northern France advice

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Jan 28th, 2018, 06:18 AM
  #1
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northern France advice

My wife and I are planning to travel into London and Northern France in early July. We are flying in and out of London, flights are booked. The focus of the France part of the trip would be to visit WW1 cemeteries around the Beaumont Hamel area which is located about midway between Amiems and Arras.
Our preliminary thoughts are to spend the first day or so in London and then get the eurostar to France and then a connecting train to somewhere near the Beamont Hamel area where we can rent a car and explore the area. We would need a base somewhere and thought of renting a gite. We arrive in London on a Monday and thought we could get the eurostar sometime that week. I understand that gites are usually rented from Saturday to Saturday so we would either spend a few nights in London or Paris before the gite. At the end of the week at the gite we would return to London for a day or so before the flight home.
I would appreciate any suggestions or comments on the above, in particular suggestions on where to stay. Beaumont Hamel is probably only going to take a day or so, and we only need to be in driving distance so the place we stay as a base doesn't have to be there. We would like to base where there are interesting things to see within driving distance we could be able to explore the area. We would be interested in quaint villages, history, pretty rural drives, moderate walking hikes.
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Feb 6th, 2018, 05:46 AM
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Still looking for some suggestions and advice on a week in northern France in July. We've made some revisions to our original idea. Thinking about getting the Eurostar from London to Lille and renting a car there to visit areas around Arras/Amiems to the south and areas around Ypres to the north in Belgium.
Questions: would it be better to stay in Lille and rent a car or get a connection somewhere else and rent a car from there? How difficult is it to cross the border into Belgium and back. Does it make sense to go to Ypres area in a day or should we look at staying overnight? Is the area difficult for driving. Has anyone driven around in the area that would have a suggested driving route and itinerary. Any recommended places to stay or towns or attractions to visit.
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Feb 6th, 2018, 08:27 AM
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I think your idea of going to Lille is a good one. I would get there and spend time in Lille itself-it is nice city and then pick up the car at the train station since you will be returning it there when you go back to London. You will have a better choice of cars than in a smaller town and that way you will be familiar with the location for the return. It is easy going in and out of Belgium-we drove from Paris to Budapest and back last year and crossed many borders in a rental car with no issues.

I don't know those areas well enough to advise specific places, so will let others comment on that. But it sounds like a great trip!
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Feb 6th, 2018, 08:30 AM
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Jim143:

I will be following your thread, my wife and I are looking at adding WWI areas to our next trip, and Amiens was the place I started looking myself. Hopefully, there will be some WWI historians that have toured the area and can comment.

Here is one of the better threads I've seen, albeit leaning towards American Involvement. https://www.fodors.com/community/eur...ields-1456117/
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Feb 6th, 2018, 08:59 AM
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Jim, are you a Newfoundlander, by any chance? Beamont Hamel is one of the best-preserved battlefields of the Great War; it feels like sacred ground.

I have twice toured the Western Front in the stretch from Ypres to the Somme, both times arriving in Lille by train and renting a car from the station. (Take note that there are two stations in Lille: Flandres and Lille Europe. The Eurostar arrives in the latter, and while the two stations are only a couple fo hundred metres apart, it would be more convenient to rent your car at Lille Europe.)

Lille to Ypres is an easy drive. If you have time, I recommend an overnight stay, as that will allow you to attend the Last Post Ceremony at the Menin Gate. Ypres south to the Somme can be done in a single day, even allowing time to stop at many of the interesting sites along the way, including Vimy. Amiens or Albert would be a good base for a couple of days on the Somme, which includes a morning at Beaumont Hamel.

I wrote trip reports that might help you get a sense of what you can see and what it feels like. I'll dig out the links and post them for you.
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Feb 6th, 2018, 09:10 AM
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Here you go:

https://www.fodors.com/community/eur...icardy-759505/

https://www.fodors.com/community/eur...sited-1206217/

A couple more thoughts about driving along the Western Front: you asked about the border crossing between France and Belgium. It is generally an invisible line that you can cross at will. I have read that either country occasionally sets up checkpoints on the borders, but we didn't encounter anything like that.

