The Little Train of the Upper Somme

…and here’s the other “Rail Diaries” entry. After our ride to Cayeux-sur-Mer, on the Baie de Somme railway, we’d driven some 60-odd miles to Le P’tit train de la Haute Somme. Visit “Froissy – Cappy – Dompierre” to find out more.

CFBS

Just posted to Geoff’s Rail Diaries – “Rails around the Somme Bay“, the full account of our visit(s) to the Chemin de Fer de la Baie de Somme, illustrated by 55 photos. Now for the Froissy – Cappy – Dompierre…

Au revoir

Saturday 26th May:

The return journey soon comes around. We left ourselves with plenty of time for our ferry – so much so, that on arrival at Calais, we were put on the previous sailing. It’s only too easy to forget how busy and unpleasant are our roads in the UK, after a week of driving in France. Warnings of congestion on the M25 around Heathrow led us to choose the anticlockwise route and the M1 – M6. After the week’s highlights,  the low point was obvious  – beneath the Thames in the Dartford Tunnel…

On the beach

Friday 25th May: A quieter day (to end with a trip to the local Intermarché, for one or two goodies to take home – cheese, wine, cidre – and a tankful of diesel, same price in €s as in £s at home). Not forgetting our last look at the Baie de Somme railway – succeeding, this time, in getting that pool in the foreground.

North of the Somme estuary lie many miles of sandy beaches, backed by high dunes. Nearest point of access (apart from a lengthy walk through the dunes to the sea, too far for such a hot day) was at Quend Plage. A walk for mile or two along the shore was sufficient (not being sunbathers ourselves, and we’re trying not to see the over-exposed bathers, who really would have been well-advised to cover up, for all imaginable reasons). “There ought to be a path back along the dunes, or perhaps just behind them”. There wasn’t. There were deer, but they ran away too quickly for the camera. There were paths, but they didn’t go where we wanted to, and away from the sand, a near-impenetrable scrub meant we had a hot and uncomfortable struggle back to the car…

Lunch in Le Crotoy

Thursday 24th May: A ride on the steam railway, from St Valery to Le Crotoy and back. The weekday service on the CFBS consists of two return trips from Le Crotoy to St Valery – one in the morning and one in the afternoon. Travelling to Le Crotoy on the morning train would give us 2½ hours before returning on the afternoon train – ideal for a leisurely lunch (and a good one it was too)…

High on a wall beside the quay at St Valery – more or less at the railway terminus – a plaque marks a significant event in history – William the Conqueror sailed from St Valery to Hastings in 1066 (with 400 vessels, apparently)

The train was filling rapidly when we returned to Le Crotoy station – we found seats at the very front of the train, in the leading coach of a pair of four-wheelers – with a view directly into the open cab of No.1 “Aisne” – great! We were able to watch the activities of the driver and fireman all the way back to Noyelles. On running round at the latter, we found ourselves at the rear of the train – and returned to St Valery watching the rails and sleepers – and the open vistas of the Somme salt marshes.

The day was deemed a huge success – the highlight of our holiday! (More details on the rail-related aspects of this little outing will – eventually – appear in “Geoff’s Rail Diaries”)

Sunshine

Wednesday 23rd May: Another look at the coast. Before lunch, a trip to Noyelles (again), then perhaps a shot where the line comes close to the road, on the run to Saint Valery. The train got there more quickly than anticipated – so sheep provide the foreground interest that should have been a pool. Another day perhaps.

After lunch, we drove to Le Treport, parking on the Terrasse and taking the cliff railway down to the shore, then drove back up the coast to Le Hourdel to explore the shingle spit at the mouth of the Somme estuary.

A fine evening followed – for an exploration of Saint Valery, walking from the quay to explore the medieval quarter.

The underground city

Tuesday 22nd May: A grey start… Firstly a quick pre-lunch visit to the CFBS at Noyelles-sur-Mer, junction with the SNCF main line. After lunch, we drove inland to Naours, to visit its Cité Souterraine. The underground passages and caverns here, hollowed out over many centuries, are extensive and amazing – well worth a visit

Our return journey took us through the village of Saint-Riquier, whose abbey church, described as “flamboyant Gothic”, is certainly eye-catching. (The bread and cakes from the baker’s shop were pretty good too). The day’s cloud was starting to break too…

By the time we’d eaten the cakes, it was a fine sunny evening – time for some local exploration beside the Somme. Sadly, all the tall trees lining the river bank (clearly visible on Google street level) have been replaced by young saplings…

Cold côtes on Monday

Monday 21st May: Cool and windy – just how cool we found when we braved the shingle beach near Le Hourdel – for all of three minutes.

We’d started the day with another look at the CF Baie de Somme – No. 1 “Aisne”, in attractive red livery, making a fine sight on the quayside at Saint Valery. After lunch, we would explore the coast – not staying long at Le Hourdel, then checking out the amazing lines of beach huts at Cayeux-sur-Mer (just along from Brighton Plage…)

We paused briefly at Ault – perhaps come again when it’s a bit warmer? – then on to Mers-les-Bains, and the wonderful belle epoque seafront buildings. Lastly, the short journey inland (it seemed longer, stuck behind the road train…) to the small and historic town of Eu.

Cayeux-sur-Mer and the P’tit Train

Sunday 20th May – two train rides… The CF Baie de Somme line from St Valery to Cayeux-sur-Mer only runs at weekends at this time of year, likewise the 600mm gauge CF Froissy – Cappy – Dompierre – “Le P’tit train de la Haute Somme”. It’s going to be a busy day.

We’d seen a steam departure for Cayeux on the previous evening, but on Sundays, a diesel locomotive hauls the service. Nothing modern though – a quaint 0-6-0 with side-rods, dating from 1951, resembling a child’s toy, and lovely old wooden coaches (that includes the seats…). The ride to Cayeux is very pleasant, through fields and quiet countryside, and marshy-looking low-lying ground nearer the sea, with numerous drainage ditches and water birds.

The CFCD is quite different. A last remnant of the trench railways of WW1, it runs beside the Somme from Froissy (whose museum is excellent) to Cappy. Here we exchange our steam locomotive for a diesel, for a run through a steep curving tunnel, then a zig-zag to gain height, to the roadside tramway to Dompierre. Great fun – well worth the longish drive.

The CFBS and the CFCD will be covered by “Rail Diaries” entries – once I’ve worked my way through all the photos. In the meantime, the blog pictures will provide a taster of things to come

A week in France

Saturday 19th May – we’re up at 5.00am, for the drive to Dover, and the 12.05 ferry to Calais. It’s raining. By 5.30pm, French time, we’ve booked in to our gite, and driven the five miles or so to Saint Valery to buy provisions. And il fait beau. We’re feeling a bit jaded from the long journey and the early start, but there’s a railway to check out – the Chemin de Fer de la Baie de Somme. Tomorrow we’ll take a ride. Or two.

There will be “Rail Diaries” entries – but not for a few days

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