Category Archives: strawberry moose

Saturday 15th August 2020 – I’VE DONE SOMETHING …

… today that I haven’t done since 2005. And this time even more so because while back then it cost me nothing, this time it’s cost me a lot of money.

But ask me if I care.

What I’ve done is to walk away from a hotel that I had booked for tonight and went somewhere else (far more expensive).

But more of this later. Last night I had a strange sleep – waking up at about 00:45 to find that the radio was playing. And then sleeping through until about 05:45 without moving. Not a single nocturnal voyage anyqhere to be seen

Plenty of time to do a load of paperwork and then I went down to breakfast. Unfortunately I wasn’t feeling too well so I didn’t eat much which was a shame because there was tons of stuff there. It could have been an outstanding breakfast.

Unfortunately Jackie wasn’t available but Alison was free today as well as tomorrow so we agreed to meet up this afternoon.

Dodging the roadworks and the heavy showers, I set off for Leuven.

Friterie Marsupilami Route de Marche, 6600 Bastogne, Belgium eric hallThe Lady Who Lives In The SatNav brought me all the way through Luxembourg, where I fuelled up before crossing the Belgian border (fuel at €0:97/litre) and the Ardennes, passing through the town of Bastogne where I stopped to take a photo of another abandoned bus

It’s an old “bendy bus”, one of the articulated buses and judging by its number plate it comes from the town of Rotenburg in Lower Saxony but it’s now the Friterie Marsupilami, the FritKot on the Edge of Town.

There’s a fritkot on almost every corner in Belgium and this is certainly one of the more interesting ones. It’s closed though so I couldn’t find out what it was like.

It took me a good while to find Alison’s house – The Lady Who Lives In The SatNav having brought me into town in entirely the wrong direction. It was a nice afternon so we went to the English shop for a supplies such as vegan ice cream.

herons Kasteel van Leefdaal belgium eric hallLater on we went for a walk. We discovered a new footpath that eventually took us past the Kasteel van Leefdaal.

Here we could admire the wildlife swimming on one of the many ponds – mostly man-made ponds – around there

Not that I would want to go swimming on a pond like that. There’s that much algae floating aound on top that you could probably walk on it – or, at least, someone lighter than me could. I must keep on with the battle to keep my weight down.

swans Kasteel van Leefdaal belgium eric hallThe Chateau isn’t open to the public unfortunately and it’s hidden behind a rather large wall so you can’t actually see very much of it.

Currently owned by the Counts of Liedekerke it dates from the Renaissance period and replaced a previous building. There is known to have been a building on the site since at least the 12th Century.

Armed with our vegan ice cream, we then went back to Alison’s house for a chat. We must be both getting old because we ended up crashing out in the garden in the sun, something that we found quite amusing, although in fact it was a rather sad indictment of our states of health these days.

Alison had to go out later so I set off through one of the most wicked rainstorms that I have ever encountered. All of the road round by Braine l’Alleud was flooded and the traffic lights at a road junction had failed. That led to certain complications until we all managed to sort ourselves out.

strawberry moose silly belgium eric hallAs well as having A FAVOURITE TOWN IN AUSTRIA Strawberry Moose also has a favourite town in Belgium.

It goes without saying that as we were passing within a mile or two of the place, we had to go there. His Nibs is never one to pass up on a photo opportunity whenever he gets the chance, as regular readers of this rubbish will recall.

Having done that, we headed off down to peruwelz on the Belgian – French border and my hotel. But one look at it convinced me that this was not where I wanted to stay. Crowds of single men loitering outside, sitting on the steps or leaning against the wall. Crowds of them.

It’s the kind pf place that gave me a most uneasy, eerie feeling that I can’t explain. But always having been one to rely on my own intuition, I decided that it wasn’t the place for me so I went elsewhere.

Tea tonight was a plate of chips and a salad, and watching the people coming into the fritkot, I can see immediately why the infection rate in Belgium is so high. Despite all of the precautions that are supposed to be taken, the wearing of masks is, shall we say, rather casual.

And the roads in Belgium are appalling. They are much worse that I ever remembered them. They are just like in a third-world country and for one of the richest countries in the world, it’s an embarrassment.

Tomorrow I won’t have far to go on Belgian roads because I’m close to the frontier here. About a kilometre away, I reckon.

With any luck I’ll be over the border early tomorrow and then a leisurely drive home. It might take a couple of days to make it but I’ll be back by the middle of the week. It’s been a long time

Saturday 8th August 2020 – IT’S FAR TOO HOT …

… to do anything right now. This afternoon, the temperature on the thermometer on the van showed 41°C at one point and that was confirmed by one of these roadside thermometers so I’m sure that it was correct.

hotel senica slovakia eric hallLast night was a really good sleep, and I slept right up to 05:47 when something awoke me – but I’m not sure what.

Nevertheless, I didn’t actually leave the bed at that time but … errr … somewhat later.

According to the dictaphone, I’d been on my travels too during the night. I had been going somewhere, driving and I was in Caliburn, I think. I was being followed by an old Morgan 3-wheeler with a couple in it, driven by a guy with a red handlebar moustache. They were piled up with luggage and seemed to be following me throughout all of my route across Central Europe and it was very interesting although I didn’t exchange a single word with them or anything like that and it was very intriguing to try to work out exactly what they were doing

And later on it was Welsh Cup day and there were 12 matches being played. 2 were postponed and some were being played later. We were going to go to Aberystwyth to watch the game. They were talking about this on the TV and radio which was nice. I was in Nantwich somewhere so I set off to walk. I got to round about Gresty, somewhere like that and there was a football stadium and there was quite a big queue outside. I climbed over the fence to get in, about 12′ high and I’m not quite sure why I would do that. I was hoping to meet the others, including my father apparently and we’d all go into the ground together. For some unknown reason it was half an hour to kick-off and I couldn’t find them at all. I wondered what had happened to them.

Having organised myself and packed my stuff, I said goodbye to my nice hotel and set off.

First port of call was the Billa Supermarket down the road where i bought some food for the journey – including some grapes. And bread was cheap too here in Slovakia, as I discovered.

Another thing was that I was impressed with the range of vegan food on offer – much better than anything that France could come up with in a mainstream village supermarket.

It’s a shame that I’m leaving the country today. I’ve always liked Slovakia. I spent several weeks here in the North-East of the country on the Polish border when I worked with Shearings and one of these days I’ll try to find the time to spend much more time here.

Having done the shopping for the next couple of days (I can’t buy too much and expect it to survive long in this heat) I set off and drove all the way south-eastwards through the mountains.

Driving through the town of Boleraz I had to do a U-turn and go back to check on something that I’d seen in someone’s garden here.

One thing that’s disappointed me is the absence of real Eastern European cars around here. No Gaz or ZIL vehicles, only one Skoda and not even any Moskvitches either come to that. I can’t believe that a whole lifetime of interesting vehicles has been wiped out of existence.

skoda 1203 van boleraz slovakia eric hallAnd so when I saw this old Skoda 1203 I breathed a sigh of relief.

This was Eastern Europe’s equivalent of the Ford Transit. Every businessman or tradesman owned one and they were the local ambulances and police vans too. You used to find them everywhere 30 years ago, but so far on my travels I’ve only seen one of them prior to this and that was on the road heading the other way.

Not that I would swap Caliburn of course, but I would love to take something like this back home with me to have some fun. It’s a real relic of the past, that’s for sure, and quite a curio too.

odos FOR 742 525 9 velky meder slovakia eric hallBy-passing Bratislava, I ended up in the town of Velky Meder on the border with Hungary.

A railway like runs through the town and there’s a railway station here so I reckoned that I would go along and see what was happening her. And my luck was in because there was a goods train here in the siding.

The locomotive pulling it is an FOR type 742 – a heavy shunter built for Czech Railways and now used all over the Czech Republic and Slovakia for hauling small freight trains and on occasion even passenger trains. It’s painted in the livery of the Ostravská Dopravní Spolecnost – a freight logisitics company from Ostrava in the Czech Republic.

The railway station and the surrounding area have a very sinister reputation, something that is quite ironic seeing as currently back at home I’m reading a book about the Serbian nation in World War I.

After the collapse of the Serbian Army in 1915 the Serbian soldiers, as well as a great many civilians, who didn’t manage to escape to Greece were arrested and subjected to a most appalling savagery by the Austrian troops. A Prisoner-of-War camp or, to be more precise, a death camp was set up here and there are mass graves all over the area that contain the remains of the Dead.

No-one knows how many Serbians and Montenegrin troops lost their lives here but a monument nearby records the names of over 5,000e known to have died here. I wasn’t able to find the monument or any of the graves while I was here. My Slovak isn’t up to anything much – certainly not for asking about this.

But on another note, if you come this way, don’t go looking for a town called Velky Meder because you probably won’t see a sign for it. You’re more likely to see a sign for Nagymegyer.

That’s because although we are north of the Danube, the frontier between Slovakia and Hungary, this whole area for a considerable number of miles around is ethnically Hungarian but was occupied by Czech Nationalist forces at the end of World War I.

During the Nazi occupation of Czechoslovakia it was awarded to Hungary but recovered in 1945. Even despite the forced relocation of many ethnic minorities in the late 1940s the population is almost entirely ethnically Hungarian and almost everything is written in Hungarian.

So even had I been able to ask for the monument or the graves in Slovak, it probably wouldn’t have done me any good.

There was a LIDL in the vicinity so I stopped for a look around, and then crossed over into Hungary near the town at Gyor

Unfortunately there was nowhere suitable to park to take a photo of the border crossing so in due course I’ll pinch a still from the dashcam and post it. Even so, it’s more new territory for Caliburn and Strawberry Moose to visit.

Gyor was a nice place to drive around but there was nowhere to park and take a photo of the town. And in any case it was far too hot to go for a walk. I was melting.

Caliburn lunch stop Mákosdulo utca Gyor 9025 Hungary eric hall. In the end I found a nice sheltered spot by a small lake on the edge of town.

Here, wedged up in the shade between Caliburn and a hedge I ate my butty and afterwards did a little tidying up. And while I was here, I had a little snooze in the sun. I was at one point thinking about going for a walk in the sun but not in this temperature.

As an aside, I didn’t find out anything about this lake except that it’s one of about three or four in the immediate vicinity. And they all look very artificial to me although of course I wouldn’t know about that.

austin maestro Autós Motoros Oktatópálya gyor hungary eric hallOn the way to my parking place I’d seen a dirt road that crossed a railway line and then seemed to follow the river so I decided to go for a drive.

But I ended up stopping at the side of the road by an area that looked as if it might be a car park or something like that. For in there, parked and partially dismantled with no engine by the looks of things is an old Austin Maestro.

There are many vehicles that I would never expect to see in Eastern Europe, for sure, but the possibility of finding an Austin Maestro is something that I wouldn’t have ever considered. It’s certainly living up to its model name as a “Special” and I notice that it comes with factory-standard body rot.

caliburn dirt road river raba rabapatona hungary eric hallFurther along the road I turned off, crossed the railway line and drove down as far as I could go until I reached the river, when I turned right to follow it for a while.

The river is the River Raba, a 300 kilometre long tributary of the Danube, and the part that I am following seems to be a canalised deviation of it. Where I’m driving looks as if it might be a service track on top of a levee and the amount of dust and gravel that I’m kicking up reminds me all too much of driving along THE TRANS LABRADOR HIGHWAY.

The road went for miles and I was reaching the stage where I was wondering whether I would have to turn around and go back the way that I came. However eventually I came to a house at the side of the track and wheeltracks of a couple of vehicles heading my way convinced me to carry on.

war memorial rabapatona hungary eric hallEventually, having passed underneath a couple of other main roads that crossed the river on bridges, I came to an exit that brought me into the little town of Rabapatona.

The road into the centre of the village brought me past the church and there, in the churchyard, was a war memorial so I went to have a look at it.

It lists the dead of the village for the two World Wars, so there’s nothing special about that. It might have been interesting to see the dead from other conflicts too.

But what really caught my eye was what wasn’t on the memorial. If you look closely at the base of the memorial there’s a patch of a different colour. It made me wonder if there had been something affixed there that is deemed today to be inappropriate. All kinds of shenanigans occurred with Hungary and its political partners between 1848 and 1990.

moskvitch 2141 aleko pickup rabapatona hungary eric hallHaving moaned on earlier in the day about the lack of old Eastern Bloc cars to be found these days, I struck it lucky in Rabapatona.

This exciting looking vehicle is a Moskvitch 2141 Aleko, built during the period 1986-1997. Based somewhat on the old French Simca 1307, the early models were said to have been some of the best cars ever to have come out of the Soviet Union although after the end of Communism, anarchy at the car plant led to a rapid deterioration of quality of the later ones.

Although the saloon cars were quite popular, I can say without fear of contradiction that this is the first ever Aleko pick-up that I’ve ever seen. I didn’t even realise that they were made.

Fighting off the heat (in mid-afternoon it reached 41°C according to two different thermometers) I found my way out of the town and into the countryside, disturbing a wedding as I drove through another small town.

And eventually I managed to track down a hotel – the Hotel Minerva in Mosonmagyarovar. Another lovely 3-star hotel at a bargain price and the first time that I’ve spent a night in Hungary since 1988.

First thing was to have a shower and wash of my clothes, and then I crashed out on the bed for a couple of hours. Rosemary awoke me with a phone call so we had a chat for a while, but I was too late to make any tea.

If the heat lets me, I’ll have a good sleep and then I’ll be ready to move on tomorrow.

Time to think about going home, I reckon.

Friday 7th August 2020 – STRAWBERRY MOOSE AND CALIBURN …

strawberry moose border crossing okres skalika river dubrava cezch republic slovakia eric hall… are breaking new ground today. And here is the obligatory photo of Strawberry Moose and Caliburn, to prove that they were here. We mustn’t go forgetting that.

As for me, it’s 28 years and more since I last set foot in Slovakia – one of the very last coach trips that I did for Shearings back in 1992 before I left and I’m glad to be back because I happen to like Slovakia very much, despite the reputation that it has in certain quarters.

This morning I was awake at something resembling a normal working day. I’d heard all of the alarms go off and I managed to haul myself out of bed by about 06:30 – the first time for ages.

