Places to visit | Background information


Regional Nature Park:
Scarpe-Escaut Nature Park and forests

1. The Forest Centre at Raismes is on the site of the old Sabatier coalmine, whose 103m high slag-heap was the highest in the area.

2. View from the top of the slag-heap at Raismes-Sabatier, above the Forest Centre

Rescued from industrial dereliction

Until the 1960s, this low-lying marshy plain on the border with Belgium was part of a black belt of coal-mines, stretching from Bethune across the frontier towards Liege.

The rivers Scarpe and Escaut were polluted and busy with coal barges; huge slag heaps of stony waste dumped from the mines towered over the countryside.

In the First World War, the occupying German forces had cut down all the remaining forests for war supplies, leaving a grim bare landscape.

3. German troops commandeered a French circus elephant to haul timber - as they felled trees in occupied areas for trench props.
4. Bleak and polluted landscape - coalmines and slagheaps amid the fields.

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Monks and monasteries in the river valleys
River Scarpe coal barges
5,6. River Scarpe - 7th century monks established new monasteries along the valleys, which used to be busy with coal-barges.
St Amand Abbey Marchiennes Abbey Marchiennes Pumpkin Festival
7,8. After Revolution and wars, the Park treasures all that is left of two fine abbeys - the tower of St. Amand's Abbey, and the gatehouse at Marchiennes Abbey - now open as a Park centre.
9. In early October before Hallowe'en, witches take to the streets of Marchiennes entertaining visitors in the annual Pumpkin Festival. Pumpkins are displayed and on sale; chocolate sweets are thrown at the crowd, and a "witch" is burnt.

Once the Scarpe-Escaut plain in France and Belgium had been covered in forest. Belgian missionary St. Amand established about 20 monasteries in the area in the 7th century, and each started to clear some woodland for farming.

St. Amand's headquarters was at St Amand-les-Eaux - of his fine abbey, only the tower is left standing.
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Respecting the environment - new forests from wastelands

10. Outside the Maison du Terril at Rieulay.

11. Horse-riding, bike-trails and walking in the

From such unpromising wastelands, new forests have been created, along with a new respect for the envionment that has carefully created new habitats for wildlife, birds and plants as well as new leisure amenities for visitors and the surrounding towns.

Before walking or riding your bikes through the forests, visit the Forest Centre at Raismes to find out about the forest environment and its protection.

Marked footpaths from the centre lead to ponds, slagheaps and through the forest.
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Explore the slag heaps
The Maison du Terril at Rieulay has displays about the old slagheaps and the history of coal-mining. You can laern about geology, and about how the land has been reclaimed and made into a flourishing clean environment. There is also a leisure centre - with mountain-bike trails, and swimming and canoing on the lake. back to top

Conde sur l'Escaut - chateau Conde sur l'Escaut - walls 
12. The 18th century chateau of the Duc de Croy at Condé-sur-l'Escaut - as Louis XVI 's "Maréchal de France" the Duke was one of the most powerful aristocrats in France. Iron was mined on the wealthy Duke's huge estates near Fourmies.
13, 14. On the estates around the chateau, he improved the walled town of Condé-sur-l'Éscaut. The only one of Vauban's 17th century border forts built in stone, Condé is surrounded by elaborate water-filled moats.

To the north of the park, you can join guided walks around the old fortified town of Condé - once home of the powerful 18th century aristocrat, the Duc de Croy, who owned vast estates in the area and grew even richer from mining coal and iron on his land. back to top

Paris - Roubaix Cycle race

 Paris-Roubaix cycle race
The "Wallers-Arenberg Trench", an infamous stretch of ancient cobbled highway gives cyclists a rough ride.

Some of the most exciting stages of this gruelling annual top-class professional cycle race are in the Nature Park - particularly the "paved sections" on old cobbled roads in the mining area (shown RED on the map), now carefully preserved. The GREEN sections are detours taken by the publicity caravan to avoid narrow roads. See it around Easter - find out more at cycle racing...

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Location: Maison du Parc Naturel, SAINT-AMAND-LES-EAUX
also: Maison de la forêt

Take no.6 exit from Lille-Valenciennes autoroute for "Parc Naturel Regional"
Information/ reservations:
Scarpe-Escaut Regional Nature Park office:
Maison du Parc, "Le Luron", 357, rue Notre-Dame-d'Amour, 59230 ST-AMAND-LES-EAUX.
Tel: 00 33 3 27 19 19 70

Forest Centre, Raismes:
Maison de la Forêt, Etoile de la Princesse, Site de Sabatier, RAISMES.
Tel: 00 33 3 27 36 72 72

La maison du Terril, RIEULAY
Tel: 00 33 3 27 - 86 03 64 or - 86 28 70

Guided tours of Condé:
Tel: 00 33 3 27 40 01 62 (tourist office)

Background information
Sports & outdoor leisure facilities
Bike rides - leisure cycling: safe routes, off-road trails, signed circular routes on quiet roads, bikes on trains
Waterways and boat trips - from Bouchain on the River Escaut - near Denain on the map above.
Horses & horse-riding
Cycle-racing - including the Tour de France

Other nature parks:
Adomarois - near Saint-Omer
Boulonnais - Boulogne and 'Entre Deux Caps' coast,
also marshes around St.Omer
Avenois Nature Park - and Val Joly lake, nr Avesnes

Places to visit near the park:
La Maison de la Chicorée - all about chicory, a plant with exceptional properties
Spa at Saint-Amand-les-Eaux - popular health resort using water from hot springs.
Centre Historique Minier - go underground at Lewarde's Mining Museum (near Douai)




Centre Historique Minier © Copyright 2001-07 Invicta Media. Last updated 17th August 2007