Well that was a long day – I was expecting about 15km but it turned out to be 34. So this will be short.
After a late, relaxed, breakfast at Mme Brigitte’s (with Madame’s famous home-made jams), photos with the Italian cyclists, and some conversation with a British family who arrived late last night, I set off toward Amettes, which turned out to be a rather lovely little village with a museum dedicated to Saint Benoît in the house where he was born. I had the feeling that my pack was lighter than it has been – or perhaps that my legs are getting stronger. It didn’t last until the end of the day but it was a nice feeling for the first few hours.
I put together lunch from the boulangerie and the boucherie in Ferfay, and ended up having a long chat with a grandfather who was taking his children for a walk. While the kids amused themselves with various games he told me about Boris Johnson, and Britain’s low unemployment rate, and how the old jobs were hard but they afforded working people a life that was decent, and Carlos Ghosn (of Renault-Nissan), and the man who founded Auchan, and the local pharmacist, and a girl from Bethune who was reputed to be the mistress of someone important but then she just disappeared and nobody got to the bottom of it, and how I really ought to take a shortcut past the slag heaps. Well, he was right about the shortcut.
The route zigged and zagged around various remnants from the days when this was mining country- Emile Zola country. Mostly on pleasant forested paths and disused railway beds. Eventually I emerged in the mining company town of Marles les Mines. The urban landscape, which had been quite “Truman Show” in the towns around Wisques became totally “company town” – rows of identical houses. But not much sign of decay – and not much evidence of unrest. I understand that there’s unemployment and deprivation here. I see that businesses are closed. But it appears to be in better shape (in any way that a casual observer might notice) than most towns in England. It feels far more at ease with itself (bar a few aggressive drivers and a shirtless motorcyclist) than does Dover, which still haunts me.
I’m fascinated by the quality of the brickwork in the old buildings. It’s very beautiful in places. More decorative than you would find in the back-to-backs of British industrial cities. Most of the old brick houses appear well maintained. There are some newer constructions that appear to be in not such great shape.
Finally on reaching Bruay-la-Buissière I did a self check-in to a modern hotel. Such a let down after the familial atmosphere of my recent digs. No restaurant nearby but I persuaded (yes, I really had to plead) a pizza delivery place to allow me to eat at one of the tables in their reception area. They became quite friendly once they made the decision that yes, they could accommodate me as long as I was happy to eat a small pizza from a chopping board since they have no plates. It was a pretty good pizza…
I’m now just 48km from Arras and the temptation to carry on going for two days to end my journey there is great. But I need to get back to london by Sunday and I can’t see a way to do that if I’m faffing around on the Via that day. So perhaps this is where I’ll end this pilgrimage. From here I can get a bus to Lille and the Eurostar home. I’ll decide by tomorrow morning.