There was plenty of work to be done, such as listening to where I’d been during the night. I was going somewhere, driving and I was in Caliburn, I think. I was being followed by an old Morgan 3-wheeler with a couple in it, driven by a guy with a red handlebar moustache. They were piled up with luggage and seemed to be following me throughout all of my route across Central Europe and it was very interesting although I didn’t exchange a single word with them or anything like that and it was very intriguing to try to work out exactly what they were doing

Not just that but everything else delayed me to such an extent that I was rather late going down to breakfast. But afterwards, I came back here to pack and headed down to pay for my stay. It’s refreshing, the politeness in Eastern Europe. The guy at reception called me “sir” even AFTER I’d paid the bill.

Back outside I headed off south-east. 414 kms in the sweltering heat, roadworks and diversions everywhere.

old cars skoda estelle coupe Nezvestice czech republic eric hallBut after I’d been driving for an hour or so I suddenly found my self tagged on behind an old Czech car, a Skoda Estelle coupé. The “Estelle” was the name given in the Uk to a whole range of Skoda rear-engined cars produced from the mid-60s up until about 1990

In Czechoslovakia, they were identified by their model names, starting with the Skoda 1000MB in 1964 and then passing through the Skoda 100 all the way up to the last 136. As far as I can tell from the rear lights, this one may well be a Skoda 110 from the early 1970s.

Seeing it on the road somehow restores my faith a little in Eastern Europe. One thing that I’ve noticed on my travels so far has been a total lack of Eastern Bloc vehicles and that has been causing me some not inconsiderable dismay.

zdakov bridge river vltava czech republic eric hallAfter seeing the Skoda there wasn’t very much of note or of interest until I saw this magnificent structure right in front of me. This has to be something worth a good look.

It’s called the Zdakov Bridge, built between 1957 and 1967 and has a claim to fame in that at the time of its completion the span of its arch at just marginally under 380 metres made it the longest single-arch span in the World. However it’s subsequently been surpassed by many other bridges, particularly in China

The total length of the bridge is an impressive 543 metres and it’s just under 50 metres above the water underneath it.

river vltava czech republic eric hallThe river over which it passes is the River Vltava, the longest river in the Czech Republic at 430 kilometres long.

This is a tributary of the Elbe and so the general flow of water is northwards-ish from its source near the southern border of the country. It’s navigable by ships of up to 1,000 tonnes as far as Prague and then by ships of 300 tonnes as far as Ceske Budejovice.

Further on, progress is impeded by the existence of various hydro-electric barrages and only very small boats can pass up and downriver beyond there.

river vltava czech republic eric hallIn fact, that’s one of the reasons for the bridge here because the river has been dammed here by the Orlik Dam to create the largest hydro-electric dam in the country, with power of about 360mW. You can see some of the power lines in this photo.

The bridge is named for the village of Zdakov which is somewhere underneath us, flooded by the lake that was created and which we can see just up there. The lake is the largest along the river by volume but not by surface area and contains 720 million cubic metres of water for a surface area of 26km².

Built between 1954 and 1961, the barrage is 91.5 metres high and 450 metres wide.

river vltava czech republic eric hallSeeing as I needed to make a call of nature I decided to go for a walk along the river to see what might be happening here , and to stretch my legs as well.

The scenery was quite stunning and I really envied the people down there on the river cruiser that runs some kind of shuttle service along a navigable section of the river.

However, much as I would like to, I can’t spend all day sunbathing and admiring the scenery. I am running to some kind of timetable, although you may not believe it, and I have a long way to go today. The Czech republic is bigger than you think and I need to be making tracks.

And so I climbed back into Caliburn and continued on my way south-eastwards for a couple of hours.

For lunch I simply pulled up at the side of the road in the shade, had a nibble on some stuff and a little snooze for half an hour. I’m not as young as I was

Nuclear power plant Dukovany czech republic eric hallOhhh loook what i’ve found now. Had I known that I was going to pass by here I’d have brought a potato with me and had fission chips for lunch.

This is the Dukovany Nuclear Power Plant, which will be instantly recognisable to anyone who has ever played “Ton Clancy’s End War” (not that I ever have). The second Czechoslovak (and first Czech Republic) nuclear plant, built using Russian technology in the late 1970s and came on stream in the mid-80s.

There are four nuclear power units in here, all of which are in operation and three of them have been modernised in the first decade of this Century. It produces in total about 1.4TW of electricity, some of which is exported to Austria.

It’s due to be decommissioned in the mid-30s and approval in principle has been given for a replacement unit on the site

mikulov castle czech republic eric hallSo pushing on along my route, I eventually come to the town of Mikulov with its beautiful Romanesque Chateau.

Just a cock-stride away to my right is Austria but I’m not going that way. i’m going past one of the most important historical places in the whole of the Cezch Republic. The first written mention of the place was in 1149 and 100 years later it was in the possession of the Dukes of Liechtenstein, passing to the Hapsburg dynasty in 1560, by which time it was known as Nikolsburg.

There was a medieval stone castle situated here built before the Dukes of Liechtenstein arrived here, although the one here dates from 1719 and completed in 1730 following a fire that damaged the original. This one was burnt out by the Germans retreating from here at the end of World War II and rebuilt in the 1950s.

It’s now a museum an is said to contain one of the largest wine barrels in Europe – a mere 22,300 gallons.

Being so close to the Austrian border there was a very great Germanic influence here in the town but after the end of World War II the ethnic Germans, who made up the bulk of the population, were “removed”. The large Jewish community here had been “removed” during the War and very few survived.

st sebastian chapel holy hill mikulov czech republic eric hallBut despite being one of the major centres of Jewish life in Moravia there’s a significant Christian pilgrimage chapel here too, the Chapel of Saint Sebastian on Holy Hill at the back of town.

The hill itself at 1100 feet is quite significant and is a nature reserve with a load of Protected flora and fauna but the Chapel is the main attraction.

Following a plague here in 1622 the Bishop of Olomouc authorised the construction of a chapel here that would resemble St Peter’s Church in Rome. However it underwent several alterations over the years to obtain its present shape.

There were many rumours about miraculous healings associated with the site and it became a centre of pilgrimage, with accommodation being created in the town and the nearby monastery to cater for the number that arrived.

The Chapel was abandoned in 1786 under the Emperor Jospeh II’s attempts to bring the Hapsburg Empire into the modern World following the death of his traditionalist mother, but having fallen into decay, a restoration programme began in 1861.

Every year since then, except in World War II, there has been a procession of pilgrims on 8th September. They come to walk the famous “Way Of The Cross” and to see the copy of the “Black Madonna of Loreto” that is kept here.

strawberry moose border crossing okres skalika river dubrava cezch republic slovakia eric hallontinuing on my way, dodging more and more roadworks and diversions, I crossed over into Slovakia round about 18:00.

It’s the Euro in Slovakia, much to my surprise, and so with what remained of my Czech Kronor I fuelled up Caliburn at a local petrol station near the border. This brings back many memories of travelling around Europe back in the 1970s and 80s.

And then I went looking for a hotel.

hotel senica slovakia eric hallHere I am in the Hotel Senica, in the town of Senica in between the border and Bratislava.

It’s a modern hotel on the edge of the city, very clean and tidy and, like most places in the former Eastern Europe, very good value.

First task once I’d installed myself was to set tea on the go, and then clothes-washing and a shower. It was so hot in here that after tea I crashed out again, but having worked out how the air-conditioning works, it’s a much-more reasonable temperature now.

And so I’m hoping to have a good sleep tonight and hit the road tomorrow. I’m not going to be travelling very far but nevertheless there is plenty to do.

But something else will turn up to distract me – it usually does.

Tuesday 4th August 2020 – STRAWBERRY MOOSE …

strawberry moose caliburn kyjov 348 15 Zadní Chodov czech republic eric hall… has Czeched in to his latest accommodation.

It’s not the first tile that Strawberry Moose and Caliburn have visited the Czech Republic. We were here IN MAY 2015 when we took the short cut from East Germany and Colditz Castle to Munich.

This time, we’re going to spend a few days exploring the town of Karlovy Vary, or Carlsbad as it was called in its days as a city of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

We’re installed in our hotel already but we haven’t had a chance to visit the town yet because after the horrible night that I had had last night, I crashed out as soon as I sat down on my bed.

But returning to the beginning, having crashed out earlier yesterday evening, I awoke at about 23:00 and then I couldn’t go back to sleep again for hours. I remember seeing 02:30 come round, and probably a few other times as well.

Nevertheless, I was up at something reasonable, like 06:30, feeling like death again.

There was a pile of paperwork to do, such as transcribe the notes off the dictaphone

There was something going on like an exhibition or a fete or something. I was wandering around somewhere and i’d come across some old shoes of children and I’d stacked them somewhere to hide while I attended this fete. On the way back it was dark and I had awful difficulty finding them. In the end I found them and walked on home. It was a really steep slope and I walked up with someone else. A third person said something like “this is the right place to be to give yourself an alibi. They hadn’t known that I had only just got there. I said “no” and something about how I know people here so I could get down the front. I walked up this really steep slope with this woman. In the dark I had to grope around and eventually found the pile of shoes that I’d hidden. I walked on through this village and this guy accosted me and said “where are your shoes? Why haven’t you your shoes on?” I though to myself “God, is that the only thing he’s noticed?” I felt like giving him a right mouthful then I suddenly realised that I’d dropped some of this pile of shoes so I had to go back and get them. I walked back and retraced my steps and eventually found them. Then I put on some trousers and started to walk back thinking that I’d put on my trousers but I’m not putting on my shoes just for him. If he asks anything I’ll show him these shoes that I have in my hand that I’d now found all of. I also had a box and it was a matching mother and daughter swimsuit that I was going to give to someone. When I got to where I was supposed to be going with all these things they looked at this box and said “God I hope that they can get that in their luggage”. I was thinking that they could always undo the box and take the things out, can’t they?

Next task was to download the files off the dashcam. For some unknown reason the data cable wouldn’t work and I had to dismantle the machine to take out the SD card and insert it in the laptop. It took so long that I ended up with the hotel cleaner banging on the door.

Eventually I found myself back on the road again, heading north.

My first port of call was at Thomann’s at Burgebrach. As regular readers of this rubbish will recall, my acoustic guitar is a cheap and nasty £25:00 cheap thing and after trying to play it at home more regularly than ever I used to, I’ve decided that I want a new, decent one.

Thomann’s is usually said to be the place to go but actually it was something of a disappointment. They didn’t have available what I wanted and the labelling and pricing system of the guitars on display is such that you need to be a contortionist with a magnifying glass to read the prices.

Furthermore, the stock isn’t labelled to tell you what kind of guitar it is.

As for the staff, they seem to be another lot of minimum-wage shelf fillers rather than assistants and have no idea how to engage with the customers. No-one seemed to be interested in talking to me and when I finally grabbed hold of a sales person, he didn’t seem in the least bit interested in my story.

In the end, having driven all the way there, I drove away empty handed, full of disappointment.

At Burgebrach I’m only about 180 kms or so from the Czech border. At the moment the borders are still open but they won’t be for long, so Strawberry and I went for a drive. It’s been five years since we’ve been there.

And despite the short distance, it took an age to get there. The roads are narrow, steep and winding and full of lorries and tractors trying to negotiate them. At one stage we passed a speed indicator that showed that we were travelling at all of 12 kph.

When we arrived at the border we found it unmanned so we just drove straight through. Unfortunately there was nowhere to stop to take a photo of the border sign. We had to drive on to the first village before we could stop.

kyjov 348 15 Zadní Chodov, czech republic eric hallThe village where I stopped was called Kyjov.

It’s not to be confused with the town of the same name that’s to be found in the centre of the country. This is a small village about 6 or 7 kilometres from the frontier with Germany, not too far from Planá in the region that used to be the Sudetenland.

The contrast between the rich West and the poor East is very apparent as soon as we cross over. It brings back all kinds of memories of times past when I used to come over what was the Iron Curtain 30 and 40 years ago. The modernisation of Eastern Europe is a very slow process.

The fuel in Caliburn started to run low so I took a deviation into the town of Marienbad, nowadays called Mariánské Lázne, and fuelled up there, seeing as fuel was cheaper here than in the West.

tatra lorry Becov nad Teplou czech republic eric hallFrom Marienbad I pushed on to the north-east and ended up in the town of Becov nad Teplou.

This was a very interesting place to stop, and for several reasons too, one of which was this gorgeous Tatra lorry. Eastern European vehicles have always held a fascination for me but unfortunately these days it’s very rare to see one running around. Everyone seems to prefer Western vehicles.

Eastern vehicles were heavy, primitive and rather difficult to drive but they were built to last for ever and easy to maintain. There would still be swarms of them on the road today had they not become unfashionable after the fall of the Iron Curtain.

ruined abandoned house hotel central Becov nad Teplou czech republic eric hallit wasn’t just the Tatra lorry that caused me to stop here at Becov nad Teplou. This magnificent building is enough to stop anyone in their tracks.

This is the Hotel Central and looking at it, it’s very hard to believe that at one time it was a luxury hotel. It was built for someone called Georg Rohm in 1876 and sold to a Maria Schmidt in 1892. She sold it on to someone called Franz Bachmann in 1901.

At the end of World War II Bachmann and his family, being of German origin, were expelled from Czechoslovakia and it was used as barracks by Red Army soldiers. After they left it was used as a barracks for miners and they stayed here until the mid-50s.

After being empty for a while it was restored by volunteers and became a Post Office and cafe but the economic situation in the country after the end of Communism meant that there was no money to maintain the buiding and it deteriorated rapidly until it reached the state in which it currently is.

And that’s a tragedy because it’s a beautiful Art Nouveau building with some wonderful features.

Over the road from the hotel is the local railway station. It’s on the line between Karlovy Vary and Mariánské Lázne (the old Marienbad) and I was lucky to find a pile of railway equipment hanging around there.

CSD Class M 152.0 multiple unit train Becov nad Teplou czech republic eric hallOver on the far side of the station were these two diesel multiple units with notices that they will be travelling to Mariánské Lázne.

Not knowing all that much about Czech trains, I reckon that these are two CSD class M 152.0 units coupled together. And if so, although they don’t look like it, these are quite elderly, having been built between 1976 and 1982 by Vagonka Studénka, a company which these days is part of Skoda.