You will be on a lot of secondary roads, and you will have to follow a circuitous route to get to some of the places you may want to visit. I used Michelin maps the first time (they're referenced, I think, in the first trip report), and GPS the second, with paper maps as a backup. Do whichever feels most comfortable for you, but you will definitely need to navigate.
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Feb 6th, 2018, 09:16 AM
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thankyou for advice

Thankyou everyone. I'm starting to feel a lot more comfortable and will take your advice and continue planning. Yes I am a Newfoundlander. My grandfather fought in the Ypres area, Kiel berg Ridge. His brother died and is buried at Beaumont Hamel.
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Feb 6th, 2018, 01:36 PM
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Jim, it will be very emotional to visit the places where your grandfather and his brother fought. You may already know about this, but the Commonwealth War Graves Commission has a website where you can look up information on the war dead, including directions to each cemetery. And once you're in the cemetery itself, you will find a little brass door near the entrance gate that contains a map of the graves; that will help you locate the grave you are looking for. There is also a book there where you can leave a note of remembrance.

Here's the link:

https://www.cwgc.org

If there is anything else I can help with as you continue your planning, please ask.
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Feb 7th, 2018, 07:59 AM
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Hi Jim:

So glad you starting to get some more in-depth responses to your questions. It sounds like a very special trip!
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Feb 7th, 2018, 08:16 AM
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I'd stop in Arras which I really like, especially the centre. Arras itself was honeycombed to be the combined HQ for the allies and you can go down up to 6 floor in some of the cellars. Crossing the border to Belgium is as if it was not there, in fact I used to drive along the border for work and the road crosses back and forth. If you do end up in Lille try and avoid Roubaix, not unpleasant in a nasty way just a bit of a dump.
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Feb 7th, 2018, 02:16 PM
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Anselm, this is fantastic! I was totally enthralled with your trip report. I cannot imagine having a more meaningful and unique experience as the one describe in your account. I am even more inspired to visit Northern France and retrace my grandfathers steps.

Last edited by Jim143; Feb 7th, 2018 at 02:18 PM.
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Feb 7th, 2018, 02:22 PM
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Anselm, I used your link and found my great uncle's grave. He is buried at the Y Ravine cemetery at Beaumont Hamel.
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Feb 7th, 2018, 03:06 PM
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Book those Eurostar tickets well ahead of time to get nice discounts over waiting until London - huge savings - book your own online at www.eurostar.com. Info on trains - www.seat61.com - especially on discounted tickets; BETS-European Rail Experts and www.ricksteves.com.

I've crossed the border near Lille on bike several times and usually nothing there at all but in any case nothing to worry about.
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Feb 13th, 2018, 04:08 PM
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We have done some more research and discussion and here is our tentative itinerary. I would appreciate any comments and suggestions. As of now I do not have the train tickets bought so the trip days to and from France can be adjusted:

