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Remembered Today:

Up to Mametz

Karl Murphy

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Day Three:

Thursday 15 May:

Usual routine in the morning, got up, had breakfast and headed up to Albert. Today was going to be the big one as I intended to walk up to High Wood and Delville Wood and take it from there as regards what was doable. I think for some reason I was a little bit later in starting out from Amiens though, as I seem to recall not starting out from Albert itself until around 12 pm or so.

Again as yesterday showed there is nothing like walking the route to get a feel for the lay of the ground. It’s pretty well uphill all the way out of town along the road to Bapaume – next time I’m looking at map of the Battle of the Somme I will certainly be bearing this in mind. Actually it’s more of a continual slant than ‘hill’ per se and probably not really noticeable unless you’re on foot. This road is very busy and even more so than the Peronne road the trucks and cars along here are fairly motoring. Glad to say other people have more sense as nobody else was attempting my solo walk…all through this day I did not come across another pedestrian anywhere out of town or village walking alongside the road. This stop/start routine to avoid an unfortunate encounter with a motor vehicle means that my rate of climb as it were was quite slow,

I think after about an hour and a half I made it to La Boisselle (took a photo there of the monument to the Tyneside Scottish and Irish Brigades) and then on in the direction of Poizieres. Just before there on the left is a large cemetery which IIRC is known as the Poizieres Memorial and in which I spent just a few minutes. I was conscious by this stage that there was more to see and do around here than I would get time to cover. So it was quickly on to the village where I stopped at the café (Le Tommy I think it’s called) on the right hand side to ask directions. Met a party in there from Belfast over to visit Thiepval and the Ulster Tower. Chatted to them for a couple of minutes and then had a quick walk down the road for Thiepval on the left and took a few pictures of the village’s War memorial before heading on up the main road again. A few drops of rain started to fall at this stage.

Making my way up the right hand side an unmerciful outbreak of barking and howling broke out as first one dog and then another went completely nuts that someone would dare to trod their dirty paws on their patch of territory. These mutts are I think called ‘mastiffs’ – large muscular creatures with attitude. It’s a bit disconcerting as they tear along to their respective gates/fences and thump against them growling and snarling in such manner that translated into English would mean ‘if I could only get to you I’d tear you to pieces’…

Anyway heart in mouth I made it past this gauntlet and out the other side. Stopped for a brief look at the Tanks Memorial on the right, to commemorate from where the first tanks used in battle set out in September 1916. IIRC some time after that I then turned off to the right and as I was getting tired by this stage and a little behind schedule I started hitching. But with so few cars about and me the only pedestrian about since leaving Poizieres I didn’t hold out much hope. As expected after about 20 minutes of fruitless thumbing still no lift so I just pushed on. Then after only about five minutes of walking I turned around to see a truck pulling up to like ask me did I want a lift? – and me not even trying at this stage! The driver couldn’t speak a word of English other than ‘Manchester United’, ‘Arsenal’ etc but with the help my laminated Battle of the Somme Guide I was able to indicate that it was High Wood I was heading for. He had to stop to make a drop along the way (I presume in Bazentin le Petit but I was a bit disorientated with all the twists and turns we did) and after about 20 minutes he dropped me at my destination.

So there I was after all those years of wishful thinking about making it to this spot. I went in to the London Cemetery and spent some time looking at the grave stones and took a good few photos of the cemetery itself and the open fields leading up to here from the south. Thought about my Grandfather making his way up to here to face battle once again and that was well emotional… I then went over to look at the edge of High Wood. I remember reading that this is strictly off limits but there was a gate in front of me and with no one about (except the man in the cemetery on the tractor doing the grass – he indicated I shouldn’t enter) but he was preoccupied so I rolled under the gate and in I went. These days of course its pretty thickly grown but with good paths too. I went about 50 yds in and took some photos, also plucked some leaves for mementoes and after about 10 minutes came back out. Moved down on the road a bit to where the Cairn is and IIRC it was there I went back in and took a few more photos and spent a little more time in a quieter setting as the tractor noise at the Cemetery was a bit much. I set off then along the side of High Wood and was debating whether to take the turn at the left down the track, which looked interesting but time was pressing and I still had a lot to do this day.

