Just off of the Grand Gabarit in Béthune there’s a single unserviced mooring pontoon for passing pleasure boats at the Port de Plaisance. We were fortunate enough to find this pontoon empty when we arrived and took advantage of the free mooring for the night. Staying in Béthune let us escape the wakes of the heavy commercial barge traffic on the major waterway nearby.
A short walk from Béthune’s port took us past the large church to the attractive central square. This part of France was once part of Flanders and the Flemish architectural influences remain. The central plaza has a large belfry that stands on its own. Many of the belfries in this area of historic Flanders and Wallonia, including the one in Béthune, are listed collectively as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. UNESCO honors these belfries as symbols of the emerging independence of the merchant class, an important step towards winning civil liberties. We’ve seen many of the belfries on the UNESCO list. They are always interesting and worth a visit.
When we visit places like Béthune we always wonder why they aren’t mentioned in English language guidebooks. What exactly determines whether a town is “guidebook worthy”? Why are some towns included in guidebooks while others, seemingly equally interesting places, are not?
From Watten to Béthune we traveled l’Aa, the canal de Neuffossé, and the canal de Aire, all segments of the Grand Gabarit. The total distance is 48 km and there are 2 large locks.