A weeks cycling and camping tour to
the Battlefields of the Somme,
by Chris Marshall.
After reading 2 excellent books (see below) about the authors' experiences of the First World War, I was inspired to visit the towns, villages and countryside that they passed through and fought over.
Both men were in 3 areas; Ypres, Bethune and the River Ancre (which is a tributary of and North of the Somme itself)
My original idea was to take the Hull to Zeebrugge ferry and cycle down the front line from the North, but this was very expensive as cabin berths are compulsory for this overnight sailing. So I chose Newhaven - Dieppe instead to start further South. (travel details below).Thi
I arrived at Dieppe at 5 a.m. after a few hours sleep on the lounge floor. I expected a port to have at least 1 early morning cafe but had to wait around in the deserted town until 0630 to get my coffee and croissant. By then it was light enough to start cycling (I'd had no intention of cycling in the dark - had no lights anyway!)
I'd plotted a rough route to the Somme front line on pages torn from the Michelin Road Atlas, which I carried on a Lidl map holder on the handlebars (I'm not into electronics!). This used all minor roads (C's and occasional D's - Departmentale, never N's - Nationale) and these were extremely quiet - in fact too quiet, as none of the villages they passed through had any sign of a cafe, bakers or other shop, so when my stomach told me to, I had to divert slightly to larger places to get a coffee and a pain aux raisins. Also, previous experience of cycle and car touring in France had led me to expect plenty of camp sites - but not this time - obviously not a tourist area! However, my route followed the Somme Canal for a stretch and I found a good site by its towpath for my first night - still no shop though. However, 3 pints of wheat beer (it was very hot), a giant bag of crisps from the bar, a litre of milk donated free by the campsite and a pasta meal from my pannier, set me up again for a good night's sleep and the next day's ride.
The terrain was mostly rolling with easier going on the high plains between rivers - generally not as hilly as our Lancs./Yorks. borders, but equally pleasant. Still a dearth of camp sites on the second day, so when I reached the first village mentioned in my book, which at least had a cafe/bar, I asked the barman if there was any sites nearby or in Albert, the town I was headed for. He knew of none, but very kindly rang Albert Tourist Office to finf there was camping, appropriately enough on the site of an old Velodrome just in the suburbs.
Albert was an important place mostly just behind our front line, although it changed hands a few times and was destroyed by artillery fire, causing most of the locals to have left by 1918. "Camping du Velodrome" was a nice site, so I decided to stay 3 nights and explore without panniers, particularly as it always seems to take a couple of hours to pitch and strike camp - which is "dead" time. It also I meant I was guaranteed access to bars, shops and restaurants. The weather was very hot (30C +) so I needed at least 3 pints and a steak to replace lost fluid and energy.
With 2018 being the centenary, there were lots of museums and other sites to visit, some new, others well established. One village had even put up wooden boards with the road names used by British troops e.g. Thirsk Rd. - obviously first named by a Yorkshire Regiment. I cycled to many of the villages I'd read about and visited excellent museums at Albert and Thiepval, the latter having a splendid animated map showing the ebb and flow of the front line over 4 years, which clarified my understanding of the situation.
I also visited several of the many small British and Commonwealth/Empire cemeteries, which are beautifully kept by The Commonwealth War Graves Commission. My northernmost cycle took me to Ayette cemetery for Indian Army soldiers and Indian and Chinese Labour Corps workers who died - a long way from home. On my back from this I visited 2 unplanned sites that I happened to pass. The first was the Newfoundland Memorial, where the trenches they occupied were still visible. Then near Serre, I came across a roadside memorial to "the Sheffield Pals" which directed me up a farm track to "Sheffield Wood". I left my bike inside one of the several small cemeteries and walked into the first of 4 copses (named Matthew, Mark, Luke and John at the time) where I found another Sheffield plaque with an engraved stainless (Sheffield) steel map of the front and description of the horror of July 1st. A memorial to "the Barnsley Pals" was a few yards on and then I spotted a red brick structure which of course was dedicated to the "Accrington Pals" Finally, even closer to home was a plaque to remember "Z Company" of the 11th East Lancs. who were "The Burnley and District Pals" (My authors had served in The Royal Sussex Regiment and The Shropshire Light Infantry, so I hadn't thought to see such local connections)
After 4 days it all became too sad, so I decide to head back to the coast early. The route back was much easier as I had used "The Veloroute de la Memoire" which ran through Albert to explore to the North and I now used to go South until I hit the Somme Canal at Corbie. From there it's a fast flat ride to the coast at St. Valery with no direction finding and plenty of services. A couple of nights at Treport and then just half a day back to Dieppe for the midnight ferry.