They have undergone two series of modernisations, the latest being 2018, so it looks as if Czech railways is planning to have another 15 years of use at least out of these.

CSD Class M 152.0 multiple unit train Becov nad Teplou czech republic eric hallAnd this is another one of the CSD Class M 152.0 multiple units, all on its own this time.

This one is in the livery of Czech Railways rather than in the livery of a private operator and carries the logo “Regio Mouse” which is a marketing name given to these little trains running on the small local lines of the Czech Republic.

It’s a shame that I wasn’t able to go over and look inside them to see the interior. However I have seen a photograph of the inside of an unmodernised unit and they are quite primitive and basic, very 1970s in fact. I wouldn’t fancy the idea of going on a long-distance journey on one of these. They remind me of Crosville buses from the 1960s.

It made me wonder what the interior of a modernised unit would be like.

siemens dueweg regio sprinter AŽD 654 multiple unit Becov nad Teplou czech republic eric hallThis multiple unit is a much more modern unit.

It’s a Siemens Dueweg Regio Sprinter of the type that was built in Germany between 1995 and 1998. They are quite lightweight and were designed to replace trams and city buses on longer tram routes, and are a great favourite in Europe to run on reopened railway lines.

And it’s for that reason that the Czech Railways have bought some, and called them the AŽD 654 . A large number of railway routes were closed to passengers due to the financial crisis of the early 1990s and a few of them have been subsequently reopened, some being worked by these train sets.

Back in Caliburn I set off from here into the mountains for my destination, Karlovy Vary. A town better known to travellers of 130 years ago as Carlsbad, it was the place to be back in those days, the principal spa town of the Austro-Hungarian Empire where all of the rich and famous “came to take the waters”.

My hotel is a few miles outside the town in the small town of Brezova.

And don’t be fooled that it’s only shown in the advertisements as a short distance away from Karlovy Vary. That distance is measured in a straight line. But in actual fact to reach Karlovy Vary from here you have to go in a tortuous winding direction following the path that the River Tepla has carved through the mountains.

hotel st michael Hamerská 27, 360 01 Brezová, Czech republic eric hallAnd here’s my hotel – the Hotel St Michael here in Brezova.

It’s quite a beautiful hotel but it’s seen better days, that’s for sure. It would have been splendid back in the days of glory of the Austro-Hungarian Empire but like everywhere else, it’s rather tired these days, just like me in fact.

After my rather busy day I’m quite exhausted and tired. I’ve smuggled my food and slow cooker into the hotel and made myself some tea, and then crashed out for a while. Now that I’m awake, I’m off to bed for a really good sleep, I hope. Tomorrow morning I shall go for an explore of Karlovy Vary.

Thursday 30th July 2020 – STRAWBERRY MOOSE …

strawberry moose lech austria eric hall… and I have arrived at his favourite holiday resort. And we had to stop so that Strawberry Moosecould have his usual photo opportunity

We’re staying for a couple of days while we get our respective heads together, and we need to do that too because of the dreadful night that I had last night. Never mind what time I went to bed – I was still wide-awake as late as 03:05 with no sign of ever going off to sleep.

But I must have done at some point because not only did the alarm awaken me at 06:00 (and I even beat the third alarm to my feet) there was something recorded on the dictaphone too.

A girl whom I know from Crewe put in a visit last night. She was going off home and I’d lent Caliburn to her to tow a caravan. I walked back through Shavington to Vine Tree Avenue where Caliburn was parked. We could see my brother and father in the distance – my father was getting ready to come home from work – it was 06:00 and he was getting in his vehicle. As we went past, down the street was a policeman who was interrogating a couple over a book which was something like a book by Kerouac or something. He saw the two of us and made some kind of remark to which I made some kind of remark back and mentioned the book that I was reading. He clouted me with a book so I clouted him back with a book. By this time I noticed that this girl was actually holding my hand as we were walking down the street. One thing that was going through my mind was that the tax on Caliburn had run out and I had vehicles without tax parked all over the place. I was wondering if ever it came to the push that they might be towed away where was I going to put them. I got to wondering what my father would have to say about me lending someone a vehicle that didn’t have any road tax. And more to the point what would a person say, where would she be parking it or leaving it and the closer I got to home the more I was thinking about this.

swiss postal bike motel poularde romont switzerland eric hallThere was plenty of other stuff to do this morning and then I went to breakfast.

My room is over there in the annex so I had to cross the garden to reach the main part of the hotel. On the way over I passed the postman delivering the mail. What cought my eye was not the postman or the post that he was delivering but the machine on which he was delivering it.

50 or so years ago everyone laughed at the Ariel 3, and yet here we are today, which just goes to show what proper publicity and marketing could have done for the British motorcycle industry had they put their minds to it. But being stuck in a timewarp of the early 1950s, british industry totally failed to move with the times.

I had to decline the cheese and the ham but the rest of the breakfast (included in the price) was very acceptable and despite the cost of the night’s accommodation, it was all pretty good value for Switzerland.

Collecting all of my stuff together I headed off – as far as the local Co-op. Regular readers of this rubbish will recall that there had been an issue at the Hotel last night in that the Swiss plugs are different from the rest of Europe. The hotel had lent me an adapter but I had to hand that back this morning.

It’s not the first time that i’ve been caught out by the lack of a Swiss adapter so I reckoned that I may as well buy my own while I was here.

While I was here, I bought a baguette. In France it had cost me €0:45 but here in Switzerland where there is no Common Agricultural Policy it cost me €1:90. The silly Brits are going to be in for quite a surprise once the Transition Period is over.

Most of the day was spent driving all the way through Switzerland in the sweltering heat. Slightly north of east towards the Austrian border at Dornbirn.

Stuck behind slow-moving grockles for most of the day, and roadworks after roadworks after roadworks, it took ages to cross the country. It really got on my wick.

lake lucerne viewpoint Luzernerstrasse 6403 Küssnacht Switzerland eric hallWith the temperature at 35°C and feeling like every degree of double that, I was driving along the side of Lake Lucerne from Luzern north-east when I came upon a scenic viewpoint at the side of the road.

The views from here were tremendous. For example, down at the end of the lake I could see the town of Kussnacht where I turn off eastwards and head eventually for the Austrian frontier.

There wasn’t any shade at all here unfortunately, not even in the lee of Caliburn, but having been stuck behind all kinds of traffic in the streets of Luzern and Merlischachen, I was running much later than I wanted to and I had been ready for lunch for ages.

lake lucerne viewpoint Luzernerstrasse 6403 Küssnacht Switzerland eric hallChewing on my sandwich I had a good look around at my surroundings.

Across the lake from me is actually a “seaside” resort, the Strandbad Seeburg. That would have been a great place to go for lunch had I had the time. A nice relax on a sandy beach would have done me the world of good and I might even have gone for a paddle.

There are also bound to be several good hotels over there too, because the town is the birthplace of César Ritz, the founder of the “Ritz” hotel chains. He died there in the town in October 1918.

lake lucerne viewpoint Luzernerstrasse 6403 Küssnacht Switzerland eric hallIt’s a shame that we aren’t going that way.

That’s the spine of the Alps down there, on the border between Switzerland and Italy and it would seem to be the place to be right now because it wil be much cooler up there at those kinds of altitiudes. Regular readers of this rubbish will recall that WE’VE BEEN IN THE SNOW UP THERE WTH CALIBURN in July.

If there hadn’t been as much haze around today, we might have been able to see snow. But as we’ll be pushing on into the Tyrol we might be lucky in finding some snow ourselves – or at least some cooler weather.

With that in mind, we pushed on into the town and then headed east.

view from steinerbergstrasse between steinerberg and steinen switzerland eric hallIn between Lake Lucerne and Lake Zurich we pass over a high range of mountains heading north-east, climbing out of one valley into another.

As we climbed up the pass, there was quite a distinctive mountain away to our right in the east that seemed to dog my viewpoint. I’ve no idea what mountain it might be but it piqued my interest. Eventually I cane to a place somewhere in between Steinerberg and Sattel where I could pull off the road and take a photograph it.

And it wasn’t just the mountain there either. There’s a modern concrete viaduct of either a road or a railway over there too, and there is some type of large bird, maybe an eagle, flying around over there too. And I didn’t notice that until I returned home.

view from steinerbergstrasse between steinerberg and steinen switzerland eric hallThe views were just as interesting to the south as well.

That’s the town of Steinen down there, I reckon, with Seewen in the distance, all of them in the valley of the Lauerzersee. We can see the spine of the Alps in the distance and just imagine how spectacular this view would be in cold weather when there would be no heat haze. But then again we wouldn’t have been able to climb up here in Caliburn as easily as this in the middle of winter.

Having taken our couple of photos, we headed off north-eastwards in the direction of St Gallen and the Austrian border.

multiple unit level crossing schwyzerstrasse between Rothenthurm and Biberbrugg Switzerland eric hallA little further on we pick up the railway that has been following us through the mountains much more precariously that we have been travelling on the road.

As we drive through the Sattel Pass through Rothenthurm and out of the other side on the way to Biberbrugg the railway line makes another one of its regular level crossings across our path and I’m in luck at this one because as I approach it, the barriers come down and a couple of minutes later a train rattles past.

This is one of the 11 Sudostbahn, the South Eastern Railway FLIRT RABe526 trains made by Stadler, a model of train that works on the railway networks of many countries all over Europe and North Africa and even in North America, the city of Ottawa having purchased 7 for the upgrade of its “Trillium” Line and its new link to Ottawa Airport.

Eventually I reached the border and crossed into Austria.

Just outside Dornbirn I fuelled up with diesel. €1:06 a litre which is a relief after the prices that I saw in Switzerland and I subsequently saw it even cheaper too.

From Dornbirn there are two ways on into the interior of Austria. The first, and most common way, is along the main road, past Bludenz and either through the Arlberg Tunnel if you have plenty of cash or over the Arlberg Pass.

But there is another way – the Bregenzerwald Bundesstrasse Highway, the modern-day L 200, over the mountains. Despite it only being 63 kms long from Dornbirn to Warth, It took an unbelievable 75 years to build, construction having been started in 1879.

The final section, from Schrocken to Warth, despite being only about 10kms, took 25 years to build and was not finally completed until 1954.

It’s quite narrow, especially at the older Dornbirn end and not possible to take a coach over it which is why I’ve never been that way before. But Caliburn, Strawberry Moose and I managed it quite comfortably.

It’s a spectacular road and one of this days I’ll post the dashcam footage. You’ll find out why a 53-foot touring coach wouldn’t ever come this way

At Warth we turned off towards the Fern Pass and after a good hour in the mountains from Dornbirn, we ended up in Lech. As regular readers of this rubbish will recall, WE’VE BEEN HERE BEFORE and on several occasions too, including once with Nerina. It’s a place that Strawberry Moose, Caliburn and I really like.

au hubertus lech austria  eric hallOnce we’d taken our photograph, we had to hunt down my hotel.

And it took some finding too. House numbers in Austria don’t follow any logical sequence and someone once told me that they are numbered in the order in whcih they are built.

Considering that it was one of the cheapest hotels in Lech, this is one of the best places where I have ever stayed and I’ll let you know tomorrow about the breakfast. If it’s anything like the rest of the hotel, it’ll be tremendous.

sunset over the mountains lech austria eric hallHaving smuggled my slow cooker into the hotel I was able to make some tea.

While it’s cooking, I can tell you about my room It’s quite small but very comfortable and a nice view looking north-west. With it being the height of summer it’s staying light pretty late and we have a beautiful red sky at night- a sure sign that Zug is on fire, I reckon.

And having had my tea now, I’m going to bed. After that dreadful night and the fact that I haven’t crashed out at all today, I’m ready for it.

A few days here to recover my strength and then I’ll see where we go from there.

Monday 20th July 2020 – TODAY WAS …

… something of a rather sad day. Nothing to do with anything that I have done, I hasten to add, but from a historical perspective – more of which anon

First off though, taking my bag off the bed, I noticed a rather large brown stain on the quilt. Somehow my bottle of gravy browning has leaked. So I had to scrub the quilt cover with soap to stop the stain fixing into the cover

Secondly, I still can’t make the internet work here. So having learnt the technique of USB tethering last night, I used it again, It’s not very satisfactory but at least it works.

That is, well enough to type up the notes off the dictaphone. There were some weird goings-on last night but unfortunately I can only remember a bit of it. There was a housing estate like Park Estate in Shavington and a house on there was all overgrown and filthy, full of weeds and the house was all infested with cobwebs. I was with a young guy. I don’t remember too much about how it started off but I remember that eventually we were driving around Park Estate together. We went to this house as we had to pick something up and this involved getting a third guy to go with us. There was a woman there and a guy – it might have been my friend from Stoke on Trent. In the meantime there was some discussion about someone else. As we were driving around this estate he said that he was the guy who did something or other. This young guy pointed out a building and said “that’s where that guy committed suicide 3 years ago. He gassed himself”. I could vaguely remember that so he said “yes, he had a washing machine that was for sale”. I was really interested. When I looked on my Social Network pages I found that he was born in Pwllheli. That was really interesting to me and I was very disappointed to find out that he had died. We got to this house and got a few things together. This living room was so untidy and no-one seemed to be bothered at all. Filthy, untidy, cobwebby. In the end to close the door it was just a case of pulling the curtains and kick a load of stuff out of the way. This woman was sitting there doing something said “yes, that’s fine”. We had to go outside then and get in my van ready to go but the other guy then started to move some sand and gravel and ash around. It was a case of getting a barrow-load of stuff, tipping it through a sieve and the stuff that passed through the sieve, throwing it away somewhere. All these long grass and weeds so he was doing that. At one stage he was pushing a load and went to tip it up and the barrow just folded up under the weight. He was cursing this and I thought to myself “now that they have messed up the wheelbarrow we might actually stand a chance of going”

Another thing that I mentioned on the dictaphone that I head when I transcribed my notes was “don’t forget to add that someone else’s flaming alarm awoke me at blasted 05:10 this morning”.

Having had a shower I went downstairs, made my excuses to the receptionist and then loaded up Caliburn. Reversing into the busy street was … errr … interesting, but eventually we set off and in the blistering heat, headed south.

burnt out houses at entrance to oradour sur glane 87520 haute vienne france eric hallAfter a drive of several hours in the sunshine, I finally came to my first port of call.

