We said our goodbyes to Claire, Marc and their lovely dog Jaeger and headed for the Sucrerie Cemetery. What kind people and such comfortable lodgings.

The Sucrerie Cemetery at Ablain St Nazaire

The Sucrerie contains the remains of 221 British and 163 Canadian men who fell during trench warfare following the capture of the Vimy Ridge by Canadian forces in April 1917. Like all of these cemeteries it is beautifully kept and a sobering reminder of what we owe to those who fell.

As we headed out of Ablain we passed the ruin of the C13th church which was mostly destroyed during French attempts to retake the village from the Germans in 1914. Most of the village was also destroyed.

Ruin of the C13th church in Ablain

From Ablain we headed south to Carency and on to Mont St Eloi. The ruined abbey of St Eloi atop the mount is a prominent feature in the landscape for some miles away. Indeed, we had seen it in the distance during our visit to the French National Cemetery above Ablain Saint Nazaire yesterday.

Approaching Mont St Eloi

As we approached the mount we passed a memorial to both WW1 and WW2 soldiers who died at this strategic place. During the Great War the frontline was just behind nearby woods, and therefore within range of enemy guns. Amongst those killed in May 1915 was Francois Faber, winner of the Tour du France in 1909. In May 1940 57 soldiers died here attempting to hold back the German invasion of France.

Mont Eloi has spectacular views for many miles in every direction, but there was no shelter from the wind, which seemed to blow around every corner, so we quickly headed back down the hill.

View from Mont Saint Eloi

At a junction in the road we stopped to check our route on the map as the route signs were confusing. The local Mayor, who happened to be passing stopped, abandoned his car in the middle of the junction and came over to help us. He was very clear about the way to Rome, despite the confusing signs, and so we continued on our way. Just around the corner was a small French military cemetery honouring several hundred dead.

In the next village, Ecoivres, we found a conveniently located bench adjacent to the church for lunch. Looking around the church to see if it was open (it wasn’t) we found extensive WW1 graffiti made by soldiers waiting to be sent to the front, though sadly it had been defaced by more recent ‘artists’. An inscription made by D W Boag of the Canadian Infantry was probably typical. He was a student in Ontario and had signed up in 1916. He was in Ecoivres on 03 July 1918, five days before his 21st birthday. He died one month later in fighting on the Somme, and is buried at Bouchoir.

The next stage of the walk was along a track which cross-crossed a single track railway line. There was a team of men working on the line who, noticing our walking poles, asked Tom where were his skis? They were busy shovelling gravel back up onto the line so we probably provided a welcome diversion from their tedious work.

In Maroeuil we had a pleasant walk alongside the river, although at this point it began to drizzle. The river was quite coloured up with suspended sediments and there were no fish to be seen!

The final stage took us alongside an out of town industrial area, and into the outskirts of Arras. There was a lot of new housing on the edge of the town, though more imaginatively designed and on larger plots than many of our homogenous and cramped new housing estates.

As usual, finding our way through urban streets was a rather tedious slog, and we were pleased to find our hotel centrally located in the Grande Place with a good choice of eating places around the square.

It is difficult to say that visiting military cemeteries was the highlight of the day, but we were very aware of being now in the thick of the WW1 battlefields area.

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