We've been so busy having adventures all week that I haven't actually had time to share any of them with you ! Last Sunday, at the very start of the holidays, we had an absolutely beautiful sunny day so I said we should get out and make the most of it. I wanted to go geocaching, the kids wanted to go to the beach, so we decided to combine the two. After a long bus ride (still loving the free buses at the weekends), we arrived at the Fort des Dunes.
The fort was built between 1878 and 1880, following the defeat of the Franco-Prussian War, and had a significant role in both the beginning and end of World War II. In 1940, during the Battle of France, it was used as a "sorting centre" for French soldiers, before becoming the headquarters of the French 12th Motorized Infantry Division. After several bombing raids and a large number of casualties, the fort was abandoned.
After the Dunkirk evacuation, code-named Operation Dynamo, in late May/early June 1940, German forces took possession of the fort and it became a component of the German Atlantic Wall fortifications until the end of the war. 10,000 Germans were taken prisoner on 9 May 1945, of which 3,700 were kept in the Dunkirk area, with many interned at the Fort des Dunes.
As is often the case in the fields and towns around Dunkirk, there is a small war cemetery, with rows and rows of identical crosses that really bring home just how many people lost their lives here.
There are also a few commemorative plaques on the wall for some of the higher ranking soldiers who were killed here, but they have less visual impact than the dozens of graves of the "ordinary" soldiers.
The kids weren't interested in visiting the fort though (and to be honest, neither was I - it would have been a shame to waste the sunshine in its dingy underground interior), so we headed around the back of the fort to find a geocache.
We spent about 15 minutes trying to locate it, with Pierre enthusiastically climbing in and out of the undergrowth around the trees, but we had to admit defeat.
I'm sure we'll be back another day, so maybe we'll have more luck then. It's definitely still there because someone found it the day after we logged our DNF (did not find).
From here we headed back into the dunes - before getting to the sandy part, it's a lovely walk through tranquil woodland, with sun-dappled paths and constant birdsong.
We saw some "silk bags" in the trees and, on closer inspection, discovered that they were teeming with baby caterpillars. The kids squealed "eeuuurrggghhhh" then stood watching them, totally transfixed !
We soon had sand underfoot so we knew we were getting closer to the sea.
We could make out the dunes but at this point, they were still covered in greenery rather than bare sand.
I wanted to try to find another geocache on our route, over by the disused railways tracks. We went past this strange cubic structure. The kids wanted to know what it was but I had no idea !
There was a geocache listed as "underneath the machinery" but we couldn't locate it. It turns out that on this very afternoon, the geocacher who had laid the caches a few years ago was going round removing them all before disabling the whole series, so the chances are, this one wasn't here any more.
By now, it was heading into late afternoon and the kids were getting impatient for making our way to the beach so I relented and we gave up on the geocaching. As soon as we arrived at the beach, they rolled up their trouser legs, raced across the sand and went paddling in the sea !
There were quite a few people who had had the same idea as us, but the beaches in Dunkirk are so vast that there is plenty of room for everyone. We were down at the far end of the beach too, close to the Belgian border, which is much less crowded than the part closest to the town centre.
Keep on running ! They suddenly seemed to get a second wind.
They ended up quite far away but my camera managed to zoom in on them and I was sitting under a flagpole so that they could find me easily when they headed back up the beach !
After paddling, it was time to build a sandcastle, or at least dig a big hole in the sand.
There was one final thing left to do before heading to the bus stop - buy an ice cream ! It was the perfect start to the holidays and a real fore-taste of the summer to come. Bring it on !