel in Hallines might have once powered a paper making workshop. Quite what a santiago shell is doing on the railway tracks there, I don’t know. I hope nobody follows it.
I made my way back to the Via Francigena – a joy to be walking through lovely countryside under blue skies. Lots of activity in the fields. But at Cléty I diverted to Inghem where I had booked a room for tonight – even though it’s far off the trail. This is the challenge with this route.
On my way here I passed a farm with a vending machine for vegetables and bread (the 自動パン売機 that I’ve been joking about for years). I resolved to go back there to get something to cook tonight – but there’s no need because Sylvia, my Airbnb host has given me half a dozen eggs and some tomatoes from her garden.