Explorer Belt: Our Trip to France

Posted on Thursday, October 23rd, 2014

In September Alex Manning, Heather Porter and Josh Smith, members of Southampton City Network, spent 11 days in France and Belgium completing the Explorer Belt. The trip involved cycling 440 km, complete with fully laden panniers, along the World War 1 Western Front and aimed to investigate the effect of WW1 on the people and landscapes 100 years on.


Our trip started in Nieuwpoort, Belgium, which was the coastal end of the front. Nieuwpoort and the surrounding canals were flooded during the war to prevent German flanking so we took a look at where this started. After a night spent in a somewhat dubious, closed campsite near Diksmuide we headed to Ieper (Ypres) to visit the city and attend the Last Post Ceremony at the Menin Gate.

Our third day continued in Ieper at the ‘In Flanders Fields’ museum before heading off to Hill 62 which is home to the Sanctuary Wood Cemetery, a museum with preserved British front line trenches, and the Hill 62 Canadian memorial. We also visited Hill 60 where lots of mining and explosives were used. On day four, fuelled by vast amounts of Haribo, we made our way to Le Touret memorial where we were able to find one of Josh’s relatives amongst the 13,400 British soldiers who are remembered there.

The fifth day of the trip started with a puncture. After sorting that out we headed to Notre Dame de Lorette which is the largest French military cemetery in the World and houses over 40,000 French soldiers. The crosses in the cemetery stretched as far as the eye could see and was truly sobering. We then cycled up the second hill of the day to get to the Vimy Ridge where a memorial to Canadian soldiers sits proud at the top to remember their tunnelling attack on the German front line.

After the long day before we had a more relaxed day and headed to Arras to explore some tunnels which were used by miners from New Zealand. For day seven we headed to Albert via the Newfoundland Memorial park which was a piece of land which had been left after the war and kept as a park to memorialise soldiers from Newfoundland. We moved further into the Somme region as we reached Albert and there was a noticeable increase in the number of cemeteries we saw.

Day eight was spent exploring Albert and the surrounding area. This included a trip to the Thiepval Memorial where we found one of Alex’s relatives, and a visit to a German cemetery. Back in Albert we visited a museum which was in a tunnel under the town and used during both wars as an air raid shelter. On day nine we cycled to Amiens which was the last stop on our trip. The rest of day 9 and 10 were spent exploring Amiens including visits to a library (complete with a very lovely and interesting librarian), the cathedral, Museum de Picardy, and a general wander around the city. The next day we returned back to Southampton feeling tired but successful.