Our hotel in Corbeny – very comfortable

We awoke to see that it had rained overnight, the sky was full of ominous dark clouds and the air was humid. On the plus side, Tom’s left calf muscle had eased and he was able to move around without pain. Of the two possible diagnoses cramp was the most likely and thankfully recoverable with good rest fortified with ibuprofen. The other would have meant stopping for several weeks. So, after breakfast, we set out at a slow pace so as not to push our (his) luck.

Leaving Corbeny

The first stretch along a minor road seemed to go OK. There was very little traffic so Tom could walk down the middle of the road, avoiding the camber which seemed to upset his leg. At the village of Juvincourt-Damary we sat on the church steps for a short rest, and in the graveyard found the grave of a young Canadian Air Force gunner who died on 24 June 1944.

Leaving Juvincourt-Damary

Once rested, we set out across country using tracks which wound around fields and woodland. We heard a woodpecker busily drilling away, and our first cuckoo of the year. April 13th to hear a cuckoo seems early for us, but then we are further south. Yet again, the fields of rape were not attracting pollinators although the plants were in full flower.

Cresting the brow of the hill at a tarmac road, the village of Berry-aux-Bac came into view, tucked in under the hill. The only building visible for miles around had been an enormous grain silo just south of the village. In the centre we found a choice of benches outside the church to sit and have our lunch. Although it is school holiday time, there were no children out playing, and we noticed that there was no petanque or boules being played either, though that may be more of a southern French tradition?

On leaving Berry-aux-Bac we crossed the river Aisne and then a relief channel, both of which were very full and turbid suggesting heavy rainfall somewhere upstream. A third bridge took us over the Canal Lateral a l’Aisne. We just missed seeing a barge go through the lock!

At this point we had crossed out of the Aisne region and into Marne. Another landmark on our journey south. However, we were not yet quite clear of the WW1 battlefields. Just outside Berry-aux-Bac we visited the Necropole National, a military cemetery with the graves and unidentified remains of almost 4000 French soldiers, and a few of other nationalities, who died in the Great War. As always, the sheer magnitude of the slaughter represented in these cemeteries is mind blowing, as is the cumulative impact of the war memorials with lists of names of the fallen to be seen in every French village. In general, the lists of names on village war memorials suggest that 5-10 times more Frenchmen died in the First World War as compared with the Second World War.

As we headed south we were immediately into large areas given over to vineyards on the south facing slopes and arable crops being grown on the plains and surrounding hills.

The first champagne village we came to was Comicy, which is noticeably more prosperous than many of the more northern villages we have walked through. The village even has ramparts and underground passages dating from around 1170 when the Normans were rampaging across what is now northern France.

In the village centre was the usual array of mugshots of the twelve candidates in last Sunday’s first round presidential election, which we’ve seen in every village. Perhaps notably here, the only poster defaced was Macron’s. It has been interesting to see which posters have been defaced as we have moved from village to village, with no obvious pattern apparent, but a concerning propensity to obliterate those of differing views.

Climbing up tracks through the vineyards outside Comicy we then turned uphill into woods before climbing higher still onto an exposed plateau. There seemed to be quite extensive, though not universal, use of spraying to keep the weeds at bay around the vines.

Once onto higher ground we noticed zig-zag ditches in the woods which we assume were WW1 trenches as holding this hillside would have been strategically advantageous. Unfortunately the trenches are now so overgrown and eroded it was impossible to get a decent photograph of them, but there was also what looked like an old bunker in the hillside, confirming our suspicions.

Out of the woods and onto the open plateau we were rewarded with extensive views to the north. There is prairie arable farming on the top, with vineyards tucked down into the hillsides. Although the sky remained threatening all day, the blacker clouds seemed to be to our north and we avoided the forecast rain.

As we descended via the road the village of Hermonville came into view quite a way below, with vineyards on the lower slopes nestled under the surrounding hills. Julie was rather frustrated to have had to climb so high, only to descend again and wondered whether we had missed a more direct path!

Hermonville and its vineyards

Our billet for the night is a renovated farm adjacent to the church, so we had to walk into the centre of the village before finally being able to remove our boots for the day.

Church at Hermonville

Highlights of the day? Crossing the River from the Aisne to the Marne Department, seeing our first vines and hearing our first cuckoo of the year.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *