A peaceful night’s sleep at ESAT, not like the previous night where my roommate at the youth hostel snored in a way befitting a cartoon character. For the first time on a Camino I had to unearth my ear plugs. Last year he did the Camino Frances, no doubt leaving an incredulous and exhausted trail of fellow pilgrims in his wake.
Today was more Roman roads whenever possible, and coming into Brienne I even managed to follow one when it wasn’t really possible. The sign indicated that it was a national historic site – the original Roman causeway. On my mapping app, what I thought was a trail turned out to be the perimeter fence of the former air force base, so I had to improvise and do a few hundred metres along the edge of a harvested wheat field. Anything to avoid backtracking. These disused airfields dot the landscape on northern France and are presumably a relic of cold war defensive plans. Most are now repurposed – the one in Brienne is used by a pilot training school and a sky diving operation. I saw one on Google maps that indicates a it is where they film Top Gear France.
Not too much to report today. No interesting curiosities roadside. Being Roman roads one might expect a hub cap ejected from a chariot wheel, discarded amorphae pitched into the grass by a legionnaire, or worn out Roman sandals hanging from the telephone lines – but nothing of interest.
I’m happily the sole resident of the town’s home for wayward pilgrims. It’s described as the Château’s hunting lodge, but given you can see the Château from the front door, I think it was more likely the game keepers lodge. Going to a hunting lodge that is five minutes walk away doesn’t seem like much of a hunting expedition.
Brienne Le Château is dominated by the Château (funny that). It was completed just prior to the Revolution, and was used by Napoleon as his headquarters during the battles of 1814. Napoleon has a strong connection to the town as he spent five of his teenage years here at the military school. In his will, he left a significant sum of money for the restoration of the town – most notably the magnificent town hall, which instead of the usual French motto, has a likeness of Napoleon carved into the stone work.
In my opinion, this is the nicest town since Arras or Laon – although that opinion may be influenced by two days in the wastelands, following Sigetic’s straight street and surviving on the modern equivalent of ship’s biscuits. It may also be unfair to be comparing towns with cities! From leaving Châlons to the outskirts of Brienne, there is not a single, operating business in any of the villages (added as advice in case anyone following behind me is reading my blog.) Many (all?) town’s have suffered serious destruction from the either the Franco-Prussian war, the two world wars, or often all three. Reims has a spectacular Cathedral – far superior to Notre Dame in my opinion – and the understated Basilica of Saint Remi, but despite the other restored buildings, it lacks soul. Interestingly, the roof of the Reims Cathedral was destroyed by fire in WW1, and was innovatedly rebuilt using pre-cast concrete beams in the 1920s – with significant funding from John D Rockefeller. Maybe Jeff Bezos will pay for the new roof on Notre Dame – if he can stop playing at being Scrooge McDuck for more than five minutes.
Tomorrow marks the Assumption (of Mary), a big day on the Catholic calendar, so I’m fully provisioned in case it is another ‘c’est fermé’ day.
Pictures today are the Château (the last private owner went bankrupt in the 1930s, and in the 1950s it was acquired by the French government and is now the grounds house a psychiatric hospital and related facilities.)
Second pic (not a selfie – my arms are not that long – but an old school self-timed photo) of me enjoying a beer on the stoop of my private albergue.
Daily km: 33.9