An emblematic village of Audomarois, Clairmarais is distinguished in particular by its location occupying no less than 519 hectares of the Audomarois marsh.
If we had to describe Clairmarais in a few words, this small village in Pas-de-Calais is both dedicated to vacationing and market gardening. Everyone likes to walk there to buy vegetables, to enjoy a boat trip or to discover the marsh on a guided tour. The walker also appreciates the shaded paths of the Rihoult-Clairmarais forest as well as its popular hiking trails. Discover the Grange Nature in the center of the village and the paths of the Romelaere nature reserve, as well as the path of the basin. The latter makes it possible to appreciate the forest, the marsh and the meadows around Nieurlet, Noordpeene and Clairmarais.
If you are fond of monuments and old stones, you will appreciate the Saint-Bernard church, the Cistercian farm, the ruins of the abbey along the road to Arques and the Cloquette farm.
La Rihoult Clairmarais forest
The Rihoult-Clairmarais forest, known locally simply as the "Clairmarais forest", is the largest forest in Nord-Pas-de-Calais. This national forest of 1200 hectares extends over the two departments (62 and 59) and three municipalities, namely, Clairmarais, Arques and Renescure. Old forest having integrated during Antiquity the immense coal forest spreading over the north of Gaul, the forest of Clairmarais was under the Old regime a seigniorial forest. It will become state property and will be open to all following the French Revolution.
Origins of the name “Rihoult-Clairmarais”
The funny name of the forest of Clairmarais comes to us from two quite evocative terms of the French and Flemish language:
- The term Clairmarais is easily understood by French speakers. It means its proximity to the Audomarois marsh and its waters.
- Rihoult comes from the Flemish term “hoult” meaning “wood” and “ri” evoking hilly land.
Abundant flora and fauna
We find in the forest of Clairmarais many mushrooms, beeches, oaks and a few conifers. It also has a certain wealth of fauna and is known to be rich in game.
The Clairmarais forest includes, among other things, a colony of herons nesting in the trees on the edge of the marsh.
The pond of Archelles
The Archelles pond, also called "Lac d'Harchelles" is the largest of the five ponds in the Clairmarais forest. It testifies to the exploitation of the place during the Middle Ages by the monks, who fished, hunted, traded in wood and extracted peat. "Archelles" once meaning "wicker", it is possible to say that it was also cultivated for winnowing.
The Clairmarais forest, a place of leisure
The Rihoult forest is a popular place for walks in the Audomarois. We appreciate its shaded and landscaped paths, its wild paths, as well as the path surrounding the lake of Harchelles. We walk there, we picnic there, we run and hike there and we have fun with family or friends.
Clairmarais Abbey and the Cistercian farm
Opposite the church stands the remains of Clairmarais Abbey. Founded by the abbot Gonfroi and the tales of Flanders under the impulse of Bernard de Clairvaux in 1140, it was very powerful in its time and had to know a great history. But like many abbeys, that of Clairmarais was destroyed during the French Revolution. Indeed, having become national property, it was bought by a saltpeter who ended up dismantling it in order to resell the stones.
Today, there are only ruins left along the road to Arques.
Near the abbey, you will not fail to notice a huge farmhouse. This is the old Cistercian farm of Clairmarais dating from the 2th century. It now houses reception rooms, the brasserie of the Abbey of Clairmarais and "Les Belles Echappées" where you can rent XNUMXCVs, VW combis and other unusual vehicles to visit the region.
Further towards Noordpeene, we find another old farm occupied by a local company: the Cloquette farm.
La Grange Nature, gateway to Romelaere
On the village square, take Rue du Romelaere. You will arrive 500 meters further on at the gates of La Grange Nature. Ample parking is available.
This facility, managed by the Eden 62 joint syndicate, includes a small tourist shop and an exhibition space on the marshes, the forest and biodiversity from here and elsewhere. It is possible on site to rent an audio guide to visit the nature reserve or an explorer's kit to discover the environment with the family. This small suitcase contains everything you need to appreciate the Romelaere reserve: binoculars, notebook, pencils, maps...
Because the Grange Nature is one of the main gateways to the Romelaere National Nature Reserve. This space of more than 100 hectares spread out between St-Omer, Clairmarais and Nieurlet, presents an incredible richness in terms of fauna, flora and landscapes. Decorated with ornithological observation posts, marked trails and panels explaining the places, the Reserve includes some 2,5 km of paths and 30 hectares of ponds. When one admires the place, it is difficult to imagine that these stretches of water are the product of intensive peat extraction in the XNUMXth century.
Enjoying a still very active parish, the church of Clairmarais has recent origins. Indeed, it was not built until 1874 thanks to the conviction and pugnacity of Abbé Limoisin. Wishing the construction of a church in the village, he traveled a long way between France and Belgium in order to collect the donations which allowed the undertaking of the works.
Built in brick, it was naturally dedicated to Saint-Bernard, the founder of the Cistercian order and of the abbey of Clairmarais depending on the same religious order.
At the heart of the Clairmarais forest stands an artificial grotto dedicated to Our Lady of Lourde. It was built in 1934 following the miraculous healing of the Reverend Father Superior of the Assumptionist community.
The Clairmarais cave, also called the Notre-Dame de Lourde cave, is a place of worship enjoying a certain fervor. Dozens of people come to pray there every day. The August 15 procession is also held there every year.
The hiking trails around Clairmarais
As mentioned above, the village of Clairmarais offers many ideas for hikes and nature walks.
In particular, it is possible to wander in a free circuit on the paths of the Clairmarais forest and around the lake of Harchelles. Lovers of short walks on marked paths will prefer to stroll on the duckboard paths of the Romelaere reserve. The total of these paths does not exceed more than 2,5 km and allow you to walk there for some two hours while appreciating the treasures of nature.
Around the village, experienced walkers and hikers will tackle the basin path. 16,5 km long, starting from La Grange Nature, this 4-hour hike allows you to discover the marsh and its watergangs, the Booneghem area surrounding the Romelaere, the neighboring wet meadows, the village of Nieurlet and the forest of Clairmarais.
Clairmarais is renowned in the region for its market gardeners, and also (necessarily) for its vegetables. Located in the lowlands of the Audomarois marshes, Clairmarais has extremely rich loamy soil allowing the cultivation of around fifty vegetables. Many Sunday walkers linger on the village square and along the road to Clairmarais to do some shopping.
Our advice: there are individuals selling the surplus from their garden and real market gardeners offering vegetables from Clairmarais at more affordable prices than in supermarkets. Beware, however, of certain stalls taking advantage of the reputation of the village to sell fruit and vegetables from Rungis or the Lomme Market!
To do around the village
Tourist destination of the Audomarois marshes, the village has several lodgings, BnB, a campsite and two restaurants: La Baguernette and Al'Cabane.
There is also a brasserie which can be visited by reservation (Brasserie de Clairmarais) and the Belles Echappées. Located on Chemin des Murs, along the enclosure of the Abbey farm, this company allows you to rent unusual vehicles to discover the surroundings. You will find mopeds, tandems, Californian bikes, 2cvs, combis from the 60s… so many must-haves!
Finally, it is possible to visit the Clairmarais marshes by boat or on a guided tour on passenger boats thanks to the ISNOR pier (today O'Marais).
The water market
Four times a year, Clairmarais and ISNOR organize their traditional market at the water's edge or on the water. In this last configuration, the producers truly transform the traditional bacôves and escutes into stalls!
These markets are an unmissable local event. You can buy charcuterie, vegetables, cheese, an artisanal knife, books... All in a natural and rural atmosphere.
For more information, see here village website