My route took me round the city of Limoges on the ring road out westwards on the N141 toward Angouleme to reach what is probably the saddest place in Western Europe where the nadir of man’s inhumanity to man in the horrors of war was reached.

And if the burnt-out building on the hill over there in the previous photo hasn’t given you a clue as to where I am, then read on.

burnt out peugeot 202 square town centre town centre oradour sur glane 87520 haute vienne france eric hallThis is the photo that everyone has seen and which comes to everyone’s mind when the subject of Oradour sur Glane comes to the fore.

The burnt-out shell of the old Peugeot 202 in the town square has featured in just about every article or every story that has ever been written about that tragedy that took place here on the 10th of June 1944 as a company of the Das Reich 2nd Panzer Division of the SS passed by on its way to the Normandy beaches.

And after they left the village, only 6 people who had encountered the Germans remained alive and all were seriously wounded.

memorial in cemetery oradour sur glane 87520 haute vienne france eric hallThe scale of the massacre can be gauged by plaques such as this that cover the cemetery.

Of the women and children rounded up by the SS, only one woman survived to tell the tale. All of the others regardless of age, from the smallest baby to the oldest grandmother, were brutally killed, in many cases by being burnt alive, in the village church by the soldiers.

No-one knows the exact number because the village was home to dozens of refugees who had been bombed out from elsewhere and who were not recorded on the census held by the authorities, but the best estimate is that 349 women and children lost their lives either in the church or while attempting to escape from the inferno.

the grange laudy on the road to the cemetery oradour sur glane 87520 haute vienne france eric hallThe fate of the men was no better.

In places like this, the men who had been rounded up were shot – in the legs according to one of the 5 who survived – so that they would be disabled. Then wood and so on was piled up on top of the injured men and set alight so that they burned to death.

In this barn, the Grange Laudy or “Laudy’s Barn”, one of 6 places of execution, 62 men were herded. 6 of them made a run for the door when the fire was at its height and 5 managed to escape completely despite their wounds, the 6th being shot down and killed.

In total, approximately 643 unarmed civilians were brutally slaughtered, and the village was burned down around them. Everything that could burn was destroyed.

So while I post the remainder of the photos that I took, which in most cases have little bearing on the text that accompanies them, I’ll tell you a story.

Each photo is captioned individually by the way with as much information as I have found to date. Click on the photo to see it. If you have anything to add, please use the link to the contact form bottom-right.

And so, the history of the village of Oradour sur Glane is somewhat complicated because, as you might expect in a tragedy such as this, quite a few romantic notions have been allowed to creep into the story and which may or may not have some foundation in fact, and I’ll do my best to avoid perpetuating any myth.

burnt out cars unknown makes and models road to saint junien oradour sur glane 87520 haute vienne france eric hallBut let’s start at the very beginning.

The name of the village, Oradour, is said to come from that Latin oratorium, which suggests that during the Gallo-Roman period … “you must NEVER say simply ROMAN in France” – ed … there was some form of place for prayer here.

Its first mention in print was in 1264 when it appears in the Chronique de Maleu, where it is stated that Oratorio supra Glanant belongs to the canons of the Abbey of St Junien.

As is usual with these places it passes into the hands of nobles and then by a variety of marriages and inheritances it changes hands quite rapidly until the French Revolution which swept all of the nobility away.

It’s often been said that by the time of the outbreak of the Second World War it was a sleepy little village in the countryside, but I’m wondering just how much of that is simply poetic licence.

burnt out cars garage desourteaux oradour sur glane 87520 haute vienne france eric hallIf you have a look in many of the barns and garages of the town, like this one here, there are the remains of burnt-out vehicles everywhere.

As far as I could see, I counted 32 of them that were plainly visible and it’s almost inevitable that there were others that I wasn’t able to see. There were other vehicles, such as the draper’s van, that were known to have been driven away by the German troops when they left.

No village with that many vehicles is going to be sleepy by the standards of 1930s rural France, surely?

tramway burnt out houses road to javerdat sur glane 87520 haute vienne france eric hallFurthermore, there was electricity in the village, and even an electric tramway that connected the village to Limoges and you can see the remains of the line in this photo.

It’s quite true to say that there was a network of “tacot” – the narrow-gauge lightweight tramways that honeycombed their way all across rural France, but for the most part they were shoestring operations rather like the railways of Colonel Stephens in the UK, staggering on under a burden of financial uncertainty and barely surviving into the 1950s.

An electric tramway shows a degree of investment that would never ordinarily be seen in a “tacot” network. It seems that the population of the village must have been wealthy enough to have been considered a worthwhile target for the railway company under these circumstances.

burnt out houses on the road to st junien oradour sur glane 87520 haute vienne france eric hallDuring World War II 168 men from the village were conscripted into the French Army and at the cease-fire 113 of them returned to the village. The rest were either prisoners, displaced or lost.

That was basically the village’s only connection with a War that had largely passed them by, other than of course the arrival of different groups of refugees who came to the area.

The villagers were never really bothered by the pressures of occupation, being content at first with life under the Vichy regime.

Gradually as the war wore on they became more and more disillusioned. The general opinion drifted towards a yearning for liberation and an Allied victory and several people joined the Resistance.

Several more people assisted with the “rat lines” of exfiltrating evading Allied soldiers and airmen.

burnt out houses on the road to javerdat oradour sur glane 87520 haute vienne france eric hallThe Normandy landings were greeted with a great deal of relief and people began to look for the day that they could return to peacetime normality.

But this is when Das Reich entered the scene.

On the Eastern Front the 2nd Waffen SS Division Das Reich had been through the mill and at the 4th Battle of Kharkov in April 1944 it had been very badly mauled and had been withdrawn from the fighting.

It had been sent to south-west France, the area around Montauban, to rest and be reconstructed with new recruits.

burnt out houses on the road to javerdat oradour sur glane 87520 haute vienne france eric hallThe D-Day Landings had caught it in a state of unreadiness but nevertheless it was ordered North to confront the Allies.

What should have been a fairly pleasant journey northwards was fraught with problems as the resistance left no stone unturned in their efforts to delay the troops. Destruction of bridges, dynamiting the railway, ambushes in country lanes were the norm.

On the Eastern Front, no quarter was ever asked for or given and a decree of 3rd February 1944 signed by Hitler had made it clear that extreme action against the civilian population in the face of terrorist action was appropriate.

burnt out offices of the dentist M Regnier oradour sur glane 87520 haute vienne france eric hallDas Reich brought with them to the Western Front this behaviour and as their route north was littered with Resistance attacked, it was also littered with atrocities committed by Das Reich against the civilian population in revenge.

Regular readers of this rubbish will recall that WE VISITED TULLE in 2014 where Das Reich had hanged 99 civilians from lamp-posts, but the worst is yet to come.

The reason why Oradour-sur-Glane was chosen to be the site of the worst massacre of civilians in Western Europe in modern times has never been satisfactorily explained.

tramway and burnt out houses on the road to javerdat oradour sur glane 87520 haute vienne france eric hallA German officer, a certain Lieutenant Gerlach, had been carried away by the Resistance. Legend has it that the Germans suspected the village as being the home of the Resistants concerned, but this has never been established with any certainly.

It was however a day when there was to be a medical inspection of the inhabitants so everyone from the village and the surrounding neighbourhood would be in the vicinity of the schools where the inspections were to take place.

But whatever the reason, Sturmbannfuhrer Adolf Deikmann had received instructions to create “an event of the greatest possible terror” to quieten the resistance activity in the area.

burnt out houses on the road to javerdat oradour sur glane 87520 haute vienne france eric hallAt some time between 13:30 and 13:45 the village is surrounded by a force of about 150 German soldiers.

And when I say “German” I have to be very careful because there were without any doubt several soldiers of Das Reich were Alsatian – from the French province of Alsace that was forcibly incorporated into Germany.

A German officer present, Heinz Barth, is quoted by the French author Jean-Jacques Fouché as saying “now we’ll see what the Alsatians are capable of”.

burnt out car unknown make and model on the road to javerdat oradour sur glane 87520 haute vienne france eric hallOne has to be very careful not to make or imply any kind of suggestion that the Alsatian troops in Das Reich took part willingly in the massacre.

The merest hint or suggestion brings down the wrath of at least one Alsatian ex-combatants’ association onto the heads of the author.

It’s not been unknown for these Associations to trawl the literary world for such allegations and to haul authors and historians before the Courts on charges of slander and libel. And while these cases are generally dismissed, it’s still quite an expensive and time-consuming process.

champ de foire looking towards town square oradour sur glane 87520 haute vienne eric hallWhere we are standing is in the Champ de Foire, the marketplace of the village, with the burnt-out Peugeot 202 down at the far end.

The German troops advanced into town from all directions herding the civilians into the marketplace. By 14:45 there were almost 250 people there

Other troops were out in the neighbourhood rounding up the agricultural workers labouring in the fields while more soldiers made a systematic search of the houses for anyone hiding or attempting to escape and discovered something like 150 people hiding.

tramway from limoges near church looking towards javerdat oradour sur glane 87520 haute vienne france eric hallThere is good evidence to suggest that some of the women and girls found hiding were sujected to sexual violence by the soldiers and several were shot dead or beaten to death on the spot.

And at this moment, to add to the confusion, a tram from Limoges pulled up in the town. One of the people on board leapt down as if to make good his escape but was immediately shot down on the spot and his body thrown in the river.

As for the two member of the crew on board, their papers were checked by an officer and ordered to return with their tram to Limoges.

eglise saint martin oradour sur glane 87520 haute vienne france eric hallBy 15:00, with as many as possible of the village now assembled in the Champ de Foire, the women and children, believed to be 350 in total, were led off to the Eglise St Martin, St Martin’s Church.

Boys over the age of 14 remained in the marketplace with the men.

As to what happened that afternoon in the church, there was only one survivor, Marguerite Rouffanche. She was questioned on several occasions and swore a deposition on 13th June 1944 before the Prefect of Limoges, according to a report prepared for the French Government 2 days later. Her story never varied from one moment to the next

inside eglise saint martin oradour sur glane 87520 haute vienne france eric hallThe women and children were herded into the church and once they were inside the Germans place some kind of large container in there.

This container had cords trailing from it and the Germans lit these cords. As a result there was a loud, enormous explosion and a huge thick wave of black suffocating smoke.

According to subsequent testimony, the aim was to bring down the roof of the church onto the people inside but the explosive charge was insufficient so the Germans threw hand grenades and fired bursts of machine gun fire through the door and windows in an orgy of slaughter.

missing roof of eglise  saint martin oradour sur glane 87520 haute vienne france eric hallOnce the Germans were convinced that there was no-one left alive in the church they heaped a pile of straw inside and set the church alight.

However there were a great many people still alive in the church. Several people who had taken shelter behind the altar attempted to escape from under cover of the smoke. There was a broken window behind the altar near to which they found a step ladder that was used when the curé had to light the candles.

A crying baby held by one of the escapees alerted the Germans who machine-gunned them all down. Marguerite Rouffanche, badly injured, managed to haul herself into the shelter of a nearby garden. She was the only survivor from the church. Everyone else was killed.

burnt out houses in the champ de foire oradour sur glane 87520 haute vienne france eric hallAs for the 180 or so men and boys, they were kept waiting here in the Champ de Foire while the Germans searched the houses for any arms and ammunition.

The “official reason” that the Germans had visited the village, according to the survivors, was that the Germans suspected that there was an arms dump in the village. This was what they had all been told while they were waiting in the Champ de Foire

The Germans found nothing of any particular significance, so the next stage was that round about 16:00 the men were led off in groups of about 30 to various locations.

forge beaulieu tramway road to javerdat oradour sur glane 87520 haute vienne france eric hallAmongst the places to which they were taken were

  • The Grange Laudy
  • The Forge Beaulieu (here on the right of this photo
  • The Chai Denis
  • The Garage Desourteaux
  • The Grange Milord
  • The Grange Bouchoute

burnt out garage near forge beaulieu oradour sur glane 87520 haute vienne france eric hallAccording to the 5 survivors, after a long wait, the Germans opened fire on the men and boys, first of all aiming for the legs to cripple them.

And while they were still alive, they were covered with straw and other flammable material which was then set alight so that they were burnt to death.

At the Grange Laudy, 6 wounded men made a break for it under cover of the smoke. One was gunned down but the others made good their escape.

burnt out car unknown make and model near chai denis on the road to javerdat oradour sur glane 87520 haute vienne france eric hallHaving murdered all of the villagers that they could find, the Germans then turned their attention to the buildings.

The buildings were looted of anything of value and then set alight. During this operation many more civilians were discovered hiding and either pulled out by the Germans or attempted to flee the flames.

These were shot down in cold blood, and it was discovered subsequently that the bodies of some women and girls were in positions that suggested sexual violence.

forge beaulieu tramway road to javerdat oradour sur glane 87520 haute vienne france eric hallRound about 18:00 an engineer from the tramway turned up to find out what was going on. He was met by a mass of flames. He was also met by a German patrol who checked his identity and then told him to clear off and think himself lucky.

Also round about this time a tram from Limoges turned up, and a further one arrived two hours later. They too were searched, the identity of the passengers and crew were checked and they were all turned back.

Several other people attempted to reach the village from across the fields but met German patrols and were turned away.

burnt out car unknown make and model on the road to javerdat oradour sur glane 87520 haute vienne france eric hallLater on that evening most of the troops departed, taking away a great deal of the booty and leaving a detachment of soldiers secured in one of the shops to guard the village.

The discovery later on of several hundreds of empty bottles of wine and champagne in the building tells its own story of what went on during this night and it’s possible that the deaths of some of the girls and women occurred during this period.

Over the following two days the main body of troops returned and did what they could to clear away the human remains and render impossible any identification of the deceased, just as they would do on the Eastern Front.

All that they could find were buried in a hastily-dug pit behind the church.

burnt out peugeot 202 square town centre oradour sur glane 87520 haute vienne france eric hallDuring these two days a cordon of troops around the village tried to keep the civilians away.

However, some people, including the sous-préfet of the region, managed to infiltrate themselves into the village to see the situation.

What they saw rendered them speechless and their subsequent report need not be repeated, save one remark from the sous-préfet that the village was beyond help.

