Roses are blooming ....... by Terry Burke
The Valley of the lower Somme is beautiful on a bright cold winter’s day when the snow lies deep and crisp and even over the Picardy countryside.
Rolling dark green tree clad hills lift over the black gently flowing streams. The roads on the map corresponded to the terrain, white. Villages hibernate more deeply in the winter snow than they will slumber in the summer sun. Nothing stirs, except a covey of ducks and a few new Eolions lazily turning in the light breeze. The sky above is a delicate light blue with high wispy clouds.
The Somme, along with its many tiny tributaries, winds, divides and rejoins again in the water meadows, today seemingly empty of life, but which in high summer will be full of big fat cows with their pedigrees and lives recorded on a computer, including the names of their owners, the cowmen who bred and looked after them and probably that of the routier who take them to the abattoir.
Their origin will be inscribed on the blackboard in les boucheries where their meat will be displayed, and on the menus of the most exclusive Paris restaurants.
This is a pastoral, peaceful landscape, full of tiny villages, stone houses and churches, crumbling barns and walls, interspersed with modern villa on the edges. There are straggly hedges, neat flower beds and large modern tractors, courtesy of a Common Agricultural Policy administered in Brussels, interpreted by M le Ministre in Paris and disbursed locally by M. le Préfet.
A railway follows the river, level crossings abound as narrow lanes criss-cross the lines; stations stand eerily deserted under their wire festooned gantries, until the brightly painted brightly lit train glides to a halt, its doors hiss open and a gaggle of black clad teenagers with cell-phones clamped to their ears disgorge. The silence is temporally suspended.
In airaines the Restaurant de la Gare proclaims its plat du jour, crudités, langue de bœuf, pommes mousseline , fromage, gâteau au chocolat, cafe, 25cl of vin, TVA et servis compris, €11, served in spotless surroundings by a cheerful patronne who is clearly delighted to welcome winter tourists among her 40 regulars.
The roads were cleared of 12cms of overnight snow and gritting continued all day. The trottoir was cleared outside the pharmacie and the boulangerie. The side and country roads were passable with care; traffic flowed, no schools closed, papers and post had been delivered; life went as usual.
High above Poix-en-Picardie is a small secluded cemetery, a poignant reminder of the battles that took place and in the skies high above these fields and woods,. Here lie airmen, complete aircrews, pilots, tail gunners, bomb aimers, navigators, flight engineers ...... young men, boys from every corner of Britain Australia, New Zealand, Canada, south Africa, the youngest only 19 years of age when he died, who gave their all, lying together in wingtip formation, at rest in a peaceful Picardy churchyard, surrounded by roses that one day will surely bloom again.
This area, west of Amiens (fantastic Cathedral), south of Abbeville, north of Beauvais is well served by typically old fashioned small towns and excellent empty country roads, even in Summer There are plenty of comfortable 2 and 3 star hotels, restaurants and bistros to sample, the Bay of the Somme and innumerable ‘Beau Villages de France’, notably Gerberoy, close by.
Rural Picardy is very well worth a couple of relaxing of days either before or after the rigours of scaling a cross Channel ferry.
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