When you reach the outskirts of a town there is invariably a sign welcoming you. Some are more decorative than others but they almost always tell you the names of any twin towns. I pay little attention unless I'm visiting somewhere new and then I do try to gauge what sort of a town it may be like. It doesn't always work. I know Burley in the New Forest is twinned with Beurlay in France presumably just because it sounds the same. As we approached St Omer I read out the twin towns:
Deal (United Kingdom)
Well that distracted me from the rain. I pass the sign going into Deal, possibly every week. How had I not noticed it was twinned with St Omer? And why were these two towns twinned?
This was the first time I'd visited rather than rushed through a town in the north of France and I was surprised at the difference in architecture. There is a noticeable Flemish influence. I shouldn't have been surprised because St Omer was once part of Spanish Flanders and the river that passes through is called the Aa, Old Dutch for water.
The town hall, rebuilt in the 1830s because the previous medieval building was falling down. We parked in this huge square and the rain stopped long enough for a walk around. A large proportion of the other cars were British and English speaking voices were all around. Maybe they were all from Deal.
Almost certainly the first World War is the connection. The Royal Flying Corps set up headquarters in St Omer in 1914. Practically every pilot will have known St Omer.
I suppose this place was taking advantage of the large numbers of British tourists, or maybe it was owned by British people. It's a shame they were allowed put in those modern dormer windows. The plaque on the wall says 1689.
Another lovely building, dating from 1786. This was once the bailiwick, the base for the bailiff who represented the king, in those days Louis XVI.
By the time we worked our way down to the river, the rain had re-started so I didn't take any photos, but this postcard does it justice. It is a very attractive part of town and very Dutch-looking. It just looked an awful lot greyer when I saw it.
Note the colour of the clouds. This was a junction of the Aa - two branches join together to continue as one towards the coast at Gravelines. The whole area is very flat and at one time very marshy. A malaria area. I took this picture thinking I was looking back at St Omer but I wasn't. According to a nearby notice, it was where the Canal d'Aire meets the River Lys. I wasn't entirely sure where that was ...
... but not too far from Belgium.