Shipdham was formally twinned with Noyant la Gravoyère in 1985, a village community situated 35 miles north west of Angers in the Anjou region of Maine & Loire. It has a population of approximately 2000 inhabitants. Like Shipdham, Noyant la Gravoyère has a town 4 miles away called Segrè which provides light industry, secondary schooling and shopping. The city of Angers is in a similar position to what we experience with Norwich as it provides a greater choice for shopping, working, leisure and the opportunity to attend the city’s university. The whole area has many beautiful attractions provided by the picturesque towns and chateaux situated on the Loire river and its tributaries. Also the coast of Brittany with quaint harbours and larger resorts is within easy reach. The village used to be a major producer of slate until economics saw the closure of the mine when it could no longer compete with cheaper slate imported from Spain. The mining area has now been transformed into a leisure and camping complex called St Blaise with a large lake and artificial beach.
Our exchanges alternate, with our French guests visiting Shipdham one year and our return visit to France the following year. The twinning visits have been happening for 27 years with an average of 40 to 50 people travelling on each visit. All visitors are accommodated in the homes of the host country and completely integrate with the family. Visits and activities are arranged for each day and this has provided the opportunity to visit many tourist and scenic attractions, sample the local food and wine and learn about the history and culture of the Maine & Loire region of France.
Since the start of the Twinning in 1985 very close friendships have built up between families. This was initially helped when we also had regular school exchanges between the two communities. As well as educational visits around the region the children used to attend and participate in each others schooling. By being hosted by a family in their home you are no longer a tourist but become part of that community and over the years one has seen the changes to the French lifestyle. Some of our members have had the same friends for 27 years and have experienced their children growing up and have even attended weddings of their twinned family. Many meet each other on holiday or drop in to Noyant-la-Gravoyère if they are motoring through that part of France.
Apprehensive of Twinning?
Many people have been apprehensive on their first visit but here is a comment written for our 10th Anniversary booklet. The description is typical of the experience of the first visit:
I will remember with great pleasure an early summer when I joined the village party visiting Noyant-la-Gravoyère, our twin village in France; a most delightful and instructive weekend. On arrival we were met by our hosts and given a warm welcome, they were really charming, nothing was too much trouble to make us feel at home and comfortable. Laughs were plentiful as we consulted phrase books and tried to recall school French in an attempt to understand our respective languages! A very happy experience, quite an adventure. I can strongly recommend future repeat trips to anyone wanting a happy weekend break.
Typical Twinning Visit
Over the years we have tried most of the ferry routes to France; Dover to Calais, Portsmouth to Cherbourg or Caen and Le Harve to Southampton, as well as the tunnel. However, with the improvement to the motorways in northern France we now tend to use the shorter sea route from Dover to Calais, either the ferry or tunnel, this is more acceptable to those that dislike a long ferry crossing. Our coach usually leaves Shipdham on the Friday evening and arrives in Noyant at midday on the Saturday. We have several stops with a longer breakfast stop. Our arrival is greeted with much enthusiasm by our hosts who usher us into their hall for drinks and words of welcome. The rest of the day is with our hosts although this generally involves meeting other twinning members in an informal social gathering. The Sunday and Monday are organised by the Twinning Association of Noyant la Gravoyère and has involved many visits. Included are the wine towns of Saumur and Chinon both renowned for their beauty, the Abbaye Royal at Fontevraud, a trip on a horse drawn barge, the troglodyte village at Rochemenier, a boat trip around the islands off the Vendee coast, a road train around the vineyards of Chalonnes, a visit to the Airbus manufacturing facility at Nantes and many more. Sometime during the visit we will have the social gathering of hosts and visitors for a meal followed by dancing, this has been the occasion for many hilarious moments. Sometimes we extend our visit and on the Tuesday use our coach on our own visit. On our return trip visits have included Paris, Mont St Michael, Chartres cathedral, the Bayeux tapestry, Honfleur, Deauville and of course a supermarket. Once back in Shipdham the planning starts for when we host the following year.
Joining the Twinning Association
The Twinning Association is open to anyone that has connections with Shipdham; parishioners, those working within Shipdham or members of clubs. Once a member, people can remain a member even if the above criteria no longer applies. There is no joining fee as we organize fund raising events to help subsidise the cost of visits.
Cost of Visits
Currently a visit to France is costing about £100 per adult for a five day visit. This includes all travel, accommodation, visits and once in Noyant la Gravoyère the food is provided by the host. Obviously some spending money is required. There is a large reduction for children. When our French friends visit us in Shipdham their entertainment and visits are paid for by the Association but hosting families have to feed them and provide the same hospitality that they received whilst in France.
What Are You Waiting For?
If you are interested contact one of our committee members. Don’t worry about language, customs and food; just enjoy the experience of living in another country. Look at our website for more details.
Contact Stephen Kite on 01362 820847 or email firstname.lastname@example.org for more details.