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Visiting Calais, France: Memories Blowing in the Wind at the Jetée de l'Ouest

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The pier and lighthouse of the port of Calais

The pier and lighthouse of the port of Calais



The changeable weather remains the constant

For travellers from the British Isles arriving in France across the sometimes blustery English Channel (French: La Manche), Calais has for so long literally been the first port of call.

Since 1959, from which this Jetée de l'Ouest (West Pier) light dates, this light may be the first sight that the arriving traveller sees in close proximity.

All well and good.

But I would also like us to consider also what for French people might be of special significance at the Jetée de l'Ouest.

Because the West Pier protrudes from what French people have long called La Côte d'Opale (Opal Coast) This Côte d'Opale refers to a very long and very wide, sandy beach which stretches from Bray-Dunes, past Calais and Boulogne-sur-Mer until Berck-sur-Mer. Among the well known sights along the Côte d'Opale are Cap Gris-Nez and Cap Blanc-Nez, striking cliff formations which to British visitors will seem reminiscent of the White Cliffs of Dover and of Eastbourne's Beachy Head.

The term La Côte d'Opale was coined by Édouard Lévêque (1857-1936), a businessman and artist who helped to develop the resort of Le Touquet-Paris-Plage, who was also the creator of many canvases depicting coastal scenes.

Historically, there was a fire beacon at what is now the West Pier at Calais as far back as 1772. The current jetty dates from the early 20th century (1).

I have included, below, a photo of an oil painting by the 19th century artist Edward William Cooke, which depicts a vessel returning to the port of Calais in rough weather. In a sense, Calais pier comes full circle: names and structures change, but it is the changeable weather that has remained the constant, down the centuries.

I myself recall a ferry trip across the English Channel a number of years ago when the wind and waves were indeed furious, notwithstanding all the technological advances which go into shipbuilding and communications. The port of Calais is indeed a place where one is reminded of the sheer, raw power of nature.

November 20, 2020

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(1) See also (in French) :

Some sourcing: Wikipedia

Night fishing, Jetée de l'Ouest, Calais

Night fishing, Jetée de l'Ouest, Calais

Calais Pier, Sloop returning to Port detail, oil painting by Edward William Cooke (1811-1880)

Calais Pier, Sloop returning to Port detail, oil painting by Edward William Cooke (1811-1880)

Also worth seeing

In Calais itself, the Tour du Guet , the Perpendicular Notre Dame church and the Town Hall, with its belfry and its Burghers of Calais monument, are among the various visitor attractions; lacemaking is an historic, local industry.

Boulogne-sur-Mer (distance: 34 kilometres); among its visitor attractions are its enormous, domed Cathedral.


How to get there: United Airlines flies from New York Newark to Paris (Aéroport Paris-Charles de Gaulle ), from where car rental is available (distance from Paris-Charles de Gaulle airport to Calais: 267 kilometres). The French railroad company SNCF maintains a service between Paris (Gare du Nord ) and Calais. Please check with the airline or your travel agent for up to date information.You are advised to consult with appropriate consular sources regarding border crossing visa requirements for citizens of certain nationalities.

MJFenn is an independent travel writer based in Ontario, Canada.

Other of my hubpages may also be of interest


Liz Westwood from UK on November 21, 2020:

We too have suffered stormy crossings to and from Calais. Eurotunnel has given us a quicker and calmer alternative in recent years.

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