The Western Front Way, Via Sacra 2018 Southern France Walk
A short introduction for each day’s walk
17th July – DAY ONE – Verdun – Fort Vaux, Douaumont, Bras-sur-Meuse, Monument Le Mort Homme
‘Verdun was France’s soul’ as the saying goes, so it is fitting that we start the centenary walk at the scene of the largest and longest and most costly battles of the First World War. It lasted for over 300 days with estimates putting the loss of life between 740,000 and 976,000 across both sides. Our walk loops the right bank, past the remains of the major forts and the imposing Douaumont Ossuary which houses the remains of more than 100,000 soldiers. In the afternoon we will walk along the left bank finishing at Le Mort Homme (Dead Man’s Hill) with its haunting statue.
Distance approximately 13 miles. The terrain is mixed gradient and requires full walking gear with hardwearing boots, it can be muddy even in summer at the base of the gorge.
We will stay in Verdun, the beautiful medieval city with its 11th century cathedral. This tranquil town, bordered on one side by the magnificent River Meuse, offers a peaceful contrast to the battlefields that surround it.
18th July – DAY TWO – The Argonne – Romagne-sous-Montfaucon, Charpentry, Varennes, Vauquois
This year marks the centenary of the massed American offensive in the Argonne region, so it is particularly fitting that we begin today walking directly south from the US cemetery, approaching the forest from the North. Varennes, where we can see the building in which Louis XVI was captured during the French Revolution, sums up everything that the Western Front Way stands for: tranquillity, breath-taking countryside, excellent local cuisine and wine, all set against a background rich in history.
Distance approximately 12 miles. The terrain is varied, with dense tree cover in some parts. Insect repellent is a must. There are rest spots along the way and beautiful scenery as we straddle the River Meuse for most of the day.
19th July – DAY THREE – Suippes and Bubbles – Suippes, Champagne House
Suippes is our base for the morning. There is plenty to explore in the town itself, where there are French and British cemeteries, as well as the main monument. There is the museum, Marne 14-18 Centre d’interprétation de Suippes, which we highly recommend. In the afternoon we will visit a local Champagne house for a tasting and tour of the cellars and premises. Very light walking. Approximate distance 6 miles.
20th July – DAY FOUR – The Chemin Des Dames – Pontavert, Craonelle, Craonne, Chemin Des Dames, Paissy, Cuissy-et-Geny
The Chemin de Dames (Ladies’ Path) is stunning. A ridge running for over 30 kms between the valleys of the rivers Aisne and Ailette, it took its name from Louis XV two daughters, Adélaïde and Victoire, who, in the 18th century, used to travel along the route from Paris to visit Louis XV mistress, Françoise de Châlus, at her Château de Boves.
The top of the observation tower provides a magnificent panoramic view, not only of some of the most glorious French countryside, but also offers an insight into the scope of the battle here which cost the French army so dearly throughout the war. The high ground attracts a wide variety of bird species and, if we are very lucky indeed, we might see Bluethroat, Black-winged Stilt and the Red-backed Shrike.
Distance approximately 14 miles. The terrain is very mixed with steep ascents and descents throughout. We will break at midday at the museum ‘Caverne du Dragon’ and finish the walk at Cuissy-et-Geny.
21st July – DAY FIVE – The Armistice – Fontenoy, Attichy, Rethondes, Armistice Carriage
As the centenary of Armistice Day approaches, a visit to the famous site of the Armistice Carriage must. A memorial to the signing of the peace declaration that brought an end to 4 years of the bloodiest and most costly conflict Europe had ever seen. Our walk takes us along the river, keeping to the high ground, so we can look down over the forests of Compiegne. We traverse ground that was crossed and re-crossed by British, French and German troops throughout the war.
The museum at Compiegne includes a replica of the railway carriage; the original was removed by the Germans during WWII to the forest of Thuringe and burnt down in 1945.
Distance is around 10.5 miles. Terrain is mixed and there is some cross-country walking involved we would advise long trousers.
22nd July – DAY SIX – The Somme South – Albert, Fricourt, Mametz, Longueval, Courcelette, Pozieres, Contalmaison
No walk along the Western Front would be complete without some time spent in the Somme region. For many people the Battlefields of the Somme epitomise the First World War: scenes of huge casualties with so many lives lost. However, as our WFW route is about so much more than battles and conflict, we will visit the key sites, but also have a chance to take in the natural beauty of countryside – now peaceful and still. This day perhaps most evokes what we are trying to achieve by creating our long distance walking route. It will be a permanent living memorial but also a walk for peace, a route for remembrance. This is an opportunity to reflect on the cost of all conflicts across the world.
Distance 14 miles. The terrain is mostly flat but it can be hard going.