13th-15th June 2008

La Garde recule! (but we didn’t)

Sunday 18th June 1815 was wet, cold and miserable. Thursday 12th June 2008, the day of ‘Hogs Legs 3 was equally wet, cold and miserable. Dave Mollison and the ever-enthusiastic road crew of Meridian H.O.G. have my sympathy for the atrocious weather conditions that greeted us - as ‘last man’ it was my role to sit at the back and marvel at the sheer quantity of water which landed on us. For a full report of the event, see the Meridian chapter web-site.

Still, at tea-time on 12th June the Waterloo trip commenced. The sun came out, the roads dried, and Aeron, Becky and I set off for our first night hotel in a hamlet called Landrethun le Nord, just outside Calais. We left the others at St. Omer.

On arrival at ‘Chantebise’ in Landrethun we received a welcome warm enough to banish the unseasonable coldness of the day. Our host Juliette de Boulogne cooked us home-made food, served local charcuterie and cheese and generally spoilt us rotten.

Friday 13th June (surely one of the safest days of the year to travel) saw us rendezvousing back at Cite Europe with the other members of the tour who came through the tunnel that morning - Robin Lahiri, Simon Howers, Marius Becker, Lynn Gunn and Nigel Sloane. Introductions and safety briefing over we started off with a regular activity, finding petrol. We had to stop to fill Simon’s Sportster about every 100 miles, but at least it gave everyone a chance to stretch their legs. I’ve suggested he gets a 17 litre tank, but apparently it ruins the lines of the bike...

Dirty Bikes

Dirty bikes at Dinant

A brief coffee stop in Guines and we made Bethune for lunch, where the food was OK but the service terribly slow. Due to a last minute flopper, we didn’t need to go to Lille so re-worked the itinerary on the hoof. This in fact happened every day as it is axiomatic that no plan survives contact with the enemy. We did in fact visit almost everywhere we intended, but normally from the wrong direction and on a different day! Only total casualty was Boulogne, but since we met an eponymous hotelier I wasn’t too bothered. Our afternoon route was in fact picturesque and enjoyable, and we achieved Dinant at 6.30pm, entering sausage side via the vertiginous bridge over the Meuse and down the back way through the woods (lots of damp patches and gravel) to the very excellent Mercure hotel at Pont à Lesse where we would stay the next two nights. Park bikes, dump bags, into the bar for the long-awaited Leffe Blondes. Tour tee shirts distributed and admired, a few more rounds and a meal saw everyone off for happy slumbers.

Uxbridge’s leg

On Saturday we went to Waterloo. It was most excellent. The Belgian government has placed a preservation order on the whole site and the only modern building is a convent built in the 1930s. Apart from nicking the topsoil off the Mont St. Jean ridge to build the Lion monument the topography is still very close to that at the time of the battle, and flat it isn’t! It’s also unbelievably small, when you consider that 180,000 men fought across it leaving 47,000 dead or wounded on the field. EVERYTHING is still there from 1815, including the three fortified farm houses, Napoleon’s and Wellington’s headquarters, the ridge lines are still clearly discernible and the sunken roads still criss-cross the battlefield rendering movement awkward. The expert eye of Robin Lahiri helped us to ’see’ the ground and appreciate what a good choice of defensive position it was, enabling Wellington to hide his troops in dead ground to minimise the effect of the French cannonading. By about 4pm we had all seen enough (and the hardier ones had climbed the Lion monument to get a better ’birds-eye view’). Then it was off to the local H-D dealer for souvenir tee-shirts and the garage opposite to fill up the Sportster again. We then made an extra trip into Waterloo itself to Wellington’s HQ in search of Lord Uxbridge’s leg.

If you’re dying to learn the whole story, look here: Lord Uxbridge’s leg

As we left Waterloo and drove south along the Brussels-Genappe Road we were following the line of the coalition pursuit in the evening of the battle. Marching slowly towards us was a French infantry band in 1815 costume, accompanied by a carriage full of senior officers and their ladies, all dressed in period finery. The effect was rather lessened by the two bandsmen relieving themselves against a nearby wall!

A rather typical C&F blast back to Dinant was punctuated by a single u-turn which was a human not a Sat-Nav error. At least I chose a wide bit of road so Aeron could get the Glide round.

Waiting to eat

C&F waiting to eat and drink (this happened a lot)

We chose to dine away from the hotel on Saturday night and chose a nice riverside café in Dinant. After most excellent starters of Ardennaise charcuterie and salads we were forced indoors by another torrential downpour, but by the time we’d finished pizzas and steaks it had dried up. Back to the hotel for a nightcap and early nights all round as Sunday was a busy day. Generally we avoided the worst of the weather throughout the weekend, it seemed always to rain while we were indoors eating (there was a lot of that) or overnight, and by and large we had dry roads and quite a lot of sun. It never really got warm though, so winter gloves and boots were still much in evidence.

We agreed that to get more out of the weekend we would like to do a quick visit to the Somme battlefield (see the 2006 ride report for more info). So Sunday morning saw an early checkout and the destination Pozières on the Albert-Bapaume road plumbed into the Sat-Nav. After a fruitless hour trying to make the Belgian motorways go in the direction we wanted we abandoned them and set off cross country, thus invading France through the area of the Cambrai battlefield of 1917 (see the 2007 ride report!) We made a brief stop near the looming presence of Bourlon Wood to pay our respects at Anneux British Cemetery before pushing on (or should that be punching through) for lunch. After lunch we had until 4pm when we had to leave to return to Calais, so Robin was given his head and gave a bravura performance as battlefield guide as we managed to fit in the Tyneside Memorial seat at la Boisselle, Mansel Copse and the Devonshire cemetery, Fricourt German cemetery, and the Connaught cemetery with its views of Thiepval wood, the Schwaben redoubt and the Ulster Tower.


Freedom has its price - Sportster by the Connaught cemetery

Then it was back to the A1 and A26 motorways up to the Eurotunnel terminal at Calais. Guess what... we had to stop for petrol (twice more!)

Thanks to everyone for making it such a good trip, I hope that next year’s is just as rewarding. There’s already some ideas being rolled around, varying from a search for Varius’s missing legions and the Reichswald Forest to Normandy and the D-Day landings. Something good will come of it, I’m sure.

With HOGS legs, I did 884 miles in the four days, and enjoyed every one.

Michael Howers - C&F Road Captain