It seemed an idyllic day for being lazy in an interesting town but the road beckoned and I turned left out of the campsite and started to climb on the ‘Voie Sacrée’. Verdun, at the other end of this road, is etched into the French psyche as a place where in WW1 the efforts and soul of the nation were poured to fight the Germans as they advanced south west. The price in terms of lives was immense as both armies fought over a small front and in one or another way shelled the terrain to be as desolate and crater like as a lunar landscape. It looks that way even today. The official estimate is that both armies lost 300,000 dead during this two year conflict. This road was the route over which the French despatched resources toward the front. I thought about the young inexperienced soldiers going toward Verdun anxious about the war ahead and the tired, mutilated or dead who were coming back in the same trucks. In reality a desperate ribbon through which to pour life.
In lovely sunshine I got to Verdun for lunch. I have been here before a couple of times before and visited the main battlefields including a superb museum. The Meuse river flows through the centre of this now tourist town. After a bite I continued along the Meuse. The river formed a natural front between the WW1 armies including the Americans who latterly helped the French hold the Germans and their allies.
A day like this can be a little dull. The towns are spread far apart and whilst the open, mainly arable countryside is attractive then it does start to become less engrossing during a seven hour bike ride.
As usual I was listening to music or a podcast. I had made my mind up to get home now. I was strong but tired but feared the ride back through Belgium. One of my later discoveries in life is that the land of Hercules Poirot is not flat: in fact it’s bloody hilly. I was not looking forward to severe climbing again.
My routine was to get a hot lunch and then stop at a boulangerie or supermarket to get a baguette, something to spread on it and a tomato. When I visit these stores I’m still tickled by the fact that the French break up the multipacks.
Monuments continued to be placed along the road.
I started to close in on Douzy, a town close to a larger town called Sedan. It had been a long day and by the end of this day I would have clocked up a total of 736 miles without a day off. There was a campsite that looked very much like a resort park. It was beside a lake and lots of teenagers were leaping into it and having a noisy yet terrific time. I went into Reception and thought I’d be a novelty as a cyclist. Not so. After my usual willing butchery of French the millennial behind the counter said “we can speak English if you like?” It transpired that there was a popular cycling route beside the Meuse and many cycle tourers stayed here overnight. On this route you followed the river where there was a path but otherwise you ambled along on smaller roads near it. I had taken the main road, which was quite reasonable apart from one memorably long steep climb out of Moulins-Saint-Hubert. My route did have the benefit of occasional sights such as this mural in Mouzon.
So I was camping with other cyclists and there were some great facilities including a marquee and benches and a charging point for devices.
I saw some Dutch cyclists and interrupted their dinner! Did they have any suggestions on how to get to Rotterdam with least climbing? A map/book was produced that simply advised following the Meuse river. In our discussion they kept saying it went to Maastricht. Who knew the Maas and the Meuse were the same river? Not me! This did have a profound affect on my progress to the ferry. The river cut straight through the Ardennes, albeit very windy, but flat.
So the campsite was a great experience but as we all settled down after 10pm there continued to be the sound of a diesel engine grumbling along, in the distance, under great strain. Why was it working so late on a Saturday night? My weariness and ear plugs won over. The next morning I noted there was a nearby chipboard plant (Unilin). I calculated that a shovel loader was moving logs into the hogger to make the chips (for the chipboard) in this 24/7 continuously running plant.