08 August 2010

Le Château de Mesnières-en-Bray

I always tease my good friend Marie, who is an English teacher in Normandy, about the weather up there. She gets tired of it, I'm sure, but she's a good sport. It really doesn't rain in Normandy all the time.

You see, I lived in Rouen for a year, way back when I was a young teacher. One of the first things I learned there was something told to me, maybe facetiously, by the principal of the high school where I worked. To help me adapt to the climate, he said: "Remember, in Normandy, it doesn't rain very much. It just rains all the time." It's that fine, misty drizzle that can get to you.

It was good weather for geese, that day.

Well, this time, when we entered Normandy through Blangy-sur-Bresle, we caused quite a splash. Literally. Here we were, two American senior citizens (me a sexagenarian — that's less fun than it might sound — and CHM an octogenarian — no, no tentacles) tooling around in our Renault Kangoo utility vehicle, when suddenly the skies opened up. The bottom really fell out.

A rooster either strutting or hunting, after the heavy downpour

It was a rainstorm that people in North Carolina might call a frog-strangler. Des trombes d'eau, they say in French. Raining buckets. And we were on little back roads through hilly country, with very few road signs. For part of the way, we drove through dense forest. The Michelin guide for Normandy calls this region of Normandy "the Bray Buttonhole" — "Wide and deep undulations were formed" here by movements of the Earth's crust in the Tertiary area, when the Alps were pushed up farther south. "The whole area is a watershed," Michelin says. I was convinced.

Here he is, close up. Nice comb.

The sections of road that go through forest are shown on the map in the Michelin Road Atlas as scenic routes. We couldn't see much, though — it was too dark. Many of the roads we were on didn't have route numbers on the map. The ones that did have numbers on the map were as often unmarked as marked by signposts. We just had to keep going, hoping we might be headed vaguely in the right direction. The rain kept pouring down.

Another rooster at Mesnières

It's only about 30 km/18 miles from Blangy-sur-Bresle to Mesnières-en-Bray, our next stop. It seemed a lot longer. The two forests we drove through are called La Haute Forêt Domaniale D'Eu — Eu is a town near the coast — and La Forêt du Hellet. I liked a lot of the local place names: Croixdalle, Bonnerue, Smermesnil, Houppelande, Fresnoy-Folny, Mesnil-Follemprise, and Saint-Vaast-Equiqueville, to cite just a few. As you can imagine, the rain and a focus on driving on curvy roads prevented me from taking any pictures.

The mill and millpond at Mesnières

Finally, we found a little narrow country lane called the Route de Lucy — Lucy is a village — and we knew we were almost there. I remember passing two tourists on bicycles. They were a middle-aged couple, probably English or Dutch. We were going down a steep hill at the time, which meant they were trying to pedal up it. I flashed my bright lights so that they would be sure to see us coming. They smiled at us gamely as they struggled up the hill in the driving rain.

I guess these are all chickens.

Our destination was the town — village? — called Mesnières-en-Bray. There's a château there. Since the 1820s, the building — a Renaissance edifice reminiscent of the Loire Valley castles we know so well — has been used as a school that teaches general courses as well as horticulture. We didn't expect to go inside. We just wanted to see it from the outside, maybe just from the car windows. Maybe get out and take a picture or two. But with the rain that was falling, it seemed increasingly unlikely that we would get even a glimpse of it.

Goats climbing up on rocks and trees

We drove into the village from the east, where the Route de Lucy intersected with the main road through the town. We turned right, toward the Dieppe to the north, looking for the château. I remember roads that were flooded, and people out in slickers with brooms, trying to unclog storm drains so that the water could run off rather than pond up. In a couple of minutes, we found ourselves back out in rase campagne — open country — a realized we had gone too far and in the wrong direction.

This tree doesn't stand much of a chance.

Where was the château? In such a small town (pop. 706, according to Wikipedia), an enormous building shouldn't be all that hard to find. Blame it on the rain. We were having a hard time seeing much at all. I pulled off the road and turned around. A big tractor-trailer rig roared by, sending spray everywhere. A couple of miles south, right in the middle of the village, this time we noticed a sign — Château >> — pointing to the right.

...comme chèvre qui pisse ?

And the rain suddenly slacked off. By the time we drove a mile up the road and found the entrance to the château, it had pretty much stopped. There was a ray of sunshine, and everything look and smelled fresh and clean. There was a little parking lot for maybe 10 cars, and it was empty. We parked there and even got out of the car.

