Well the planning is now well underway and I suggested in my last blog the route is already shifting and I think it will still be a while before it’s set in stone, but that’s half the fun of the planning and now it seems that Moor to War is being extended a little bit more!
The good news is that yesterday the Eurostar was booked, together with a hotel in London for the night before. I must admit this was one of the big worries – Where on earth can you stay in London when you have bikes with you?
It turned out that the answer was quite simple & good old Premier Inns accept bikes in all their hotels (either in the room or secure storage) and they just happen to have a hotel a stone’s throw away from St Pancras Station. So a big concern was put to bed & the hotel booked so at least the boys will have a decent night’s sleep before an early start to catch the 8am Eurostar to Lille.
What we hadn’t realised was that they wouldn’t need to worry about the bikes at all, when this evening we finally managed to speak to ‘EuroDespatch’ to arrange for the bikes to be booked as luggage onto the train. We had been calling all afternoon and every time we called we were cut off after about 2 mins (due to volume of calls), which was incredibly frustrating to say the least. Tonight though we got through to a very helpful chap, Lewis, who explained that they are responsible for loading & unloading the trains as well as taking the bookings (which explained a lot!)- once we spoke to him the booking process was easy & it appears that the boys can drop their bikes off when they arrive in London & simply pick them up from Lille when they arrive – in fact you can drop your bikes off up to 14 days before your travel date! So at least now they won’t have to share their hotel room with their bikes & they’ll be able to enjoy an afternoon in London too.
The aim of the bike ride has always been to visit the WW1 battlefields in Eastern France and Belgium and so many hours have been spent online looking at what sites would be good to visit & to try to take in some of the best museums across the area. The Imperial War Museum Twitter Feed ( @I_W_M ) & Dan Snow’s PodCasts ( @thehistoryguy )have also provided additional information that will certainly bring the route and the experience to life.
The boys felt it would be best to start with the places they really wanted to visit and then let the route develop from that and that is starting to happen now. Tom’s currently reading Harry’s War – the WW1 diary of Harry Drinkwater, describing what happened during his time in the Army & especially his experiences in the Trenches – and already new places are being mentioned as a result of what he has read & researched.
This morning, at breakfast, he started talking about the Fort Vaux at Verdun and the incredible bombardment it had been subjected to in the efforts of the Germans to capture it from the French Garrison based there. A quick look at the maps and the site was underlined as a place to be visited if possible en route down.
Another site that has been underlined now is the Chemin Des Dames near Reims, a strategically important ridge of land & the scene of fierce fighting & huge loss of life in a battle there in mid April 1917. Here there is also an underground tunnel system, which had been used by both the French and German armies as Command Posts & Field Hospitals, but which are now open as a museum http://www.caverne-du-dragon.com/fr/default.aspx
There is also the massive crater at Lochnagar, 100m wide and 30m deep, caused by the explosion of 60,000lb of explosives on the first day of the Battle of the Somme in July 1916 http://www.lochnagarcrater.org/ Again this has been underlined on the map, with the hope that a route can be found that will take the boys past it.
Lochnagar, as Tom pointed out is also close to Peronne and Cambrai where the Stormtroopers were first used in the Kaiserschlacht Campaign and so it is looking as if the route will also pass through here.
What is evident from the planning is just how much Tom has learnt about WW1 and the different battles that took place, together with some fascinating facts that have started to make the whole process so much more interesting.
So the route through the battlefields is starting to come together, but they’ve started to think about where to go from there. Last time the thought was that they would head up to the area where The Battle of The Bulge took place, but now they are starting to think they may simply continue on towards Strasbourg & then in towards The Alps, enjoying some incredible cycling through some spectacular scenery.
A few years ago Andy read the book ‘Crossing Europe on a Bike called Reggie’ written by Andrew Sykes, which recounts a journey from the UK to Italy, taking in the route through The Alps. It was actually this book that originally sparked the idea for last year’s Moor to Med ride, but the call of The Alps, after his descriptions of the ride through them, is now quite strong too. This is just reinforced by the spectacular images on the webpages for the EuroVelo 17 route http://www.eurovelo.com/en/eurovelos/eurovelo-17 – so the maps have now been bought that cover this area and a route through is starting to take shape!
So the floor & table are now covered with maps and the highlighters are out to start marking the route and at the moment I can honestly say I have no idea where or when they will finish.
In the meantime though Tom continues to work towards his GCSEs & it’s fair to say that at least the WW1 aspect of History is being well-covered!