The Somme is endlessly linked with the nightmarish battles of WW1 nevertheless it’s an space of excellent pure magnificence. Because it reaches the ocean the river widens out into an enormous 14km estuary and has a tidal vary of 11 metres, the second-largest in France after the Seine.
Its huge expanses of sand and marsh present a singular habitat for birds and marine life, together with a colony of about 300 seals sitting on its sandbanks.
On the south facet is Saint-Valery-sur-Somme, fishing and crusing boats moored within the port, a creative retreat for 18th-century writers like Victor Hugo and Jules Verne.
On the north is Le Crotoy, now a bustling vacation resort, however as soon as a base for impressionist painters like Alfred Sisley and Georges Seurat, drawn by the standard of sunshine.
The 2 cities are linked by a narrow-gauge railway, the Baie-de-Somme steam prepare, which runs 15 km across the estuary, however at low tide, it’s potential to cross the bay on foot.
I arrive in Le Crotoy at excessive water and take a refreshing dip from the slim seaside, within the mixture of recent and saltwater which is the Somme estuary. Quickly the ocean begins to recede, exposing massive expanses of mudflats, honest sport for foragers. They’re digging for mussels and clams, hidden within the sands, but additionally selecting inexperienced salicorne rising on the floor. I can see Saint-Valery-sur-Somme, simply three kilometres away throughout the bay and that’s going to be the start line for the crossing.
I meet the Arnaud, my information, and the remainder of the group at Le Crotoy Station and we board the belle-époque carriages.
We’re fortunate to be pulled by a steam engine and are quickly whistling previous brooks lined with willows, throughout salt and freshwater marshes, to Noyelles-sur-Mer. Right here we meet the prepare coming the opposite method and the engine has to vary ends earlier than continuing.
It’s about an hour to Saint-Valery and our small group gathers by the facet of the river for a briefing.
It’s a combined bunch with babies, some seniors and an excitable massive Weimaraner who I’m satisfied will pull his proprietor into the quicksand. Everyone seems to be carrying sandals or wellies as we’ve been warned we’ll be wading thigh-deep in water and dirt.
Le Crotoy appears deceptively shut however Arnaud explains that it’s not potential to stroll in a straight line as currents and quicksands render it treacherous. It’s very complicated as we begin off in the other way however double again to descend to a slim channel of water.
The financial institution is slippery and Arnaud slides into the water to gauge the energy of the present. We wait as he rigorously wades throughout, discovering the shallower trajectory, earlier than he reaches the opposite facet and offers us the thumbs up.
Information studies a couple of group of Chinese language cockle gatherers who perished within the mudflats of Morecambe Bay some years in the past flash into my head however in reality, there’s nothing to fret about.
All of us troop throughout in line, cautious to to not lose footing on the slimy backside, and are quickly again on comparatively dry land. The procession behind me jogs my memory of depictions of Moses parting the Pink Sea and it does really feel like one thing of a pilgrimage.
One other biblical parable involves thoughts as we appear to be making no headway by way of this muddy wilderness. Certainly, after an hour we’re again reverse Saint-Valery, solely separated by a slim channel, which I’m informed is just too deep to barter. Arnaud explains that as a result of the ocean covers the panorama twice, a day destroying any waymarks, each crossing is totally different.
The solar is getting decrease on the horizon as we edge nearer to Le Crotoy and the sunshine is failing quick. Even in the previous few hundred metres, we’re nonetheless not in a position to go in a straight line however we finally we’re on the seaside, climbing as much as the port.
It’s been 4 hours of strolling and we make a bedraggled lot, dripping mud and squelching water. Diners, taking their after-dinner train, stare at our merry band rising from the ocean.
Surprisingly we’ve had no casualties, though the youngsters haven’t been ready to withstand throwing themselves within the mud.
Earlier than I set out, I assumed it could be potential to stroll with no information however I now know that’s insanity. In fact, the occasions of the crossings are depending on the tide however the late afternoon has the additional benefit of superb night mild – and this time there’s a wonderful sundown as I get again on dry land.
Eurostar runs from St Pancras Worldwide to Calais or Lille, then take an area prepare to Rue.
The Chemin de Fer de la Baie de Somme hyperlinks Le Crotoy with Saint-Valery-sur-Somme.
Tour: Traversee Baie de Somme runs guided walks all yr spherical.
Keep: Aux Trois Jean in Le Crotoy has just a few nice rooms above its restaurant, some with a view of the bay.
Extra information: Somme Tourisme has native info. Rent a motorbike from NoShoes in Le Crotoy and discover the bay, taking within the taking within the chicken reserve of Parc du Marquenterre.