Arras - Easter by Paul Coan
Following last year's failed attempt to find bike-friendly lodgings in the centre of Arras, Mike, Mo, Roger and I booked rooms at the Hotel Campanile in the St. Nicholas area, a fifteen minute walk northwest of the town centre where our bikes could happily be stored in our rooms. This followed a late afternoon Dover Calais crossing and a 100 km drive Thursday evening. Owing to the hotel's location we decided not to bother dining in town especially considering the buffet meals and reasonable cost.
Our objective last year was to visit the local First World War memorials which we were then unable to do, so on Friday morning off we headed toward the local Vimy memorial which, owing to renovation work since its construction in 1936, was closed off, but the nearby visitor centre was open, detailing much of the fighting resulting in the deaths of 11,000 mainly Canadian soldiers. The bomb craters and trenches remain featuring the respective front lines often mere yards apart.
Following the compulsory hot chocolate stop, we returned to Arras for some lunch after which Mike and Mo returned to base while Roger and I enjoyed a slightly damp circuit out to the east (peppered with many small war cemeteries) to avoid crossing the town for our return just in time to see some of the Commonwealth Games track cycling in Melbourne.
Saturday, and our objective was the Thiepval memorial south of Arras which commemorates the 72,000 UK and South African soldiers who died in the local fighting in this area of the Somme. Our approach featured one of the few climbs of the area, at the summit of which was a church with a special memorial, sited in the grounds, for the soldiers of Ulster. The Memorial engraved with the names of the known fallen and missing was naturally enough erected on a local vantage point with an excellent modern visitor centre where most of the visitors were British, many searching for their fallen family members. On our return to the hotel we still had time to catch up on track cycling at the Commonwealth Games.
Mike had noticed a boot fair taking place on Sunday at Henin Beauniont, some 20 miles north west. We chose a route to include Arras' own Lutyens designed cemetery and memorial to commemorate the 35,000 UK and Commonwealth soldiers who died in the local fighting. Of special note among the engraved names and battalions was a mention of certain cycling battalions. Following an internet search, it seems these battalions originated in the late 1800's and were a latter day Territorial Army, whose purpose was to patrol the British coastline on bicycle.
After an uninspiring ride through the environs of Arras, some of which appeared run down presumably as a result of the decline in the coal industry suggested by the nearby slag heaps, we awarded the contract for the day's hot chocolate to a bar in the town run by an Englishman and his French wife. He had travelled fairly extensively and following a visit to France 20 years before had quite happily settled there. However, no one in the bar, nor his contacts in town, knew of any boot fair that day so off we headed, by a hopefully more scenic return route, only to stumble on the aforementioned event supported by crowds of people engaged on that bizarre paradox of selling items which cannot be given away. We returned in time to see the final half hour of the one day classic Amstel Gold race.
Sunday morning was free so a decision grand was taken to walk into the town centre to visit the town hall and climb to the belfry - well use the lift actually. The final ascent out to the Belfry itself with the excellent views of the surrounding area would keep a Health and Safety Officer here in work for eternity. Last on the agenda was a guided visit to the disused chalk workings below the town square. These excavations were initiated by the Romans when chalk was a building material, and through the centuries have been used for cold storage, protection during sieges and more recently as accommodation for troops in the First World War.
So now it was time to return home and reflect on an excellent four days away, enjoying slightly cold weather riding on empty roads, by any standards in easy cycling terrain, even if the mainly flat agricultural countryside seemed rather featureless at times.
Easter Trip to The Channel Islands by Gordon Winrow
David Hoben planned one of his special Bank Holiday weekends in the Channel Islands. Participating were David, El Presidente, Marilyn Butler, Linda and Stephen Daniel, Marian Jones and my goodself.
An early start on Good Friday from East Croydon station plenty of time in advance in order to catch the only ferry from Poole to Jersey! However, Keith Wawman almost missed the connection at East Croydon, as his train was running late allegedly an unusual occurrence. Transfer to the South Western train platform at Clapham Junction, which filled me with dread, as there were six cyclists on the platform (including us four) and the train in theory was only equipped for five bikes. Due to the amazing helpfulness of the guard (himself a cyclist) somewhere in the region of fifteen bikes got aboard the train. We stopped at all stations to Poole with Keith and myself decanting our bikes in order to allow the other bikes to get off at intermediate stations.