If you remember our railway engineer who was met by a mass of flames, it’s hardly a surprise.

burnt out cars unknown make and model near forge beaulieu oradour sur glane 87520 haute vienne france eric hallIncluding the 5 men and one woman who escaped directly from the slaughter, it’s reckoned that in total about 30 people actually present in the village at the time survived.

One 8 year old boy waiting for his medical inspection saw the Germans arrive and ran away into the woods just before the cordon closed. Everyone else in his family was killed.

Two men took shelter in the drains and hid there until it was safe to leave, and then they sneaked off into the woods.

burnt out crushed car unknown make and model near forge beaulieu oradour sur glane 87520 haute vienne france eric hallOf those hiding in the houses, some managed to hold out amongst the flames until dark and then likewise sneak out into the woods.

One youth with a broken leg in plaster and who had been unable to attend the medical inspection nevertheless managed to make his way into the woods under cover of darkness.

Another dozen or so passengers from the tram that arrived in the evening also managed to slip away into the woods.

Everyone has his or her own story to tell about their own drama on that day in June.

burnt out houses on the road to the cemetery oradour sur glane 87520 haute vienne france eric hallOn 13th June, the Préfèt of the département and Monseigneur Louis Paul Rastouil, the Bishop of Limoges, visited the village and made a report of the incident to the French authorities in Vichy.

It’s in this report that the first suggestion is made that the Germans were retaliating for the kidnap of one of their officers, although the Préfèt added that the village was one of the calmest and hard-working in his area.

On the 14th of June the Bishop sent a strongly-worded protest to the German General in charge of the area, and 2 days later held a mass to mark the event. Several other masses were said and a ceremony was held in the Cathedral on 21st June despite the best efforts of the Vichy police to disrupt it.

burnt out houses on the corner of the champ de foire and the road to the cemetery oradour sur glane 87520 haute vienne france eric hallBy now, the Pope had come to learn of the event and his ambassador sent a strongly-worded rebuke to Marshall Petain, President of the Vichy Republic.

Petain in his turn summoned the German Ambassador to him and in a most untypical outburst told him inter alia ‘you’ve burnt our villages, massacred our children, profaned our churches and heaped shame upon your country. You are nothing but a bunch of savages”.

And I have often wondered about the German Ambassador’s response to that. It must have been very interesting, but history does not record it.

burnt out cars citroen possibly a rosalie and a peugeot 202 on the road to the cemetery oradour sur glane 87520 haute vienne france eric hallPetain didn’t stop there either.

He wrote to the German Chief of Staff and told him that even if bands of people, often inspired by foreign terrorists, are causing problems for the Germans, the depth and ferocity of the German response has gone beyond all bounds of all reason and threatens to undermine any hope of reconciliation between France and Germany.

The German Ambassador refused to transmit the letter so, not to be outdone, Petain caused a copy to be given to a General in Hitler’s entourage with a copy to the Pope.

burnt out lorry unknown make and model near grange laudy oradour sur glane 87520 haute vienne france eric hallThe village was never rebuilt. It was decided in January 1945 to treat it as a War Memorial and a new village was built several hundred metres away.

Meanwhile, the French authorities continued to make their investigations into the Massacre. A Court of Enquiry in Limoges set to work immediately and shortly later a German soldier who had been present at Oradour sur Glane fell into their hands.

He was tried and on 12th March 1946 sentenced to death for his role in the massacre. However the sentence was overturned due to the fact that at the time he had been a minor.

on steps of eglise st martin oradour sur glane 87520 haute vienne france eric hallIt took 8 years for sufficient evidence to be amassed in order that some soldiers alleged to be present could be identified, and then some French laws needed be changed so that they could be brought to trial.

One notable absentee at the Court hearings at Bordeaux was the German officer commanding Das Reich, Heinz Lammerding. He was traced to the British Zone of Occupied Germany but inexplicably, the British refused to allow him to be extradited. He had been apparently tried for other war crimes and served a sentence, and so was deemed by the British to be purged.

The French were not amused, as one might expect. He was sentenced to death in absentia and there was even talk of sending in a commando squad to kidnap him. That came to nothing and he died peacefully in 1971.

burnt out cars garage desourteaux oradour sur glane 87520 haute vienne france eric hallAmongst the defendants were 14 French soldiers from the Alsace.

That there were soldiers from the Alsace present at Oradour sur Glane has never been in dispute – the soldier who translated the orders from German to French in the Champ de Foire was unquestionably from the Alsace.

They all claimed that the Laws of Military Justice passed by the French did not apply to them as they were French, and in any case most had been conscripted into the Division.

The French response was to charge with treason the one, Georges René Boss, who admitted volunteering. He was found guilty and condemned to death. The others received various terms of imprisonment.

burnt out cars unknown makes and models oradour sur glane 87520 haute vienne france eric hallThe story doesn’t end here though – not by a long way.

There was a huge outcry in Alsace against the sentences and all kinds of turbulent events took place. In the end, the French Government voted a Law of Amnesty – a decision described by some as “shameful”. One author has suggested that the French Government preferred to placate a wealthy, industrialised region of France rather than a “poor rural community that posed no threat whatever to national unity”.

The 13 conscripts from Alsace were released and the one sentenced to death along with another Prisoner who had received a capital sentence were reprieved.

burnt out citroen traction avant 15 rear of church oradour sur glane 87520 haute vienne france eric hallAs you might expect, in the Limousin there was uproar as the prisoners were released.

Many people who lived in the area and who had been awarded honours and medals by the French Government returned them in disgust.

Even a bronze plaque that the French Government had presented to the town in commemoration of the atrocity was returned. In its place the villagers erected a plaque listing the names of all of the Parliamentarians who had voted in favour of the amnesty, along with another plaque listing the names of all of the convicted men who had been liberated.

Even some towns that had been honoured for their wartime rôle by the French Government returned their honours.

burnt out cars unknown makes and models road to javerdat oradour sur glane 87520 haute vienne france eric hallThe French Government had erected a “Crypt of The Martyrs” to house the ashes, but the citizens refused to allow the ashes to be transferred.

As well as that, they refused to allow the Government to sent any representative to any of the ceremonies that took place in the village to honour the dead.

As the mayor of the new town said at the time, “to our feeling of great sorrow and our struggle for survival has been added a feeling of injustice, abandonment and even of some revulsion”.

burnt out car or van chassis road to javerdat oradour sur glane 87520 haute vienne france eric hallIn 1981 in East Germany, the authorities arrested an old man who turned out to be one of the Company Commanders known to have been present at Oradour sur Glane, living in the East under a false name.

He was tried in East Berlin for various war crimes including that of Oradour sur Glane, during which three of the survivors gave evidence against him. He was found guilty and sentenced to life imprisonment, but was released in 1997.

It must have been an embarrassment to the French and British Governments that it was the East Germans who were most interested in pursuing the events of Oradour sur Glane.

burnt out shop insecure frontage road to javerdat oradour sur glane 87520 haute vienne france eric hallAnd as subsequent events unfolded, the interest of the East German Justice system in the events here must have proved even more embarrassing to the West.

In October 2010 whilst searching through documents formerly held by the Stasi, the East German Secret Police, a researcher discovered a document that showed that the Stasi had conducted an enquiry into the massacre.

This document contained a great deal of incriminating evidence previously unknown to the French authorities. Furthermore, it identified many of the participants, of whom 6 were found by the German authorities to be still alive and living in what was West Germany.

burnt out cars maybe citroen b14 road to javerdat oradour sur glane 87520 haute vienne france eric hallIn an enquiry undertaken by the German police, two of them denied being present at the time and the other four, aged 85 and 86, could not remember or were in no medical condition to be questioned.

As a result, in January 2013 several representatives of the German Justice system from Dortmund visited Oradour sur Glane in the hope of finding additional supporting evidence.

In January 2014, a former soldier, Werner Christukat was tried in Germany but found Not Guilty due to lack of evidence, a decision that was upheld on appeal. Although it was held that he was present at the time, there was apparently insufficient proof to suggest that he took an active role.

burnt out car maybe a citroen b14 road to javerdat oradour sur glane 87520 haute vienne france eric hallIn my opinion, not having access to the full facts of the case, this is a most extraordinary decision considering the verdict that was presented against John Demjanjuk a couple of years earlier.

In Demjanjuk’s case, a legal precedent was set that mere presence at an act of war crimes was sufficient for someone to be found guilty of being an accessory, a principle that was subsequently successfully applied against several other people who had served the German cause during the War.

Suspects are still being PULLED OUT OF THE UNDERGROWTH AND CHARGED in accordance with the Demjanjuk decision even today, and so I am curious to see why it did not apply in the case of Christukat.

Despite “the continuing enquiries”, which are being carried out by the German Government due to the “Demjanjuk decision”, it is doubtful if any other person will ever be brought to justice.

girls school road to javerdat oradour sur glane 87520 haute vienne france eric hallEven today, the body that represents the soldiers from Alsace is active in this field.

When he learnt that German Prosecutors were on French soil searching for evidence, a spokesman from the Association des Déserteurs, Évadés et Incorporés de Force (ADEIF) “wouldn’t it be better for someone in High Authority (in Germany) to have come and given a public apology to those people from Alsace who were incorporated by force” into the German Army?

As you can understand, anyone writing about the massacre needs to tread carefully. Any criticism of the involvement of soldiers from Alsace in the massacre even more than three quarters of a century after the event is met with a full barrage of everything that the defenders of their role can muster.

burnt out car unknown make and model road to javerdat oradour sur glane 87520 haute vienne france eric hallAnd it isn’t only the ADEIF that is on the warpath.

Revisionist history is all the rage these days as people, taking advantage of the death of eyewitnesses, now attempt to view the events through eyes of different colours and either deny their part in the massacre or shift the blame onto others.

These will inevitably be laid to rest eventually when the public records of the trial at Bordeaux in 1953 and the investigation by the Prefet of the département of Haute Vienne become available to the public and I for one can’t wait for that to happen, but these days people have a tendency to believe whatever suits their own opinion rather than be swayed by hard evidence.

memorial cemetery oradour sur glane 87520 haute vienne france eric hallBut retournons à nos moutons as they say around here.

The Association Nationale des Familles des Martyrs organised the building of their own Memorial to the Martyrs which contains the ashes of those who died at Oradour sur Glane.

But I wasn’t very happy about them being visible to public gaze, I have to say. There’s a glass panel in the monument through which you can see bones and ashes. For me, that was in rather bad taste.

visitor centre oradour sur glane 87520 haute vienne france eric hallAs a result of a project going back to the late 1980s, on 16th July 1999 a Visitor Centre was opened at the village, complete with Ye Olde Gifte Shoppe, which was something else that I thought to be in pretty bad taste. It’s all completely different from when I came here the first time and when I brought Nerina here in 1991

It was opened by none other than the President of the Republic, Jacques Chirac accompanied by Catherine Trautmann, the French Minister for Culture. By now, the politicians from the Government were being allowed into the village by the population.

Francois Mitterand, who had voted in favour of the Amnesty in 1953 went there on 10th June 1994 but according to the local Press, all the inhabitants closed their window blinds in protest.

Unfortunately, since then the Centre has become the target for neo-Fascist revisionists who have been spraying the notices with graffiti saying such things as “Liars” and “Reynouard (a far-right Revisionist who has a whole list of convictions for Nazi apologia) is right” and things like that.

Several other French presidents have been to the village subsequently, and one significant visitor here, on 4th September 2013, was Joachim Gauck, President of Germany who came with the French President Francois Hollande. During this visit, Gauck gave a speech of apology and reconciliation.

One person who never, apparently came to Oradour sur Glane was Nicolas Sarkozy. He did however go to Colmar in the Alsace where, on 8th May 2010 where he publicly declared that the soldiers of Alsace recruited by the Germans were “not traitors but, on the contrary, victims of a real war crime”, something that went down like a lead balloon with the citizens of the Limousin.

In fact, this action of Sarkozy made me wonder whether the appearance of Hollande, Sarkozy’s opponent in the Presidential election of 2012, at Oradour sur Glane in 2013 might have been more of an opportunist nose-cocking at Sarkozy and a vote-winning exercise rather than any kind of personal sentiment, but sometimes I’m far too cynical for my own good.

But then again, Emmanuel Macron came to Oradour-sur-Glane in between the first and second round of elections for President in 2017, so I’ll let you make up your own mind.

And while you do that, I’m off to my next port of call. And I’ll leave you with one final thought about the events of Oradour sur Glane that has been missed by, as far as I can see, every commentator on the events.

And that is that the events here delayed Das Reich‘s journey to the Normandy battleground by three days and how might the course of the war have been different had they not been held up here? And how many lives were saved elsewhere because of the delay?

Even if nothing else, the events of Oradour sur Glane fulfilled one purpose that benefited the Allied cause.

So picking up a baguette and fuelling up Caliburn as I passed through the new village, I carried on south (stopping for lunch on the way).

strawberry moose Château de Châlus-Chabrol 37500 indre et loire france eric hallNext stop for this afternoon is the town of Chalus and its early medieval tower.

While Strawberry Moose works out how he’s going to take the keep by storm, I’ll mention something about our interest in this place.

Yesterday, as regular readers of this rubbish will recall, we visited Chateau Gaillard, the castle of Richard the Lionheart, and we talked about the siege of the castle by King Philip after the death of Richard.

ruins Château de Châlus-Chabrol 37500 indre et loire france eric hallThis castle would have been a much more important place than it would appear today.

There may not be much remaining of the fortifications here today but there are the remains of several stone walls such as these remains here . These might either be the remains of buildings or of walls, although the curved end is more suggestive of a former building in this particular case..

And the big pile of stones in the bacckground, I wonder where they came from and of what they were part.

inside great hall Château de Châlus-Chabrol 37500 indre et loire france eric hallBut what we are looking at here, in the Great Hall of the Manor House to which the tower belongs, is said by some to be the spot where King Richard died in 1199.

It’s certainly true that he was carried to somewhere round about here, but there are several candidates for the place of his death. Some sources suggest that he even lived for 6 days after being wounded.

The castle is situated today in the département of the Haute-Vienne in the Limousin, but previously, back in antiquity it was quite close to the border between the Périgord, which was not then part of France and the domaine of Counts of Limoges.

