Soham Grammarians : Visit to Arles, France 1962

This Easter, under the same "guiding hands" as before, a somewhat smaller party than usual ventured forth to taste the sun and sights of the South of France, and were well rewarded in their expectations. The customary train-journey, which on past occasions had seemed tedious, was this year considerably shorter, and the party arrived in Arles in fine fettle. The small hotel in which we stayed was situated on the outskirts of Arles, and the party had their first preview of the history in which the region is steeped on the coach from station to hotel.

On Sunday it was intended to see a French bull-fight, but owing to bad weather the fight was cancelled and an excursion to a bull-farm was made instead. On the way the coach travelled along the shores of Lake Vaccarès in the heart of the Camargue, the French cowboy country. The following day we were blessed (?) with sun and were able to watch a true Spanish bull-fight in the Arles arena, with the temperature soaring into the nineties.

With the weather continuing in its splendid form, the next three days were spent in excursions to places of interest. The party visited the ancient Abbey of Montmajour and Daudet's Mill, made famous by its links with the French writer. Further visits were made to St. Remy and the asylum whither Van Gogh was escorted when he went mad; to Nîmes and its historical buildings, including the arena; and to Avignon with its famous Pont.

Our excursions culminated in a visit to the Mediterranean via the old walled town of Aigues Mortes, where we found by personal experience that it was possible to walk completely round the town on the walls. Thence we travelled to a zoological park to see the animals and birds of the Camargue, and finally to the sea at Saintes-Maries de la Mer. There several members of the party enjoyed bathing in the Mediterranean, while other more serious members (including one member of staff) indulged in a game of (crazy) golf.

After the hectic three days of travelling Friday was taken more quietly, the time being given over to shopping in Arles. In the evening a modified scavenger hunt was organised. Late the same night we boarded our train on the homeward journey, tired but contented after a most enjoyable time in a fascinating part of France. Finally, I think, our thanks must be extended to Mr. Hart and those members of staff who did so much to make the holiday the enjoyable success it was.

R.L.D., L VI Sc.

From the Soham Grammarian Summer 1962

18 Oct 2007: Geoff Coote 57: I was very sad to hear of the passing of Lionel Hart who gave many of us our first taste of foriegn travel. By way of a small anecdote I offer you this:

I was on the Easter 1962 trip to France. On one of the days out to Les Baux, the artists' caves above Arles, I jumped over a rock to find nothing on the other side, falling a few feet and damaging my ankle. In a great deal of pain I hobbled back to the coach convinced that I had a broken ankle. When we got back to the hotel that evening Mr Hart spoke to the hotel owner about seeing a doctor, he knew of somebody who could help.

So the three of us set off in the owner's rusty old CV5 into the back streets of Arles, we arrived at a really narrow street in the most run down area of the city and went into what I remember as the most dilapidated house I had ever been in. Inside was an old lady sitting over a large cauldron (seriously, very hubble bubble toil and trouble). When the problem was explained to her she produced a hot black potion that looked like tar, put it on my ankle and wrapped it up in a dirty rag.

The pain became intense and during the night I was so hot and sweaty that I remember thinking I was in serious trouble. However when I woke up the next morning, soaking wet, there was no pain in the ankle or any swelling - absolutely amazing.

When I saw Mr Hart later I asked him what the ointment was? He said he hadn't a clue as he had not understood a word the hotel owner and the old lady had said as it was in a French dialect he had not heared before.

He also took us to a bullfight in the Roman Coliseum in Arles. I can not imagine school masters doing such a thing these days.

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page last updated 18 Oct 2007