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Visiting the State Forest of Marchiennes, France: under new management at the French Revolution

Updated on October 25, 2013
Flag of France
Flag of France | Source
Marchiennes, Nord; the Green Way of the Scarpe Plain
Marchiennes, Nord; the Green Way of the Scarpe Plain | Source
Marchiennes, Nord; town limit sign
Marchiennes, Nord; town limit sign | Source
Marchiennes, Nord; the Green Way of the Scarpe Plain
Marchiennes, Nord; the Green Way of the Scarpe Plain | Source
 Photochrome of Croix-ou-Pile crossroads, in Marchiennes Forest, Nord, France, between circa 1920 and circa 1930
Photochrome of Croix-ou-Pile crossroads, in Marchiennes Forest, Nord, France, between circa 1920 and circa 1930 | Source

Visitors winding down and winding up

At the French Revolution, the forest surrounding the French town of Marchiennes, now in the Nord department, underwent a change of management. The French revolutionaries decreed that it, along with many other properties and lands, would henceforth belong to the state.

Previously, the forest belonged to the Roman Catholic church, and was managed on behalf of the clergy. Until 1793, it formed part of the property of the Abbey of Marchiennes.

From the Revolution onwards, it was what might be called a form of secular clergy on behalf of the state: civil servants, that would manage this and other such forests, on behalf of the French nation. Today the Forest, which runs to 800 hectares, is managed via the National Office of Forests (French: Office National des Forêts)(1).

One very important historical development for the Marchiennes State Forest (French: Forêt Domaniale de Marchiennes) was the sudden eruption of World War One. Much of the land around the town — situated only a few kilometres from the Belgian border (2) — was devastated during that drawn out process of attrition and stalemate. Today, most of the trees of the Forest bear witness to the fact that much of it was entirely replanted after World War One.

Tree species present in Marchiennes State Forest include wild pine, oak and maple.

On approach to the surroundings of this heavily wooded town, a sign declares Marchiennes to be a Municipality of the Scarpe-Scheldt Regional Nature Park (French: Commune du Parc natural Scarpe-Escaut).

Local schools organize regular hikes through the Forest, which contains many foot- and cycle-paths. About 110,000 visitors are received annually (3). Organized mushroom enthusiasts visit the Forest regularly (4). On a personal note, when I visited the Forest I had just been on a long journey and I was glad to let my surroundings enable me to 'wind down' mentally.

Marchiennes is situated in the Douai arrondissement of the Nord department of France.

October 25, 2013

Notes

(1) In France, the history of the development of its intitutions has over the past 200 to 300 years has brought about a strong legacy of state involvement in huge areas of the country's life and forestry is no exception.

(2) The Belgian city of Tournai is less than 30 kilometres distant.

(3) Some sourcing: Wikipedia.

(4) Such activities are taken very seriously in France; years ago, my research supervisor was also the author of a book about mushrooms, and through his wife was related to a prominent French chef. True to reputation, in France, anything to do with gastronomy tends to be given great prominence.

Map location of Marchiennes, Douai 'arrondissement', Nord department
Map location of Marchiennes, Douai 'arrondissement', Nord department | Source

Also worth seeing

In Marchiennes itself, the town hall building, with its ornate, drive-through entrance, incorporates a local history museum; the church of Saint-Rictrude is interesting for an unusual secular inscription; the town is adjacent to 800 hectares of forest.

Valenciennes (distance: 24 kilometres) has a rather striking frontage to its City Hall; the Saint-Cordon Basilica is prominent in the skyline; the Maison espagnole recalls a period of Spanish rule.

Tournai, Belgium (distance: 27 kilometres); features include its Medieval Abbey and Belfry.

...

How to get there: United Airlines flies from New York Newark to Paris (Aéroport Paris-Charles de Gaulle), from where car rental is available (distance from Paris-Charles de Gaulle airport to Marchiennes: 190 kilometres). Brussels Airlines flies from New York to Brussels Airport (Brussel Nationaal / Bruxelles-National), from where car rental is available. Brussels is the nearest large airport to Marchiennes (distance: 122 kilometres). You are advised that some facilities may be withdrawn, without notice. Please check with the airline or your travel agent for up to date information. Please refer to appropriate consular sources for any special border crossing arrangements which may apply to citizens of certain nationalities.

MJFenn is an independent travel writer based in Ontario, Canada

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