Walked on down through Longueval and up to the Visitors Centre at Delville Wood. Stopped here for a break and the nice gentleman behind the counter handed me the best cup of tea I drank in my time in France + a Magnum ice cream which between the two helped cool me down. It’s kind of surprising that would be so because it was coming down pretty steadily by this stage and I had my rain mac on. I guess all the walking and the body heat retained inside my mac was the reason why.

After about 20 minutes of rest I was off again and on down to where the South African Memorial and Museum are situated. Very impressive they are too and well worth a visit. It was raised to commemorate the epic struggle of the S.A. Infantry Brigade who fought here in July 1916 and took very heavy casualties. Today the museum also covers WWII, Korea etc and touches on more recent times in South Africa reflecting the events that brought about a change of Government since the museum was built. Took some photos of the woods and reflected on the terrible ordeal of the 1SSR here at the end of August 1916 – truly a hell on Earth that was.

Just had a quick glance at the Cemetery there and headed off down the road for Ginchy. If anything the rain was coming down even heavier by this stage, so by the time I reached the outskirts of the village hard decisions had to be made. Either go up through Ginchy and check that out or turn down the road for Guillemont and call it a day after that - I decided on the latter.

Walked on down to there and found the famous Celtic Cross that commemorates the men of the 16th (Irish) Division that fought there in 1916. It reads: '1914-1918 - In commemoration of the victories of Guillemont and Ginchy September 3rd and 9th 1916 in memory of those who fell therein and of all Irishmen who gave their lives in the great war. RIP." Naturally took a few photos of this and also of the one on the other side of the Church for the French soldiers, which has the following: A La Memorie des Enfants de Guillemont Morts por la France 1914-1918.

Once done it was time to turn for the road back to Albert. Made my way down in the direction of Montauban and I have to admit the fizz had well and gone truly gone out things by this stage. Trudging along in the steadily falling rain with my feet really beginning to cause me concern at this stage due to blistering and my legs feeling like logs I was getting to the stage of thinking ‘perhaps this wasn’t such a good idea after all…’ I think the last roadside sign I saw indicated Albert 11 Kilometres - which cheered me up no end I can tell you!

On top of that out here is completely deserted – you can see for a great distance out in this flat rolling countryside of fields and woods but not another soul to be seen anywhere. On I went anyway not really too sure where I was at all. I passed a wood to the right and further along another one on the same side so I reckoned the first one was Trones Wood but the rain was so heavy I wasn’t stopping to trawl out a map to check it out. As it turned out my guess was right and eventually I reached the crossroads at the end of Bernafay Wood that led on to Montauban.

Once there I stopped to ask an old farmer on a tractor in a barnyard full of chickens if I was on the right track – I might as well have been an apparition from the look on his face. They just aren’t used to strangers on foot asking for directions around here that’s for sure!

So I passed through Montauban and out the other side only to realise I was on the road to Mametz. That was good news and bad news. Good in that sooner or later I would hit the Peronne Road and hence the most direct road back to Albert – bad in that once again I would have to risk walking back that house with those two psycho dogs from yesterday. How ironic I was thinking – my Grandfather goes through Mametz on 1 July 1916 and survives without a scratch while I end up getting mauled by dogs in the same place – surely my luck cannot hold three times in a row? I had pretty well resigned myself to the walk but this factor was playing on my mind. Just hoped to God I’d get through and out the other side of Mametz, back to Albert in a couple of hours of hard walking and once back in Amiens into my usual haunt, a glass of beer and a good meal served by that pretty little waitress and that was the sum of dreams at that point.

Just as I passed the end of Montauban a car came up a side road and slowed to turn onto the Mametz road. It must have been about ten minutes since I had seen the last one so on the basis of nothing ventured nothing gained I stuck out my thumb just on the basis that by some fluke he might actually stop. And so he did.

Albert? I said – Oui Albert he said – seriously I thought I was dreaming. He didn’t know any English but he was cheery enough – somehow or another I was able to explain I was staying in Amiens and returning by train. He brought me directly to the train station and I caught the train for Amiens within minutes. I was back in my hotel room within about an hour of being on that lonely road to Mametz in the pouring rain.

I relished that meal and my glass of beer that night I can tell you.

