Hidden off the beaten track in the rural countryside of Nord, northern France is the site of the Seclin Fort, the last intact survivor of a ring of massive fortifications built to protect the city of Lille.
This enormous building has a long and diverse military history and has even been the location for a sweet factory during its long life, and if you hear a faint bleating while walking round, don’t panic – it’s just a herd of sheep and goats that contentedly graze the fort’s grass-covered roofs to control the undergrowth and keep the weeds at bay!
During World War I Seclin Fort was a strategic supply post for the Western Front, first for the occupation forces and afterwards for the British. For the last 15 years the fort has been lovingly restored and preserved by the Boniface family who own it. It is used to host weddings and events and is home to an ever expanding military museum with at its centre an area dedicated to General Deffontaines, the first and youngest French general to die at the Front during WWI.
The Artillery Museum houses the Boniface family’s remarkable private collection of historic militaria, including a wide variety of German, British and French weapons, field guns, carriages, uniforms, pictures, models and other objects that reflect the conditions of life and combat during the First World War in barracks which at different times housed soldiers from France, Germany and Britain.
A popular destination for military experts, the fort is also an ideal attraction for families, with lots to discover in the museum housed in a series of brick-vaulted rooms as well as a maze of tunnels leading down to the moat that encircles the fort, with everything explained by an English-speaking guide.
“It’s a pleasure to welcome British visitors,” said Sophie Boniface, who runs the fort with her parents. “They understand our enthusiasm for the amazing building and its collection, and enjoy sharing the experience of a tour to find out more about its long and fascinating history.”
Every October the Boniface family holds a weekend of exciting events to commemorate the fort’s liberation in 1918, with re-enactments by more than 150 soldiers wearing authentic uniforms, using vintage military vehicles and armaments to bring WWI to life (see the website for dates and details, below).
Entrance costs a few Euros and it is open every weekend (except Bank Holidays).
More in the area:
From Seclin, it’s a 30-minute drive to the former coal-mining town of Lens, now home to the Louvre’s stunning new art gallery and museum, housed in a series of five remarkable glass and aluminium building. The gallery is within easy reach of the town centre, served by several free and paid-for car parks. If you arrive by train, there’s a free museum shuttle bus from Lens SNCF railway station.
Find out what’s on in the area with Nord Tourism