Day 18 – Arras

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

12 comments on “Day 18 – Arras

  1. Peter Mastenko

    Well done both on the distance covered! How are the feet holding up now? We are back in our French village next week!

    • Hi Peter. I hope you come biking past us at some point. Sorry we can’t stop by your house. Maybe another pilgrimage. Feet are improving all the time. Thanks

  2. Roger Clarkson

    How does ‘baguette de salade de poulet’ sound like ‘baguette de salade d’oeufs’? Your French accent must be terrible, lol. Well done getting to Arras, quite a long hike.

    • I wish I knew. From now on il stick to English. My feet did not complain about the distance which made me happy. It’s almost a marathon

  3. Martin

    Good to see you are making time to watch the World Cup. An easy ride for the Russians. Looking forward to England’s first game on Monday with a hint of trepidation. Shouldn’t you be drinking French beer not Belgian?

    • I hope we see the match. Martin you’d love it here, all this WW1 & 2 history

  4. Hello
    I am Swiss and 2-3 days further than you. Had my restday yesterday in Péronne and arrived today in Étreillers. Will arrive in Reims at june 20 and probably stay there for two days.

    • Hi Ruedi, I’m so pleased to hear from you and hope to catch up with you. We have it seen a single pilgrim. Have you?

      • Yes, I was several days together with a couple from Italy. But they did not do a restday in Péronne. Today I saw for the second time a Canadien woman. She is on the VF with her bike and seems to have some healthy problems.

      • Hi Ruedi, slow down, I think you are 3 days ahead of us as we have just arrived in Bapaume. We saw your name with the Italian couple in the visitors book of a small chapel this morning. Hope we catch up with you

  5. peter Thomas

    Have you tried Google translate?

    • Not yet. The problem seems to be in the pronunciation. Hope you’re having fun

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