Less than a week after my return we went for a weekend to Ulverston in Cumbria. On the Saturday there was a market in the main street and one of the stalls was for the Ulverston Town Twinning Association - and guess which town they were twinned with - Albert!
A few years previously they had discovered on an old map of the trenches an "Ulverston Trench" near Albert and had since placed a marker of some sort on its site. They had a copy of the map on the stall and when I studied it I found a "Pendle Hill Trench". Obviously the East Lancs. Regiment had been there!
"Undertones of War" Edmund Blunden. Known as a war poet, this is his prose account of his life as a junior officer. Mostly about the stuff in between battles.
"Her Privates We" Frederic Manning. Nominally fiction but must be based on his own experiences. His hero, although a Private, was older and better educated than his fellows and throughout the book, he is being persuaded to become an officer. Eventually and reluctantly he agrees but is killed the day before he leaves the front for training. All this was true for Frederic himself except he did become a lieutenant and was not killed. The hero in the book is clearly " a good drinker" and so was Frederic, because he was soon reduced to the ranks again for drunkenness. He was a writer and was persuaded to write the book in 1929 but by 1935 he was dead from problems caused by his heavy drinking. "The finest and noblest book of men in war that I have ever read" Ernest Hemingway
|Steeton to Leeds to Kings Cross (bike had to be booked by 'phoning LNER||£18.00||£18.00|
|Victoria to Lewes to Newhaven (not possible to book bike but could only take it on trains after 7 p.m. to avoid rush hour)||£5.00||£8.50|
|Newhaven to Dieppe, 11.30 p.m. sailing. Sleep in chair or on floor.||£30.00||£30.00|
|Long on the Somme||1 night||€??|
|Camping du Velodrome||3 nights||€33|
|Camping Municipal Les Boucaniers||2 nights||€17|
The historic market town of Tewkesbury, situated in Gloucestershire, at the confluence of the Rivers Severn and Avon, was the destination for our Autumn weekend. With it's magnificent Abbey, Medieval and Tudor buildings, it made a perfect base for rides out to neighbouring Worcester and the Malverns. It was also the site of The Battle of Tewkesbury, which took place on 4 May 1471, one of the decisive battles of the Wars of the Roses. Rather apt as our weekly rides often straddle the Lancashire/Yorkshire border.
With riders arriving at various times on the Thursday and Friday, our first ride was a short afternoon trip to Upton-upon-Severn. The route we had in mind was to head out via Twyning, except we had to revise our plans when the road suddenly stopped at the River Severn, with no means of crossing. We detoured via Bredon, Eckington and Defford before dropping down into Upton-upon-Severn, briefly stopping at the Marina, and a drink at the Kings Head on the banks of the Severn.
One of our members is participating in the British Cycle Quest (BCQ), where six clues are located in each county in the UK, so we used this as a basis for a longer ride on Saturday. Heading out via Upton-upon-Severn again, but carrying on into the Malvern Hils, past several fields full of camper vans attending 'Busfest 2019' the worlds largest VW Transporter festival which was occurring the same weekend.
Climbing up to Little Malvern we stopped at the British Camp, the location for our first clue. The site was also the location of an Iron Age Hill Fort, The original earthworks constructed between 700BC and 200BC, and still visible as a series of large grassy defensive banks and ditches.