For those who have travelled from Poole Harbour for the channel ferry, you may have found what should have been a simple journey became extremely complex. However, the Condor ferry staff were most helpful (in both directions) in boarding us by now seven cyclists (Linda, Stephen and David met us at Poole Harbour), ahead of the car contingency. The catamaran passed by the Dorset coast and stopped off at the beautiful St Peter's Port in Guernsey, before arriving at St Helier, Jersey. A reasonably short trip with our bikes ours being heavily laden with the exception of Keith and Marilyn, who always manage to be immaculately turned out every evening, despite taking minimum luggage.
Our hotel, the Ambassadors, St Clements, turned out to be a good choice by David, inexpensive but with very good breakfast and a full evening meal. Friday evening before dinner, a quick early evening ride over to Gorey on the eastern side of the island, and returning back by the coast road, via the Royal Bay of Grouville.
On Saturday, despite inclement weather, we cycled west through St Helier, literally through a short road tunnel and quickly out of the other side of St Helier and along St Aubins Bay on a cycle track on the esplanade. This route was part of the original Jersey western railway. The route turned north west off the coast, then out west through some very lush forests, parallel to the States Airport, which we could hear but not see, as it was just on the plateau above us. The route finished up at the old railway station of La Corbiere with the Corbiere lighthouse sitting on the rocks on the western extremity of the island. From there we dropped down, via Le Petit Port, onto St Ouens Bay where the weather was beginning to deteriorate, and we stopped for elevenses and moved on to the Channel Islands military museum on Five Mile Road, St. Ouen. The museum is housed in a second world war German bunker. In fact, this is one of a number of bunkers and government emplacements along this coastline, and is typical of some of the military fortifications around the Island, built during the Nazi Occupation.
Lunch at the Woollen Mill situated in the Chateau Complex at Five Mile Road progress being very slow because of the weather. After lunch, we followed east and further into the St. Ouen district along many of the "B" roads and "green lanes", which are single track lanes very suitable for cycling, but not for a wide tractor. We then headed further east through the parishes of St Mary, St Jean, St John (lots of names being French rather than English), St John's Trinity, St Martin, turned south east and then dropped down to the coast at Gorey harbour. Most of the island inland is quite countrified with lots of small farms and, at this time of year, fields of hundreds of daffodils being grown for export. We returned along the coast road against a very strong head wind back to the hotel. I believe Keith took a short cut back to the hotel to avoid the weather.
On Sunday the rain had stopped and we went back to St. Aubins Bay, turning inland on the road to Le Chemin des Moulins, and up through a very scenic waterworks valley, turning northwest towards the coast and a sharp descent into the bay of Greve de Lecq. After elevenses, with the exception of Linda and Stephen who cycled it, we all walked up a very steep incline to the Greve de Lecq barracks. We followed the blue (cycling) route, keeping as near to the north coast as possible, before dropping down to the Bonne Nuit bay, to see spectacular views but with a long climb out the other side. Beautiful scenery all the way past Bouley bay with time permitting this would have been worth a visit, although it has a steep decline down to the beach. However, we went on the coastal route to Rozel Bay and had lunch at the Hungry Man cafe a good value eatery on the harbour jetty.
We then went off to Mont Orgueil castle in Gorey Bay. This is one of the best preserved castles in Britain and the exhibition, which now runs throughout the site, will help anyone to understand its history, the medieval world in which it was built, and its significance to Jersey over the past 800 years. Certainly one of the best value visits I have seen at around £6 per head. On the way back from the castle we called in on La Roeque Point harbour jetty, the end of which is the nearest point of land to France (approximately 9 miles). The tide was well out revealing a lunar landscape of submerged rocks, partly submerged when the 30ft tide comes in!
The last morning was enjoyed in splendid sunshine with coffee at the St. Aubins cafe before returning to the Condor catamaran. Many thanks to David for his skill in reading from the free map of Jersey which we were given on arrival, without the aid of a magnifying glass! Once again, one of David's (Thomas Cook) very successful and enjoyable weekends.
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