Have you always wanted to visit the iconic battlefields of the First World War?
During this centenary period interest in the battlefields has never been greater. Rather than joining hundreds of others on well-trodden formulaic coach tours, why not try traversing the battlefields by bike?
Why cycling the battlefields is best
So much of the war’s fighting was to gain advantageous topography. Travelling by bike is by far the best way to appreciate the landscape; you feel every rise, every dip and change in gradient. Cycling the roads and tracks offers you a different, more intimate experience. You can take it at whatever pace you want and stop wherever you feel. What would be a simple drive in a car takes on more meaning when on two wheels…
Why choose Cycling the Battlefields with Jeremy Banning?
Learn from an acknowledged and well-known expert. Jeremy combines a deep understanding of Western Front with the ability to cycle the terrain. He knows the best roads and tracks, the finest views and most poignant stories to bring the battlefield alive. Benefit from his twenty years experience of the battlefields and research for Who Do You Think You Are?, the BBC, Channel 4 and the Imperial War Museum. Jeremy has led many cycling tours over the past few years and has experience in groups of all sizes.
“We spent three fantastic days with Jeremy exploring the battlefields of the Somme, Arras and Loos – on bikes! As part of the trip Jeremy researched my grandfather’s story in the Irish Guards and found where and how he won his Military Cross (and got injured in the process). Jeremy is unbelievably knowledgeable about the battlefield sites specifically and about the First World War. He brings an incredible level of passion and insight to his subject. For both myself, and my son, who joined us, this was a poignant, indeed life changing experience. I can’t recommend Jeremy highly enough.” John O’Brien, Surrey
How it works
I do not advertise specific tour dates but, if you can get a group together, will guide you around whatever battlefield you want. Over the years I have guided groups (ranging from 2-12 people) and have found that by working this way, you get an interesting and challenging weekend away with friends without any worry about the route and simply share my guiding fee between you. By cycling in a group you save money and enjoy time with friends. What could be better?
I would recommend around 40 miles (65km) per day which provides plenty of scope for cycling quiet roads while providing the opportunity for you to visit the myriad cemeteries, memorials and museums. Routes with longer distances can be planned on request but please note longer rides obviously mean fewer stops on the battlefield.
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Travel & Accommodation
I do not organise travel but if you can get your bikes out to France and Flanders then I can guide you, giving you an unforgettable experience. Recommended bike-friendly accommodation for all budgets available on request. Please note, many hotels have limited space for bikes so do ask before booking.
What type of bike should you use?
The routes ridden are mainly on good paved roads but, at times, we will venture on to some of the tracks that cross the battlefields. These can be harder going (but not impossible) for road bikes. I would strongly advise not using 23mm tyres as these are too prone to punctures. Most people I guide use road, hybrid, gravel or cyclocross bikes. Mountain bikes will make easy work of the tracks but will be slower on tarmac. As a guide, when cycling the battlefields I leave my lightest road bike at home, preferring to rely on an old road bike fitted with lightly treaded 28mm Schwalbe Marathon Plus tyres. Using these, I have never had a puncture. If you have questions about the correct type of bike to use, then feel free to ask me for advice.
This is your trip so you will want to get as much from the day as possible. This requires a decent level of fitness. Rest assured, a full day on the battlefields can be taken at a leisurely pace so no need for any speed training but you should be able to cycle 40 miles (65km) without being in too much pain. There are not too many steep hills in the rolling terrain. The steepest hill I can think of is the 1km of road up to Thiepval from the River Ancre which, at its steepest, is an 8% gradient. If you can do that, you can easily do the rest! Example route profiles (using Ride with GPS) are available on each battlefield location page.
You will pay for my time spent guiding. Price is dependant on group size and is available on request. Bespoke trips (following individual soldiers or units) can be accommodated but special bespoke group rates will apply.
If you fancy joining me on the battlefields or have questions about cycling in the Somme, Arras or Ypres then please contact me.