The tiny hilltop town of Cassel is just 30km southeast of Dunkerque. Hills are rare in Flanders, so Cassel was fought over from Roman times onwards. It was supposedly to the top of Cassel’s hill that the “Grand Old Duke of York” marched his ten thousand men in 1793, though, as implied in the nursery rhyme, he failed to take the town. In more recent history, during World War I, Marshal Foch spent some of the “most distressing hours” of his life here.
The town was originally a Flemish-speaking community – until use of the language was suppressed by the authorities – and it still boasts a very Flemish Grand’Place, lined with some magnificent mansions, from which narrow cobbled streets fan out to the ramparts.