Discovery trip

2019 Discovery Trip

This year, it was the French who were in charge of organizing the Discovery Trip in October and we chose the city of Douai and the Mining Country.

As in recent years, the trip took place over two days, on October 5th and 6th. The French group was less important than last years, 27 people, as for our British friends they were 23. Leaving Dourdan on Saturday 5th, at 9 o'clock, we arrived in Douai, at the Ibis Hotel, well located in the town centre, about 14 h 30. The English, already arrived, had taken possession of their rooms, some even had left for a walk around.

After having settled in our rooms, we all walked to the belfry, where we were waited by two charming very competent guides, one taking charge of the English, the other the French.


The river Scarpe in Douai

The belfry of Douai stands in the heart of the building of the town hall with which it forms a relatively homogeneous architectural ensemble. The main frontage immerses the visitor in another era, the Middle Ages, which was also the peak of the Gothic period. We can still see the niches that housed the statues of the Counts of Flanders, unfortunately destroyed during the Revolution. The spire of the belfry is impressive with its 54 golden suns and the large lion of Flanders (nearly two meters!), enthroned at the top of the building, the coat of arms of the city between its legs.

The visit of the monument allowed us to discover, on the first floor, the guards room with its monumental fireplace (1390). At the second level, the bellmen room houses the mechanism of an automatic clock used until 1859. The bell chamber, on the third floor, houses the carillon of 62 bells and the cabin of the master carillonneur. By a spiral staircase we reach the platform from which we can admire the whole of the Flemish city, after a climb of 196 steps!

The carillon features 62 bells spanning five octaves. It has a mechanism that allows it to ring every quarter of an hour, but also has a keyboard that allows concerts every Saturday. A little anecdote, Victor Hugo passing through Douai in 1837 exclaimed: "There is the most beautiful belfry I have ever seen".       

The visit ended after all people were obliged to go down the steps that it had been so difficult to climb. Finally, it was so interesting that no one thought of muscle pains! 

Then we returned to the hotel for a little rest, before walking to the restaurant " Le Vintage" which served us an excellent dinner.   

The next morning, after a restfull sleep and a good breakfast, we left by coach to the Historic Mining Centre of Lewarde, a few miles away from Douai. Created at the initiative of the Northern Coal Mines National Administration, this centre has been opened to the public since 1984, in order to witness three centuries of mining activity in the North of France. It is located in the old Delloye Pit that had been active from 1931 to 1971.

At the entrance of the pit, two pleasant speakers were waiting for us to dive into the bowels of the mine!

After putting on the mandatory charlotte and helmet , we took the staff bridge to go to the carts unloading mill and the sorting workshop where women and "galibots" (young children) were assigned to sort the coal from stones an other waste. No protection on the hands, only a scarf on the head ! The atmosphere must have been difficult to breathe. 

We then gathered into a lift to go down to the bottom of the mine. It is the famous "cage", in which the miners went down to the bottom and that raised the coal loads on the way back. The rate of descent of the cages is 12 meters per second when it contains staff and 18 meters per second for equipment and ore (breathtaking). 

Arrived at the bottom, we entered the gallery where our guides explained the evolution of techniques and working conditions at the coal vein digging. No protection on the head and the body, sneakers on the feet (that until 1950), in spite of the dangers and the diseases that the minors had to support until the 50s. During the visit, accessories, tools and archive videos enabled visitors to realise how hard was the work of the miners ... and even the horses descended by harnesses (in six hours!) to then pull the carts filled with coal. No visitor can be insensitive to such a visit, informative, rewarding but also upsetting.

Surprise! At the exit, as we were thinking we had descended very deep, we found ourselves at the ground level, facing the showrooms. As a matter of fact, we were into an exact reconstitution of a gallery showing the evolution of extraction, from the first pits to the most modern, before the pits are closed and prohibited to the public for safety reasons.  

Free time was then left for the free visit of the rooms of the museum, which begins with the explanation of the formation of coal, '' The Carboniferous", providing a trip in the geological time ... then followed by exhibition of documents, pictures and numerous explanations, on the daily life in the mining town, the miner and his family, his interior, the tavern, the manager's office  whose bronzes adorn the corridors, the infirmary, the stable, all allowing the visitor to understand the evolution of the techniques and the living conditions from 1720 to 1990.     

An entire room is dedicated to immigration. So as to reinstate and boost the production of coal after the First World War that had left the mining basin in ruins and so many miners fell to the front, the French Government organized a mass immigration. The conditions of reception, the conditions of integration and the traditions of the different nationalities are described with great accuracy.   

After the visit, the time has come to proceed to the restaurant '' Le Briquet '', for a very generous lunch, typical of the North of France: Maroilles tart, carbonade (beef casserole), fries and vegetables, then cheese (obviously Maroilles) and finally dessert. 

At the end of the meal, Wendy BARRON, President of Twinning Association on the English side thanked the whole team of our Association for the excellent organization of this weekend. For our part, Gérard PATURAUD, our President expressed the wish that the next visit of our friends to Dourdan in May 2020 be as warm as usual, despite the possible difficulties that the exit of the United Kingdom from the EU may cause .     

Around 3 pm, we said goodbye to our English friends. A little spare time allowed us to see some of the rooms of the museum for those who had not seen everything, or to wander around the shop.    

After a safe return trip, we wer back in Dourdan around 9 pm.


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 Douai Town Hall and Belfry

Dinner at "Le Vintage" restaurant

Coal carts raised from the mine bottom

Working place at the begining of XXth Century

The museum machines exhibition room

Lunch at "Le Briquet" restaurant