Through Darkest Belgium

Once Upon A Time

A few years ago now – actually it was more than a few; it was the summer of 2000 – I set off on a rather whimsical journey to Istanbul. It was something I had been daydreaming of doing for ages, since I was a kid, really. I’d always loved the idea that the road…

Chapter 1 – Just Saddle Up and Go

“To have travelled a lot…is to this extent a disadvantage: At the age of thirty-five one needs to go to the moon, or some such place, to recapture the excitement with which one first landed at Calais.” Evelyn Waugh “Get a bicycle. You will not regret it, if you live.” Mark Twain I hit the…

Chapter 2 – Boulogne

The noon hour found me sitting at a sidewalk café in the haut ville of Boulogne, not far from the Basilique Notre Dame, stirring sugar into a double espresso, soaking up the Frenchness around me, and basking in the novelty of having ridden my bicycle to a foreign land. It all seemed pleasantly unreal. But…

Chapter 3 – Montreuil-sur-Mer

It rising six by the time I rolled up to the mediaeval gates of Montreuil, pleasantly weary and sunburnt after my first day on the road. All told, I’d probably pedalled eighty-odd miles since I’d left home that morning, and what with the dawn start, the nervous excitement of getting away, the unaccustomed burden of…

Chapter 4 – To Arras

That old barracks was a spooky place to spend the night alone. The wind sighed. Mice rustled in the wainscoting. Weary timbers settled with creaks and groans, and phantom footfalls sounded in the corridors. It took me a while to drift off. But I slept well once I did. Eighty miles of hills and fresh…

Chapter 5 – A Watercolour in The Rain

It rained hard all night and I woke the next morning to the dreary sound of water dripping off the eaves and a feeble light filtering between the curtains. I crawled out of bed and looked out the window, taking in a view of wet slate roofs, guttering, dark sooty brick, chimney pots and, in…

Chapter 6 – Into the Forest

Hirson was still a-snooze when I coasted up the main street at daybreak the next morning. It was Sunday and nothing much was open but an early-bird café on the square where a waiter was busying himself wiping dew off the tables with a cloth and setting out chairs. I made myself his first customer…

Chapter 7 – Through Darkest Belgium

It was late in the afternoon, on a quiet, lonely woodsy stretch of road, with the Semois gurgling somewhere down amongst the trees, that I came at last to the Belgian border. I’d been looking forward to crossing it all day – for the past couple of days, really. This would be the first time…

Chapter 8 – Through Darkest Belgium II

It was the classic dark and stormy night, straight from the pen of Edward Bulwer-Lytton, with moaning winds, thunderclaps and lightning casting outré shadows on the walls. At one point, somewhere past midnight, I was treated to that old Victorian Gothic stand-by of the violent gust blowing open the paired windows in my room; I…

Chapter 9 – The Road to Verdun

I didn’t go all the way into Sedan on the old road but pulled over near Givonne to shed my rain gear, consult my map and congratulate myself on having made the bold move and left Bouillon. The sunshine was streaming down steadily now and felt like a warm bath after the mist and rain…