I often think back to our tremendous walk in 2017, particularly at times when life is at its most frenetic: drifting back to a rolling field of golden wheat in Picardy is a welcome escape from the Jubilee Line squashed in with the commuters.
For the first few months after we returned, I could recall snapshots, highlights if you will – beautiful memories from the hallowed lands, punctuated by the challenges of long distance walking and by the enormity of the project that we have begun. These heightened moments of clarity such as The Sucrerie Cemetery in Colencamps in the black of night are merely the trailer, the feature length film is yet to come.
Observing the swallows circling the bell-tower of Varennes, hundreds of them enjoying the evening warmth of the sun just as we were with a glass of pression beer in hand while mulling over with friends all we had seen, notebook always close at hand. Seeing the sun rise over Amiens with my father, only the church chiming and turtle doves flying over the Madonna. Amanda cooking a roast chicken near Ypres that was shared with people I would happily break bread and toast wine with for the rest of my time.
In that lies my real love of the lands, the walk and the project. Yes, we all have a memory within us of the First World War but this is so much greater in scale, scope and impact. Its not the enduring images of sodden hate filled trenches that lodge in my mind, it is the beauty of those fields that are now recovered welcoming walkers who both want to reflect on the past and the sacrifices but also look to the future and friendship.
We all lead a punishingly busy schedule, and we all have our worries that combine with our own hopes. I think back to what it must have been like for all the young men and women who never came home, and even those who did who would remain changed forever. The 2017 walk clarified what I had come close to in 2016 when we walked, this truly is a place where one can learn so much about oneself, as well as the past.
The Western Front Way has changed me utterly, and for the better. I urge you to walk for a few days among those sacred lands and let the nature, weather and local cultures take hold of you. Those feelings will never leave you, when you need to step back you can close your eyes and hear the birdsong and feel the sun of Compiegne on your face. For this I will be ever grateful and I cannot wait to walk again, I really can’t.
Rory Fosyth, CEO & Trustee