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My goodness, Karl, I am so glad you got that lift back to Albert at the end of the day. Seriously, just reading about that day has left me exhausted. I am in awe. I will never complain about travelling difficulties over there again!

I think you put in a similar level of effort to the troops out there -and no one ever better deserved their beer, meal and bed at the end of the day. Full respect - but I do think you are just a tiny bit mad.

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Karl, well done thanks that was a great read and it's given me some inspiration.

I myself am contemplating doing a similar sort of trek to yourself and getting out and seeing some of these places you visited by foot as I wont have a vehicle.

Want to visit Pozieres,VillersBret,Delville Wood,Mametz,Lochaganar Crater and so on.

I'm still trying to decide if it is better to stay at Amiens or Arras which would be better for me to get to these locations.

Was Albert your starting off place for all these walks ?

Which guide book did you use I'm looking at getting the Holts guide does it give indications on which roads and the like to take as I don't fancy being out wandering the french countryside not having a clue if the road I'm walking where it goes.

Is it easy to follow the road signs to certain villages and woods ?

Cheers again thanks for posting your story Karl.

Sorry meant to ask what was the name of the hotel in Amiens ?

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Karl, I'm worn out just reading it.

Well done an keep the diary coming.

Which guide book did you use I'm looking at getting the Holts guide does it give indications on which roads and the like to take as I don't fancy beingout wandering the french countryside not having a clue if the road I'm walking where it goes.

Is it easy to follow the road signs to certain villages and woods ?


a must have book would be "Walking the Somme" by Paul Reed. Read it well before you go together with local maps of your route as you may wish to divert from the suggested walks.



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I suppose there must be a bus running up the main road from Albert to Bapaume via Pozieres? But who knows how frequently. This would be useful. Bikes can be rented I think.

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I suppose there must be a bus running up the main road from Albert to Bapaume

Then I got into a bus myself, and rode for all the way,

Yes, I rode inside a bus from Bethune to La Bassée.

Through Beuvry and through Annequin, and then by Cambrin Tower -

The journey used to take four years, but now it's half an hour.

Four years to half an hour - the best speedup I've met.

Four years? Aye, longer still for some - they haven't got there yet.

Then up came the conductor chap, 'Vos billets s'il vous plait.'

Fancy asking for your tickets on the road to La Bassée.

- "The Road to La Bassee"

Couldn't resist! The full poem is here, post 138.

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Fair Play to you Karl, but I reckon you must be stone mad! Your diary is terrific and very candid. I hope on your next trip you'll get more time to see around you and have less chances of being eaten by wild dogs!

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Greyhound - I had seen the poem before. Absolutely superb and thanks for reminding me!


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I'm still trying to decide if it is better to stay at Amiens or Arras which would be better for me to get to these locations.

Was Albert your starting off place for all these walks ?

Hindsight being a wonderful thing I think Arras is a better base. Yes Albert was where I started out from on these walks.

Thanks for all the encouragement folks - I intend to write up the other days over the weekend.

Was I mad to do it? - no I don't think so but on the other hand that was a once off - I was getting to see Mametz, High Wood and Delville Wood no matter what.

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Karl, cheers for the info I think like you say if your without a car Arras would be a good base.

Have to look at getting a good guide book now have been recommended Paul Reed, Walking the Somme or Holts battlefield guide to the Somme I suppose these 2 are fairly similar.

Distances between towns and certain woods or cemeteries would you say they range around the 5-15km mark as these are failry walkable without any problems for me, and are the walks from Albert to other towns fairly easy to follow along the roads out of town ?

Again thanks for the help and info, looking forward to your next instalment.

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Lots of good info ... very informative post and good reading.

Did only a small fraction of your walk. But I agree entirely that trudging along with not a care is a brilliant way to do a Battlefield tour.

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Another one to add to Karl's tale.

View from the slope at Devonshire Trench across to Mametz. Dantzig Alley is out of sight, on the far horizon on the extreme right of the pic. The 1st South Staffords attacked right to left in this picture, up across the fields from where I am standing and on the far side of the trees.


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Friday 16 May 2008

Well usual story this morning, got up and had breakfast and caught the train to Albert. Actually my departure was delayed a bit as I had to find a chemists and purchase some plasters to put on the cuts and blisters on my feet. As a result I missed the early trains out of town and it was after 11 am before I caught one.

