Last weekend I spent a few days with my daughter in France. While we travelled in the Eurotunnel we noticed a sign promoting the Charles Dickens Exhibition in Hardelot, it was something new to visit so we may give it a go.
During Saturday we had taken our time over breakfast and then just pottered around – visiting the local Auchen, and then mooched around St Omer, ending our leisurely visit in a local bar having a coffee while we people watched. The coffee, now that was an event in itself as we waited 20 mins for it to arrive only to go to the bar and fine the person who took our order did just that took it but did nothing else with it. It was ok when we fetched it ourselves.
Later that evening we went to our local restaurant for a wonderful meal and a few drinks – wine for my daughter and Kir for me. After our meal we sat outside in the evening sun and chatted to a family friend. Isn’t it funny how things happen. As we all stood up to say goodnight there was a young couple on the next table, as we departed I used the phrase ‘like an asthmatic pit pony’ commenting on something said by our friend. At those words the young man grinned, I smiled and said was he amused by what I had said. It turned out he had been sat there working out where our accents came from – seems he lived only a few miles from us. That is not the first coincidence that has happened there, a few years ago I was walking back from the bar and chatted to a couple. After the usual where are you from etc., it turned out that she was my cousins wifes cousin – she is on my family tree but now I can put a face to a name.
Anyway, Sunday came and off we set armed with bread, meat and drinks to see the Castle at Hardelot. I think I was a little bit disappointed with the entrance, just the rather sorry looking stone posts standing with no gate or barrier and no wall to make an impressive statement. But we entered through the narrow passage and came upon a track with a few parked cars and open areas with picnic tables full of families having lunch – it was Mother’s Day in France. The dusty track lead to a country walk, a lake and ofcourse, the castle.
The neglected entrance did not give a clue to what we were to behold only a few yards away. As you walked through the shade to the stone walls you were greeted through the arched gateway with a brilliant white building as it was lit up by the brilliant sunshine. Through the archway neat lawns and flower beds stood out against the almost white stone walls and the circular driveway.
We walked up the side steps and paid our entrance and entered the world of Charles Dickens. I did not know that Charles had lived in Condette , just a short way from the castle. I also did not know, but then had never really thought about it but Charles spoke and wrote in French and had a French publisher – hence the exhibition.
What was on show, well there was a room display with family portraits, photographs and pencil drawings + items belonging to the family and information on his early life. There was his desk, what joy and frustration that must have know when Charles was writing his novels. There was also numerous letters in French and English to and From Charles and here is another strange thing. My daughter was looking at a display when I noticed a letter with its envelope – split so you could see both front and back. The franking mark was upside down and I turned my head to try and read the place name better – why I never looked a the address I do not know, but anyway, I thought it said ‘Wakefield’, only then did I look at the address on the envelope – Tadman St, Wakefield and the year was 1850. I will have to do a bit of research to see who the recipient was. But I have been told since my return home that Dickens was a friend of Gissing a local writer. Who would have thought that I travelled to France, by chance visit an exhibition and see a letter to someone in my home town.
Our visit, did we enjoy it ? Yes, I think we did.
Was it value for money ? Yes, I think 2 Euro per person for the exhibition was very good value for money.
What about parking? Parking and entrance to the grounds was FREE, so you could walk around at your leisure and finish with a picnic on the tables provided.
Some other castle on the Continent – click here
The Gissing Centre, Wakefield – click here