15:00, March 30, 2020.
By now, Gail and I would have departed on our flight from Winnipeg to Paris, via Montreal. Tomorrow we would have walked the streets of Paris. The following day would have taken us by train to Laon. And, after a day there, a short train ride would have taken us to nearby Tergnier.
Just six months ago, on September 26 2019, we had walked to that small city. It was the endpoint of our trek from London to Canterbury (following the Chaucer Way) and from Canterbury to Tergnier on the first leg of our Via Francigena pilgrimage to Rome. Our plans for this spring were to complete another stage of the journey, this time from Tergnier to Besançon—23 walking days and some 550 kilometres later.
As we all now know, an invisible threat has, with devastating fury, reshaped all of our day-to-day lives and, in one tiny corner of the globe—Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada—forced Gail and me to cancel our springtime walk across France.
Today, we will not board that flight. Instead, we will cocoon in our comfortable Wolseley home, barbecue a couple of steaks and open a good bottle of French wine.
And we will contemplate our return to France and the resumption of our two-footed mission to Rome. Soon. This Fall. Maybe. Hopefully.
We raise our glasses in a toast to Hope.
This is the last walking day of our first stage of the Via Francigena. If the photos seem familiar, it is because we completed this day’s walk on September 24. I wanted to report the successful completion on that day even though I had only posted days 1 to 11 by that time. The missing days 12 to 15, along with a few rest days, have now been completed and posted. I’m now up-to-date.
To bring some closure, here is my earlier, slightly edited Day 16 post:
Péronne. A lovely town richly endowed with post-war Art Deco architecture. And, set within the walls of the town’s 13 C. castle, is the modern Historial of the Great War, designed by architect Henri-Edouard Ciriani.
Thankfully, our walking day to nearby Trefcon would be a short one, leaving us the morning to explore this museum which examines, with unflinching candor, the making of a war, its horrors and its aftermath. Among the artifacts and state-of-the-art presentations is Der Krieg (The War), artist Otto Dix’ collection of fifty unsettling etchings depicting the war as he experienced it from the trenches.
Beaulencourt British Commonwealth Cemetery
Thilloy Road Commonwealth Cemetery
Manchester Commonwealth Cemetery
Église Saint-Pierre, Villers au Flos
Église catholique Notre-Dame de Rocquigny, architect Jean-Louis Sourdeau, 1929-32
Necropole Nationale, Moislains
Église Paroissiale, Moislains, architect Louis Faille, 1928-32
Canal du Nord
Australian Remembrance Trail of the Battle of Mont-Saint-Quentin
Péronne Continue reading
The Via Francigena may have originated as a religious pilgrimage dating back to the 900s (if not earlier). But here, today, as Gail and I walk through the rolling farmland of northern France, we are reminded over and over again that the line we follow is as much informed by the Great War as it is by religion.
Yes, there are the small villages dominated by tall-spired churches. But even these carry the weight of war. Continue reading
As I write this, back in Winnipeg, I am aware that tomorrow is November 11, Remembrance Day. Tomorrow, Gail and I will attend, as we do every year, the Valour Road Memorial Day Service, a short walk away from our Wolseley home. Valour Road, formerly Pine Street, commemorates three recipients of the Victoria Cross for their acts of bravery during World War One. Remarkably, all three lived on Pine Street in Winnipeg before heading into battle in France and Belgium.
It is a matter of good fortune that today’s entry in my day-by-day photo diary of our Via Francigena pilgrimage takes us to the Canadian National Vimy Memorial, just 10 kilometres north of Arras, where we are taking a rest day. Continue reading
Frévin-Capelle/La Grenouillère/Anna; Abbaye de Mont-Saint-Éloi; Église catholique; Saint-Martin d’Écoivres; Le Marais de Mareoeuil; Arras
Its abbey was established as far back as the 7th century. Over the next many hundreds of years, it rose to prominence as a major religious centre. That power sealed its fate in the late 1700’s with the French Revolution. The abbey was sacked and its stone walls dismantled, leaving just the west-facing porch and its two tall towers.