Continuing around Little Malvern we dropped down to Great Malvern, and then on to Worcester for our second clue of the day, and lunch outside the the Guildhall.
Leaving Worcester, we passed through Pershore and on to Evesham for our final clue near the stocks, before returning to Tewkesbury for the evening.
Again using the BCQ clues to plan our route, Sunday's ride was to Mitcheldean. We couldn't find a cafe stop in Mitcheldean, so had a picnic lunch opposite the Parish Church, which was also the site for our first clue.
Newent was our final clue stop, which proved difficult to find, until we discovered the required blue plaque buried in the undergrowth.
After tea and toasted teacakes at a local cafe, we again made our way back to Tewkesbury.
The plan for Monday, was a ride out to Ledbury to see the historic Corn Market, but it was a wet morning, so we delayed our start with a look around the fabulous Tewkesbury Abbey. It still wasn't showing any signs of drying up, so, as there were only four of us, we jumped in the car and drove out instead.
On our return, it was mostly dry, so we had a walk along the Severn, and around the 'Severn Ham'. It was quite nice to actually see the place we were visiting, as usually it's just a base for our rides out.
Nene Park - Ferry Meadows
Our base for this year's spring weeked was the Caravan Site and Premier Inn adjacent to Nene Park, Ferry Meadows, on the outskirts of Peterborough.
With riders arriving at different times, we had no ride scheduled for Friday, but a few of us still managed a short circuit of the park, and out into the surrounding countryside.
Rutland Water - Saturday
Setting out from the Hotel at 9:30am, we collected the caravanners and then made our way west out of the park on the cycle track parallel to the railway. There were nine riders out today, keeping together for our first full day in the area.
After leaving the track, we headed out on smooth roads through Ailsworth, Ufford and Stamford before dropping down to the north shore of Rutland Water, one of the largest mam made lakes in Europe.
We had lunch at The Harbour Cafe, overlooking the lake, before following the shoreline over the dam to the visitor centre on the south shore at Normanton Church, one of Rutland's most famous landmarks, saved from flooding when the area was flooded in the 1970's to make the reservoir.
We then returned via Collyweston, Yarwell and Elton.
Stanwick Lakes - Sunday - Medium Ride
Five riders set out on Sunday morning for a medium length ride to Stanwick Lakes, a countryside park on the outskirts of Stanwick. Opened in 2006, it comprises 750 acres of former grvel pits and is part of the larger River Nene Regional Park.
Heading out of Peterborough alongside the main road, we soon turned south onto smoth quiet lanes, through the villages of Great Gidding and Titchmarsh.
We had lunch in the Cafe at Stanwick Lakes, followed by a circuit of one of the lakes, where we saw nesting Swans and their Cygnets.
There was ample provision for cyclists in the park, and we passed many families riding ournd the small area we covered. It would have been easy to spend several hours there, but we still had to cycle back to Peterborough.
Turning north through the centre of the park, we made our way back via Woodford, stopping at Wadenhoe for afternoon tea.
Wadenhoe - Sunday - Short Ride
Three riders opted for a shorter ride on Sunday, setting off with the medium group and riding together for the first hour, then turning off towards Luddington in the Brook.
Lunch was at The Old Barn at Wadenhow before returning via Fotheringhay.
Part way round the group met a member of Peterborough CTC, which was nice, as it was Peterborough CTC that had provided move ot the routes we were using for the weekend.
The Fens - Monday
With our regular weekly rides normally covering the hilly Yorkshire Dales and Forest of Bowland, we couldn't come all this way and not spend a day cycling around The Fens. 15,500 sq miles of reclaimed marshland (we didn't cover all of it!).
Setting off as a group, we took the cycle path following the Nene straight though the centre of Peterborough, and then headed north to Crowland for lunch by the Trinity Bridge.
Trinity Bridge is a unique three-way stone bridge that at one time spanned the confluence of the River Welland and one of it's tributaries.