The Château de Mesnières-en-Bray (Normandy)

So I got some pictures after all. Snapshots of the Château de Mesnières. And in a pen on the grounds, near the parking lot, there were chickens, roosters, geese, ducks, and goats. We enjoyed being out of the car for a few minutes and not having to walk too far to find something interesting to look at and photograph. Sometimes what you actually see is more interesting that what you set out to see.


  1. Great photos.
    The climate in Normandy is similar to ours in Derbyshire, I think. Although lately we have had less rain but just dull, grey days, when really we long for the sunshine before the summer is over.

  2. So, Ken, is the château currently the home of the Collège et Lycée St. Joseph? Is that still where the school is housed? Thanks for including the link to the school's website... very interesting. Did you look at it much? It's still confusing for me how the French school system works-- I looked at the chart they provide, and with all of those acronyms (CAP, T. STAV, BTS, BEP SAP, etc.) I can't figure it out. It seems to be a school that focuses on grooming students for hands-on careers, so to speak, rather than university... is that right?

    Great animal photos today :))


  3. You two had some real luck that the rain decided to stop as you reached the chateau. Château de Mesnières-en-Bray is beautiful, very renaissance style.

    Love the pictures of the brown roosters and the goats as well.

    Rouen weather - I went to school in upstate NY - fall and spring were non-stop light drizzle and grey skies.

  4. Loved the photos, thanks Ken!


  5. A great ending! Really enjoyed reading about your day and loved learning the phrase, "frog-strangler".

  6. Those chicken pictures made me laugh. Wonder if that's the origin of the saying "Mad as a wet hen"?

  7. Jean, according to the weather report I just saw, Brittany and Normandy are getting a good soaking today. We're supposed to get the rain tomorrow. We could use some at this point.

    Judy, yes, the château is still home to the Lycée St-Joseph. Like you, all those TLAs (three-letter acronyms) used within the French school system are a mystery to me.

    Hi BettyAnn!

    Loulou, thanks for the comment. Glad you enjoyed it.

    Dio',Diane, and Anon', thanks for the nice comments.

  8. Hmm, your good friend doesn't really get tired of your "taquineries" related to the Norman climate... :-) She may be kind of "masochiste" :-) !!!

    Anyway, reading your humorous descriptions of my "province" and its drawbacks makes me laugh :-) Which is the most important thing ;-)

    It's a pity we didn't meet in 1972-73... My sweet parents would have welcomed you with pleasure :-) Yet, we were lucky meeting on the Internet, some... 30 years later, thanks to Laura's forums/fora :-)

    Here are some links (in English) which describe the French educational system...




    If some of you speak French, the following site describes technological studies having to do with agriculture, etc.


    Voilà ! Il est largement l'heure d'aller dormir, alors, à demain ! Mary/Marie

  9. One more point, in 2002, a reform took place concerning the length and names given to the studies at university and in "Grandes Ecoles", which means that the "année de maîtrise" is now called "Master" : Master 1 and Master 2... See :

    "However, since April 2002 and in accordance with implementation of the Bologna Process to develop a European Higher Education Area, a set of regulations has been published with a view to gradually gearing the structure of French higher education to the European system of 3-5-8 (corresponding to three, five and eight years after the baccalaureate), or LMD standing for licence, master and doctorat. Accordingly, the ministry responsible for higher education is encouraging universities in the process of renewing their four-yearly contract to structure their courses into semesters and modules enabling students to obtain credits in accordance with the European Credit Transfer System (ECTS). Students who acquire 180 credits normally over a period of three years may obtain the licence; 300 credits are necessary (i.e. an additional 120 after the licence, corresponding to two further years of study) for the award of the master. Furthermore, there is a master professionnel (Master’s vocational qualification) geared to the labour market, and master recherche (Master’s research qualification), preparation for which is similar to study for the DEA and constitutes the first stage of doctoral studies lasting three years until the doctorate itself is obtained." (extract from this url which I mentioned in my previous comment) Mary/Marie


  10. Steve Harrington14 May, 2012 20:11

    I actually stayed at the Chateau in 1974 (I think). It was a holiday organised bu The Granville School of Woodville, Swadlincote Derbyshire. During a coach trip from the chateau we were involved in a coach crash, where our coach left the road and landed in the front room of the signal box house in Neufchatel en Bray. I was about 14yrs at the time and am having difficulty finding any information about it, or indeed where to search for info


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