St Hildas School

Form 5 & 6 Visit France

The Form 5 and Form 6 trip to France last week began with a very early start on Tuesday morning. Arriving to school at 4am was certainly an unusual experience but of course added to the excitement of the week away! The coach set off for Dover at 4.30am and despite the early start, the girls were in great spirits. Once we arrived at Dover and had our passports checked and a crossing time secured, it was time for a well deserved breakfast stop. Some of the girls had never been on the Eurotunnel before and were very excited to be experiencing it for the first time with their friends. Once we arrived in France, we set off for Château du Warsy, which is where we were staying for the next few days but there were a few stops first.  

This first stop was a visit to Étaples Military Cemetery, the largest commonwealth cemetery in France and the resting place for over 11,500 soldiers who lost their lives in the First and Second World War. The group gathered and listened to Diya, our Head Girl, read the poem ‘In Flanders Fields’ before taking a few moments to reflect on those who are buried at Étaples. A copy of the letters each girl had written to the soldiers thanking them for their courage and bravery was placed by one of the monuments. Following our visit, we were delighted and humbled to receive an email here at school from an individual this week who had also visited the cemetry and had spent time sitting reading our letters - they wanted to thank the girls for the time they invested in writing the letters which they described as 'moving and insightful'.

There was some time for the girls to walk around the cemetery and they were particularly struck by the number of different nationalities and religions of those buried at the cemetery; a sense of unity and togetherness really was evident. Before the trip, Mrs Peterman had discovered that Betty Stevenson, whom at one point in her life had lived in Watford, was buried in the cemetery. Betty was awarded the French equivalent of the Victoria Cross, the Croix de Guerre, for her contributions to the war efforts during WWI and the girls were determined to locate her so they could pay their respects. With Mrs Longman’s help, the girls were able to find Betty and were very excited to let Mrs Peterman know when they returned to school.

Following the cemetery visit, it was time for a picnic lunch at Le Touquet overlooking the seafront before embarking on the final leg of our journey towards the château.  Once we arrived, the girls were allocated their rooms for the week which caused much excitement! This was followed by dinner, a scavenger hunt around the grounds and some time to enjoy their new Château du Warsy language booklets before heading to bed. It had been a very long day!  

Wednesday morning unfortunately began with lots of rain and we all crossed our fingers, hoping it would stop by the time we reached Compiègne market. Sadly the rain only got heavier but this did not deter the girls who all did an excellent job of buying various fruits from the stalls speaking only in French and paying with the correct change with only their language cards for help. After the market, it was time to visit Château de Compiègne, which was originally built for King Charles V in 1374. Numerous successors modified the castle adding their own personal touch and it is recorded that King Louis XIV even lived here for a time. The Chateau as we see it today was designed by the architect Ange-Jacques Gabriel in 1751 and completed in 1788. The Chateau proved to be extremely popular with the girls due to the lavish rooms, the history on display but also because it was warm and dry!   

After lunch, we drove to Beussent Lachelle Chocolaterie where the girls followed the journey of making chocolate, starting with the cocoa bean. There was also the opportunity to see how different equipment, machines and moulds were used in the factory and the girls were particularly interested to see how different chocolates can be decorated using nuts, coconut as well as white and dark chocolate. Of course, everyone’s highlight was sampling the chocolate that had been made only hours earlier! Time in the gift shop was very much enjoyed and everyone came out with a bag of delicious treats to enjoy once home in England. We finished the day’s activities with our very own Chateau Olympics where the girls played a variety of games including a game of dodgeball and throwing wellies! It’s safe to say everyone had a lot of fun! 

Thursday began with a visit to a goat farm where the girls learnt how the goats were kept, what they ate and how their milk is used to make delicious cheese which we enjoyed tasting. The girls were able to feed and have cuddles with the baby goats and even had a go at milking the goats. 

Following the farm, we set off for the caves in Naours. We enjoyed a picnic lunch outdoors and some time in the outdoor play area. We then split into classes for a tour of the caves, which were entirely man-made and originally used for protection through centuries of wars and invasions. The caves were used by the British forces during World War I and the German forces during World War II as supply depots and headquarters. The caves contain a huge collection of graffiti etched into the stone walls which the girls were amazed to discover was left by bored Australian soldiers during the First World War. Touring the varying tunnels and chambers of the caves taught us a lot about the experiences of the soldiers that spent time here during the war. Once the tour was finished, there was time for an ice lolly in the sunshine and a visit to the souvenir shop. Back at the chateau, we had our final dinner of the trip where some of the girls were brave enough to try snails and frogs’ legs which, based on overwhelming feedback, tasted like yummy garlic bread! Finally, the evening activity around the campfire was the perfect way to end what had been a fantastic week. We all gathered together to make s’mores, play games and join in with a selection of songs. 

Bright and early Friday morning, we were off on the return journey to St Hilda’s. Before arriving at the Eurotunnel, we stopped at an ‘E.Leclerc’ shop, a well known French supermarket chain where the girls were able to buy souvenirs, gifts and yummy treats with the remainder of their spending money. Before the Eurotunnel, we held a special Awards Ceremony which was a perfect way to reflect on the highlights and funny memories from the past 4 days! Everyone returned to St Hilda’s on Friday evening with a big smile on their face. So much had been packed into the four days but the girls all challenged themselves, practised their spoken French and most importantly, had lots of fun! 

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