I think I reached Albert about midday or so. The plan for today was to visit the Ulster Tower and Thiepval, which are situated quite close together. I had more or less made my mind up that this day anyway I was not going to push myself to the limits. Did I have the stamina to walk the distance? – I think so. Did I have the psychological inclination to undertake it – not particularly. But the deciding factor was the state of my feet. With a cut on my left foot and a nice little blister to match + another one welling up on my right foot it would have been silly to undertake it and then have to turn back in pain halfway up there. As I had so far underspent on my day by day budget that gave me a bit of leeway money wise on getting a Taxi out to the sites I wanted to visit that day. I reckoned if I got there I would figure out a way to get back again.

So I went back to the Tourist Office and asked the guy there to ring for a taxi but check how much it was first. He did and got a quote of around €15.00, which was better than I expected. (Though it makes me wonder why I was given a price of €25.00 to get to Mametz on Wednesday?) He told me to wait outside and the taxi would be along in about 10 minutes. As it happened the taxi was there in about two minutes. Off we went so up along the valley of the Ancre and came in by the Ulster Tower side. I asked him to drop me there. He had already offered to pick me up afterwards from Thiepval and bring me back and we parted on those terms.

The Ulster Tower was erected back in the 1920’s and IIRC was one of the first permanent memorials erected on the Western Front. It commemorates the men of the 36th (Ulster) Division who attacked and seized the strongly fortified Schwaben Redoubt on 1 July 1916 and held it for most of the day until strong German counter attacks retook it. It is certainly quite picturesque and the adjacent tearooms are nicely laid out, as is the interpretive centre. The very nice lady there loaded me up with all sorts of info and off I went to the tower itself. You go up a set of steps into it and while the room is small it is full of tributes and wreaths of poppies from various groups honouring the Ulstermen who fought on the Somme. Their sacrifice in uniform that day and thereafter certainly has a resonance that is still around today in the North but that is almost gone elsewhere in Ireland.

After that I decided to walk up to the Thiepval Memorial as it is visible from where I was (and indeed is visible for miles around too) and I was there within about 5 or 10 minutes. Even though I knew in advance that the Memorial was closed I was somewhat disappointed that access even to the grounds was blocked off. There was no clear reason that I could see that this would be so. There was no observable work being carried out and even if so it would have been quite possible to bring guided tours up much closer and see the Memorial to the missing in at least some detail without disturbing any ongoing restoration. I walked around the periphery until I could get some decent photos anyway.

The Visitors Centre itself is a modern structure and fulfils the function it was I presume designed for - which is to cater for visiting coach loads of people there to see the Memorial. There is a film documentary running constantly and a better than expected bookshop. Bit surprised there was no restaurant but only vendor sandwiches and Tea/Coffee machine. Mind you €2.50 for a sandwich and €1.00 for a Cappuccino Coffee was pretty good value in what would generally be considered a ‘tourist trap’ location.

The weather having cleared by this stage from wall to wall cloud cover to one of interspersed sunny breaks I sat outside on the grass and took it easy for about half an hour. Then I walked about a bit and took in the surrounding vista and landmarks trying to fit that all in with what was happening around here on 1 July 1916. The village of Thiepval is right in front of the Centre and that was heavily defended by the Germans against the men of the 32nd Division + you have a side on view of the positions from which the Ulstermen launched their assault on the Schwaben Redoubt. So this was a good vantage point to take all this in.

Once back inside I made a few small purchases including a trench map of the area around Longueval. I then got the petite blond behind the counter to call the taxi man again and after a bit of language confusion with she handing the phone to me and me handing it back to her plus the woman at the other end not having a clue what I was talking about the taxi trip back was arranged. It took him about 20 minutes to get there and he even apologised for being late due to a bicycle Tour holding him up! As we set off I began thinking ‘well here I am in a taxi that is costing less than I thought and on the Western Front so lets see something else’. I remembered that the 1SSR saw action at Beaumont Hamel later in the year so that was quite close by. I asked the driver to take me there and we reached it within minutes.