The river has long since been re-routed, and it now spans nothing, just standing rather uniquely by the roadside in the town centre.
After lunch the group split in two, three riders returning via Whittlesey, whilst the others header further out into the Fens to Throckenholt and then south to March.
The roads in the Fens being very flat, very straight, and very long.
Peterborough - Tuesday
Today we were going home. But we just had time for a quick ride back into Peterborough, and a look round the Cathedral. Founded in Anglo Saxon times but largley rebuilt in the 13th century..
It was a great weekend, one which we were lucky to have fantastic weather. Knowing the best places to go, and planning routes in a new area is never easy, so we'd like to thank Chris Cooper from Peterborough CTC for his time, suggested lunch stops, and access to their collection of excellent routes, from which we only had time to sample a few.
The Bay Cycleway is a stunning long distance route around Morecambe Bay, one of the most beautiful stretches of coastline in the UK. The route runs from the south west coast of Cumbria to Glasson Dock in Lancashire.
Wednesday 1st May
Four of us set out from Walney Island on a dampish Wednesday morning. It didn’t take long for the sun to shine and we quickly removed our waterproofs.
We cycled round through the dock area which was really interesting, past BAE Systems huge buildings and ships in the docks before heading inland out through Rampside, Roosebeck, Leece and Gleaston and a great descent with fabulous views of the Bay onto Bardsea. We went past the fabulous Buddist Temple on the way into Ulverston where we had out lunch stop in a lovely little Bistro.
After lunch we headed towards Greenodd and then crossed the Leven Estuary on our way to the steepest climb of the whole ride through Low Wood and then onto Bigland Hill (very aptly named). After a gradual descent we arrived in Cartmel via the racecourse, it was then a slightly undulating ride taking us to Grange over Sands and the end of our first day.
Thursday 2nd May
Five of us headed out of town via the Golf Club and onto Meathop Fell onto a quiet road adjacent to the A590 towards Witherslack and Levens villages and Levens Hall with its stunning topiary gardens. We turned off towards the Kent estuary and the on the coast road through Sandside. The views round the coast and across to Grange were fabulous.
We climbed out from Arnside and cycled round the edge of Arnside Knott to Silverdale, once again spectacular views of Morecambe Bay. We arrived at Carnforth for a Brief Encounter at Carnforth Station café and musuem for lunch. After lunch it was onto the canal to Hest Bank, Bolton le Sands and then Morecambe where we had ice creams at the famous Bruccianis art deco café and ice cream parlour.
We then took the cycle path to Lancaster, across the Millenuim Bridge on onto the cycle path to Glasson Dock to the end of the 81 mile ride.
It was a fabulous ride thoroughly enjoyed by all of us.
Six of our members set sail from Hull to Zeebrugge on the evening of Saturday 6th October, and after a slightly rough crossing we arrived in Belgium to a bright sunny morning. John set out for Ypres to visit the war graves and the Menin Gate and the rest of us headed South. We passed through Blankenberge then following the coast down to De Haan where we stopped for coffee and received free chocolates.
We cycled on lanes and cycle tracks and arrived in Oudenburg where we had a lovely picnic lunch from the local bakery and sat in the sun outside the church. After lunch it was onto Brugge via Jabbeke and the canal. We arrived about 4.00 pm and wandered round Brugge sampling Belgium waffles. John arrived at the hotel about 7.00 pm after cycling 85 miles and we all went out for an evening meal, sampling Belgium beer.
After a hearty breakfast and after circling Brugge to get out of the city we headed North toward Sluis. We passed through little towns and villages and crossed the canal on a self propelled raft then followed the canal into Sluis.
Sluis is a lovely little town just over the border in Holland and where we had our lunch stop sampling more beer and waffles. After lunch we made our way to the coast cycling along the promenade through Knokke and Heist and then onto Zeebrugge for the 7.00 pm boat. After a smooth crossing we arrived back into Hull about 8.30 am Tuesday morning.
