Saint-Valery-sur-Somme

Here’s a town we Brits should know.  It’s where 1066 And All That really began.  William of Normandy and his troops set sail from here, landed on the English south coast and won the Battle of Hastings.  William became King of England, introduced a whole new French vocabulary into the English language (‘Pork or beef, madam?’), and his brother Odo commissioned the first strip cartoon, the Bayeux tapestry, to record and commemorate the event.  Later though, in 1431, the English held Joan of Arc captive here, before conveying her to Rouen to be burnt at the stake.

En route from France to England: a detail from the Bayeux Tapestry (Wikimedia Commons)
En route from France to England: a detail from the Bayeux Tapestry (Wikimedia Commons)

Even without those compelling reasons to make a pilgrimage, Saint Valery is worth a detour.  It was and is a harbour and a fishing town with a picturesque mediaeval centre.  Like many pretty towns on the coast, it’s popular with writers and artists: Victor Hugo, Jules Verne, Alfred Sisley and Edgar Degas  all had homes here, and we spent a pleasant day exploring, poking round the (rather touristy) Sunday market, choosing a restaurant-stop, and generally enjoying the pleasures of a seaside town.

While we were there, something special happened.  After lunch (moules, what else?) we wandered down to the beach.  There, on the other side of the estuary, were sheep, paddling.  Dozens of sheep, scores of sheep, hundreds of sheep.  They’re unique.  They’re bred from English Suffolk and Hampshire sheep, and they spend their lives grazing the salt marshes., which gives them a highly regarded flavour, rich in mineral salts, and the name ‘Estran salt meadow lamb’.  The life of those sheep, and their shepherds, and sheep dogs, is an energetic one.  They have to keep moving each and every day to avoid getting stuck in the damp and boggy sand.  Their shepherds keep an eye on them, oiling their feet to prevent foot rot, and every night the flock returns to pens with fresh straw via a special tunnel under the road.

Sheep grazing at the estuary.
Sheep grazing at the estuary.

Before we left, we wandered through the harbour, and up to the Chapelle des Marins, a neo-Gothic building, built on the site where the hermit-saint Gualaric, who gave his name to the town, once lived.  It’s a good place from which to say ‘Goodbye’ to the town and get some final views of the bay.

Farmland outside Saint-Valery-sur-Somme.
Farmland outside Saint-Valery-sur-Somme.

21 thoughts on “Saint-Valery-sur-Somme”

  1. nice post and pretty town. I once nearly came to a sticky and ignominious end with these saltmarsh sheep, on the way to Mont St Michel – I think they are found in several parts of coastal Normandy. I’d got out of the car to take a photo and suddenly became aware of the deafening noise of many hundreds of pounding sheeps’ hooves(didn’t know they were specially oiled). Looking to see where they were I became aware that they were being efficiently corralled by a sheepdog and were almost upon me. There was nothing to do but freeze and hope they went round me, which fortunately they did, parting like the red sea around this obstacle in their way. Phew! I was told their breeding had resulted in extra long legs, presumably to keep their undercarriages well clear of marshy land.

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  2. What a lovely trip. I’ve seen the Bayeux Tapestry and been to Rouen years ago with my dad – it was a nice trip by bus. The sheep would have been a nice addition AND we did have moules for lunch on the trip – funny, I hadn’t thought of that trip in years. Thank you for the memory jog.

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    1. I took my older two to the Bayeux Tapestry when they were about 10. It was quite hard to see it all that well_ such crowds! You seem to have some great French memories.

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      1. Thank you. In was fortunate growing up to have a dad who lived in France and England (off and on) for over 20+ years. I visited Paris several times in college (and after) and would roam the city while my dad was at work using my Metro pass and my feet. When I moved to Chicago in ’91, I often remarked that I knew Paris better than I knew Chicago for a few years.

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    1. Now I thought of that while we were there, but the signs on the way into town didn’t mention it, which quite surprised me. I wonder if the twinning is active? Our one here, Ripon – Foix is dead as a dodo.

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      1. Yes, the twinning is very active and some years ago we got EU funding for a joint visitor management project. Foix and Ripon is an interesting one.

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      2. It would be if it happened. Apparently the Mayor of Ripon wrote to Foix in the months before the Tour de France to try to revive it….but got no reply. They need to take lessons from B & StV.

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      3. Indeed but B & St. V are a lot closer. It’s easy to visit or have a joint meeting as a day trip. We’re both only an hour or so each side of the relevant Channel port.

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      4. I agree. I thought the whole point of twinning was to foster cultural exchange and understanding and a name on a road sign isn’t enough!

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  3. I am a walking (waddling) cliche but it was the salt marsh lamb that got me. Love it, so tasty. And in answer to your previous respondent, no, you can get it in the UK too – from the Romney Marshes in Kent and also the Orkneys, to my knowledge. Didn’t know they had their hooves oiled though – labour intensive or what?

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  4. Your photographs brought back lots of lovely memories. Northern France is much overlooked by English visitors who dash through on their way south but it is a lovely area. When we lived in Kent we were regular weekenders – Montreuil, Le Touquet, St Valery, Rouen and Amiens were all great destinations for just a few days in France. And we (well Andrew anyway!) can certainly recommend the Romney Marsh lamb!

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    1. Now, we do have some friends who have a second home in the area. For an unusual reason. He likes to tinker on the Baie de Somme railway. Which makes a change from the Worth Valley Railway et al.

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  5. Great photos of a peaceful looking part of France. Have never heard of the sheep you describe – such hands on care they require! I doubt the agribusiness food industry here would never go to that much trouble.

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