An attempt to call a taxi to get back to the centre of Bruay to start the day’s walk completely failed. Apparently taxis don’t operate in Bruay on Sundays, and neither does anything else. There was even little sign of church activity. Strange place, Bruay.

The hotel manager took pity on us and offered to drive us back into the centre of town in his own car. A very generous offer, which went some way to redeem the events of the previous evening.

The weather was pleasant as we headed out of Bruay, with just a light wind and a bit of cloud. We dropped into an Intermarche to replenish our lunch stocks on the way. Soon we were on a disused railway which made for enjoyable walking on level ground. We passed a number of people out walking dogs and others enjoying the track by bike.

The old railway line to Houdain

The railway line took us as far as Houdain where we crossed the Lawe River and headed southwestwards. At one point we noticed a commotion going on by a crossroads with all traffic stopped. A cycle race was in progress and no cars were being allowed to cross. Such is the importance of ‘cyclisme’ in France that motorists just accept this. Fortunately no such restrictions seemed to apply to ‘randoneurs’ and we passed freely.

At Rebreuve-Ranchicourt we passed an interesting old water mill, but the church was closed. Around the corner is a substantial chateau seemingly recently renovated. Must be owned by a banker, remarked Julie. Good to see that someone is investing in the conservation of these historic buildings.

Leaving behind the village, we headed uphill through fields towards a long wooded escarpment the Mont de Baraffles, our first of several steep climbs today. On top of the hill, well hidden by the trees, is the extensive Centre Loisirs d’Olhain. Here there are numerous opportunities for camping and outdoor activities, including overhead tree walks, cycle and walking tracks, horse riding and even a large swimming pool. It was good to see plenty of people out enjoying them.

The ridge of le Mont de Baraffles

The multitude of tracks and paths made route finding for the Via Francigena challenging and we probably ended up walking twice as far as we needed. Getting off the escarpment proved even worse as the signs didn’t match our maps, and we eventually concluded that the path had been relocated. We ended up walking most of way the around a golf course back up the hill and down again, instead of taking the short route! However, views from the escarpment were spectacular.

Once clear of the woods we were back into open arable farmland and a mix of small roads and tracks taking us south towards Servins. Here we found three Commonwealth War graves amongst about 30 French military graves in the communal graveyard, all dating from 1915.

At this stage of the day, getting to our billet for the night became the priority, so we just slogged down the road and into Ablain-Saint-Nazaire with a bitingly cold northeasterly wind on our shoulders, heads down and teeth gritted. It was our longest day so far and we were very relieved to find a warm welcome from our hosts, Claire and Marc, not to mention their beautiful English setter, Jaeger.

Although we were much later arriving than planned, Marc very kindly offered to drive us up to the nearby French national cemetery of Notre Dame de Lorette which we’d missed by taking the more direct road. The battle lasted from October 1914 to October 1915, with the German lines on the Lorette ridge and the French in the valley below attempting to take the ridge. One hundred thousand soldiers were killed and as many were wounded. It is a truly moving place.

Notre Dame de Lorette French national cemetery

Adjacent is a commemorative memorial ring listing alphabetically and regardless of rank or nationality the name of the 580,000 soldiers who lost their lives in the Nord Pas de Calais area between 1914 and 1918.

The memorial ring in evening sunlight

One can understand why the Germans chose this ridge to establish their line as the views are extensive. Marc pointed out the city of Lille 40 km to the northeast, the Vimy Ridge which the Canadians took from the Germans in that heroic battle in 1917. We could see the city of Arras in the distance and the ruined abbey of Mont Saint Eloi which we would pass the next day.

Highlights and lowlights? Our visit with Marc to Notre Dame de Lorette and the French National Cemetery in the evening sunlight was the undoubted highlight. As for lowlights, well it was a very long day!

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