It was a fabulous trip enjoyed by all of us.
This years Birthday Rides was hosted at Yarnfield Park in Staffordshire from 13th - 19th August.
Celebrating the 140th anniversary of the CTC, three of our members attended this year for a weeks rides around Staffordshire with approximately 400 other riders from around the country.
We picked the first day for our longest ride, a 65 mile round trip to Ironbridge on the River Severn to see "The Iron Bridge" - the first major bridge in the world made of cast iron. Little did we know it was undergoing restoration work, and was enclosed in scaffolding and plastic sheets, so we couldn't actually see it. (see photos and inset of what we were expecting).
On Wednesday, we again headed east to Audlem and Market Drayton, where the street market was in full swing. Unfortunately our route was closed with a trench across the road making it impassable on the way back, so we had to venture off-road across a corn field to get back on track.
Again heading east, we picked a more circular route, heading out through Market Drayton (a little quieter on non-market day), and Newport, stopping to look at the remains of Croxton Abbey en-route. (and again bypassing the road works across the corn field).
Heading int he opposite direction today, into the small town of Alton (close to Alton Towers), lunching at the Rambers Retreat (recommended).
This was our shortest ride, of just 43 miles.
Our last day, and possibly the best of the week, we followed almost the same route as Tuesday, but stopping at RAF Cosford for an hour to look around the RAF museum.
With cafe stops aplenty, we didn't go hungry or short of coffee. In fact we were spoint for choice at times.
A good job really, as we covered 265 miles over our five days, with 13,000ft of ascent!.
Our second long weekend away, saw 12 members heading to Dumfries and Galloway, staying in the Dumfries Premier Inn, Travelodge and a local Caravan Site. We choose these hotels because they are kind enough to allow us to store out bikes in our rooms.
As we do on our regular Sunday rides at home, we split into two groups, offering a choice of short or long rides. There's a bit of a mixture described here as the two groups mixed and matched over the weekend.
A short explaratory ride as we got our bearings, with Harry preaching the virtues of two wheels to the already converted.
The long ride set off along the old military road to Castle Douglas (we couldn't find a castle!) for toasted teacakes, and then on to Kirkcudbridge on the coast, where we negotiated what was labelled on our OS maps as the "DANGER AREA", an MOD firing range. With the possibility of live shells and tanks, we stuck closely to the road. Luckily the red flags weren't flying, so we were perfectly safe, and enjoyed fantastic views across the Solway Firth to Silloth and Maryport, with the Lake District mountains in the background.
At Dundrennan, we stopped again for afternoon tea and met a tandem couple from Bolton who owned a B&B nearby. Chatting gave us some good route options for the next day. (Kippford Beach - see photos).
On the way back we spotted what we beleive were Red Kite on several occasions.
As both groups had similar goals today, we decided to meet at Southerness Point for lunch, and ride together then onwards.
For the long ride, we wanted to complete the Solway coastal route we'd started covering on Saturday, so we headed out to Dalbeattie then followed the coastline to Kippford Beach which is composes entirely of Clamshells (see photos). The road doesn't go any further here, so we found a rough track along the coast until we reached tarmac a little further on, and then the road to Southerness Point.
After lunch we all returned via New Abbey and Sweetheart Abbey.
With some members wanting to spend time in Dumfries, only one group rode out today, heading down the River Nith and east to Annan for lunch. Here a couple left us as they were driving home that evening.
The rest of us then headed north to Lockerbie, and the memorial gardens of the 1988 air disaster - quite a sobering moment.
With the intention to return via Ae Village, we encountered a longish track, some very nosey cows, and a little light rain, so divered back to out hotels for the evening.
With the remainder of our party heading home, a couple of us decided a final short morning ride was still in order, so we made a quick trip back to New Abbey for morning coffee. A stray calf en-route added to the entertainment as we helped heard it back towards it's calling mother in the adjacent field.
Just a few general shots around Dumfries and a group shot from one of our evening meals.