DAY ONE | MONDAY 30 APRIL
A party of excited boys left school 4 minutes earlier than planned at 7:56am bound for Folkestone. Despite congestion on the M25 we made up the time and caught the planned 11:50am Eurotunnel train to Calais. The experience of being in a stationary coach on a moving train was a novelty but all too quickly over as we soon arrived in France where the sun was shining!
On our journey to Boulogne, we stopped the coach to look at the view over the sea to the white cliffs of Dover as well as a German gunemplacement situated on the hill overlooking the coast.
We reached Nausicaa aquarium where we had lunch on the quayside before spending an hour and a half enjoying the fish, sharks, penguins and adorable baby sea lions! We continued our journey to the Château de Broutel during which the boys had to look out for specific items in order to answer questions in their journals. They even spotted the region identification part of the French car registrations and noted the various places on a map.
We arrived at the Château four minutes later than planned (!) at 5:04pm and the boys were allocated their rooms (they are happy with whom they are sharing) and took their cases and belongings off the coach. They were shown around the chateau and shown the fire drill etc before heading to have a delicious dinner at 5:45pm. There was a choice of fish, steak or chicken, chips or pasta as well as a choice of vegetables, dessert and cheese with baguette! The boys ate well and then got ready for their team games from 7 until 8:30pm!
Tomorrow we are going to the Somme Battlefields which should be very moving and there will be photos to follow tomorrow!
DAY TWO | TUESDAY MAY 1
The boys got up at 6.45 this morning without much complaining! After a delicious breakfast of Croissants with jam, Pain au Chocolat, fresh fruit salad and cereals we left the chateau at 8.30 for a day visiting some of the principal sites associated with the Battle of the Somme.
First we stopped in the town of Albert and visited the Somme Museum which is located in the tunnels under the Church of the Fallen Madonna. There were many artifacts on display, including rifles, machine guns and regimental badges, along with detailed information on the battle and a mock-up of a trench with terrifying sound effects. The boys had to answer some questions on the exhibits and they were all moved by the brutal facts of the battle.
After ice creams and lollies in the park, we continued to the Lochnagar Crater, which was formed by the detonation of around 55,000lbs of high explosive two minutes prior to the attack on the morning of 1st July 1916. The size of the crater is testament to the destructive power of war.
We stopped for lunch at the Newfoundland Memorial at Beaumont-Hamel, where we were given a guided tour by a guide from Newfoundland who was on his first day working there. As such, the Site Director of the Memorial came along with the group to see how the guide got on. She was so impressed with the boys’ politeness, level of interest and their constant stream of questions that she gave them each a set of Canadian dogtags as a gift! The boys themselves were fascinated by walking through one of the communication trenches.
We continued to the Thiepval Memorial to the Missing of the French and British Armies. There are 73,367 names on the memorial and the boys were interested to find their family name inscribed on the Lutyens-designed monument.
Our final stop was at the Ulster Tower, which is a replica of a tower in Northern Ireland on the estate where the soldiers had trained before travelling to France. It was a sombre reminder of the number of men who had perished on one single day. Such a waste of life!
After another ice cream in the sunshine, we arrived back at the chateau at 6.15 in time for Supper, which was eagerly devoured. At the time of writing, the boys are involved in a chateau Olympics, before they write their journals and get ready for bed. The first room inspections take place tomorrow morning. I wonder if the boys will reach Olympic standards of tidiness?!
DAY THREE | WEDNESDAY 2 MAY
The boys had a bit more of a lie in this morning with a 7:30am wake up and an 8:15am breakfast before their first room inspection! Smelly pants scuttled across the floor and sleeping bags were hastily made before Mr Biggs and Miss Mackenzie judged the tidiness (or lack of it!).
We were shown how to make mayonnaise at 9am by the chateau chef, Ludovic. The boys were split into three groups, shown (at speed and in speedy French) how to mix together the ingredients to make a perfect mayonnaise and then had 15 minutes to create their own! They had to speak in French, work well as a team as well as producing a good mayonnaise in order to win and it was difficult to judge as they were all well-made and tasty. Even boys who dislike mayonnaise, enjoyed the mayonnaise they made today and might try to make some at home! The winning team included Alex Liu, Finlay, Qasim, Cameron, Jack and Adam who were all very pleased and proud!
