The town of Guines is a sleepy village these days that lies in the glorious countryside of Pas de Calais close to the Opal Coast, but it in its past life it has seen much action, drama and excitement. The Romans were here in 5 AD and not much more is known about it until, in 928 AD the Vikings arrived…
A fabulous outing for the family, fun any time but particularly good for rainy day trips to Calais. A viking tower that’s now the local landmark clock tower, a museum where you sail in a Viking ship and dress up like a French Queen, King or Knight and where you can shake hands with a giant!
From a Watch Tower to a Clock Tower
The Vikings settled in Guines and set about creating a large hill for a watch tower. Incredibly it is still there, the hill that is, the watch tower which would have been made of wood, has long gone. In its place on top of this more than 1000 year old man made hill is a clock tower built in 1763. This is the famous local landmark that gives its name to the museum that is attached, the Tour d’Horloge.
The Field of the Cloth of Gold
More than half a millennium later, Guines once more attracted some rather famous visitors. It is here that Henry VIII of England met with Francois I of France.
In June 1520, the two Kings partied, played sports and tried to outdo each other in ostentatious displays of wealth. The encounter became known as the Field of the Cloth of Gold thanks to the immense show of bling including gold cloth tents.
This museum is a little different from many museums. It’s a place to touch, feel and get close to the past. You will discover history, from the Viking invasions until the encounter of the Field of the Cloth of Gold in 1520 between Henry VIII and François 1st.
There is much for all the family to enjoy but one of the highlights includes a film about the Viking invasion and a romance between the Viking leader Sigfrid and the daughter of a local French lord. An endearing little film that no one wanted to come to an end! Even better, you watch it from inside a Viking ship which sways from side to side and up and down to the sound of oars dipping in the “water”. Very clever, very entertaining.
You’re encouraged to smell, touch and play, there are several dressing up boxes and a full on costume room that includes chain mail (Dads only – it’s so heavy!), Renaissance style ball gowns and foam helmets and swords for little ones. There are interactive displays and workshops, a medieval games room, sword cabinet and an exhibition of medieval food and wine such as Hypocras, a medieval spiced wine you can buy locally! I discovered that Francis I had a weakness for jam, and chefs in those days weren’t half bad sometimes with dishes like platter of beef ribs with oregano and blueberry and ginger sauce.
Don’t forget to visit the famous Clock Tower on its hill which you access from the museum, enjoy the views over the local landscape and allow about 1.5 -2 hours for a visit to la Tour de l’Horloge Museum.
This is a great family museum that tells the local history in a fun and entertaining way and I defy you to resist dressing up – whatever your age!
Tours are available in French and English. Schools need to book in advance.
How to get there: Approx 15 minutes from Calais. P&O Ferries offers a choice of 23 sailings a day in each direction between Dover and Calais with a fleet of five ships including the largest ferries ever to ply the route, the 49,000 tonne Spirit of France and Spirit of Britain, built at a cost of £150 million each. The crossing takes 90 minutes.