French Ramblings

France – again and again a wonderful destination for holidays and sightseeing. Last year it was Paris in the rain, or so it seemed. This year we wanted to visit our friends in Normandy again. We were looking forward to short quiet holidays, but the first thing was that I fell ill the day before we wanted to set out. Nothing serious, but there was no way I could travel.

My family then decided to give me the opportunity to try out our recently acquired Volvo 940 Turbo, and left for France in our old 740 which we still had. After I had recovered, I raced after them to save as much French time as possible.

This is what I raced after them in:

X940rear X940fullIf you want more info and visual impressions, watch this:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NEB0ppM_PZ8

Funny thing to say on a bike blog, but this car is fun with a capital F. It cuts hours off the traveling time from here to Normandy, and with its LPG installation, fuel cost per 100 km is about 6 Euros at the moment.

Anyway, not feeling completely healthy again, and what with the time saved by using the 940, I was able to have another good look round the Nécropole Nationale de Notre Dame de Lorette. Having been several times, but only fleetingly, I took the chance and combined a long lunch break with a stroll round the newly (2014) built Anneau de la Mémoire which is a ring with a perimetre of 345 m, containing the names of all those soldiers of WWI who died in the area:

XNdlRingExplThe ring is hugely impressive and, to my mind, very much worth a visit.

XNdlViewdown

Looking down at Ablain-St-Nazaire

XNdlRingSlitView XNDLRinginner XNDLRingfullIt is situated right next to the Chapelle and the Tour-lanterne which, together with about 45.000 crosses, make the Nécropole Nationale.

XNdlBasilXNDLLighthfullThese buildings also are extremely impressive and were erected during the 1920s. Contrary to the many British cemetaries in the area, which have a distinct military feel about them, the Nécropole Nationale reminds visitors again and again how horrible and wasteful WWI had been. It says for instance that the Chapelle was built on “the tears of the French women”, and this plaque, taken from the interior of the Chapelle and now on exposition in the museum part of the Tour-lanterne, speaks by itself:

XNdlPlaque

We offered up our lives for the peace of the world, but we died for the cannon dealers

XNDLpoppywreathMany people, especially from the UK, still keep the memory of WWI alive – contrary to the Germans, who by now have all but forgotten it.

I had planned to visit poet Isaac Rosenberg´s grave at St Laurent Blangy, which is just around the corner, so I also looked up his name on the Anneau:

XNdlRodenbergSo, after one last look over the huge Nécropole I left and made for Rosenberg´s grave, fully expecting to find a lost headstone somewhere on one of the hundreds of British cemetaries on the Somme. But this is what I really discovered:

XRosenberggraveFlowers, though whithered, his portrait, many small stones on the headstone in the Jewish tradition. Amazing.

I had planned to carry on straight to Normandy from there, but the road between Bapaume and Albert had been blocked and I had to go on a detour. It was July 23, and the big Australian memorial service for which safety precautions had been taken was under way, this year of course being the 100th since the beginning of the Battle of the Somme. The detour led me to Ulster Tower. I was glad I had a pretext to go because the octagenarian gentleman and his family, who tend to the tower during summertime, always are great to talk to – he is one of the few people who have owned a classic 1950s Ellis-Briggs bike since new, or nearly. I was eager to find out about the bike´s restauration progress, but the usually so forsaken Ulster Tower was in the middle of… Well, see for yourself, or you probably won´t believe it:

XUlstcoaches

Something was afoot – coaches from Scotland – ?

XUlstparade

Covering the short distance between the Thiepval Memorial to the Missing and Ulster Tower, c/w pipe band and all

XUlstVAD

Everyone in recreated historic uniforms, even the VAD nurses

XUlstafterparade XUlstparadeBand XUlstfull

After the parade, a picnic was held on the lawn, and I was able to talk to participants about a part of British folklore I until then had been completely unaware of.

Having also found Roland Leighton´s name on the Anneau at Notre Dame de Lorette,

XNdlLeighton

I decided to re-visit his grave too. It is found in Louvencourt, only a short distance from my route.

XGraveLeighton XGraveLeicrossesAgain, this year with its anniversary seemd to have made a difference, and even more flowers and crosses than usual could be found, even a large bunch of violets.

Leighton was Vera Brittain´s fiancé – “VMB” and “RAL” on the centre poppy are their initials. Brittain, one of the most ardent British pacifists of the inter-war years and author of many touching poems as well as “Testament of Youth” and many other books, had been sent a poem on violets by Leighton from the trenches. It´s called “Villanelle” (although, strictly speaking, it isn´t one), and starts with the verses

“Violets from Plug Street Wood,
Sweet, I send you oversea.”

It continues describing how the speaker finds the violets next to a dead soldier “Where his mangled body lay” and that he thinks it strange that the flowers were “Blue, when his soaked blood was red”. (Plug Street Wood was a nickname British soldiers had given to a part of the front.)

After Leighton´s death in December 1915, the day he was due for home leave, Brittain, having earlier joined the VAD, became a nurse in frontline hospitals in France, nursing, among others, German prisoners with the most horrible wounds. Utterly exhausted, burnt out as we would say, at the end of the war, she returned to Oxford and started a distinguished journalistic carreer. Her “Testament of Youth”, in which she depicts her early life, is quite incomparable. She writes, among other issues, about losing her brother, her fiancé, and two close friends. A first edition of “Testament” and a tiny brochure dating from 1920 containing first impressions of some of her poems are among my most cherished possessions.

But on to some more cheerful topics.

One more railway track turned cycle path, for instance. This one goes from Gisors to Giverny, and is most delightful:

XVoieferHomDam XVoieferrÜberg XVoieferrSchild XVoieferrBoiteLire

And one more little detail. About six weeks ago an acquaintance who does house clearances sold me this bike

trekfullview

Trek 2300, fitted with Ultegra 6500 3 x 9 and pretty new Bontrager wheels

rather cheaply. There was a lot of work as the former owner had had rather strange ideas of what one needs on a road bike, and he also must have been quite hamfisted, but never having ridden an alloy /carbon fibre frame / fork combo before, I thought I´d give it a try. It came in very handy when I didn´t have much energy for packing my car before leaving for France – wheels out, and bingo.

Once in France, I used it on several occasions and was impressed by its quickness. I zoomed along some backroads to destinations my wife had left for by car, coming across two or three really interesting spots in the area south west of Beauvais.

Here´s a really nice village which seems to be untouched by modern times.

XFlFbikepanneauXFlFfullI love those age-old signs.

In a neighbouring village, the old roadsign erected by Michelin in the late thirties had been lovingly transplanted on the lawn next to the Mairie.

XBezMich XBezfull XBezdateThis sign, in a town in the vicinity, consisting of glazed earthenware, must have been in situ for more than 60 years:

XZweitesSchildDate XZweitesSchfullLastly a wonderful view, bought with surprisingly little climbing:

XBeauvoirviewHopefully I´ll be back in Normandy in the not too distant future.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s