This area though is most well known for the terrible ordeal suffered there by the Newfoundland Regiment on 1 July when most of the attacking troops were cut down. My driver said he would wait for me so off I went for my whistle stop tour of the Newfoundland Caribou site. It is a distinctive monument situated on a rise that gives a good vantage point of the ground over which the Newfoundlanders had to advance. By a stroke of good fortune there was a party of college students over from Newfoundland being shown around and I was able to tune in to the running commentary that their well-versed guide gave on the events of that fateful day. Actually it was only when I got talking to him after he had finished that I realised where they were from. Then it was off down into the Trenches… Actually they are pretty sanitised affairs with functioning duckboards and sans dead bodies but at least it gives visitors a small idea of what was involved.

After that it was back to the taxi and return to Albert, which cost me €22.00. So €37.00 all in for the day’s outing and considering that I had allowed for €60.00 or thereabouts it was pretty good going. + the driver was a decent guy and we had a bit of a chat on the way out and back. He lived in Pozieres with his family IRRC.

Headed back to Amiens after that as the toll of the last few days had drained my energy more than I cared to admit – I had enjoyed the day but I was conscious that enjoyment declines the more tired you get and I didn’t want to bite off more than I could chew.

Tomorrow was another day.

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I'm with you every step. glad to hear your taxi was a decent price. GWGC opened thiepval on friday for the 300 cyclists on the Help for Hero's bike ride. Here's a photo of Thiepval. By the way, the nice lady at Ulster tower is Phoebie.




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Saturday 17 May 2008

By the time Saturday rolled around I had visited all the essential Sites I came here to see. However I did remember that on the bus journey to Amiens from TGV-HP we passed a place called Villers–Bretonneux and indeed the two Australian girls I had met outside the hotel on my first day had intended to cycle out to it.

As it happens the train to Laon runs through VB so as its only about 15 kilometres from Amiens I decided to head out that way and check out at least the Museum in the village. This museum is dedicated to the Australian Expeditionary Force that fought around here in the year 1918. Also if possible I would try to make it as far as the Australian National Memorial if it wasn’t too far out of town.

The ticket out was only €3.70 so I bought a one way and the journey only took about 15/20 minutes or so. I think I arrived during the lunch hour and as the museum was closed until 2 pm I headed off around VB. I’m afraid there is not a lot to see as the place strikes me as very much a dormitory town for Amiens – lots of houses but not a much commercial activity going on, even allowing for the fact it was a Saturday afternoon. Wandered into one of the few outlets open and overheard a couple of men with distinct Australian accents so I asked them if it was far to the Memorial. As it turned out they had just returned from walking to it and they informed me that you could see it from the end of the next street.

I decided to check this out but on the way through VB dark clouds were looming on the horizon that could only mean rain and the peals of thunder that soon followed meant that it was probably going to be a downpour. Lucky their was a Café/Bar across the road to where I was standing so in I nipped and sat down for a Coke and down it came. Lightning soon followed and it was the likes of a downpour you would only see in Ireland once every few years. However after about 20 minutes it tapered off, the sun came out and I set out once again. Sure enough at the end of the street there was visible an imposing white tower in the distance which could only be my destination. I set off but it still looked like being a bit of walk and my feet were just about OK but I was still in a bit of pain so I started hitching. After only about five minutes of walking/thumbing a car stopped driven by an old Moroccan gentleman from the city of Fez with his vehicle piled high with the weekly shopping. I squeezed in beside him between all the bags and off we went. A few minutes later I was at the Memorial and we said our goodbyes.

The memorial is indeed an impressive structure with a long grass way up to it. Alongside are rows of graves which include hundreds of men from Australia who died in the War and on the walls the names are inscribed of IIRC about 10,000 men who have no known resting place. Villers–Bretonneux was chosen for the memorial because it was here in late April 1918 that the Australians stopped the German advance towards the city of Amiens. The date for the recapture of VB was 24/25 April, which ties in with the original date for the landings on Gallipoli on 25 April 1915. Thus Australia Day is formally commemorated here on that day each year. I checked out a good few of the headstones for Irish names and sure enough there was a fair scattering of them. It would be an interesting case study to find out how many were originally from Ireland or the sons and grandsons of immigrants from home who left for Down Under and a better life – only to die on the Western Front just a few hundred miles from the Old Country.

