Rather cold last night! It was 8c in Bertie this morning and 4c outside. It took some determination to emerge from my warm bed to get breakfast. Eileen suggested this was a porridge morning and she certainly had a point! Very little bother from the traffic until the morning so we slept quite well. We did a full service of Bertie and the service point accepted my Halifax card happily to pay the fee of €2.1 and it switched to English prompts when I inserted my card!

Not very far today and mainly on smaller main roads and through small towns. Progress is relatively slow as speed limits are low. Non-dual carriageway roads in France are limited to 80kph(50mph) and all built up areas are 50kph(30mph) or even 30kph(18mph) in town centres and near schools. All speed limits are heavily enforced I understand although it does seem not all the locals are that impressed!

Looking for a place to pull in and make coffee we found an empty car park on a back street in Ham and duly pulled in to find that we had parked beside the remains of the historic castle of Ham. Apparently quite a big castle at one time dating back at 1000 years but sadly almost completely destroyed by German dynamite in WW1. Louis Napoleon Bonaparte was imprisoned here on a life sentence in 1840 after an especially bungled coup attempt went completely wrong. It was not the first such attempt he had made. Anyway this nephew of Napoleon Bonaparte was not short of friends and in 1846 he walked out of the castle disguised as a workman! Five years later he became France’s first president and when his period of office ended and he was not allowed to stand again he was crowned Emperor. As such he was France’s last monarch.   Interesting chap actually and the town of Ham are clearly quite proud of his enforced visit and amusing departure.

Chainsaw sculpture of Louis Napoleon dressed as a mason carrying a plank to escape the castle.

After enjoying some scenery and several small towns we were ready for our next excitement – our first French Lidl this trip. We only went in for bread and fruit. Of course we staggered out with far more than that! Lidl here is both like the ones at home and yet quite different. No little pull along baskets, no fresh milk only UHT in various forms,  much bigger bakery section are the things I remember. Somehow pain au chocolate bought in French Lidl are much nicer than the ones at home! I remember buying these when we got home last year and being disappointed, may be it is all about the context!

Soon after leaving Lidl our destination appeared ahead of us. We were still 10kms away when the dramatic outline of the walled hill town of Laon with its huge cathedral could first be seen. In order to best enjoy the countryside our satnav is programmed to use direct routes and avoid main roads. Most of the time this is fine and scenic if rather slow. Sometimes like today it can be a little challenging. Our planned parking spot was on the far side of Laon and there is probably a nice wide road that leads around the town to that point. Our satnav (aka Lucy) decided that it would be shorter to take us up the (steep) hill and right through the medieval town centre past the cathedral and town hall along tiny cobbled streets and out the other side. Probably a really pretty route but I was not taking that in! Anyway we arrived safe and sound as always as Bertie is actually very good at pretending he is little more than a car.

Bertie below the walls of Laon

There are just 6 official motorhome parking spaces here and I think this is the only official place near the old town. We had arrived quite early and there was only one other van so plenty of space. There are four vans here now. Even though we are below the ramparts we are still quite high with great views. After a late lunch we wandered in to town to explore and especially to find the tourist office where we picked up a map and leaflet in English.

The cathedral in Laon is quite famous. It is one of the great gothic cathedrals of France and in fact many later cathedrals were inspired by it. Built in 1155 it is an amazing place. It seemed very high inside but I believe later cathedrals are higher. It’s Romanesque lantern tower above the crossing makes it very light and the stained glass is glorious. My photos do not do it justice.

Laon cathedral
The nave
Péronne to Laon