Monday arrive London. Tuesday to Friday London activities to be determined
Saturday - Eurostar to Lille . apartment or hotel
Sunday - explore Lille
Monday - rent car at train station drive to Ypres apartment or hotel
Tuesday - explore Ypres
Wednesday - drive to WW1 battlefield areas east of Ypres. Kielberg Ridge area although I don't now exactly where that is yet. I know my grandfather fought there and two of his comrades were killed on either side of him
Thursday - drive to Arras, apartment or hotel
Friday - drive to Beaumont Hamel area and visit WW1 cemeteries. My grandfathers brother is buried there in the Y ravine.
Saturday - drive to Vimy Ridge area
Sunday - Eurostar back to London
Monday London
Tuesday flight home
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Feb 14th, 2018, 07:34 AM
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Maybe search www.eurostar.com for cheap train tickets each way to Lille and tailor excat dates around them - some days can be very expensive but next day not.
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Feb 14th, 2018, 08:38 AM
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We were at the Newfoundland park on Monday. It was our favourite stop all week. We went to Argonne American cemetery, The Ossuary, The Verdun Memorial and then headed north to see the spot where the Red Baron took off and was shot down. Theipval memorial was wonderful but walking among the trenches knowing the whole area was basically a graveyard was just so humbling. We loved and can't say enough about the student guides. They will treat you so well being your great uncle is buried there.and you are from Canada. It was very muddy on Monday so we did not venture far into the Y ravine cemetery but a Britsh guide doing a tour explained so much to us. Some graves are separate but some are placed together. Those were more a mass grave. On Tuesday we went to Compiegne to visit the armistice location. That was a great little town and we thought that would be our base if ever we return. We had rented our car in Paris at the airport, dropped it off there before coming into Paris. I think it would be large enough city to be able to rent a car there. Albert is also a good base. You will have a wave of emotion, still has me trying to understand why they allowed those young men to be slaughtered like that. They just had no chance. Horrible war.
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Feb 14th, 2018, 08:59 AM
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I almost missed this, Jim. We're in Spain at the moment and I had forgotten to check to see if you had added anything.

I think your proposed itinerary would give you time to explore the Western Front in the Ypres area, the Somme, and the in-between. A few comments:

- There is a great deal to see in the Ypres area, and your plan to have two days there is really good. Sites in the town itself may not take as much time as you think, so you will likely be able to get in your car on the Tuesday and start exploring the surrounding area that day. If you can, do add Tyne Cot Cemetery and the German cemetery at Langemark to your schedule on either the Tuesday or the Wednesday.

- I can't help you with Kielberg Ridge, but one thing that does come to mind was that there was intense fighting on Kemmelberg, a small hill overlooking Ypres. Part of what makes these searches a bit difficult is that there are sometimes different names for the same place, either in French or in Flemish (Ypres and Ieper, for example, are the same place), and so your grandfather may have recollected a place name that has since become known as something else. And, of course, Commonwealth troops were famous for Anglicizing French and Flemish place names, so that just kicks up more mud. If you can't track it down yourself, I have two suggestions: you may be able to find someone in Newfoundland who has done a lot of research on the Royal Newfoundland Regiment. But another source might be The Great War Forum, an online discussion group devoted to the history of World War I. Great War Forum You could register there and see if anyone can help you identify Kielberg Ridge. Very helpful they are, that group.

- On Thursday, if you wanted to, you could drop into Vimy Ridge on your way from Ypres south to Arras. While in the area of Vimy, I also recommend you take a look at the nearby French National Memorial and Cemetery of Notre-Dame-de-Lorette and the German War Cemetery in Neuville-Saint-Vaast, also nearby

- Ideally, I'd add one more day on the Somme; there is just so much more to see in addition to Beaumont Hamel. If you went to Vimy on Thursday, as mentioned above, you could spend Friday and Saturday on the Somme, then on Sunday morning drive from Arras back to Lille, return the car, and catch the Eurostar back to London. It's very much up to what you feel comfortable with, but I thought I'd suggest it as a possibility.

I have some helpful books and maps back home in Nova Scotia that I'd be happy to lend to you. I'll be back home by 10 March and could easily mail them over to you. If your interested, we can exchange addresses through the Private Message feature up at the top right-hand corner of this page.
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Feb 14th, 2018, 09:09 AM
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Jim and Macross, a photo from Y Ravine Cemetery:

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Feb 14th, 2018, 09:15 AM
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Macross, you're right. The guides at Beaumont-Hamel and at Vimy are Canadian university students. They are very, very, good at what they do.

Which reminds me, Jim, when you arrive at Beaumont Hamel, if you stop in at the interpretation centre, they will ask you if you want to join the next guided tour. It would be a great way to get an overview of the whole battlefield. When you've finished the tour, you could walk back down to Y Ravine Cemetery and spend some more time there. They also have a very good pamphlet for a self-guided tour if you would rather not join a guided tour.
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