T Thoughts – Mills and Marshes in the Model T Surrey

We belong to a French “Friends of Ford” club, Fordiste Nordiste, and decided to join their annual event the last weekend of September at Lac d’Armbouts Cappel, about 3 miles south of Dunkirk. 

The event starts with Saturday lunch and finishes with a meal on Sunday. To extend the trip we drove the Model T Surrey (with the fringe on top) from home. Friday’s drive from the tunnel was on quiet roads through the French countryside via Guines, Ardres, Bourbourg to Armbouts.

As we arrived early we ventured into Dunkirk. It turned out to be a mistake due to roadworks and new roads not on the map (no sat nav!).  The centre of Dunkirk is interesting but we only stayed for a beer.

Signing on was on Saturday morning and the group consisted of 2 Model Ts, 10 Model As, a Model B, a Comete, a Mustang, a Capri, a Simca, and a Lincoln Versailles (made by Ford according to the owner).  The small number of cars meant that we travelled in convoy. Departure and arrival times were prompt and well organised.

The area is flat and cut by canals with narrow, straight roads running alongside. The land is Marais, or marshland, and is highly cultivated with a history of market gardens. We were lucky to have glorious, clear, sunny, autumn weather.

Saturday’s highlight was a visit to a traditional boatmakers where the oak canal boats which carry the vegetables from field to market are still made. We had a trip along the canals in one of these boats. This was followed by a visit to the Coop market where we were met by men in cauliflower costumes. 

We were treated to tasting cauliflower soup and cake (like a crustless quiche) and more to my taste, St Omer beer. The owner of the Lincoln, was awarded “the medal of the cauliflower men” as he was a local restauranteur and supported the local markets.

The drive on Sunday was fabulous, passing villages with beautiful churches and houses in the Flemish style.  At Esquelbecq square we had an unexpected stop for a Belgian couple to do running repairs on their Model A. This gave us time to see the wonderful chateau and church.

The grand finale of the weekend was a visit to a working windmill, Le Steenmeulen, Moulin St Arnould, Terdeghem, west of Cassell. The proprietor’s father had bought the mill in 1938. Steenmeulen produced bread flour until 1965 and ground animal cereals until 1980. 

It has never stopped working and is still milling for demonstration purposes.  All the wooden workings were explained rapidly and enthusiastically in French with some English. The wooden teeth on the drive wheels are replaced every 20-25 years and are all made on site. 

The Flemish rural Museum in the old farm house has a very interesting exhibition of objects from the beginning of the 20th century  (including a 1922 Fordson tractor). It was a fascinating visit followed by a drive back to the hotel for a late lunch.

This was another fun adventure with lovely drives and visits. We are the only English members of the club of about 90 members, and were made very welcome.

We are very fortunate to live near the Channel ports which enables us to enjoy these trips easily. The Model T’s are great vehicles for this. Our total journey was 240 miles.

David Wraight and Marny Willis

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