We managed to cover the cost of a large coach and with a quiz to pass the time we arrived precisely at 6pm at Montesson Town Hall. At exactly the same time as the Haddenham Hillbillies were cycling in to complete their ride from Thame to Montesson to raise money for the Florence Nightingale Hospice. The following report is from Thamenews.net.

THAME’S association with it’s French twin town, Montesson, is now in its thirteenth year and the regular September exchange visit by the Thame & District Twinning Association last weekend proved to be extra special, when a group of intrepid fund-raisers from Thame’s neighbour, Haddenham, arrived in style – on two wheels.

trophy_presentation_Montesson2014_Hillbillies (400x322)

Ann Gillet presents the Haddenham Hillbillies with a special trophy commemorating their ride from Thame to Montesson

While the Haddenham Hillbillies Cycle Club were on the final stretch of their three-day journey via Thame, Caen and Rouen, a coach load of Thame ‘twinners’, some regulars and some new to ‘twinning’, were setting off in a comfortable coach through the early morning mist. By the time they were on the M25, and the Mayor of Thame’s geography-themed quiz sheets had been handed round, the sun had burned through. Once on the other side of ‘le manche’ it was 23 degrees by the time they stopped at the Auchan hypermarket for some wine-shopping and some lunch. Afterwards, stowing their purchases in the hold of the coach, the twinners were comparing notes on their bargains, including fine French wine, and small barrels of cheaper red wine to take home ready for Christmas mulled wine!

In the safe and friendly hands of Mark the driver from Mason’s Coaches, the group arrived in Montesson at around 6pm, just in time to hear the strains of the UK National anthem coming from the town hall square. The Mayor of Thame, Jeannette Matelot Green, quickly threw on her mayoral chain and rushed round the corner, closely followed by the rest of the Thame visitors, just in time to see the Haddenham Hillbillies cycle into town under the ‘Arrivée’ banner, to the applause of a noisy and excited, welcoming crowd.

After the photo-calls, the spraying of champagne, the kisses and hand-shakes, and the introductions between the genuinely moved cyclists and the French hosts, everyone gathered for an official reception and once again the cyclists were feted, and presented with a trophy commemorating their magnificent achievement. Ann Gillet, the President of the Montesson Twinning Committee praised their efforts and each rider had a special medal pinned to their chest by this year’s, beautiful ‘Miss Montesson’.

Earlier in the afternoon the English cyclists had been joined in the town of Neuville, 25k from Montesson, by a group of Montesson cyclists and members of the Ruelle Mal Maison Cycling Club who had cycled the final 25 k with them into Montesson. One of the older Montesson cyclists had reached a personal mile-stone of 200,000 kilometres and he too was presented with the same special medal by the Mayor of Montesson, Monsieur Jean-Francois Bel.

To celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Florence Nightingale Hospice in Aylesbury, The ‘Hillbillies’ had raised over £9,000 in sponsorship from the ride. Thanking them later that evening for their magnificent effort, Karen Shardlow, Fund-raising officer for the Florence Nightingale Hospice Charity, explained that the money equated to 150 hours of care at the hospice.

Spokesman for the Haddenham Hillbillies, Karen’s husband, Justin Shardlow, said: “The reception given to us in Montesson really was the most fantastic end to our ride. Seeing all the French cyclists in the park as we came over the bridge at Neuville was a very welcome sight indeed, as was the Champagne and cakes! I think for all of us, the highlight was the welcome reception laid on for us in Montesson. None of us were expecting such a grand reception or the medals and plaque, and it really was an amazing way to end our ride. When we arrived home on Saturday, we all went to the Kings Head pub (home of the Haddenham Hillbillies) and looked for the best place to put the plaque on the wall in the pub where it will be on show.”

Following an evening meal and the Friday night spent in the homes of their French hosts, the Thame Twinning group that remained (once the cyclists had set off for home by van the following morning), travelled the short distance by coach to the stunning Villarceaux Estate. This 18th century chateau sits majestically on a hill overlooking parkland of water gardens, a great lake, Italian-style formal gardens and an avenues of trees. Here amid the restored, stone outbuildings and courtyard, they sampled traditional pâtés, cheeses, sea-food, beers, honey and more at a pop-up food market while some watched a traditional ‘boulanger’ at work in an old, cobble-floored stone bakery, including traditional bread oven over a wood fire – all to the accompaniment of traditional folk musicians. The setting and the sunshine in 26 degrees, made for an unforgettable day.

Then, it was back to Montesson for the annual fête du pâté à la Carmen, an open-air celebration of a special meat-filled pastry, the origins of which remain unrecorded in the historic annals of Montesson. (http://www.montesson-histoire.com/pate_carmen.html)

This particular weekend was a special one in France, the one weekend in the year when French national monuments and important houses of cultural interest, not normally open to the public, can be visited for free. Some of the Thame visitors took advantage of this special opportunity while others joined in with the open-air mass in le parc des Sophoras in Montesson, or went into Paris to ‘see the sites’ for the morning.

Lunch all-together, al fresco in the park, was preceded by speeches of thanks from Thame’s Mayor, Jeannette Matelot Green, and a speech of friendship by Montesson’s Mayor, Jean-Francois Bel. Several references to the Scottish independence referendum which had taken place the previous Thursday (18/09) were made, including from the Mayor of Baesweiler, Dr. Willi Linkens, sporting a tartan tie. Linda Emery, the Chair of the Thame & District Twinning Association, caused much amusement when she presented Montesson’s own Twinning committee with a fine Whisky, a haggis as well as some potatoes, a swede and the rest of the ingredients, to make their own haggis.

Les Parapluies de Cherbourg - escaping from the rain

Linda summed up the whole weekend in three words: ” ” Fantastic, warm hearted and Delicious !”

Tired but happy, with wonderful memories shared with good friends old and new, the ‘Thame Twinners’ arrived back home late on Sunday evening, having been held up for two hours at the Shuttle terminal at Calais, the only ‘blip’ in an otherwise superb weekend. Now, they are looking forward to December, when a group from Montesson will visit Thame with French produce once again, to sell from their stall as part of Thame’s Big Christmas event.

So, à plus tard Montesson and “Vivre le jumelage!”


We visited Villarceaux on Saturday and then many of us went to the park to watch the firework display in the evening. We enjoyed a lovely lunch on Sunday, with speeches being curtailed due to a heavy downpour. For full details of the trip visit Sonja’s website:  www.thame.net/archives/16915