Cap Gris Nez
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Cap Gris Nez (literally grey nose cape in English, from colloquial Dutch Grizenesse, grey headland; officially the Dutch name was Swartenesse to set is apart from the Blankenesse, white headland, to the north; compare other headlands in -ness) is a cape on the Côte d'Opale in the Pas-de-Calais département in northern France.
The cliffs of the cape are the closest point of France to England – 34 km (21 mi) from their English counterparts at Dover. Smothered in sea pinks and thrift, the cliffs are a perfect vantage point to see hundreds of ships, from oil tankers to little fishing trawlers, plying the waters below. On a clear day, the emblematic white cliffs of Dover on the English shore can be seen.
The cliffs of Cap Gris Nez are made of sandstone, clay and chalk. They are mainly grey which gives the cape its name ('gris nez' means 'grey nose' in French). It is also a good place to collect fossils, which are mainly from the Jurassic period. One can find bivalves, gastropods and wood. In the sandstone layers with small pebbles, you can find teeth of fish and reptiles. Sometimes larger ammonites are found in the sandstones.
The proximity of the cape to England led to the frequent destruction of the nearby village of Audinghen in wars between England and France. On the top of the cliff are the ruins of an English fortress, built by Henry VIII at the beginning of the 16th century. The English called the fort 'Blackness', a translation of the Dutch name Swartenisse. Napoleon stopped at the cape on 1 July 1803 whilst making an inspection of the coast around Boulogne-sur-Mer and of his invasion troops. He then envisioned setting up a cross-Channel optical telegraph, with a semaphore on the cape. The first semaphore of this line was installed on the cape in 1805, without waiting for the planned French invasion of England. On July 18, 1805, a memorable naval battle took place off the cape. A British flotilla with strong numerical superiority pursued Dutch ships that were following the coast and trying to get back into harbour of Ambleteuse. Expecting an attack of this type, Napoleon had stationed a battery of 300 guns on the cape, and a barrage from this force obliged the British vessels to withdraw.
The corvette captain Ducuing and his men died on May 25, 1940 while defending the semaphore, and a commemorative stela was later placed on the cape to commemorate this sacrifice. During the Second World War, the Germans built a blockhouse inside the Tudor ruins. The locality has a cluster of World War II bunkers, part of the Atlantic Wall intended to rebuff the anticipated allied invasion. There are heavy artillery sites - Batterie Grosser Kurfürst, formerly with three 170 millimetre guns and Todt Battery, with four 380 mm guns. These covered the approaches to both Calais and Boulogne and they were protected by massive concrete blockhouses and other lesser defensive sites. One of the Todt Battery blockhouses now houses the Atlantic Wall Museum.
The area was liberated by elements of the 3rd Canadian Infantry Division in September 1944.
- Fossils at Cap Gris Nez
- Colvin, Howard, ed., The History of the King's Works, vol. 3 part 1, HMS0 (1975), 388-9.
- Media related to Cap Gris-Nez at Wikimedia Commons