Riding The Western Front: Day 6 – Saturday 30th June
I woke at the sound of the alarm at 5.30 and proceeded to load up the Lambretta and leave as soon as possible. Today I was heading to Verdun, it was only around 130 miles but with the temperatures constantly rising, I felt it better to be away early and try to spend some more time in Verdun. I was having problems with the GoPro yesterday, so today I just packed it away. One less thing to worry about.
I set off with the sun low in the sky and the air fresh. It felt good not to be stifled by the heat. My fuel was low and so I knew I didn’t have many miles I could ride, but a petrol station was en route anyway. So first was Sissonne British Military Cemetery holding 291 graves, beside a big German cemetery that holds 14,694.
A few photos and I was off to find a petrol station, I had ridden past an old closed down station with a couple of old pumps in the village of Sissonne. It showed up on the Sat Nav, but it looked closed down. I road in to see if there was anyone about who could direct me to a petrol station. I pulled up at the closed down station to find it was open.
I pulled up on the broken concrete forecourt and went inside the dusty showroom that held a dusty old Fiat car on display. An elderly and a rather grumpy Frenchman shooed me away to the pumps to put my petrol in first. I assume it was still too early for him to converse politely. Either way, I was happy to have a full tank and after paying, I headed southwards to Verdun, but not without being given the run around by my Sat Nav trying to get me to turn down roads that were overgrown and out of use. A short while later I was on the road to La Ville-aux-Bois British Cemetery. The cemetery was captured by the French in April 1917 and now holds 564 Commonwealth graves.
I left to carry on my journey. Shortly after I was to encounter a huge French military cemetery on the side of the road. I was compelled to stop. It holds 14,419 graves. This was the first time of many that I had seen large French military cemeteries on the roadside.
I then approached Reims and was distracted by roadworks switching sides of the carriageway and within the blink of an eye, I was staring at a row of stationary traffic. I was sure I was going into the back of the car at the back and I had nowhere to go to avoid it. I slammed the brakes and stopped within a foot of the car. A huge sigh of relief. I headed on and cut across some beautiful countryside on my way to Vauquois. The next garage to stop at didn’t exist. My fuel supply then went to reserve and there was no garage nearby. I rode as steadily as possible trying to be gentle on the throttle. These roads were hilly and in these temperatures, there was no chance of being able to push the scooter if I was to run out of petrol. Then a garage appeared on the Sat Nav, onwards I went until I rolled into the garage. I did 19 miles on reserve. The most I’d done yet. That was good to know and I noted this for future reference
Carrying on to my next stop, Vauquois. Hot again and riding through a small village where the road service was trying to fix melting roads. This I encountered more of for the next few days. The roads were melting under the high temperatures.
I arrived at Vauquois around midday. A beautiful area with no visible clues to what lies behind the trees. I drove up a hill and arrived in a small car park on a hill. This was the Butte De Vauquois where for four years the French and Germans blew over 500 mines, trying to blow each other off the face of the earth. It was hard to believe so much misery and suffering went on in such a small place. There are 17 Kilometres of tunnels underneath the small hill which are open for tours. These weren’t available when I was there, so after a walk around the site I got back on my Lambretta and headed on to Verdun. Below is an aerial view of The Butte De Vauquois.
The 20 or so miles to Verdun was superb. With the knowledge of being close and riding through the beautiful countryside, I was in a good mood!
I arrived in Verdun and took a wrong turn on two small roundabouts beside each other. I did a U-turn to the sound of screeching brakes. I looked left instead of right and a small white van nearly smashed into me. The French driver wasn’t happy and all the apologies in the world weren’t going to please him. After making sure I wasn’t going to get hit again, I took the correct turn and ended up at the Hotel.
Time to check in and unload the Lambretta. This was the first time I was checking into an F1 Hotel. My others as previously stated were the Premiere Classe company. This is when I wish I took a higher alternative rather than a lesser alternative. The showers and toilets were communal, although it was clean and tidy.
After a debate with myself, I decided that Battlefield touring was done for the day and as It was early, I would walk into town and relax. So now showered and changed, I walked off 1.5 miles into town.
Verdun is a small, picturesque City. It wasn’t overly busy around the shops. Partly because the Football was on. France V Argentina. I decided to take a seat at one of the riverside bars with all the locals who had turned out to watch the match. The atmosphere was great and after France won the match, the locals took to the streets on foot and in cars waving French flags and tooting their horns.
A few beers later I was getting hungry and decided it was time to head back. That night the heat was almost unbearable. I was almost tempted to sleep on the grass outside.
Total miles covered: 807
Thoughts for the day: Top up the night before & Concentrate!
Riding The Western Front: Day Seven – Sunday 1st July
The morning came and I was up early, I loaded up the Lambretta and rode the seven miles to Fort Douaumont & The Ossuary and Cemetery. Again, great roads and scenery.
After having an argument with my GoPro yesterday and not using it we were friends again today and it was back in use, but only until it started playing up again.
I rode up through the woods and as I approached the junction, the huge Ossuary with it’s cemetery sweeping before it. The Ossuary is a massive monument to the fallen from the Battle of Verdun. It also holds the bones from 130,000 soldiers killed in the battle. The battle of Verdun lasted 300 days and was the longest battle of World War One. The uniqueness of this battle was to “bleed France white” The Germans wanted to pulverise Verdun. The true cost in lives lost isn’t known but estimates are French losses over 360,000 and the German losses nearly 340,000.
Two French Soldiers at Verdun wrote;
“You eat beside the dead; you drink beside the dead, you relieve yourself beside the dead and you sleep beside the dead.”“People will read that the front line was Hell. How can people begin to know what that one word – Hell – means.”
Verdun is also linked to The Battle of The Somme, which was partly launched to ease the pressure on Verdun. It worked as German soldiers were redirected to the Somme.
There’s a lot of information on Verdun in books, and the internet. Here’s a couple of links.
I was here nearly three hours and felt It was time to head on to my hotel at Epinal. I rode back into Verdun to a petrol station to fill up. I then popped across the road to a Hypermarche to grab a bit of lunch and some water. I had forgotten that the French closed early lunchtime on Sundays and nearly everywhere is closed.
So onwards south to Epinal. As usual the weather was clear skies and very hot. The roads continued to melt and I continued to have electrical problems. Before I left the hotel this morning the speedo odometer had reset to zero. It was a nuisance but I as I was keeping notes on my mileage I didn’t panic. It didn’t reset for the rest of the journey.
Next stop was Saint Mihiel American Cemetery. It contained the graves of over four thousand American soldiers killed in The Great War.
Carrying on to Epinal, I was going to arrive later in the day as I had spent time at Verdun this morning. This meant hotter temperatures. I rode into a lovely town called Toul. This was great…until the road I was supposed to take was closed due to roadworks. I tried an alternative route, but panicked when it took me northwards on a motorway. So back I went to where I started. I tried again, a different route, but it just took me in a circle. Just when I thought the Sat Nav was going to be launched into the nearby river Moselle it directed me south to Epinal.
One more petrol stop where I met two British bikers heading the other way. The introduced me to the “I can’t be bothered to get off my bike to fill up with petrol” method of refuelling. It’s true, they both pulled up to a pump each, gave me a nod, proceeded to pay and fill up and off they went.
I arrived in Epinal safe and sound, but bloody hot. After checking in, I went to the shop for food and a couple of bottles of beer and put my feet up for the night.
Tomorrow was the day I was to get to Pfetterhouse, the end of The Western Front.
Total miles covered: 946
Thought for the day: Trust the Sat Nav!