We haven’t really paid that much attention to Angouleme, our adopted region’s ‘capital’. It’s a place to go to the outskirts for Brico-Depot and Darty and all the big chains we don’t have in La Rochefoucauld. At about 20 km away, it’s a little further than Manchester was from Bury, but in all honesty, our focus hasn’t been on Angouleme at all.
Angouleme Way in Bury is a tribute to its French ‘twin’. Likewise, there’s a Boulevard de Bury here. Apparently. Apart from names on a by-pass, I was first introduced to Angouleme via a twin exchange here when I was about 13. It was quite hideous. The girl I stayed with, Severine, a very charentais name, came to stay with us first. I’d broken my leg (during!?!) her stay by randomly throwing myself off the top of Holcombe Hill and I remember very little of the rest of the trip, suffice to say there were days out around the region.
On our return to Angouleme, I realised I was one of the youngest on the trip: there were girls in the 5th year at our school – I was still a second-year. Not only that, but my French must have been crap. I remember the house distinctly – one of the modern pavilion types, and I remember being impressed by the size of it, and the lack of personal property. I was shocked Madame made her husband stay outside, disgusted by the vegetables I was made to eat, upset when Madame disinfected the mattress after my stay and impressed by the downstairs games room where Severine had a table-tennis table and a computer. I remember a day trip to Royan and finding it difficult to wee on one of those ‘squat’ toilets – the last time I saw one – especially difficult to wee when you have a plaster cast on your leg. I remember a trip to Brantome, but very little of it other than sitting in the park.
So, twinning hadn’t meant very much to me at all. An unpleasant exchange, a name on a by-pass… I hadn’t given much thought to Angouleme.
So for our first proper wandering about yesterday, to enjoy the Circuit Des Remparts, I was shocked, yes shocked, by the differences between the two and wondered how on earth the two ended up connected.
The town hall, perched on the highest part of the hill upon which Angouleme sits, is magnificent. Think more Manchester Town Hall than Bury Town Hall.
It’s surrounded by lush gardens and flowers, not unlike the park at the back of the Town Hall in Bury, just ten times more lovely. Then there’s the cathedral. It overlooks the city, surrounded by its ramparts, topped with a marvellous Italianesque tower… Bury Parish Church, eat your heart out.
Not that I’m a Bury whinger. I think the end of the Rock, where the Parish Church is, is quite lovely. Millgate’s okay too. I appreciate the market is quite good (if not ‘World Famous’ as they repute to be) I’ve not been to The New Rock, but it looks quite good, except for the jobsworths going round stopping pensioners taking photos.
But Angouleme is quite magnificent. It has a shopping arcade, rows of lovely shops, a square with cafes, fantastic views, amazing architecture, cobbled streets in places, tree-lined boulevards (albeit lined with a few men clearly smoking weed – not perhaps the best idea when you’re right outside the ‘Maison d’Arret’ – the jail. Hmmmm.) and a quite stunning town hall and cathedral. I’m not convinced there’s anything in Bury that’s remotely comparable. Poor Bury.
The Circuit des Ramparts is a great event: thousands of cars turn up to show off, take part in races and generally draw the attention of the local populace. It wasn’t over-crowded, just pleasantly so, and the weather, as usual, was beautiful. It was lovely to walk around our adopted departement capital and see it in its splendour.