Most people that visit northern France go to Normandy and the beaches where Allied troops landed during World War II. A less well visited place on the northern French coast is Dunkirk. Dunkirk boasts an interesting history in its own right, having been the site of the evacuation of Allied soldiers who had become cornered on the beach and harbour by German forces. The evacuation was code-named Operation Dynamo, and became a symbol of British wartime resilience. Some 330,000 troops were repatriated across the English Channel by a fleet of civilian boats.
The success of Operation Dynamo is often overshadowed by the stories of the D-Day landings. However, the epic 2017 movie ‘Dunkirk’ brought some added fame to this small French town, boosting tourism in the area. So much so, in fact, the the French forgave the movie’s spelling of the commune: the French use the name Dunkerque instead. Our visit in 2018 offered the chance to view set props at the Frac Grand Large, a contemporary art museum near the mole (jetty) that was one of the principal filming locations.
Dunkirk is actually a relatively easy day trip from London. The only drawback is that the ferry service (direct to Dunkirk) does not accommodate foot passengers, and public transport between Calais and Dunkirk is sadly lacking. We took the EuroStar from London St. Pancras to Calais Frethun, where a tour guide picked us up. The ride to Dunkirk was approx. forty minutes and afforded us the best part of the day to explore the beach and the various movie filming locations. A trip back through the Channel Tunnel would seem like the obvious way to return to London, but we had plenty of time to take a ferry from Calais to Dover. Catching a 5.30 pm ferry was allowed us to get back in central London by 10 pm. However, while the ninety-minute journey across the channel was pleasant enough, the foot passenger experience was not as memorable. Facilities were basic, lacking cleanliness, and the procedure to navigate customs seemed overly convoluted. However, the journey did afford us one of those inspiring experiences that many returning Brits treasure (Englishmen at least); the sight of the white cliffs of Dover.