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Visiting Esquelbecq, France: Peaceful Today, but With a 'Haunted' Castle and Chilling, Historical Events

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Tragedies piled one upon another

When I came to Esquelbecq, in French Flanders, on a tranquil, summer's day, the peacefulness of the locality belied elements of a tumultuous and bloody past. It seems that throughout the many centuries of the history of Esquelbecq, in France's Nord department, records of the deaths there of noted people associated with it are particularly striking.

Murder at the castle

One of the main sights of Esquelbecq is its castle, Medieval in origin, and restored in 1606. For some hundreds of years the castle belonged to the de Guernonval family. In the 17th century, the lady owner of the castle is said to have been murdered in the middle of the night by her servant girl, who tried to bury her body in the castle's parkland.

However, the story goes that the faithful dog belonging to the mistress of the castle succeeded in finding her body, which led to the murderer being confronted and subsequently hanged.

The story continues (maybe somewhat inevitably) that the ghosts of the murdered lady of the castle and of her faithful dog haunt the vicinity of the castle.

Hundreds of WW1 deaths by poison gas and other causes

During the course of World War One, hundreds of soldiers died at Esquelbecq by poison death and other causes. Many of the wounded soldiers were treated at a local hospital facility.

The existence of this facility caused the death statistics recorded at Esquelbecq to be particularly high.

Murder at the barn

In World War Two, at a barn between Esquelbecq and Wormhout, 82 British soldiers were executed by members of a German SS regiment. This regiment was led by the later convicted war criminal Sepp Dietrich .

The barn where the massacre took place has been restored in more recent years.

...and the far past

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Also to be mentioned is the fact that, back in the year 855, (the subsequently canonized) Folquin (Dutch: Folkwin ), Bishop of Thérouanne, died in Esquelbecq, although his manner of death was not recorded as being as troubling as the ones described earlier.

Today, the parish church of Esquelbecq, dating from the 10th to the 17th centuries, is named for Folquin.

A note on spelling

A Dutch variant spelling for the locality exists, Ekelsbeke , given the proximity of the Dutch-speaking area.

Also worth seeing

Bergues (distance: 10 kilometres) has many outstanding architectural features, including an old Flemish-style belfry, and 17th century fortifications.

Dunkirk (French: Dunkerque ; Dutch: Duinkerken ; distance: 19 kilometres), a major port, has the St. Eloi church in which the 17th century pirate Jean Bart is buried, some belfries, and a tower known as Le Leughenaer .

Bray-Dunes (distance: 29 kilometres), a North Sea resort, is France's northernmost town, separated by extensive dunes from the Belgian border.

Renescure (distance: 23 kilometres) has an old castle, which is now the Town Hall, associated with Philippe de Commynes, the Medieval chronicler.

Calais (distance: 57 kilometres), has a Medieval tower, a church in Tudor style, a Flemish-style town hall belfry; it also possesses a lacemaking craft tradition.

Ieper , Belgium (French: Ypres ; distance: 41 kilometres) which is situated in the Dutch-speaking region of Flanders, possesses a rebuilt Medieval Cloth Hall and the Menin Gate, which commemorates World War 1 war dead.

Ploegsteert , Belgium (distance: 44 kilometres) has a Commonwealth war memorial, in a striking style, with memories also of Sir Winston Churchill, who, during World War 1, served in the district.


How to get there: A number of North American airlines fly to Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport (distance: 254 kilometres); the French SNCF railroad company links Paris with the station at Esquelbecq. But the nearest large international airport is Brussels Airport (Brussel Nationaal / Bruxelles-National ; distance: 191 kilometres). Car rental is available at the Paris and Brussels airports. Please check with the airline or your travel agent for up to date information. Please refer to appropriate consular sources for any special border crossing arrangements which may apply to citizens of certain nationalities.

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

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