Northumberland village to celebrate 'diamond anniversary' of French twinning

Young people leaving Shilbottle for the first time
-Credit: (Image: Shilbottle Héry Amicale Exchange)

A Northumberland village is set to celebrate the "diamond anniversary" of its twinning with a rural French village this summer.

Shilbottle has been twinned with the French village of Héry since 1963, with many young people and families from both villages travelling between the two over the years. The village, which is in the Burgundy region close to the historic town of Auxerre, is around 80 miles south east of Paris.

Originally created as a "friendship association" between the villages, the first Shilbottle Héry Amicale Exchange involved young people travelling from Northumberland to France at a time when overseas travel was much more costly and much less routine than it is today. It was seen as a special opportunity to travel abroad and experience life in another country.

In July 2024, a party of French visitors will come to Northumberland to celebrate 60 years since the first group of 15 young people visited in 1964, travelling making the 700-mile trip by train, metro, ferry and bus. It will be the first exchange between the villages to take place since the coronavirus pandemic.

During the week that the 20 visitors from Héry are in Northumberland, visits to Bamburgh Castle, the Grace Darling Museum, and the Aln Valley Railway are planned. There will also be an anniversary lunch at Eshott Hall before Shilbottle's French guests return to Héry by train.

Amicale anniversary in France in 2023
Amicale anniversary in France in 2023 -Credit:Shilbottle Héry Amicale Exchange

Gill Bray, chairman of the association, hopes the trip will be memorable for all involved, saying: "If we pause for thought, in a world where many things don’t last or get discarded, it’s a remarkable achievement for a village exchange between two small villages with a potential for a language barrier, to be ongoing sixty years down the line.

"Some of the friendships have spanned the sixty years; others are only a year old. They’re all precious and demonstrate how despite the distance, despite the differences, despite Covid, we can all build and maintain friendships that enrich our lives."