I suppose the notion of seeking flexibility when touring on a bike is always going to have its drawbacks. We have approached the last couple of days in a very open way and been flexible (some may say vague) about where we may end up. Today we were going to visit a couple of sights on the Somme and then make our way to Lens, via Arras where we were going to look at train options into Belgium. At least that is what I thought. Standing on the roadside 10k outside Arras, with Louise in meltdown in the heat, it transpires there was a different plan. Apparently.
Anyway, the day started so well (you may have heard this before!). We set off from Albert on a hazy morning to go to the Lochnagar crater, which is a remnant from a huge mine detonated by the British under the German trenches in WWI. It is one impressive hole in the ground and is huge.
What I always find fascinating about this area is that where land has not been returned back to farming, areas remain cratered as they were when hostilities ceased in 1918. This is how the land is around the crater. Also there is a small memorial to a soldier whose remains were found on the site in 1998.
A feature of cycling around this area is the number of pristine cemeteries holding British and French graves. The sheer number of them you pass on route gives you some indication of the scale of the combat.
We then moved on to the British Monument at Thiepval. This is a huge monument (that is me, to the right of the steps) which dominates the skyline in the area. Staggering are the names of the Somme ‘missing’ scribed on all faces of it. You cannot imagine such loss. And these were only those missing.
We had been following a cycle route up to this point, which continued to follow for another 10k or so until we had to break off to Arras.
Before we set off, Louise had said she was feeling a bit tired and took a couple of paracetamol. A worrying sign. She was also a bit quiet, but I took that as a bit of a bonus.
We followed the cycle route until we broke off to take the more direct road. We had agreed the night before that we would do this, rather than take the quieter, more meandering route because we needed to get to Arras. (Obviously I thought it was because the plan was to push through Arras to Lens!).
The route was slightly undulating, but we had the good fortune to find a bar with a nice ‘plat du jour’. This gave us sustenance, but also shade as it had become a hot and sunny day.
Refreshed after lunch, we set off for the 20k of so to Arras.
10k in and Louise kicked off about the amount of cycling I was making us do (hang on, me?) and this was not what she expected. Apparently my view on the day’s route was wrong and not agreed, despite evidence to the contrary. Any attempt at a rational discussion of this at this point would have been madness, believe me.
So, another frosty 10k into Arras with neither of us knowing what we were going to do what we get there. Get on a train it transpired.
At Arras, we enquired about trains to Ghent (where we both agree we want to go!), but it appeared difficult with Claud and the SNCF representative was not really bothered to help us. We decided to get the next train to Lille and take it from there. God knows why, but we just did.
Had time for a quick drink outside the station to help thaw the atmosphere and book a hotel near the Station in Lille. We got on the train with Claud, which was a slightly more cumbersome arrangement than last time, but the bungy held up!
On arrival at Lille, we enquired about trains to Belgium. Louise came out of the booking office puzzled as she had been told there were no trains until next Wednesday.
We quickly found the hotel, but they had no bike storage facilities. Claud is therefore parked up outside the station, which is a worry.
Having got on the Internet, we recieved the double-whammy that Belgian train drivers were on strike for the next two days and French train drivers for the following two days; if you want to get to Belgium from France on a train. you have had it for 4 days!
So, a brief explore in Lille and a few beers and we have a plan for tomorrow; we will cycle to Ypres hopefully picking up a voie vert along the river out of Lille on the way.
After this, who knows? Actually we have no idea as I don’t have a map of Belgium yet.
Have we only been here two weeks?