We then went to a local Carrefour supermarket in order to complete a worksheet about the products, prices and places of items in a French supermarket. They had an hour to track down the answers as well as buy a few item for themselves. They enjoyed the challenge and all did very well.
We returned to the chateau for a hot lunch then left at 1pm to go to the goat’s cheese farm where we listened to Madame Leviel (who only speaks French) telling us about the region and her and her husband’s farm. They have cows and goats as well as some chickens, ducks, geese and rabbits. We visited the adorable goats, cuddled a one month old goat as well as some tiny ducklings and the boys ignored the farm smell to enjoy their moment with nature! We were then shown how to make goat’s cheese and the boys tasted cheese of various strengths with the choice to buy either today or at the Le Touquet market tomorrow. The boys also fell in love with her homemade gaufres (which can also be bought!).
From the goat’s cheese farm we went to the sweetly scented chocolaterie! We were shown the cocoa beans and the process of chocolate making and we were all entranced by the delicious smell of chocolate. We were all given a taste of the chocolate! Yummy! Some of us parted with money for a piece of chocolate heaven which I am sure will be well worth it on their return to England.
We returned to the chateau for our 5:35pm dinner slot and ate well again. By 6:10pm the boys were updating their French journals and at 7pm they went to have their evening activity which is a quiz.
Tomorrow consists of a trip to Le Touquet market, a walk along the beach, hopefully a visit to Etaples cemetery then an afternoon at Amiens with the eagerly-anticipated disco in the evening.
All the children are well and happy and their French is improving day by day.
DAY FOUR | THURSDAY 3 MAY
We woke the boys up at 6:45am but were shocked to find many of them still asleep at 7:30 when we were going for breakfast; clearly us oldies can take the pace better than our younger counterparts! After a sleepy breakfast the boys were shocked into another room inspection before heading to the War cemetery in Etaples (about half an hour from the chateau). We were all moved by the sheer number of war graves (12 000) in the largest Commonwealth War Cemetery in France. After 45 minutes at the cemetery we went to Le Touquet where we drove down beautiful avenues with huge holiday homes before reaching the sea and the market. We spent 90 minutes walking around the market, completing a worksheet about prices of items and meeting the goat’s cheese farm lady to buy her cheese and gaufres!
We then walked down to the beach where the boys played football for half an hour before a packed lunch on the sea front. After, we drove to Amiens where Mr Biggs gave the boys an excellent tour of the Amiens cathedral involving a worksheet and sightseeing of John the Baptist’s skull relic! The boys learned about three key features of gothic architecture and enjoyed tracking the labyrinth on their knees (see photos) which was something which was done many years ago as people could not afford to go on pilgrimage.
We drove back to the chateau for dinner which included a sample of frogs’ legs and snails which many of the boys liked! Now the boys are at the disco having an enjoyable time!
We have the Rue town trail tomorrow morning then lunch at the chateau before returning to the UK for a hopeful 5:30pm pick up from school.
DAY FIVE | FRIDAY 3 MAY
After another delicious breakfast, we walked into the town of Rue to carry out a town trail in which the boys had to decipher clues in French, to find shop names from which a secret message was revealed. Time was important as was answering the questions correctly! Amazingly, the team that won was the third to arrive and the only pair (rather than group of 3) which was very impressive!
After the town trail we returned to the chateau for a delicious lunch before we left to drive to the Eurotunnel for our crossing back to the UK. We arrived back in England at 3:30pm and returned to the school by 5:45pm.
We had an excellent trip to France. Our coach driver David was brilliant and helpful throughout and the boys learned a huge amount of French as well as about France, their way of life and their culture. They were also very moved by the Somme battlefield tour.
Mr Biggs and Miss Mackenzie enjoyed taking the boys away and whilst Mr Biggs will sadly be unavailable to join in next year, Miss Mackenzie is already organising next year’s trip.
A l’année prochaine!