The tower is open to the public and it’s a good climb up the stairs but the view from the top is magnificent. You can see for miles around across this almost flat rolling countryside. I would have thought this type of terrain was ideal for a steady advance but also wide open to gunfire on the advancing troops. Just to the south of Villers–Bretonneux the worlds first tank battle was fought and its easy to see why hereabouts would make an ideal setting for such an encounter. To the north is the river Somme (hidden from view) and beyond that Corbie. Thankfully the weather had completely cleared by this stage so it was possible to see quite a distance. Naturally there were a few Australians up there and an English couple too so we had a good chat. One man was called Egan and his next port of call was Ireland for a gathering of the Egans! On the way up to the tower we had all noticed that there were chips gouged out of the structure, which I ventured were caused by artillery or aircraft fire. Sure enough that was the cause as during WWII the tower was a useful observation point and was hit by German fire in IIRC the 1940 campaign.

I went on down after that and had another look along the rows of head stones slowly making my way back to the entrance.

TBH I was hoping to tag a lift off one of the visitors so I bided my time till the Englishman I had met came along. I engaged in some social conversation with him, which was interesting enough in its own way. He was there visiting with his wife but wouldn’t you know once I asked him how he was getting about his reply put a damper on my plans – he and his Mrs were touring France by motorbike! So it was back to square one…

Next target was a young lady on her own so this would require a bit of delicacy and charm. We got chatting and she was (quite naturally) somewhat reserved but she relaxed a bit after a few minutes so I asked if she was heading back to VB as I was on foot and hurting a bit I would be really grateful if she could me a lift so she agreed. It’s only a few minutes drive so all I can recall was her name Julia from Australia and she was touring by car around France. Anyway thanks Julia!

Once back in VB it was time to visit the Franco – Australian Museum, which is I think only open on Saturday afternoon so it was bit of luck that was the day I decided to head out to see it. Otherwise on request at the Mairie if you want to visit. There is a charge mind but its not much. It is quite small and compact but gives a comprehensive account of the actions the AEF was engaged in around here during the War. I think I spent about an hour to hour and a half here before heading back down to the train station. Its worth a visit anyway if your there.

It was now about four in the afternoon but as I made my way back down to the station those black clouds were gathering once again overhead followed by thunder and lightning. My luck held again as I noticed a Café/bar across the street and I hurried in there with seconds to spare before an almighty crash of rain hit the ground. Now this really was weather that we just are not used to at home! While we sometimes get rain as intense as this it only last maybe three to five minutes before it tapers off. This rain just kept on crashing down for a good 45 minutes flooding the street outside with rivulets flowing down the street about two feet wide and a good few inches deep. It was the most intense rain over such a long period I can recall seeing in many a year.

Eventually it cleared and I made my way down to VB station to purchase a ticket back to Amiens. However the station was now closed and the next train was in an hour and 40 minutes. Which indeed I knew in advance but I had reckoned on at least having somewhere to shelter in case there was another storm. There was nothing for it though but make my way across to the platform and the very tiny shelter there and wait it out. Lo and behold who did I meet but the two Australians I had encountered in the Cafe earlier. Frank and Stewart by name and father and son. So we chatted away on and off, walked up and down the platform, sheltered from the rain between the sunny breaks and slowly slowly the time passed until the train arrived pretty well on time @ 6.30 pm. After almost two hours waiting we were back in Amiens within 15/20 minutes! As they had nowhere to stay I brought them back to my hotel to see if they could book a room. I didn’t see them around after that so I reckoned they must have tried somewhere else more to their liking.

That however was not quite the end of the day’s activities as that Saturday all the museums were open for free until 1 in the morning so I decided to take advantage of that and visit Jules Verne’s house, which was not as interesting as I thought it would be but seeing as it was for free I could hardly complain. It basically shows the house as it was when he lived there in the late 19th Century and is very much a period piece. Within are displays outlining his creative life of novels and the Theatre and the part he played in the local community. After that I went on to the Museum of Picardy, which is quite good and had really more to see than I had the inclination to cover on a Saturday night after another day out and about. But if your ever in Amiens its worth a look.

One thing I did notice on the way to these places which were maybe a 10 minute walk from where I was staying was a number of gangs of youths some of them quite boisterous gathering outside the Jules Verne Theatre. It was my only time in France when I felt somewhat wary for my personal safety, even more so when I saw local people stop crossing over to their side of the road until they passed by. Maybe it was just Saturday night high jinks by the lads out on the town but I was glad when they were gone.

