Rothar Routes

Cycle routes & pilgrim journeys in Ireland and Europe …..

Posts from the ‘Via Francigena’ category

The Green Fields of France

I never gave much thought to the First World War. Sure I learned about it in history class but our interest in history would have been Irish history and while we did cover WW1 I don’t remember talking very much about the loss of life suffered by the thousands of Irish men who fought in The Great War.They fought for a variety of reasons – many fought to put food on the kitchen table, others for the promise of Home Rule yet others fought for the Crown and ‘the freedom of small nations’. I guess we were ambivalent about it at best. Yet almost 50,000 Irishmen lost their lives in the most inhumane conditions imaginable.

In 2010 I was fortunate, along with my youngest son Ronan, to have the opportunity to cycle from Canterbury to Rome along an ancient pilgrimage route, The Via Francigena. That was an amazing experience in so many different ways but perhaps the most unexpected was that it brought WW1 right into the present day for both of us. Our planning hadn’t factored in that we would be cycling through areas of France that were in the front line of battle. It was a shock to the system to suddenly come across, on Monday 6th September, small beautifully kept cemeteries along the 60kms of backroads of France between Arras and Peronne.

We stopped and paid our respects at each little graveyard and it was one of the most emotional places and moving things I have ever done. It really brought home the futility of war to walk among row after row of identical white memorial headstones and read the ages of these teenage soldiers who all died in vain, for the nations of Europe were to repeat those mistakes again and again.

I’ve edited out a little video clip at the end of this blog post of our visit to one of the cemeteries as a gesture of remembrance for all the dead on both sides and the civilians who were caught up in this most brutal conflict.

It was lovely to see how well maintained all the cemeteries were.

This post is to mark the one hundred anniversary of Armistice Day and to help us not forget.

Allied War memorial between Arras and Peronne

Respectfully maintained WW1 cemeteries are to be found on the back roads of France. There are many more than the more well known major memorials and serve as a reminder of the futility of war.

Hindu Soldiers honoured

Four years later I was back in France and cycling in the Lyon area and I went astray taking what turned out to be a very long shortcut! But it was very interesting and I came across a WW2 graveyard as poignant as coming across the WW1 graveyards in 2010. But this was even more surprising for this was a cemetery for almost 20,000 German soldiers at a place called Dagneux.

Dangeux WW2

The war graces site at Dagneux was developed by the German War Graves Commission with the permission of the French Authorities during the 1950s and 1960s.

 

Dagneux

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Via Appia Antica

Winter has well and truly arrived and the only cycling I am doing is in my dreams of fine summer days and bike touring! Here is a great shared memory from 2010 on the VIa Francigena with Ronan. Maybe there is another book to follow on from #CyclingSouthLeinster with the Collins Press!

Having cycled from Canterbury along the Via Francigena, we had one more hurdle to negotiate before our flight home. Getting to the airport at Campino with our bicycles.

We decided to depart from the Colliseum and pick up the historic Via Appia Antica, in the hope it would lead us in the general direction of the airport.

It was an incredible last day of cycling. We had the Via Appia to ourselves. It was easy imagine Roman Legions marching up and down this paved road, the earliest of the main arteries to service trade routes across the Empire and transport troops to the front lines. The forced march of prisoners back to the centre of the Empire, the roadside crucifixions of Spartans….out past the catacombs – was this the road the Apostle Peter, first Bishop of Rome, followed back to Rome and his eventual crucifixion?. Staggering history along every kilometre of this road.

Appia longarum… regina viarum“- the Appian Way the queen of the long roads”

As we made our way along the treelined lined cobbled road, a shepherd with his dogs herded his flock of long eared sheep over the roadside ditch and past us on his way to pastures new…. magical memories!

Hard to believe it was 2010 and my plan was to come back and continue to Brindisi with the final destination Jerusalem. One of these days I will get to take up where I left off and resume my pilgrimage to the Eternal City.

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