Sunday, 27 April 2014

Blowing up bridges

Yesterday I went on the East Kent Spokes annual cycle ride to Ardres which is a town a few miles inland from Calais. Most of the route is alongside the canal which is pleasant for being flat and seldom used by motor traffic. As we pedal through the town, newcomers to the ride often gawp at the striking design of the Calais Lace Museum.

Centre Internationale de la Dentelle et de la Mode, Calais.

Or they wonder at the purpose of various lumps of German concrete left over from World War 2. Having surveyed over the years the vestiges of many V1 and V2 launch sites in Northern France, along with coastal batteries, anti-aircraft sites and radar installations, I am usually pretty good at working out what any particular construction was designed to do, but this one always leaves me baffled. If you have any ideas of its function, do let me know.

A baffling lunp of German concrete.
But for me the highlight of the day is arriving at Le Pont d'Ardres (the Bridge of Ardres). It is a superb example of the Geography teacher's communications knot. Here, the Calais to St. Omer Canal meets the Ardres Canal exactly where the main road from Calais to St Omer, the N43, is crossed by a minor road, the D228. Knit into that four towpaths and another minor road and you have a pretty complicated junction.

Le Pont Sans Pareil, Ardes. Built 1750, demolished 1944.
This was the solution that the French engineer Monsieur Barbier proposed in 1750-- Le Pont Sans Pareil. 'The Bridge with No Equal.' It was effectively a hemisphere pierced by four cylinders. And as if that was not complicated enough, to complete the communications list, when, later, the railway arrived, it was slipped in alongside. The importance of such a nodal point; the junction of two canals, three roads and a railway line, did not escaped the retreating German army in 1944 who blew it up.

Le Pont d'Ardres, 2014

In 1968, the Pont d'Ardres replaced the temporary structure which had been erected after the war.

Here you are looking northwards on a road bridge which spans the Ardres canal. In front of you is the railway line, beyond that, the four-branch crossroads of the Pont d'Ardres itself under which the two canals meet.

Although they now call the area, Le Pont d'Ardres, the old sign on the big white building tells a different tale.

To add a mischievous observation, in this time of national retrenchment in the face of threatened European federalism, the construction cost of the Pont Sans Pareil was 123,672 livres, 3 sols, 6 deniers.

This could be written: £123,672  3s  6d.

Does that remind you of anything?

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