So after all that a drink, a meal and then bed.

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I for one have really enjoyed reading of your exploits, thank you for a very entertaining thread. One question for you. Will you do it again?

When you do return (as you surely must) please post your adventures on the forum. Hope the feet are improving.

Kind Regards


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Hopefully I will return but I don't know about doing it by Shanks Mare the next time out.

Next year I intend to visit Verdun if possible.

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Sunday 18 May 2008

This was the quietest day I spent in France. Got up late, had breakfast and went out for a walk. As I hadn’t so far visited the interior of Amiens Cathedral I decided to avail of the opportunity to do so now. It certainly is a big tourist attraction for the city and even on a cold and overcast Sunday morning there were decent sized groups outside taking it all in. It is the largest cathedral in France and the tallest Gothic church. *

Anyway after strolling around and taking it all in I noticed people were gathering for Mass in the central enclosed section so I went in and took my place. I did notice that the officiating Priest was a Black man and the congregation was mostly made up of older people with some children. There was certainly a dearth of people between the ages of 18-35 in attendance. The Mass of course these days is celebrated in French, which I could at least partially follow. However it says something for the days when the Latin Mass was universal that you could go to any Country in the World and hear it in the same language that you could back home. Interesting and moving experience nonetheless especially the shaking of hands and greetings with the other celebrants which is now part of the service. After it was over the local infants due to be baptised are brought to the front of alter and each family introduces themselves. Even though this is held after the mass goers have left and the railings are pulled across it was possible to peep in and see what was going on. Seeing as there has been a Church on this site since at least the 9th Century and the Cathedral dates from the 1200’s it was worthwhile to participate in a religious service and witness another one here that has such a long tradition at the same location behind it.

After that it was my back to my hotel room and boredom. I went out at lunchtime and bought a McDonalds. I tried out my French on the member of staff who was serving me but every time I said something in French he answered in English so I gave up! It was tasty enough and relatively cheap so I took that back to my room and that really was it for the rest of the day. Spent the rest of my time watching TV, going for walks and chilling out. I got an English language book from Reception by Stephen King but it was dull stuff so I gave up after a few pages. At least on my walks I did take in the remains of the Citadel of Amiens. Unfortunately it was not open to the public, but it does have a more or less intact set of outer walls that are not in too bad a state. One does notice that a lot of Amiens has though a somewhat ‘run down’ appearance, especially around here. While I didn’t see any poverty it looks like a City that is just about ticking over rather than going places.

After doing the rounds back to room again and later beer, meal and bed – note next time bring a decent book to while away a dog day afternoon!

* http://www.sacred-destinations.com/france/...s-cathedral.htm

Monday 19 May 2008

After the fiasco of yesterday afternoon I was determined to motivate myself today to get out of Amiens and go well somewhere of historical interest. I noticed from the map I had bought of the fortresses of France that that the City of Arras lay to the north and checking my train map the track of the line ran that way so that’s where I decided to head to.

IIRC the price of the return ticket was some €21.00 so it wasn’t too bad a price for the days outing. I got the 12.00 train out Amiens and we pulled into Arras just short of 1 pm. I knew that Arras was the scene of heavy fighting around here in the First World War but I didn’t expect to get to see anything to do with that whilst I was in the City. I was more interested in checking out the Citadel of Arras, as there is a connection to the Irish General Owen Roe O’Neill who defended it for two months on behalf of the King of Spain against the superior forces of Louis XIII in the year 1640. Once out of the station I headed up the town to find the Tourist Office. This is situated in a fine old building, which IIRC is the Hotel de Ville but I may be wrong about that. Anyway I asked the girl behind the desk for some info on what there was to see around here and she did mention the Citadel so once having got the directions off I set.

It’s a bit of a walk and uphill too but it probably felt longer than it was because I had never been that way before and even yesterdays rest hadn’t been enough for my feet to recover. I was surprised to see on arrival before the walls that the fortress is still in use as a military base and occupied by the 601st ‘Circulation’ Regiment which organises the logistical tail for the combat troops. Must say the soldiers looked smart and professional even when off duty as they made their way to and fro from the gates.

