2022 – a brief resume. Good to be back on the bike!

After more than two years away from the Western Front due to the pandemic it has been a joy to get back, guiding people by bike. Whilst not a hugely busy year in comparison to pre-Covid times (I have been juggling lots of other business) I managed three cycling tours.

The first one, two days around the Ypres Salient and Messines Ridge was preceded by a few days on my own, recceing sites and riding routes that I had planned out over lockdown.  This meant a gentle ride around the battlefields of Fromelles and Aubers Ridge, riding four of the cobbled sectors of Stage Five of this year’s Tour de France and further routes around the Cambrai battlefield. Alas, the planned battlefield tour to tie in with the Tour de France was cancelled but it was still great fun to ride the cobbles and gave me an additional knowledge when watching the stage on TV in early July.

All of these recces were undertaken in beautiful weather with the battlefields all to myself. That was one thing I noticed – just how much quieter it was over in France compared to the centenary years.

And then up to Ypres, meeting returning clients Steve and Jill for their fourth trip with me. I am often asked where I prefer to cycle and, sacrilegious for many with such a love of the sport, I much prefer France to Belgium. I am in awe of Belgian cycling heritage but prefer the big, wide open spaces and quiet roads of France. However, two days around the Ypres Salient, Messines Ridge and Ploegsteert reminded me just how wonderful Belgium can be.

With Jill just outside the Menin Gate

As ever, food was delicious and plentiful, cafes and drink stops abounded and every inch of round had a link back to the Great War. It reignited my love of Flanders.

In early June I guided my largest ever group by bike – 14 guys from the West Midlands. Based in Arras, we spent three days exploring the battles of the Somme, Arras and Cambrai in chronological order. I am sure that by the end of their time with me they could see the British Army of late 1917 was very different from that prior to the Battle of the Somme.

At the bridge over the Canal du Nord near Graincourt

A number of the group had relatives that had fought – at Fromelles in 1918, near St Leger and Mory (a DCM action), the Somme and Cambrai. Weaving in their stories into our three day itinerary was a challenge but ultimately rewarding. Again, we were blessed with great weather throughout and it was one of the most fun trips I’ve ever been on with much food, drink and laughter.

And just a few days ago I returned from guiding a group of ten around the Ypres Salient. There was a special focus on Private George Goold, 4th Middlesex Regiment, the great grandfather of one of the group who had served near Wytschaete on Messiness Ridge in early 1915.

September’s group at the Menin Gate

As one of the fittest and most able groups I’ve guided, they were keen to ride the famed cobbled climb of the Kemmelberg. Whilst everyone managed it, I don’t know if it was quite as much fun as they had thought it would be when discussing it the night before around the dinner table!

I’ve already received a number of bookings for 2023 (as well as query to guide a group on penny farthings – watch this space!) and plan many more trips as well as a period of recceeing in early spring. If you fancy joining me on the battlefields then please do get in touch.


Ride the ‘Plugstreets’ in Flanders as the pros do in Gent-Wevelgem

This year’s Gent-Wevelgem or, to give it its full name, Gent-Wevelgem in Flanders Fields tomorrow promises to be another fabulous race in the Spring Classics.  After success for Michael Valgren at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, Dylan Groenewegen at Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne, Tiesj Benoot at Strade Bianche, Vincenzo Nibali at Milan–San Remo and Niki Terpstra at yesterday’s E3 Harelbeke, the classics season is shaping up to be another cracker.

Cycling past the Ploegsteert Memorial and Berks Cemetery Extension

Last years saw the introduction to the men’s race of dirt roads , dubbed ‘Plugstreets‘ as they crossed fields close to the village of Ploegsteert. The rather unusual name ‘Plugstreet‘ came from British soldiers who served here from 1914 and were unable to pronounce the name correctly, anglicising it to Plugstreet. Similarly Ypres became ‘Wipers’ or ‘Ypr-ee’ while Wytschaete (now Wijtschate) was known as ‘Whitesheet’.  Countless other examples exist of British Tommies’ slang and names becoming accepted parlance.

Last year the race organisers created a fabulous video to announce the arrival of the Plugstreets which boasted a stellar lineup of current and retired riders including Sep Vanmarcke and Johan Museeuw, The Lion of Flanders, winner of both the Tour of Flanders and Paris–Roubaix three times and road world champion in 1996 – one of he finest ever classics riders. The video has some superb footage of the area around the southern shoulder of Messines Ridge and Ploegsteert Wood including the Ploegsteert Memorial, Prowse Point Cemetery and Mud Corner Cemetery.  The inclusion of these dirt roads also offers a nice nod of the head to Frank Vandenbroucke who grew up in Ploegsteert. This year the Plugstreets are kept and will be tackled by the women as well as the under-23 riders.

Still from the video showing cyclists speeding past Mud Corner Cemetery on the Plugstreets

Come and join me in cycling in the wheel tracks of the pros as well as the footsteps of soldiers from a century ago and hear all about the Christmas Truce that took place at Ploegsteert and down through French Flanders, Bruce Bairnsfather, creator of ‘Old Bill’ who served in the trenches at Ploegsteert, Ronald Poulton-Palmer, England rugby superstar killed in the trenches in May 1915 and the lost mines of Messines.  You can even stand on an unexploded mine as well as hearing all about a huge bunker system under Hill 63 known as the Catacombs. The area of Messines Ridge down to Ploegsteert is rich in wartime history so why not join me and explore it by bike?

Bikes at the Ploegsteert Memorial from a June 2017 tour

Well known image of the catacombs at Hill 63 which provided extensive shell-proof accommodation underground