Stage Three: Péronne to Laon

…in which we fall off. Twice!

Time: 4hr49m
Distance: 84.76
Average speed: 17.6kph
Distance from Calais: 267.14

Péronne is lovely: a handsome town square beside the river Somme, rebuilt after major damage in th Great War. We had a small meal, no room for any more after the enormous luck we ate!

The following morning at 9.30 we were picked up by Diane from Les Allouttes, the organisers of our tour of the Somme battlefields. She turned out to be an excellent and knowledgeable guide.

The tour, inevitably, was a sobering experience. In bright sunshine and temperatures approaching 35 degrees Celsius we visited several locations in the Somme. There were cemeteries everywhere: the Commonwealth ones incredibly well maintained, with row upon row of pristine white tombstones, each surrounded by flowers. In contrast, at the German cemetery at Fricourt, only 500 or so crosses recorded the resting place of over 17,000 fallen soldiers. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the French did not want the German cemeteries to occupy much land.

We visited the huge memorial at Thiepval, and sought the plaque commemorating the loss of our neighbour Diana’s grandfather. It was there: Alfred Fuller de Horsey, killed on the 1st July 1916 – the very first day of the first battle of the Somme. It was surrounded by uncountable others.

One of the most remarkable features was the small distance between opposing trenches particularly near Hawthorn Ridge, site of the Newfoundland memorial, where the fields were pock-marked with shell holes and intersected by zig-zag trenches.

It would be easy to write much more, but it isn’t the main subject of this blog! It was a memorable and moving experience. We returned to our hotel in Péronne, discussed it all over a large cold beer, then had a final “Picardie-style” meal before retiring to bed.

We had checked the weather forecast for Rheims on the BBC website. Sunny, with a strong westerly wind, it said, to our delight – a tailwind all day! So it was something of a surprise to be greeted by cloudy skies, rain and a strong easterly wind when we set off this morning. Or perhaps it wasn’t!

We missed the first opportunity to join the towpath of the Canal du Nord, cycling on through small villages under cloudy skies. After a few slow miles into the headwind we spotted an opportunity to join the towpath, ,which was gravelly but wide, and offered some limited shelter from the wind. We overtook a huge commercial barge heading toward the next lock, then stopped to put on rainwear as the rain grew in intensity. After a few kilometres the canal split into two, and we followed the towpath of the (closed) Canal du Somme.