CHAPTER II. By the Banks of the Seine
If you come to Normandy from Southampton, France is entered at the mouth of the Seine and you are at once introduced to some of the loveliest scenery that Normandy possesses. The headland outside Havre is composed of ochreish rock which appears in patches where the grass will not grow. The heights are occupied by no less than three lighthouses only one of which is now in use. As the ship gets closer, a great spire appears round the cliff in the silvery shimmer of the morning haze and then a thousand roofs reflect the sunlight.
There are boats from Havre that take passengers up the winding river to Rouen and in this way much of the beautiful scenery may be enjoyed. By this means, however, the country appears as only a series of changing pictures and to see anything of the detail of such charming places as Caudebec, and Lillebonne, or the architectural features of Tancarville Castle and the Abbey of Jumieges, the road must be followed instead of the more leisurely river.
Havre with its great docks, its busy streets, and fast electric tramcars that frighten away foot passengers with noisy motor horns does not compel a very long stay, although one may chance to find much interest among the shipping, when such vessels as Mr Vanderbilt's magnificent steam yacht, without a mark on its spotless paint, is lying in one of the inner basins. If you wander up and down some of the old streets by the harbour you will find more than one many-storied house with shutters brightly painted, and dormers on its ancient roof. The church of Notre Dame in the Rue de Paris has a tower that was in earlier times a beacon, and it was here that three brothers named Raoulin who had been murdered by the governor Villars in 1599, are buried.
On the opposite side of the estuary of the Seine, lies Honfleur with its extraordinary church tower that stands in the market-place quite detached from the church of St Catherine to which it belongs. It is entirely constructed of timber and has great struts supporting the angles of its walls. The houses along the quay have a most paintable appearance, their overhanging floors and innumerable windows forming a picturesque background to the fishing-boats.
Harfleur, on the same side of the river as Havre, is on the road to Tancarville. We pass through it on our way to Caudebec. The great spire of the church, dating from the fifteenth century, rears itself above this ancient port where the black-sailed ships of the Northmen often appeared in the early days before Rollo had forced Charles the Simple (he should have been called "The Straightforward") to grant him the great tract of French territory that we are now about to explore.
The Seine, winding beneath bold cliffs on one side and along the edge of flat, rich meadowlands on the other, comes near the magnificent ruin of Tancarville Castle whose walls enclose an eighteenth century chateau. The situation on an isolated chalk cliff one hundred feet high was more formidable a century ago than it is to-day, for then the Seine ran close beneath the forbidding walls, while now it has changed its course somewhat. The entrance to the castle is approached under the shadow of the great circular corner tower that stands out so boldly at one extremity of the buildings, and the gate house has on either side semi-circular towers fifty-two feet in height. Above the archway there are three floors sparingly lighted by very small windows, one to each storey. They point out the first floor as containing the torture chamber, and in the towers adjoining are the hopelessly strong prisons. The iron bars are still in the windows and in one instance the positions of the rings to which the prisoners were chained are still visible.
There are still floors in the Eagle's tower that forms the boldest portion of the castle, and it is a curious feature that the building is angular inside although perfectly cylindrical on the exterior. Near the chateau you may see the ruined chapel and the remains of the Salle des Chevaliers with its big fireplace. Then higher than the entrance towers is the Tour Coquesart built in the fifteenth century and having four storeys with a fireplace in each. The keep is near this, but outside the present castle and separated from it by a moat. The earliest parts of the castle all belong to the eleventh century, but so much destruction was wrought by Henry V. in 1417 that the greater part of the ruins belong to a few years after that date. The name of Tancarville had found a place among the great families of England before the last of the members of this distinguished French name lost his life at the battle of Agincourt. The heiress of the family married one of the Harcourts and eventually the possessions came into the hands of Dunois the Bastard of Orleans.
From Tancarville there is a road that brings you down to that which runs from Quilleboeuf, and by it one is soon brought to the picturesquely situated little town of Lillebonne, famous for its Roman theatre. It was the capital of the Caletes and was known as Juliabona, being mentioned in the iters of Antoninus. The theatre is so well known that no one has difficulty in finding it, and compared to most of the Roman remains in England, it is well worth seeing. The place held no fewer than three thousand people upon the semi-circular tiers of seats that are now covered with turf. Years ago, there was much stone-work to be seen, but this has largely disappeared, and it is only in the upper portions that many traces of mason's work are visible. A passage runs round the upper part of the theatre and the walls are composed of narrow stones that are not much larger than bricks.