The Somme

The trip details (accommodation, transport). All cycle photos in a gallery.

Day 1 Edinburgh to Calais

The day got off to a great start after Brian and Andy cycled to the station only to find on arrival that the headwind blew the map of their journey out the pannier and onto the streets of Edinburgh. Too late to turn back. The GNER train was good and we had seats near the bikes with a table so we could take Raymond to the cleaners at cards. In London we cycled to Charing cross through some very nice streets and lanes using a map the CTC had given us. The rain came down in a monsoon so we had to do some tree hugging for shelter.

In London everything was forbidden – dont leave your bikes, dont take photos, dont use our toilets. Met a guy on the train to Dover who said we could get any ferry so we went for an earlier one. Arrived at the Youth Hostel in Calais and then went into town for pizza. Not much to see in Calais.

Day 2 Calais to St Omer to Bethune

Strong headwind all day. Followed canal out of Calais then minor roads to the Blockhaus museum which is the old V1 and V2 rocket production site. Spent a good hour here. Then cycled along the dentists river – the Aa – to St Omer where we stopped for lunch. We had cycled 30 miles at this point but decided we woudl head for Aire Sur Lys and get the train. The only problem was when we got there, knackered, the station had been closed 40 years before and was only used for freight! We were pretty downhearted but cylced on. In the end we got a train the last 10 miles and had done 45 into a headwind – so that seemed like 90!

Bethune was a really nice town with a central square bordered by street cafes.

Andy went to the town cemetery to find the grave of Alexander Wilson, his great grandfather who died in July 1916. The Commonwealth War Graves Commision had said the grave had the reference VF28 but when Andy got to the cemetery no such reference number existed. Each line of grave stones had a reference like “3B” and there were over 3000 graves. He started looking but couldn’t find it. Eventually went to mausoleum in centre to think what to do and found a small metal door in a wall. Decided to open this up and inside there was a reference book to the graves and a book of remembrance. As we travelled later we realised this was at every grave site but as this was the first one we didn’t know. The reference VF28 in Roman numerals was actually 5F28 in the graveyard. Success! Found the grave and took photos.

Met the guys back in Bethune town square and went for a meal sitting outside in town square. As we were eating the sky went dark and lightning flashed all around , then thunder. Gave some kind of feeling as to what WW1 might have been like. Then a min tornado hit the town square and tables, chairs, plates, glass was blown everywhere. Very weird. Went back to hotel and searched for lights for main lounge area where we played cards till the wee small hours after Raymond had got a carry out from a local pub.

Day 3 Bethune to Arras to Auchvilliers

We had decided the night before to get the train the first part of the journey to Arras as a 23 mph headwind was again forecast and we were pretty exhausted after yesterday. We discovered that the French road system was not numbered as in the UK so the D717 was a main road whereas the D7 was a minor one. We changed the route we had planned to avoid the lorries. Another day of long climbs into a head wind. At Ayette we came across a Chinese and Indian war cemetery. To get to the cemetery we had to go up a side road then along a muddy track. There was no book of remembrance but the graveyard was nice enough. It seemed the Chinese and Indian dead and been put in a forgotten corner. During the day we would stop at quite a few grave sites and every other one had good access and a book of remembrance.

Cycled onto to Miraumont where we had a sandwich lunch in a nice cafe run by an old couple next to a church.

Then went onto Beaumont Hammel where we visited the monument to Scottishsoldiers and the old mine crater. A mine crater was created where miners dug a tunnel under the enemy then packed the mine shaft full of explosive to blow up the trenches above. It was the size of a football field. Everywhere we cycled today we passed graves.

Got to Ocean Villas farmhouse run by Avril Williams an English woman who moved to France 16 years ago.

Rounded up sheep at night then played cards outside.

ThiepvalContalmaison againRaymond lays his scarf

Day 4 Auchonvlliers to many memorials to Albert

A day of remembrance. Went to Beaumont Hamel, saw trenches and battlefield that still exist, went to the Ulster tower and then Thiepval. On 1 July 1916 the British army suffered 60,000 casualties in one day, their biggest ever and there are many graves. The highlight of the whole trip , if highlight is the right word, was our visit to Contalmaison. Here is the memorial to the people of Edinburgh who joined Macrae’s Pals Battalian. In particular the entire Hearts football team joined up , the only team to do so in the UK and only three returned. We wore our strips and paid our tributes. Raymond left his scarf suitably inscribed and a small cross with appropriate words was left by us all.

Afterwards we went to Le Poppy cafe for a wonderful meal where the waitress threw in drinks for free because 2 of us didnt have a starter. We got 5 courses and wine for something ridiculously cheap. It was a short cycle to Albert where we visited the underground museum and attended an open air music concert in the evening. We went back to the Royal Picardie to buy a bottle of very expensive wine and play cards.

Day 5 Albert to Amiens

Nice run today through varied countryside and tracks. Rained a bit today. Excellent curry lunch in Amiens where we met Indian who’s grandfather had died in great war. Torrential rain. Visited sites round Amiens then caught train to Calais and took our carry out back to the hostel. Raymond played High Chapparal!

Day 6 Calais to Edinburgh

Got early ferry then train to London. Wandered through London for a few hours stopping at some of the pubs on the way to Kings Cross. Saw Drury lane and Stringfellows. Poured with rain when we got back to Edinburgh.

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