This border took on a totally new significance in 1137 when Duke William X died without a male heir, and his lands passed to his daughter Eleanor. She was immediately married off to King Louis VII but the marriage was not a success.

inside great hall Château de Châlus-Chabrol 37500 indre et loire france eric hallThe couple divorced in 1152 and just as quickly as her first marriage, she married Henry, Duke of Normandy.

Henry’s grandfather had been Henry I, King of England and after the death of Henry I there had been the disputes over the throne of England between the late King’s daughter Matilda (The Duke of Normandy’s mother) and Stephen, nephew of the late King.

With no direct male heir to the English throne (Henry I’s son had been lost in the “White Ship” disaster of 1120), Stephen invoked the right of male progeniture and claimed the throne. This had led to Civil War in England

inside great hall Château de Châlus-Chabrol 37500 indre et loire france eric hallHenry had been campaigning against Stephen on behalf of his mother and the matter of succession was resolved in 1154 when Stephen died. Henry simply took over the crown by right of occupation, having no faith whatever in whatever promise Stephen had made.

This sent shock waves throughout the whole of the border area between Périgord – by now part of the region of the Aquitaine – and that area ruled by the Counts of Limoges.

Rather than being a boundary between two rulers of more-or-less equal stature, it was now an international boundary. Consequently a whole line of fortifications was either built or rebuilt by the Count of Limoges to secure his frontier.

view from Château de Châlus-Chabrol 37500 indre et loire france eric hallThere was already an important road between the religious centre of Bourges and the port of Bordeaux in the Aquitaine. This passed by the town of Chalus and so the rocky outcrop was considered to be a logical place to build some kind of fortification that would protect the road.

Due to its strategic position it was subject to attack on many occasions, even once prior to the issues with Richard, but it is with Richard that we are particularly interested.

And for this, we need to turn our attention to the Third Crusade to Palestine.

While the object of the Crusade was the recapture of territory lost to Saladin after the disastrous Battle of Hattin, the Pope took the initiative to persuade Henry II of England and Philip of France to forget their disputes, take the cross and accompany the crusaders.

However Henry died before he could set out and his son Richard set out in his place.

view from Château de Châlus-Chabrol 37500 indre et loire france eric hallThe Crusade was only partially successful and in 1192 Richard left Palestine to return to England. On his way home he was kidnapped by Leopold of Austria who had a personal grievance against him, and passed to the Holy Roman Emperor who held him to ransom. On payment of the ransom by the English, he was released.

While he had been imprisoned there had been several revolts against him, most notably by his brother John but also by the Counts of Limoges, and these continued.

During the rebellion of the latter a mercenary named Mercadier and his forces had attacked the castle on behalf of King Rechard.

The 38 local people present, men, women and children, fled to the tower and barricaded themselves in.

strawberry moose Château de Châlus-Chabrol 37500 indre et loire france eric hallMercadier began work on undermining the walls of the tower. And that would not have been easy because the walls are 3 metres thick, so I’m told.

Anyway, after 4 days of work, Richard came by to see how the attack was progressing.

While he was inspecting the works he was shot just underneath the neck by a bolt fired from a crossbow from the top of the tower roughly where Strawberry Moose is standing, and died of this wounds when gangrene set in.

And that unfortunately is that as far as Richard the Lionheart is concerned.

Château de Châlus-Chabrol 37500 indre et loire france eric hallSo now that we have set the scene, let’s go off on our guided tour of the premises.

The first thing that needs to be said is that while the tower here is original, the building probably isn’t. It dates from the enlargements of the 13th Century and I’ve seen a reference to reconstruction du logis du chateau en haut – “reconstruction of the lodgement of the upper chateau” – of 1280.

If that’s the case, this would be the garrison of the castle, where the defenders of the castle would lodge.

cellar Château de Châlus-Chabrol 37500 indre et loire france eric hallThere’s a doorway in the wall of the building that leads into the tower.

And from here we have a choice of two directions – upwards and downwards. We are going downstairs into the basement of the tower, complete with a lovely vaulted ceiling and beautiful arched fireplace.

Back in the 12th Century it would probably have been lit by tallow candles, presumably on a round chandelier that would be raised up or lowered down from the ceiling, rather than the reproduction medieval flares on the wall either side of the chimney.

strawberry moose in cellar Château de Châlus-Chabrol 37500 indre et loire france eric hallThere are two rooms underneath the tower.

We’re in the second room here. The entrance through which we walked from the first room is behind the pillar, under observation from Strawberry Moose who is presumably watching for English soldiers and mercenaries from the Perigord.

We’ve seen a few items of furniture around – in the previous photo and in this room. I’ve no idea if they are contemporary or reproduction but there certainly wouldn’t have been all that much furniture in a medieval building such as this. The occupants wouldn’t have been as wealthy or had as many possessions as is often depicted in Hollywood epics.

cellar Château de Châlus-Chabrol 37500 indre et loire france eric hallBack in the first room again you can see an example of the type of chandelier that I mentioned, although I doubt if it would have been as elaborate as this one.

Over to the left are the stairs down which we descended, and on the right is a doorway that leads out into the moat. For obvious defensive reasons, it’s doubtful that the doorway is contemporary with the construction of the tower and is more likely to be a comparatively modern alteration.

But I’m not going outside right now, I’m going back up the stairs, and right to the top too.

view from Château de Châlus-Chabrol 37500 indre et loire france eric hallAnd here I am, right up on the top of the tower and you can see the excellent view from up here.

Although it might not look like it from down below, it was in fact a real fortified castle and in this photo you can see part of the old walls of the place over there on the right with the remains of a little angled tower. I imagine that the walls continued round to the left of the line of trees covering that bank just there.

Even from this height you can see how the tower of the castle commands the view of the approaches to the butte. The main road that it covers is the one in the upper centre of the image heading slightly off to the right.

But now having had a good look, I’m going back downstairs and out through the door that we saw earlier.

Château de Châlus-Chabrol 37500 indre et loire france eric hallHaving passed through the doorway in the tower into what I reckon may well have been the old moat, we can see the difference here between the old, original buildings and the more modern construction.

There was a part of the chateau built in the Seventeenth Century by the Bourbon-Busset family who had been the owners since 1530, and in the absence of any other information and of any other suitable candidate, I would suggest that the Hall on the left of this photo might be the more modern part.

As an aside, the Bourbon-Busset family is an illegitimate branch of the Royal House of France, the illegitimacy being due to the fact that Louis de Bourbon, cousin of King Charles VII, married without royal consent and later kept the marriage secret in order that he could become Bishop of Liege.

strawberry moose Château de Châlus-Chabrol 37500 indre et loire france eric hallAnd so Strawberry Moose and I climbed to the top of the main tower to see the view, which you have already seen in a few earlier photos.

And climbing to the top of the tower isn’t easy, although it’s easier than it might have been because there is one floor missing from how it was originally. That was somehow lost in the renovations of the 1960s although this might be the damage that was referred to when in 1870 there was “a fall of stones” at the chateau.

But the first obstacle that you have to overcome is the actual entry into the tower because it’s not as straightforward as it might be. The door is about 30 feet above ground and you need to climb up a rather steep ramp to enter.

view from Château de Châlus-Chabrol 37500 indre et loire france eric hall And although it might not have been as easy as that 900 years ago, I have actually seen an old drawing of the tower that seems to suggest that there was some kind of building at the side.

It’s quite possible that if this was the case, there may well have been a stone staircase inside that went up to the main door.

Once inside, it continues to be something rather challenging to reach the top.

statue of crossbowman Château de Châlus-Chabrol 37500 indre et loire france eric hallIn certain places the original circular staircase around the inside of the outside wall. In other places the staircase is no longer there and there is some kind of ad hoc ladder arrangement to reach the floor above. It’s not for the faint-hearted.

But once you do actually make it to the top, it’s well worth it because of the view. And not just of the view of the surrounding countryside either, but also because of the decorations in the garden. Like this crossbowman, for example.

The significance of this escapes me right now. But I did wonder whether it was on that spot that King Richard met his end.

flag of Château de Châlus-Chabrol 37500 indre et loire france eric hallFlying from the top of the tower is this rather beautiful flag.

Unfortunately I’ve not been able to identify it – it doesn’t belong to anyone who might have had any claim over the castle so it looks as if I’ll have to leave this for a while until chance plays its hand and I spot it somewhere else where there’s a legend.

But of course, there’s always my very knowledgeable readership. It might be that one of you lot might know. if so, please contact me using the contact link bottom-right.

strawberry moose grand piano Château de Châlus-Chabrol 37500 indre et loire france eric hallSo while STRAWBERRY MOOSE entertains us with selections from the classics, I’ll tell you a little more about the subsequent history of the castle.

After a siege by soldiers from the Perigord in 1265 in which the defending captain was killed, a fine levied on the attackers enabled the chateau to be repaired. It passed to King Philip in 1306 and in 1317 he gave it to one of his advisers, Henri de Sully.

As a result of various marriages it passed through several families, including the Bourbon-Bussets whom we mentioned earlier, and also the Borgia family of Italy, the family of Cesare and Lucrezia.

During the Wars of Religion it was attacked twice, in 1569 and again in 1591 during which attack it came under artillery fire.

ruined church Château de Châlus-Chabrol 37500 indre et loire france eric hallAs usual in a medieval fortified place, there would be a chapel or church. And the Chateau de Chalus is no exception.

What we have here is the Eglise Notre Dame – the Church of Our Lady of High Chalus. Building commenced in the 11th Century and in 1095 Gerald, Abbott of the Monastery of St Augustin of Limoges took up possession. It later became the parish church and was expanded in the 15th Century.

ruined chapel Château de Châlus-Chabrol 37500 indre et loire france eric hallSubsequently a new church, the Eglise Notre-Dame de l’Assomption was built in the village and the one here became disaffected. It gradually slipped into decay and began to fall down. A visitor who passed by in 1888 noted that there was much more of it still standing back then than there is today.

But on a happier note, what remains of the church was added to the List Of Historic Monuments on 25th March 1981

Interestingly, the entrails of Richard the Lionheart are said to be buried somewhere within the precincts of the church, although I couldn’t find out exactly where they might be.

Having left the scene, a long drive brought Strawberry Moose, Caliburn and me as far as Gueret where, due to the heat and general fatigue, we abandoned our efforts to continue.

A brief shopping excursion to LeClerc and then I installed myself in a Premier Class hotel cross the road where I had a shower to cool myself down, and washed my clothes. Internet once more very patchy so the USB-tethering came ito the fore.

Having made myself a dish of pasta and vegetables in the slow cooker, I lay on the bed and crashed out completely.

That was that.

All translations in the text from French and German have been done by me.

Sunday 19th July 2020 – STAWBERRY MOOSE …

strawberry moose chateau gaillard les andelys 27700 eure france eric hall… has been a busy moose today.

He’s been laying siege to Chateau Gaillard this morning, as you can see. But I’m not quite sure whose side he’s on. Is he supporting King Philip of France in capturing the castle from King John of England? Or is he supporting the knights of the English Kings in recpturing the castle during the Hundred Years War?

Or maybe the Protestant King Henry IV against the Catholic League in the 8th War of Religion?

Personally, I think that it’s some kind of personal adventure capturing the castle for himself?

All will be revealed in due course.

This morning it was Sunday of course and so there was no alarm. But what took me by surprise was the fact that I was wide awake by 06:15. And to such an extent that I was up and about quickly too.

There was some work that needed doing, followed by a shower. And then breakfast. I’ve paid for it so I was going to have it.

chateau gaillard les andelys 27700 eure france eric hallThere was more stuff to do and then I drove off to visit Chateau Gaillard.

First stop though was in Les Andelys. From down in the village (well, two villages actually, Petit Andely and Grand Andely, hence the “Les”) you can see the castle up there on its rocky perch

Or at least, what’s left of it because the castle today is nothing like it was back in its heyday at the start of the 13th Century.

river seine les andelys 27700 eure france eric hallAnd why was the castle built in this particular spot?

Apart from various strategic questions which I’ll mention later, this is one of the more important reasons. The River Seine, the river that links Paris to the Sea at le Havre, passes right by the foot of the castle.

Anything going from Paris to the sea, or from the sea to Paris by the river, which was the chief means of transport in those days for goods, has to pass by right under the shadow of the Castle.

strawberry moose river seine les andelys 27700 eure france eric hallIt would be enough to drive anyone in Seine if they were to fall off the bridge and into the river.

The bridge, in case you were wondering, which I’m sure you are, is a magnificent structure well worthy of a photograph, but try as I might, there was nowhere to go to obtain a decent view of it.

But not to worry. The whole purpose of the castle is to guard the river and any crossing thereof so I reckon that the view from up top will be exactly what we are looking for, once I work out how we get up there. I don’t fancy climbing.

schulls river seine les andelys 27700 eure france eric hallIn the meantime, seeing as we are at the river, we can look around and see what is going on.

With it being a Sunday morning, there are a great many people out there relaxing and enjoying themselves, and certainly having fun in a boat with a couple of oars is one way to do it.

But deliberately ramming your opponent’s boat is one of the things that is not permitted on the river. That kind of schullduggery is definitely outlawed in the rowing community.

bad parking les andelys 27700 eure france eric hallAnd when I say that there were loads of people out there enjoying themselves I meant it too.

As regular readers of this rubbish will recall, pathetic parking is one of the many recurring features, and here’s one for a Sunday morning. The swimming baths aren’t yet open so the person here who has come to drop off her beloved (it is a “her”) is just parking in the roadway, despite there being a large public carpark down the road to the right.

She was still there when I pulled out of my parking place and she didn’t even move when I came up behind her either. I had to negotiate my way around her, and Caliburn’s horn circuit nearly blew a fuse.

pont suspendu des Andelys 27700 eure france eric hall“At long last” I hear you say, here’s a photo of the bridge – the Pont Suspendu des Andelys.

It’s a a beautiful suspension bridge of course, but it’s not the first bridge to be built here. The first suspension bridge dated from 1835 and replaced a cable ferry which, interestingly, had an overhead cable rather than a submerged cable as you might expect here.

The bridge of 1835 was dynamited to stop the advance of Prussian troops during the war of 1870-71 and a new bridge was built in 1872. This was a stone arch bridge and proved to be unsatisfactory because its 4 arches impeded navigation along the river and so was removed in early 1914, although because of the War it wasn’t replaced until 1920 by a suspension bridge.

pont suspendu des andelys france eric hallThe bridge of 1920 was in turn dynamited by the French Army on 9th June 1940 to slow down the advance of the enemy. And that’s how we’ve ended up with the present one.

