At Douai (can’t get the song “Douai-ing the eagle rock “ of my mind hearing the name) we turned into the arm of the river Scarpe. The stream got more and more narrow and didn’t look like leading anywhere. Luckily Sue and Malcolm had told us to keep on going and sure enough, around a bend, there was the town quay with bollards and free electricity and a Leclerc 300m away.

The walk to the town centre alongside the canalised river took about 15 minutes. Houses we passed were in various states of disrepair, and we had to keep our eyes on the footpath to avoid all the doggy poos. Now we were certain that we were back in France!

The lack of cleanliness and maintenance of age old buildings just becomes so much more apparent after having visited Holland and Belgium.

Yet again there are treasures to be found! The main attraction of Douai is the 14th century belfry at the townhouse, one of 51 belfries of Flanders and Northern France on the UNESCO heritage list. The tour of the belfry took us to the towers different levels. 

At the bottom level used to be a big hearth. It was a place of gathering away from the cold, and from here the big 900kg bell was hoisted up into the tower. The further levels contained the Town hall wine cellar, the "Gothic Room” where the aldermen met, the 18th century “White Room” where up to today weddings are being performed, the ball room, also still used for bigger functions and the Carillon Room with 62 bells chiming every hour.

The carillon is now automatised. In earlier times they were played by a carillon master. The one big bell was the “alarm bell”, being chimed to warn of approaching enemies or, more often, in case of fire. As in the olden days all the roofs were thatched and hearths, candles or oil lamps presented a constant danger. The route of escape in case of emergencies was communicated by the tune of the carillon bells being sounded.

Our guide even let us have a go at playing the bells with our fists, or for the bigger ones, via foot pedals. The townspeople would have been confused with our tunes, that’s for sure! Lucky that there wasn’t an emergency!



From the top, the Watchman’s level, we had a great view over Douai and the St. Peter’s Collegiate Church we had previously visited.

St. Peter’s holds some relics of the English martyr St. John Southworth who was killed when returning from Douai to England for practising catholicism, and whose tomb is now in Westminster Cathedral.

© Austin Robinson 2019