WW1 ride – Soissons to Reims

A slightly shorter day today. The weather was still good, though the headwind persists. We began with a beautiful climb up through woods with just the sound of birdsong. But then we joined the Crete des Dames. This is a Napoleonic era road, running along the top of the high ground to the north of the Aisne valley, and overlooking it. The name is because the ladies of the French court would drive along it in their carriages, for the views. But it is notorious in French military history, worse than Verdun, because of the devastating losses in 1917, when the entire French Army came very close to mutiny. The road is peppered with monuments throughout its length.

This was where the Germans first dug in, as they retreated after the battle of the Marne, in the summer of 1914, and it was from here that the ‘race to the sea’ began, as each side tried to get around the northern end of the entrenched line that was forming. The geographical advantage of being dug in on the crest was huge, and the French paid a high price for attacking, first in 1914, and then on a much bigger scale in 1917, at the same time as the British attack on the Somme and coordinated with it.

The German HQ was in an underground quarry that predated the war, and it is now open as a museum – the Caverne des Dragones. Unfortunately, it didn’t have a sensible website, and we didn;t know that you had to prebook a guioded tour to go underground. Nonethless, the views from the terrace were great, and the information boards well done.

After that, it was downhill to cross the Aisne, and make our way into Reims. Heard crickets singing – so we must be making southwards progress. We knocked off about 2pm, for a change, and enjoyed a well earned beer in the towm centre.

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