Built in 1947 by Bauduin’s of Chateauneuf, it’s 146 metres long and 5.7 metres wide, and made of reinforced concrete and steel. The daily amount of traffic that passes over it is about 3500 cars and 450 lorries, and the amount of traffic has caused it do be renovated and strengthened on several occasions – in 1988 and again in 2020, with more work planned in the near future.

This current work is due to an examination that took place following the collapse of a bridge in Mirepoix. The bridge here was described by the inspecting engineer as “presenting several fragilities in its structure”.

barge river seine chateau gaillard les andelys 27700 eure france eric hallBut from up here on the cliffs, you can see why Richard I decided to build a castle on the top, and what its purpose would be.

if I can give you a little history lesson, more of which anon, Normandy was not the property of the French Kings. It was ruled over by the Dukes of Normandy (one of whom was of course William the Conqueror) by virtue of the Treaty of Saint-Clair-sur-Epte in 911. While the Dukes of Normandy owed alliegance to the French crown, were never under its control.

When William invaded England in 1066, quite naturally, he took Normandy with him and it became the property of the English crown.

In view of this alliegance, in principle the Duke of Normandy had to swear an oath of loyalty to the French King but once the Dukes of Normandy had become Kinds in their own right, the idea was anathema. Whoever heard of one king swearing loyalty to another? It smacked of all kinds of subservience.

Consequently there was a great deal of dispute between the two Kings over the question of the Duchy of Normandy.

barge river seine chateau gaillard les andelys 27700 eure france eric hallFrance was a much smaller country in these days and depended quite a great deal on imports. In view of the state of the roads in these days, most commercial traffic into Paris came by water, the main avenue of approach being the River Seine.

This however was in control of the Dukes of Normandy – the Kings of England – and whenever there was a dispute between the two, which happened quite often, the English could simply prevent traffic from passing up the river to Paris and thus starve out the population.

There had been a “Gentleman’s Agreement” that the rock here, with its magnificent view both up and down river, should never be fortified. However, while Richard I was imprisoned by the Holy Roman Emperor, King Philip of France had captured Richard’s stronghold of Gisors so once Richard was free, he had to build another one.

And the site that he chose was here at Les Andelys. From here, he could strangle all of the freight traffic travelling up and down river, and cut Paris off from its supplies.

river seine chateau gaillard les andelys 27700 eure france eric hallWe are told that there was originally a bridge over the River Seine just down there.

The island, which was a private domain, had a bridge that went across to both banks of the River Seine but it was apparently made of wood and so it was quite easy for the forces besieging the castle to burn it down.

However I’ve not been able to find out too much about that bridge . There seems to be very few records about it.

chateau gaillard les andelys 27700 eure france eric hallLes Andelys is actually 2 towns, as I mentioned earlier, hence the plural form of the name.

Over there … “what? behind the rabbit?” – ed … we have the area known as Grand Andely, which seems to have been known by the end of the 6th Century.

Petit Andely is the part of the town that is right at the foot of the rock and which was first mentioned at the start of the 13th Century which seems to suggest that it was founded in connection with the construction of the castle, but

hopital saint jacques les andelys 27700 eure france eric hall
What we can see here is the Hôpital St Jacques. This started life in the 13th Century as a halt for pilgrims heading to Santiago de la Compostela and was outside the town walls so that pilgrims arriving late would not inconvenience the town’s watchmen.

But what you actually see here is much more modern than that. In 1781 the Duke of Penthièvre, an illegitimate grandson of King Louis XIV by one of his mistresses, started a reconstruction of the hospital in order to make it a place worthy of his status. Designed by , and it took 4 years to complete.

Unfortunately the Duke didn’t live long enough to take full advantage of his new property as he died in 1793. And shortly afterwards, his heir was guillotined by the revolutionaries. The property is now an Old People’s Home.

chateau gaillard les andelys 27700 eure france eric hallThe castle was not all that easy to reach.

Although it was directly overhead from the bridge, the direct approach is a on-way street in the other direction and so to actually reach there was a merry, mazy, winding way though the town and then a variety of different country lanes to reach it.

There’s a car park near the site but it’s not really big enough for all of the visitors so you need to arrive early – preferably before the hordes of motorcycles arrive. It’s on a steep slope too and wide vehicles will have “issues” about fitting into the narrow spaces provided.

chateau gaillard les andelys 27700 eure france eric hallAnd then there was a walk from the car park that was, shall we say, … errr … taxing because it’s down a ravine and then up a steep bank on the other side, down a slope and then up another one.

It’s not exactly the easiest castle to reach, although the degree of difficulty is nothing like that which I have encountered IN THE PAST.

And in any case, none of this was enough to stop a besieging army, as we shall see

cart wheel ruts chateau gaillard les andelys 27700 eure france eric hallAnd if I’m having difficulty walking here, imagine what it must have been like bringing supplies into the castle.

Luckily, because the castle is built on a chalk outcrop we can see exactly how they did it. The heavy carts that came this way bringing in the materials and supplies have left their own mark on the landscape in the shape of these trail ruts here.

They aren’t a patch on trail ruts that WE HAVE SEEN BEFORE of course but the castle was in use for a much shorter period of time .

rubble walls faced with dressed stone chateau gaillard les andelys 27700 eure france eric hallThe closer you are to the castle, the more you realise that it’s not the impressive building that it looks from a distance.

Everyone knows that it was erected in a hurry – there’s no doubt about that – but the manner in which it was erected leaves a lot to be desired. Basically, it’s just a rubble wall faced with dressed stone, rather than being built of solid stone blocks.

That might have been how the Romans built many of their buildings, but the Romans knew about the chemical composition of concrete and employed it with great vigour with their rubble mix. Medieval builders had long-since forgotten the technique and we had to wait another 550 years and the arrival of John Smeaton before the technique was rediscovered.

barge river seine chateau gaillard les andelys 27700 eure france eric hallBut anyway, retournons à nos moutons as they say around here, King Philip was not able to dislodge Richard from his spec up here on the rocks.

King John however was a different matter. Said to be somewhat indolent, he made no real effort to put up much of a defence and his territory in Normandy was slowly but methodically overrun by Philip. Castle after castle, town after town fell to Philip until finally, in September 1203, the forces of the French King arrived at Chateau Gaillard.

In the river, the English had driven sharpened stakes into the river bed pointing upwards to prevent French boats passing up and down the river. Philip sent engineers to cut the stakes down, and while this was happening, the commander of the English garrison, Roger de Lacy, made no real attempt to stop them.

river seine barge river seine chateau gaillard les andelys 27700 eure france eric hallThe next stage turned out to be the crucial point of the siege.

Philip’s French forces began to ravage and sack the town, which led to the population taking flight out of fear. Of course, there was only one place to which they could run, and that was to the Chateau. Suddenly, Roger de Lacy discovered that instead of a couple of hundred mouths to feed, he had many many more.

Various estimates have been produced, all of doubtful authority, suggesting that maybe as many as 2,000 people were now in the castle hoping to be fed.

barge river seine chateau gaillard les andelys 27700 eure france eric hallUsually, when attempting to capture a fortified medieval castle, the accepted plan was simply to blockade it and wait until the defenders starved to death.

The defenders, on the other hand, would ensure that they would have adequate supplies of food and water and then hold out in the hope that a relieving army would come to their rescue and frighten away the besiegers before the supplies of food and water ran out.

There were two half-hearted attempts at relieving the castle but both were beaten off by well-prepared French troops, and King John seemed to abandon all hope of defending his Province. he simply left France, never to return.

chateau gaillard les andelys 27700 eure france eric hallOnce it became quite clear to the defenders that there would be no relieving army coming to their aid, there was very little that they could do.

Their only hope of relief would be that some kind of plague would occur amongst the attackers (as happened on many occasions in history) or else the soldiers would lose patience and abandon the siege.

But this was unlikely to happen with King Philip. He was determined to recover the province of Normandy that the French Kings had lost in 911 and so the siege intensified.

moat of chateau where hundreds starved to death barge river seine chateau gaillard les andelys 27700 eure france eric hallThe presence now of an enormous number of extra mouths was a grave embarrassment to the defenders and so he began to expel them.

After several hundred had been allowed to leave, the French then prevented the others from leaving and chased them back to the Castle. Finding the gates closed to them, they had to winter in the ditch here where they either died of exposure or of hunger.

Subsequent excavations of the ditch in modern times uncovered piles of human bones, some of which showed clear evidence of cannibalisation.

chateau gaillard les andelys 27700 eure france eric hallIn February 1204 when Philip came to take personal charge of the operations, he allowed those still living to leave the area, and he continued the assault on the castle.

As I said earlier, the accepted way of defeating a garrison back in those days was to starve it out.

Much has been made in popular romance about battering rams against doors, long-distance siege engines like ballistas, trebuchets and mangonels hurling large rocks against the walls or even undermining the walls, but a great deal of that is not really a practical proposition.

chateau gaillard les andelys 27700 eure france eric hallDeep ditches covered by drawbridges rules out large battering rams.

Furthermore, the difficulty of dragging siege engines up cliffs and the lack of suitable ground nearby to position the engines and give a clear field of fire, not to mention the absence of suitable missiles would rule them out in many cases

And in any case, siege engines are pretty static affairs and a few sallies-forth from determined defenders could deal with those quite summarily.

Nevertheless, some siege engines were employed here due to the suitability of the surrounding terrain, the defenders lacked the kind of determination necessary and in the end one of the engines proved to be crucial, as you will find out if you read on.

chateau gaillard les andelys 27700 eure france eric hallUndermining is the third option that a besieger would consider.

However that’s rarely possible because castles are built on solid rock and a tunnel would take an age to dig. If you start very close to the walls, you are at the mercy of defenders above you raining down all sorts onto your heads.

And if you start your tunnel farther away, you have further to dig so it takes more time. And in both cases you are very susceptible to attack from a counter-attack from a sallying party or even to counter-mining by the defenders.

chateau gaillard les andelys 27700 eure france eric hallBut here at Chateau Gaillard with have a series of problems – at least three that I have counted and probably many more too.

  1. The garrison here isn’t all that determined. They don’t seem to have made any really determined sortie to try to interrupt the defenders.
  2. With the castle being of an oblong shape rather than a square or circular shape, the perimeter walls of the castle are much longer for a given footprint and so would need many more troops to defend it correctly. It’s 200 metres long by 80 metres wide – 16,000 m² for a perimeter of 560 metres. Had it been square, then for 16,000m² it would have had 4 sides of 126.5 metres – a perimeter of 506 metres.
  3. The castle is built on quite soft chalk, which is relatively easy to undermine and which can be done quickly

chateau gaillard les andelys 27700 eure france eric hallAnd the latter solution, dear reader, is precisely what the French did.

At first, they tried the simple technique of using ladders to climb up the walls but the ladders were too short. And so, facing almost no opposition whatsoever from any sallying party they set out to undermine the walls of the tower that was furthest away from the keep, showering the area with arrows to keep the defenders away.

And when that wall collapsed, the French were able to use their ladders to climb over the rubble, rush in and occupy the lower or outer bailey at the south end of the castle.

chateau gaillard les andelys 27700 eure france eric hallBut being installed in the outer bailey is one thing. The English soldiers simply retreated into the inner bailey and pulled up the drawbridge behind them.

So although the attackers were within the outer bailey their position was hardly any better as they could still not occupy the remainder of the castle and capture the garrison.

And if anything, the odds were then in favour of the defenders who had a smaller area to defend.

river seine barge river seine chateau gaillard les andelys 27700 eure france eric hallBut it was these windows here that were said to be the downfall of the castle.

When John sans terre became King, being devoutly religious he had a chapel built here in the inner bailey and pierced the walls of the castle to make a couple of windows in order to illuminate the interior.

Despite what you might read in Heroic Poetry about soldiers climbing up latrine chutes, the truth from neo-contemporary accounts seems to be that, quite simply, a handful of French soldiers managed to sneak in through the windows and let down the drawbridge so that the rest of the army could enter the inner part of the castle.

chateau gaillard les andelys 27700 eure france eric hallThe only explanation for the windows would seem to be that John believed the wall to be built on a sheer drop down to the river.

But if so, he was completely mistaken because there’s a ledge of a couple of metres wide, and that’s more than enough for a few determined soldiers to sneak along out of sight of the defending soldiers inside the castle under cover of darkness and climb in.

Having overpowered the sleeping defenders, they could let down the drawbridge for the rest of the army to surge in and occupy the inner bailey.

ditch chateau gaillard les andelys 27700 eure france eric hallThe defenders who survived the onslaught fled into the keep and closed the door behind them.

This would ordinarily have led to another long, protracted siege but there was yet another major design fault in the construction of the castle, a mistake that is so simple that it makes you wonder what must have been going on in the minds of the architects at the time that they designed the castle.

You see the bridge above our heads just here that passes over the ditch and leads to the main door? You would be expecting that to be a drawbridge that the defenders could pull up behind them. But in actual fact it was a solid sone bridge that offered no protection whatever to the defence

chateau gaillard les andelys 27700 eure france eric hallHere’s a good view of what we’ve been talking about just now.

Here, I’m standing in the outer bailey looking across where the drawbridge would have been into the inner bailey, with the bridge up to the keep over to the right.

And we can observe another design fault here too. Any good castle would have what they call a meutrieur – which in this case would be a long, narrow passage to the door flanked by the walls of the castle so that anyone attacking the door would have to run the gauntlet of the defenders either side raining arrows down on him from above

That’s not the case here though. The meutrieur isn’t anything like deep enough.

chateau gaillard les andelys 27700 eure france eric hallAnd so with a solid bridge to encourage the attackers, and a meutrieur that wasn’t deep enough to offer much protection to the defence, the assault on the main gate could begin.

Although miners and sappers set to work on that walls and the gates, it was a well-aimed blow from an object thrown by a trebuchet or a mangonel (history does not record which) that finally brought down the gates and allowed the invaders to invade and seize the keep in March 1204.

