It seems only yesterday that the international exhibition ‘Beyond the Horizon: Societies of the Channel and North Sea 3,500 years ago’ opened in the medieval château-musée in Boulogne-sur-Mer. But on 6th November 2012 the exhibition closed after a hugely successful four-month run that attracted over 14,700 visitors. But this was not the end of the story; the exhibition is to move 125 miles north to the huge modern museum at Ename, near Oudenaarde in Belgium. First the rich assemblage of objects were removed from their display cases, sealed in custom-built packing cases and taken by lorry to the museum’s secure stores, after which all the display panels, exhibition cases and audiovisual equipment were dismantled and transported to the new venue. By 20th November, all that remained in the exhibition hall was the half-scale replica of the Dover Bronze Age boat, the jewel in the crown of the exhibition.
The responsibility for extracting the boat from the museum in Boulogne and getting it to Ename was a heavy one, and for this reason a team from CAT was charged with this task as the people most familiar with the boat itself. So it was that a small band of four; Peter Clark, Paul Bennett, Andrew Richardson and Tim Laughlan gathered at Dover Docks at 03:30 in the morning to make the journey through the rain to Boulogne-sur-Mer, driving a 4×4 vehicle with boat trailer in tow. Thanks to the help of one of the Trustees of the Dover Bronze Age Boat Trust, Steve Bispham, P & O Ferries had kindly agreed to take the team across the channel free of charge. By 08:00 they were in the ‘salle comtale’, a fine medieval building with a very narrow medieval door almost exactly the same width as the boat itself, about 1.2 metres broad and 8.5 metres long, weighing just under one tonne. With the boat placed on rough timber rollers, the team manhandled the boat through the door with the help of levers and some French contractors working at the castle who willingly leant a hand to manoeuvre the boat into the castle courtyard and on to the trailer.
The next challenge was to get the boat out of Boulogne itself; the beautiful walled town has only four narrow gates and the crowded winding streets meant that we could not simply drive away; a more circuitous route had to be adopted, taking the boat up on to the pathways along the top of the ramparts and around to one of the gates. Angélique Demon of the Archaeology Service of Boulogne-sur-Mer had arranged with the local gendarmerie that this route had been kept clear, and after negotiating some tight hair-pin bends, various joggers and dog walkers, we eventually got out of the town and were on the road to Ename.
The journey was without incident, though there was always some tension that someone might drive into the back of our boat on the busy and rain-swept motorways. It was with some relief that we arrived at Ename safely, where we were met by Peter van der Plaetsen and his team who lifted the boat from the trailer with a small crane and dragged the boat into the huge exhibition space of the Ename Heritage Centre.
The next morning the boat was lifted up and fitted onto its display cradle, and by lunchtime it was safely in position in its new home. Work could then begin fitting out the exhibition ready for its opening on December 16th The exhibition will stay in Ename until the end of May 2013, when once again the boat will be back on the road, this time to rejoin the original vessel in Dover as the exhibition moves to its final venue in the UK.