The little train (le p’tit train) of the Baie de Somme runs from Cayeux on the Atlantic coast of Picardy to St Valery sur Somme, and then on round the bay to Le Crotoy. Cayeux is near the extensive shingle beaches of le Hourdel, a tiny hamlet at the mouth of the Somme. It has a little harbour overlooking the mud flats of the Somme estuary which create a maze of channels at low tide.
St Valery sur Somme, is an attractive and peaceful historic town that forms a useful centre for exploring the area. Located on the south side of the Baie de Somme, it is under an hour’s drive down the main road from Calais to Rouen. Its old town clusters round its church and castle where Joan of Arc was held prisoner briefly. The last time we were there the narrow streets were alive with swallows darting around hunting flies often close to our knees.
The more “modern” part of St Valery has some bars, good restaurants and picturesque shops along a narrow old high street. It snoozes by its port at the entrance to the canal de la Somme, now a marina with a few remaining fishing boats and tourist boats for viewing the Somme estuary. The port used to transfer cargo from sea-going boats to canal boats for shipping to Paris.
St Valery has a wonderful esplanade beside the Somme for walks in the evening. Away from the Somme the town climbs the low hills to the agricultural plateau above through narrow steep streets of old fishermen’s houses which give a great view north over the Baie de Somme. It’s a far cry from the bloody mayhem of its recent turbulent past in the First World War.
St Valery sur Somme is the hub for the little train which rests on the quayside near to a memorial for another historic event, the expedition of William of Normandy to England which changed the histories of several nearby countries. From here, le p’tit train makes its gentle narrow-gauge journey along the vast salt - marsh shores of the Baie de Somme where sheep and cattle graze, to the scenic fishing town of le Crotoy, passing on its way Noyelles-sur-mer/ Nolette, the site of a First World War cemetery for the Allied Chinese Labour Corps, many of whom died from Spanish Flu.
Le Crotoy, on the North side of the Baie de Somme, is a fishing port with rows of houses and a variety of restaurants, many of which serve very fresh seafood. It is a pretty little town with a remarkable history, enormous beaches and three notable landmarks: an enormous water tower by the terminus of le p’tit train; a vast hotel in the upper town overlooking the sea; and a memorial at the entrance to the town to the Caudron brothers, who pioneered French aviation in the early twentieth century. One of them died in 1915 test flying an aircraft. They flew their planes off the nearby Somme beaches and had their factory here https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Caudron. There is a museum to them in Rue, a nearby small town which also has a brasserie named after them near the railway station.
A little further North from Le Crotoy along the Baie de Somme is the Marquenterre Wildlife Park (https://www.baiedesomme.fr/lieu/1-14-5933-parc-du-marquenterre). It is a vast wetland nature reserve of 200ha of marsh, sand dunes and reed beds on the edge of the Baie de Somme. As well as being one of the most exciting birdwatching sites in Northern France, it also gives delightful walks through the dunes and coastal margins. See: