Last modified: 2005-12-24 by ivan sache
Keywords: somme | cayeux-sur-mer | ponthieu | cross: anchored (yellow) |
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Municipal flag of Cayeux-sur-Mer - Image by Arnaud Leroy, 29 June 2005
The municipality of Cayeux-sur-Mer (2,761 inhabitants) is located on the coast of Picardie, south of the Bay of Somme.
Cayeux was built behind a shingle bar stretching from Onival to Le Hourdel. The name of the village comes from the local form of the French word caillou, stone. The shingles come from the cliffs of Pays de Caux, which stretches over 100 km south-west of Cayeux, from Sainte-Adresse to Ault. The cliffs are made of chalk rich in flint nodules; they are under permanent erosion by sea and wind. When the edge of the cliffs fall down into the sea, chalk dissolves and the flint nodules are rolled up and down by the sea and transformed into smooth, round shingles. The main streams carry them northwards and lay them down on the beach of Cayeux, building a natural bar. It takes some 30 years for a flint to travel to Cayeux. The sea washes down the shingles from iron oxydes so that the shingles of Cayeux are made of nearly pure silica (95%). They have been used for centuries for construction of roads and buildings. They are also used today, after calcination and grinding, as cristobalite, for making sanitary appliance, paints, cosmetics, dental prostheses... Cayeux is considered as the world capital city of shingle extraction. Three companies employ 150 workers for a turnover of 15 millions € per year; 350,000 tons of shingles are exported all over the world every year.
However, massive extraction of shingles and global warming cause a
threat for the village of Cayeux. On 26 February 1990, violent winds
(150 km/h) broke the shingle bar and the sea flooded 3,000 ha in the
Bas-Champs. Since then, Cayeux is under permanent threat of flooding
and the coast has moved back 30 cm each year. Since 1983, the law on
shore protection forces the industrials to replace the extracted
shingles with fossile shingles extracted from quarries. The main
problem is the decrease of natural shingle supply, caused by the
buildings of dykes in the ports of Antifer, Dieppe and Le Tréport and sea barriers to protect the nuclear power plants of Penly and Paluel.
Those dykes keep the shingles from being transported northwards.
Breakwaters made of scrap and concrete were built in 1997 through the shingle bar in order to protect 7 km of shore west of Cayeux. However, they also block the shingles and a weird solution was found to protect the village, often compared to Sisyph's torture. Every three weeks, 83,000 tons of shingles are picked up east of Cayeux and transported westwards by big trucks. The cost of the operation is 500,000 € per year. Another 20 million € is required to complete the breakwaters.
Shingle bars harbour a very specific ecosystem not common in continental Europe, extremely endangered by tourism development. The plant flag species of this ecosystem is the sea cabbage (Crambe maritima (Tourn.) L.), an endangered species adapted to maritime environment with very thin soil, if any. Crambe comes from the Greek word krambê, meaning cabbage. The sea cabbage can be found on the French coasts from Pas-de-Calais to Morbihan; it was eaten as a vegetable and sometimes grown in the past. Sea cabbage is also found on the Baltic coasts. In Cayeux, it is particularly endangered by the Sisyph's operation described above. Some bird species, like the gravelot (Charadrius hiaticula and C. alexandrinus) enjoy gravelly, bare places for laying. South of Cayeux, the shingle bar has isolated a 250 ha group of ponds known as Hâble d'Ault. Hâble means a safe harbour (see havre and Le Havre) and Hâble d'Ault is a paradise for swans, coots, herons, harriers, etc..
The dunes that spread over 50 ha east of Cayeux until Le Hourdel are another specific, endangered ecosystem. The dunes of Picardie harbour 382 plant species; four of them are protected at the national level: the orchid Liparis Loeseli L., the dune pansy Viola tricolor L. ssp. curtisii (E. Forster) Syme, the sand pyrola Pyrola rotundifolia L. ssp. maritima (Kenyon) E.F. Warburg), and the beachgrass Elymus arenarius L.), planted since the beginning of the XVIIth century in order to fix the dunes. The French name of beachgrass is oyat, a word of probable Picard origin. Another twelve plant species of the dunes is protected at the regional level. The dune ecosystem harbours some 60 species of nesting birds.
The small village of Le Hourdel, part of the municipality of Cayeux, is located at the entrance of the Bay of Somme. The river Somme (245 km), mostly known for the Franco-British attack of July-November 1916, flows into the Channel by a big estuary. The bay is progressively silting up. Sandbanks colonized by vegetation tend to coalesce and constitute the mollières, on which the sheep de pré-salé graze. Pré salé means literally salted pasture, and refers to the specific taste of the meat of the sheep bred in the bays of Somme and of Mont-Saint-Michel (there, the mollières are called herbus). The most famous inhabitants of the bay of Somme are seals. The colony of sea calves (Phoca vitulina) had a few hundreds of animals in the XIXth century but nearly extincted because of hunting and disturbance; the colony was considered extincted in 1930 but seals have been regularly spotted in the bay since 1979, with reproduction since 1989. Grey seals (Halichoerus grypus) are also spotted from time to time in the bay. The seals can be observed resting on sandbanks at low tide from the White Road (Route Blanche), which links Cayeux and Le Hourdel, or during specific boat tours.
The main traditional activities in Cayeux and the Bay of Somme are
fishing and hunting. Le Hourdel is the smallest of the three ports of
the bay, the two other ones being Saint-Valery-sur-Somme and Le Crotoy.
Shells, shellfish and squids are the main products of the bay. Fishing
on foot is very common at low tide: cockles, mullets, eels and
flatfishes are picked up by hand or caught with a fishgig, locally
called raccroc. Another important product of the bay is the grey shrimp
(Crangon crangon), locally called sauterelle (grasshopper), trawled in
the bay by small, coloured fishing boats.
Waterfowl hunting is a very old tradition in the bay of Somme. Small boats (bottes) are customized and shelters (huttes) are built on the grassy banks. Domestic or artificial ducks are used as appellants. The bay of Somme is a traditional place of violent hunters' demonstrations against the European regulations on waterfowl protection. Hunters want to defend a traditional, cultural activity, but there is also a huge economical stake: the huttes are overpriced and often rented to hunters from Paris and elsewhere for hunting parties.
In the Middle Ages, Cayeux (then written Caieu) was a powerful domain. William de Cayeux took part to the Third Crusade (1189-1192) led by Frederic Barbarossa, Philippe-Auguste and Richard Lionheart and to the battles of Termes (1210) and Bouvines (1214), during which Philippe-Auguste defeated Otto IV, John Lackland and the Count of Flanders and strengthened his royal power. Eustache, son of William, took part to the Fourth Crusade (1202-1204) led by Boniface I of Montferrat and Baudouin IX of Flanders, and died in Toulouse in 1211 during the Albigensian Crusade. Because of destruction during wars and by sea, the only ancient remains in Cayeux are the ruins of a church from the XIIIth century.
In the XIXth century, Cayeux became a wealthy sea resort. Victor Hugo
said: Qui a vu Paris et Cayeux a tout vu ! (Who has seen Paris and
Cayeux has seen everything!). Like Deauville and Trouville (Normandy),
the beach of Cayeux has a promenade made of wooden planks, which makes
it possible to walk for 2 km without walking on the shingles. This
plank promenade is said to be the longest in Europe. The promenade is
bordered by 409 bathing huts, which are the trademark of Cayeux; most
of them are identical, painted in yellow and green and differ only by
their name written in green letters on a yellow rectangular shield. All
the names are taken from French, Belgian and Swiss cities.
Unfortunately, some huts have been revamped, painted in other colours and renamed, which is very much against the old-fashioned charm of the place. The huts can be rented from the municipality. In 2005, the rent was 485 € for the complete summer season, 81 € for June, 210 € for July and 259 € for August.
Cayeux is today a pleasant family sea resort, in spite of a recent renewed favour by Belgian and British tourists, which caused in 2004 a 50% increase in the property prices. The more wealthy resort of Brighton-sur-Mer was built in the dunes in English maritime style. The village, called today Brighton-les-Pins, was nearly destroyed by a sea storm in 1917, but has kept its lighthouse (height, 31.85 m; range, 19 miles), rebuilt in 1951 after having been destroyed by the Germans in 1944.
The sea rescue station of Cayeux was founded in 1875 by Société centrale de Sauvetage des naufragés. Its current building was built in 1913 near the then very active fish market. The station successively operated two boats, Amiral Courbet (1875-1901) and Benoît Champy (1901-1956). The two boats were built by the Augustin Normand shipyard in Le Havre; they had a special righting device, which made them virtually insubmersible. The boats could be baled out in less than 30 seconds via six big valves. Some 80 copies of these boats, manned by 12 seamen, were used on the coasts of France. The two boats of Cayeux made more than 30 rescue missions; the last one took place on 6 September 1950. The station was closed in 1956. The Benoît Champy was restored by Henri Duthoit and is today registered as an historical monument and shown in the former rescue station.
Ivan Sache, 29 June 2005
The municipal flag of Cayeux-sur-Mer can be seen in several places in Cayeux and Le Hourdel. It is white with the municipal coat of arms, surmonted by a yellow mural crown and the black writing Ville de (City of) and surmonting the black writing CAYEUX-SUR-MER.
The municipal arms of Cayeux, designed by Robert Louis, are (Brian Timms):
De sinople à trois bandes d'argent à la croix ancrée d'or brochant sur le tout.
Vert three bendlets argent overall a cross moline or.
Timms adds that the lord of Caieu bore Parti d'or et d'azur à la croix
ancrée de gueules (Per pale or and azure a cross moline gules).
However, the aforementioned William of Cayeux bore D'or à la croix
ancrée de gueules (Or a cross moline gules), as shown on the
The green and white bendlets might recall the coat of arms of the former County of Ponthieu, D'azur à trois bandes d'or (Azure three bendlets or), which represents the geography of Ponthieu, crossed by three parallel rivers flowing south-east to north-west, from south to north, the Bresle, the Somme and the Authie. Robert Louis reused the arms of Ponthieu with a red border to design the municipal arms of Le Crotoy. The arms of Ponthieu were also used by the Cistercian abbey of Valloires, located near river Authie; they were placed in a pear-shaped shield in order to recall pear - and pear liquor production - by the abbey.
Olivier Touzeau, Marin Montagnon & Ivan Sache, 29 June 2005