Above the entrance is inscribed into the brickwork the single word ‘Turenne’ who was France’s greatest General before Napoleon himself. The fortress was built under the direction of Vauban himself in the 1660’s to help block any Spanish attempts to retake Arras. There is a great big moat in front of the bridge, one half at least which is still full of water and along which the ducks glide placidly. I had no camera film left by this stage so it was case of taking as much in with the eye for future reference. I walked around the back of the fortress (where I don’t think I was supposed to be) and there were plenty of off limits signs but at least I got to see the apex of one of the ‘stars’ of this structure and which was a hallmark of Vauban’s work.

I couldn’t help noticing a large white structure right beside the Citadel and being a curious fellow I wandered over to check it out. It was in fact a rather large WWI Cemetery called the Faubourg D’Amiens Cemetery. It contains 2,650 Commonwealth burials of the First World War. The Memorial there commemorates almost 35,000 servicemen who died around Arras between 1916 and 1918. Their names are inscribed on the walls of the cemetery and there are even a few graves of German soldiers in there too. Must say it is very well kept and a tranquil place especially given its setting. I noticed that as at other cemeteries I had visited there were quite a few Irish names on the graves and the walls.

Well enough of musing, I only had an afternoon here so it was on to the next stop which was going to be the Carriere Wellington or Wellington Quarry. I had never even heard of this until handed a leaflet by the girl in the Tourist Office and at first I thought it had something to do with the Duke of Wellington. In fact it’s Wellington New Zealand it refers to. During WWI the New Zealand Tunnelers linked up the subterranean passageways beneath the city that had been dug back in the Middle Ages. The Kiwis extended and expanded the tunnels so much so that the British High Command was able to use them as a place to hide troops undercover of discovery and then to feed them into the battle of Arras in April 1917 which was raging just a couple of kilometres away.

I decided to walk back to near my start point at the station and then to work my way back up to where the entrance to the quarries were. This probably entailed another 40 minutes walking but it was easy enough to find. You go down a passageway into it and once there get a ticket and wait for the next tour to begin. That’s the plan anyway but I was tuck for time as the train I was booked to return on was at 5.40 pm and it was now coming up to four o’clock. As the tour takes about an hour all in that did not give me a huge amount of time. So when the guide emerged from below I asked her would she mind if we went ahead straight away and she agreed even though I was the only one waiting.

You go down by lift to where the tunnels are and the Guide hands you one of those talking guides you tune into before setting off. It’s pretty dark down there and quite cold so bring something to cover up in if you do take the tour. My guide, Virginie, took us around by aid of flash lamp along duckboards. Every so often you stop and she activates a panel on the walls that tells the story of the tunnels and aspects of the effect of the War upon Arras and of course the bloody fighting around here in April 1917. You listen to the commentary on your headset but I didn’t really take that much in being pretty tired by this stage and I reckon I knew the general gist of the story anyway. Virginie also intersperses the tour with some observations of here own so it’s by no means an impersonal experience. When it’s over your taken back upstairs and there is short film to watch on the battle of Arras, which was better than I expected. An interesting experience and something about WWI which a few short hours before I never even knew existed. By this stage however it was almost five and I still had to get back down town and catch that train!

Even allowing stopping to get a camera in a supermarket to take a picture of the entrance to the quarries I made it back to the station faster than I expected (its downhill maybe that helped) so I still had maybe 30 minutes to make use of.

Outside the station there is an imposing monument to the French soldiers from around here that fell in the Great War so I took a few photos of that. I headed back up to the Tourist Office again just to see if the house still existed of the local celebrity Monsieur Robspierre who cut a name for himself in Paris during the Revolution. Sure enough it was close by but it’s a bit of a warren around here trying to track it down and tine was rapidly running out. With about 60 seconds left before I absolutely had to retrace my steps I found it thanks to a local kid guiding me to it. Got that photo and power marched it back to the station with minutes to spare. Actually in my haste I ended up on the wrong platform but caught on just in time and ended up on the right one just in time.

After that it was back to Amiens, a couple of beers, a meal and bed and hopefully a good nights sleep as the next day I began my journey back home.

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Hang on Karl - my feet are killing me.

(great stuff)


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After reading all of your exploits Karl, I need to it down, rest my feet and have a beer.

Great read!!


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