October 15, 2007 GMT
Running the Ramparts

14 to 15 Oct


Riding the back roads of France on a Sunday is a delight. We left our cosy hideout at Bouy-Luxembourg on a cool, clear Sunday and headed North West through deserted secondary roads. The hunting season had only opened a week before and every kilometre or so a shooter walked through the cropped fields with a shotgun over his shoulder and a dog bounding along behind. Sunday is a Frenchman’s day to hunt and a good day for small birds and furry animals to lay low.

Our destination is Laon, an ancient citadel town and seat of power. We see it rising abruptly 100m above the plain on a hard limestone outcrop with the spires of its 12th century cathedral stark against a powder blue sky. The site provides a natural defensive position that dominates the surrounding plain; the perfect spot to rule a kingdom. The Carolingian Kings knew a good thing and made it their capital for 150 years until 987AD.

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Even from the same level on the top of the citadel the spires of the 12th century cathedral are impressive. From the plain below, they must have truly amazed the ordinary folk of the middle ages.

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The citadel dominates the plains below in every direction.

Our arrival at the old city corresponded with the running of le Circuit d’Remparts. This annual fun run (I know “fun run”is an oxymoron, but bear with me) is a community event based around the old city and has categories for little teckers over 500M codgers over 3300M and the young guns over 10 km.

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The little teckers bolt away for their 500M run. Everyone got a prize of sweets with the winner awarded a trophy.

Part of the old city was blocked off for the event but we were able to park and walk in without difficulty. While negotiating the barricades, we realised that this was the third town that we had arrived in to coincide with a fun run. This cool, stable weather in the early autumn is obviously the time for these events, but it is impressive that they are commonplace across the land.

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Also impressive is the level of community support and involvement for these local events. There is clearly a lot of it going on.

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The young bucks put in the hard yards climbing back to the old city.

The old city was interesting, but a little tired looking. It seemed that many of the businesses had moved to the newer area “downtown”, as the locals called it, and a new economy had yet to develop “uptown”. Still, it is a lovely little town and we found ourselves looking in the real estate office windows at the price of the nice houses with great views along the edge of the town and calculating the price in A$. Not much change out of a mil for those interested.

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Laon has another big church dedicated to the Madonna, this one a little lighter and less forbidding than many others.

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The traditional businesses seem to be struggling in the old town, but we noticed this sign of the times.

The best part of our visit to Laon, however, started in a car park. We had arrived, locked up the bike and were busy orientating the map when we were approached by a couple and asked if we needed help. Jean and Françoise are locals, proud of their town and keen for visitors to enjoy it. We struck up a conversation that ended in us being invited to their home for drinks that evening.

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We found a delightful chocolate shop where Jo bought some local specialties with champagne liqueur centres so that we didn’t arrive empty handed.

Jean and Françoise were wonderful hosts and drinks and nibbles went on far later than we anticipated. Françoise turned out to be a history and English language teacher who spoke the lingo with a beautiful soft accent.

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Jean and Françoise with a couple of scruffy bikers whom they picked up "up-town".

We found out all manner of wonderful local information and enjoyed their company very much. We hope to keep in touch with our new Laon friends and visit again……after the weather warms up!

Posted by Mike Hannan at October 15, 2007 02:17 PM GMT

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