We spent a few nights staying in the little city of Bayeux, a good base to explore Normandy. There are a lot of places in Normandy we didn’t get to that we’d like to have seen – Rouen, Honfleur, Giverny, I mean it’s a big place – but for what we were going to see Bayeux was perfect, especially being so very close to the D-Day Beaches. For me though Bayeux was the place for the thing I’ve wanted to see forever, the Bayeux Tapestry. It did not disappoint! It has its own museum, and while we went when it was early and not yet too crowded, the line has to keep moving along it. It’s long – about 70 metres – and while I’ve learned about it for many years there’s nothing like the experience of seeing it all in one go, and constantly moving along, with the commentary in the headphones explaining it, made it feel like watching a long comic strip, a cartoon about the Norman Invasion of England. And it was funny, too. There were a lot of willies. The inventiveness and use of colours is incredible, and the sense of movement you get in the horses and the battle scenes is something a few modern movie directors could learn from. The Bayeux Tapestry was made sometime in the 1070s with the Conquest still fresh, is of course, neither a tapestry (it’s an embroidery) nor from Bayeux (Made In England, by Nuns in Barking and Canterbury, likely under the instruction of Odo, the Bishop of Bayeux and Earl of Kent) but so what, as Macca would say, it’s the bloody Bayeux Tapestry, it sold, shut up. It wasn’t about Peace and Love though. A brilliant piece of Norman propaganda, perhaps, but as I said to my wife, for me this is like going to see the US Declaration if Independence or something (but in reverse, I guess), 1066 being such a crucial moment in British history and in the history of the English language. If it wasn’t for William the Bastard getting all Conqueror on our medieval asses, we’d probably be speaking a language much closer to Dutch and German than the way it looks today. Either way, the gist of the story is that the Normans totally stitched up the Anglo-Saxons.
The Bayeux Tapestry used to be kept in the cathedral but isn’t any more. The Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Bayeux (above) is pretty massive and as in many French towns you can orient yourself by looking up and seeing where the spire is, and it’s visible for miles around. While we didn’t get a chance to go inside, I did sketch it on one of my morning walks, though it started to rain so I finished it off inside. It was consecrated in 1077 with William the Conqueror there, so it fits into the timeline of the Tapestry. It was supposed to be here that William got his promise from Harold that he would support him to be King after Edward the Confessor died, starting that whole thing. The little courtyard in front of the cathedral’s main entrance is very pretty, I stood at the rear a little way down the hill where the view was pretty magnificent. Even when looking at this, I keep thinking, I must go and get a pain aux amandes for breakfast.
The narrow street we stayed on, Rue Saint-Patrice, was full of little shops (many closed on both Sunday and Monday, when we were there) and many very old looking buildings. I don’t recall what this building was called, on the corner of Rue Franche, but I drew it on my evening walk after we had eaten dinner and had a busy day touristing somewhere else. There are flags lining the streets in Bayeux. I love a timber-frame building, it’s like a puzzle when drawing to make sure you get all the bits in the right place, but a little personality goes a long way and you don’t want too many straight lines. The weather was nice, the sky had dappled clouds and of course the sun set so much later, so after this I went further into town and drew another scene, below. This pretty postcard view is across the little river Aure, that trickles through Bayeux with the Cathedral in the background. Every evening we would take a walk down this way, and around the corner we ate some nice Norman food at a restaurant, though on one evening I walked up to a little store about a mile up the road (the supermarket in the centre-ville being already closed) to buy some dinner supplies, and was brought back to living in France years ago, standing in line in a small shop for about 20 minutes and then carrying heavy bags up and down streets and up a narrow staircase, it was like going back 20 years. I really liked Bayeux, and my family loved it, we had no ‘Bayeux remorse’. Bit quiet, but a good base to explore.
And of course, I drew a hydrant! More Normandy sketches to come…