One thing Dunkirk has a lot of is canals so when I saw a free nature walk along the canals to look at nature, biodiversity and the evacuation of water, I thought it might be interesting and signed us up. It was supposed to be a guided 2 hour walk, following the canals from the town centre to the beach.
While we waited for the rest of the group to arive (about 15 of us in total), I actually managed to get a photo of all three Madhouse kids together. Unfortunately Pierre had his eyes closed and Juliette was pulling a face as she tried to pull a sticky sweet off her braces. Oh well !
I said that we'd be looking out for signs of spring and we started off by looking at the trees around the courthouse square that we were waiting in. French town planners have a thing about square trees and I think they're really ugly. They like to train small trees to be totally flat and square, while the bigger trees have their upper branches and leaves cut so they are cube shaped. It looks totally unnatural and weird to me.
We got off to a false start because the guide spent 20 minutes talking in excrutiating detail about the way the canals are set up, with some as "nautical motorways" leading to Paris and Belgium, while some are just there as evacuation channels for excess water from rivers and field runoff. She said that we wouldn't be going all the way to the beach because it would take too long, and we weren't the only ones to mutter that we'd have plenty of time if she stopped talking and started walking !
Things picked up as we set off across the bridge and immediately spotted a mummy duck waddling along the canalpath with a row of quacking ducklings behind her.
They all lined up looking down at the water and we all said they'd never be able to make it down there as it was about a 15 foot drop.
Then they did ! The mummy duck jumped down with a farewell quack, then all the little ducklings leapt in after head, tumbling head over heads in a chain of somersaults before landing in the water with a splash. One stayed behind quacking plaintively before finally deciding it was scarier being left behind on his own and went tumbling down into the water too !
They took a moment to regroup and get back in line and they were off again !
We'd been given a spotter's guide to the birds that we'd be likely to see on the way (including kingfishers, which I was excited about, especially after getting a glimpse of one flying past when out geocaching last year). Pierre looked up the name of this bird and was delighted to learn that it's a "foulque" in French, because it sounds like a rude word in English ! It's full name trips off the tongue - foulque macroule. When we got home, I looked up the English equivalent and it's a Eurasian Coot. I knew the expression bald as a coot but didn't know what they looked like.
Sophie was taking the photos so Juliette took great delight in photobombing her. It's either that or being camera shy so I'm not sure which is worse !
In sharp contrast to the square trees on the opposite bank, this side had a wilder feel and I loved the sight of the creepers winding their way around the manmade chains and ropes, as if they were getting revenge !
We wandered along looking at the architecture and Sophie thought this looked like Balamory !
We discovered that the canal towpaths are part of a signposted designated walk, so we may have to go on an adventure of our own in the not too distant future and see where they take us.
I was impressed to see the date 1908 in the canal wall, as not much of Dunkirk survived world war II.
Sophie was more impressed by the smiley faces that grafitti artists had left on some of the mooring posts !
We followed the canal out of the town centre ...
... into the less built-up parts of town.
We learnt all about the various locks, some abandoned and some still in use.
They're obviously great at catching all the rubbish that people dump in the canals - we spotted the usual bottles, cans and shopping trolleys, but also several footballs and even a wheelie bin !
Then we marvelled at a man fishing in the totally polluted part of the canal. Would you want to eat fish that came from here ?! He only had to walk 100 yards and he'd have been in a cleaner part !
We started looking out for signs of spring and saw buds in the trees, butterflies and buttercups.
We looked at how sticky buds were bursting open with furry young leaves unfurling.
We even spotted some lovely pink blossom.
Then we realised that we were still standing around while the guide was droning on about water levels and the intricate workings of the locks and who owned what now that the electricity company had moved sites, and decided that we were actually having more fun by ourselves, so we discreetly sauntered off.
Well, I was discreet, but the Madhouse kids started giggling their heads off when the group started moving off in our direction and ran as fast as they could yelling "quick, run away, we're escaping". You can't take them anywhere !!