Well we did it. 39Km all the way into Arras. We met resistance from tractors, Peugeot and Citroen but we followed a devious route mostly avoiding the main road until we arrived in the town square where we are now sitting. Russia kicked off the World Cup and the Stella beer is flowing. Dinner is being cooked and Paul is onto Booking.com to reserve our accommodation for two nights here. There is so much to see.
Our day started with a typically good breakfast in Le Cottage hotel. As we walked through town we saw a fine boulangerie and went inside to order a sandwich. I asked for poulet with salad and Paul asked for the same. How difficult could that be? The lady went off to make them and returned with two beautifully wrapped baguettes. When it was lunch time we were disappointed to discover egg mayonnaise and no chicken.
We walked along quiet country roads passing through lifeless villages. We are in a former coal mining region and the end of that industry combined with the industrialisation of agriculture has left the villages and towns impoverished. All bars and shops have mostly closed. But one pleasant village called Hermin had a small school and the head teacher noticed us outside and came out to say hello. She was thrilled to learn that we are pilgrims bound for Rome and invited us into her office to stamp our credentials. We went inside and stood in front of her desk like a couple of star pupils collecting house points. She gave us the encouraging news that another pilgrim had passed by last week.
We continued to the next village of Hauchim Le gal where we found a bar. It was a handsome place all decked out with France flags for the World Cup. We sat down and a large French flag fell off the wall onto the floor. I had another attempt at ordering a coffee but failed. I ordered a latte. Could she manage that? “Oui monsieur” came the answer. “Did I want a large cup?” Yes please, I said. She arrived at our table with the kind of cup you’re offered in a hospital after the doctor has broken some dreadful news. She vanished as I discovered that she had made a double espresso and added cold milk. She finally returned after I had drunk the coffee but I forced her to heat a new cup of milk with the steaming device.
But really all this soon paled into insignificance and I was annoyed with myself for getting so worked up about a cup of coffee and a sandwich. We came around the corner to discover five British military tombstones at the edge of the village cemetery. They were from WW2. We looked at the names and ages in silence. And just around the corner we saw our first military cemetery. It was beautifully maintained, two thousand young men who fell in WW1, many in the middle of May 1916. French, British, Canadian, Commonwealth and the occasional German. You can’t read all the names or shed enough tears for all the victims of those terrible years.
We continued towards Arras passing signs to many more war cemeteries. It is a rest day tomorrow and I’ll be spending it exploring and learning about the shocking history of this part of France.
Departing Bruay-La-Buissiere this morning
Note the Via Francigena sign on this village house and below
The five British military gravestones in the cemetery of Mont-Saint-Eloi