This was the final blow to the English occupation of Normandy. With no possible means of defence, Rouen surrendered to the French a few months later

strawberry moose overlooks the  river seine barge river seine chateau gaillard les andelys 27700 eure france eric hallAs Strawberry Moose surveys the River Seine from the viewpoint that the French Army has just captured, overlooking Les Andelys and the island in the middle of the River, the French were busy expelling the remaining 153 English troops from the castle.

The leader of the mercenaries attached to the French Army, Lambert Cadoc, was placed in charge of the castle and King Philip pushed on downriver towards Rouen with his army.

For 100 years or so, all is quiet at Chateau Gaillard but then the castle takes on a new role – as a royal prison.

doorway barge river seine chateau gaillard les andelys 27700 eure france eric hallWhile we admire some more of the castle I’ll tell you the story of the Affair of the Tour de Neslé.

The King of France in 1314, Philip le Bel, had 4 children – 3 sons and a daughter. His daughter Isabelle was married to the son of the King of England and the three sons were married to various European princesses. During a royal visit to France, Isabelle gave some embroidered purses to the wives of her brothers.

Some time later, she noticed that two of her purses were being worn by a couple of knights of the French court and so she mentioned it to her father, the King of France.

He had the knights watched, and sure enough, they were in the habit of visiting two of the wives of the King’s sons. They were arrested and under torture admitted that there was an adulterous relationship between the two knights and the two princesses. The knights were executed and the princesses were imprisoned in the Chateau Gaillard.

barge river seine chateau gaillard les andelys 27700 eure france eric hall25 years later, the Hundred Years War breaks out between England and France.

The castle is besieged by the English in 1418 and holds out for 16 months, only falling because the last rope that hauls up the bucket with the water from the well breaks and they lose the bucket, and hence can no longer access the water.

Subsequently the castle changes hands on several occasions until the English are finally expelled from France

river seine chateau gaillard les andelys 27700 eure france eric hallNothing much happened at the Chateau Gaillard for 150 years, but then we move into the period of the Wars of Religion.

For a period of about 40 years in the second half of the 16th Century there had been conflict between the Protestand and Catholic religion in France, a conflict that had quite often been particularly bloody.

In 1584 the Crown Pronce died and with no closer heritee, the crown would be destined to pass to Henry of Navarre – a Protestant. A Protestant King in France was unacceptable so another chapter – the eighth in this series of wars – erupted in 1585

Where the Chateau Gaillard fits in with all of this is that certain forces of the Catholic League find themselves bottled up in the chateau by forces loyal to the Protestant King Henry IV led by Nicolas de la Barre

cellar chateau gaillard les andelys 27700 eure france eric hallAfter a siege that lasts almost 2 years, the castle finally falls to Nicolas de la Barre in 1591, and King Henry appoints him to be the new guardian of the castle.

However he didn’t apparently perform his task to everyone’s satisfaction because in 1595 we see the first of a long series of letters of complaint that the castle has now become a haunt of unruly robbers and bandits.

It’s not known for certain when Nicolas de la Barre died but in 1603 King Henry gave the order that the castle should be dismantled and the stones given to the Capucin monks of Les Andelys and sometime later to other local religious establishments.

people leaving chateau gaillard les andelys 27700 eure france eric hallBut all of this comes to a halt in 1862 when the chateau becomes classed a an official Monument Historique and 25 years later archaeological research at the site began.

And this is where I come to a stop too because having spent the last couple of hours wandering around the site and seeing everything that I could, it was time for me to follow these people and take my leave of the castle

By the time that I returned to Caliburn it was lunchtime so I grabbed hold of my sandwich stuff and went off to find a comfy spec in the sunshine and make my butties.

river seine chateau gaillard les andelys 27700 eure france eric hallThis is the best kind of place to be. There’s a really good view of the river from this spot and, as you can see, I wasn’t the only person here admiring it.

Somewhat earlier I mentioned that the car park was pretty busy with cars and their occupants. The arrival of a horde of motorcyclists added to the confusion and the crowds were swarming all over the place by now.

But the view was stunning. The chalk cliffs are really quite magnificent. They are said to be a climber’s paradise which is no surprise as they are claimed to be the highest cliffs of the whole river valley and that’s a statement that I could readily believe.

pleasure boat on river seine chateau gaillard les andelys 27700 eure france eric hallWe’ve seen a few boats just here on the river passing by underneath us. There’s a whole squadron of pleasure boats that take cruise passengers up and down the river that pass by this point.

It’s certainly a good way to travel and to see the sights along the river bank and although I don’t imagine that it’s cheap, it would have been really pleasant in this sweltering heat.

Unfortunately, I can’t afford to hang around as I have a long way to go this afternoon. And so after lunch I had a drive that was mainly uneventful, except for an altercation with a crazy lorry driver, all the way down to Vierzon.

Here I’m esconsed in probably the cheapest hotel in the whole of France, the Hotel L’Excess.

And cheap as it might be, I’ve stayed in hotels that have been much worse than this for much more money too.

Having had breakfast and lunch today, I wasn’t all that hungry so I missed tea. However late on, I nipped out for a bag of chips. And in the meantime I had a chat with Rosemary on the telephone and told her about my trip so far.

So now I’m having an early night. I still have a long way to go tomorrow. There’s all kinds of things that need doing before we all go into another lockdown, which I fear is imminent.

See you all in the morning

Saturday 18th July 2020 – I’M NOT HERE

This morning, although I heard the three alarms, I didn’t get up until about 06:30. Tons of stuff on the dictaphone, as I discovered, so it must have been a very restless night.

We were in a classroom last night having a talk on climate change, this kind of thing. A question that came up interested me, about New Zealand. The lecturer was saying that all of the difficulties about New Zealand – in Iceland the volcanos and glaciers were pushing out the centre of New Zealand – rather, pushing it up, the centre of South Island and changing all of the weather. There were storms and this thing. I asked if this was going to be a permanent thing or a temporary arrangement. One guy in this classroom was making notes, doing it with a kind of hammer-press thing and it was making a racket even louder than a typewriter. I wanted to ask him to shut up if anyone was able to talk to me about my question, to which I never actually had the answer. There were a couple of girls in this class and I was quite keen on one of these. For some reason the question of cycles and motorcycles came up. These two girls rode motorcycles so I was thinking “should I buy a motorcycle too so that I can keep up with them?” and that way I can keep up with them and be close to them I suppose and so on. But it was a case of how long was this going to continue? Is it just a flash-in-the-pan kind of course and we’ll all go our separate ways in a week or is this going to be some kind of long-term situation. As usual, I was full of indeciaion yet again.

Later on I was back in my house in Winsford of all places. There was a lot going on there as if it was in Central London and actually a car. I was sitting there watching all these events going on behind me – a little old woman tottering back to her home and someone I was with running out and shouting after her. But this little old lady didn’t seem to hear. There was another older person with us. The three of us came back and the reason why I hadn’t heard anyone reply was that the 2 old women were talking really slowly. It seemed that they were taking this old lady to show her this Old People’s Home, whether there was a vacancy in it, something like that. Off they went and they were climbing up the steps just as an ambulance pulled up and dropped off a load of elderly ladies all on crutches. I was back in my house and a couple of rooms were really cold and a couple really warm. I had the central heating all confused. This was the first time that I’d been in this house for God knows how long. I got back in there and there was a small cupboard on the wall. That was where the food was. I thought “God I’d left my steps in Belgium”. I don’t know why I said Belgium. I had to open it and everything was all crammed into these shelves and I thought “where am I going to put my freezer now?” There’s no room to put that in the kitchen. I had a pack of drink and for some reason this drink needed to be put in another bottle so I cleaned another bottle with bleach and had to rinse it out. Of course there was all the calcium in the water and it took ages to try to run clean before I could start to use it.

Another thing that came was that I was on a bike cycling home and for some unknown reason I fell asleep when I was cycling and woke up to find that there were some girl cycling alongside me. As I awoke she sped off. I then had to go and retrace my steps. it was through this hilly area and I remember a few things of the route and got on a bit of route that I didn’t recognise at all. It was steep and windy. I thought “God, did i cycle through this in my sleep? I was doing really well!”. Then I came into a town and by the bus station were loads of people with skis and it turned out that this was a … march. This was a big ski resort and you flew into the airport and a bus from the airport brought you into the town. Right at the bus stop was the start of the chair lifts so it was the easiest place to go to if you wanted to ski after work. All these crowds there and I fought my way through. This woman said something about this but I can’t remember what the something was so I replied to her in French and said “it’s not a problem”. She said “I was referring to you” I replied that I have to get home so I have to fight my way through everyone to get home. Everyone laughed at that and that was when I ended up back at my house in Winsford.

Having gone back to sleep at some point I stepped right back into that dream again, right back into Winsford and right back into my house. The house had been built for 2 years but I’d only just moved into it. I’d had it that long that I hadn’t lived there. it was in the middle of some kind of shopping centre where all of these shops were half-built or quarter-built where the money in Winsford ran out. The didn’t have the money to finish off all of the shops to let. a very decaying place indeed it was. I was walking through there and there was another couple in front of me. the guy was telling the girl about how the election in May 2015 2 years ago had changed absolutely everything and the new party decided to stop work on the shops.

Later still we were in a water mill that produced electricity with the water wheel. This mill hadn’t been used for years due to some kind of faults and complications about a diesel fuel blower and all of this and had set the place alight. There wa s no way of getting any modifications for it and they needed to get some kind of money coming from the mill so they decided that they would open it as a water-powered mill and let nature take its course. I was there but everyone else was off looking for things but I was screwing up the sluice gates so that the water instead would pass through the main centre of the mill. I started to open the main mill doors and the water started to rush in there. it suddenly started to go at a hell of a rate, this, as if a huge flood had built up outside for hundreds of years. It was necessary for me to slow down the flow of water otherwise it was going to sweep away the mill.

After all of that I was surprised that I wanted to go away. That sounds like it was more than enough travelling to be going on with.

But the first task was to finish off the packing and start to load up Caliburn. Basically, I just threw the stuff in because the back of the van has a huge pile of old cardboard boxes in it.

When everything was packed and loaded I tidied up and took the rubbish down to the waste disposal, vacuumed the living room and kitchen and then washed the floor with bleach and disinfectant. While the floor was drying I had a shower and a weigh-in. And I’m keeping this weight down, although what I will be like by the time I return will be anyone’s guess.

Cleaning and disinfecting the waste bin was next and then bleaching and disinfecting the WC and sinks.

Once all of that was done We set off.

First stop was the dechetterie where all of the cardboard, the old Caliburn battery and the old electric kettle bit the dust.

Next stop was Noz. But there wasn’t all that much in there, apart from a few small tims of potatoes.

After that wes LeClerc for a full tank of diesel, a couple of memory cards and a few basic items of foodstuffs – nothing much at all.

Off to Roncey to Liz and Terry’s. Terry loaned me a brushcutter which went into the back of Caliburn – while I was there I tidied it up a little too but I’ll be doing some more tidying up in there as well as I go round

Liz made lunch and we all had a very good chat for a couple of hours.

Round about 15:00 I hit the road. 260kms to travel on the first stage of the journey. Via Caen, Liseux and Evreux. Eventually I ended up in St Marcel, on the outskirts of Vernon in between Rouen and Paris on the banks of the Seine.

Here there’s a hotel, the Hotel du Haut Marais, and this is where I’m staying tonight.

old cars 1913 panhard levassor duranville france eric hallOn the way down towards the banks of the River Seine we had a little interruption that delayed me somewhat.

As I drove through Duranville in the département of the Eure I came across a garage that had seven or eight old cars out on display, and that kind of thing is enough for me to stop and have a better look to see what is going on,

And I seem to have found myself at the garage of a dealer of vintage and historical vehicles and almost everything in this yard is available for sale if you have enough money, which I don’t.

strawberry moose old cars 1913 panhard levassor duranville france eric hallThe first car that I saw and which tempted Strawberry Moose out of Caliburn to come for a ride.

The car itself is a Panhard-Levassor of 1913 although what model it might be I really have no idea. Being a 2-door 2-seater it’s not going to be one of the Model 20s that Président Poincaré adored but that’s all that I can say.

The company was a big fan of sleeve-valved engines – ports in the engine casting to vent the gases, protected by a kind of rotating sleeve between the piston and the bore. Very quiet running but very heavy on oil consumption and a technique that faded away when conventional valve seating technique improved.

Some Panhards had sleeve valves and some were conventional, but I don’t know about this one.

old cars strawberry moose cadillac convertible duranville france eric hallThis car is much more like what you would expect to see in a place lke this.

One of the most opulent and ostentatious mass-market vehicles ever to hit the road anywhere, the Cadilac convertibles of the 1950s were the acme of bad taste in the 1950s. Big, powerful V8 engines and wallowing suspension were great on the open roads of the south-west where WE HAD LOADS ON FUN IN THE MUSTANG all those years ago, but in the crowded streets of the major cities they were a nightmare.

Nevertheless it was the kind of vehicle to which everyone aspired back in those days, and everyone had to be seen in one, just like Strawberry Moose and his new friend.

old cars Ford V8 pickup duranville france eric hallThis is a vehicle that will probably appeal more to the traditionalists and the practically-minded amongst us.

It’s a Ford “steppy” – a step-sided Ford V8 pickup of the design that when I first started going to North America 20-odd years ago, were still reasonably common on the roads over there but now you will be very lucky to see one moving about under its own steam on a day-to-day basis.

Possibly from the late 1940s or early 1950s was my first thought. In fact the unofficial Québec number plate that it has on the front (Québec doesn’t require legal plates on the front of its vehicles) suggests that it’s a 1952 model. If so, it’ll have the 239 V8 sidevalve engine in it.

old cars ford model T duranville france eric hallOn the other hand, 30 or so years earlier, just about everyone in the USA would have been seen in one of these.

“Every colour you like, as long as it’s black” said Henry Ford of his Model T “Tin Lizzy”, or “Flivver” as Paul Getty called his, so I’ve absolutely no idea at all what he would have had to say about this one in a bright lime green.

Te one advantage of cars of this era with separate chassis and body is that they could be cut about as much as anyone likes, and so you could buy them in all kinds of shapes and body styles. And if that didn’t suit you, you could customise your own.

This little pick-up is a beautiful example.

old cars ford modet t fire engine duranville france eric hallIt’s not the only Model T here at Duranville either. We have this one here to whet our appetite.

Or, rather, should I say “wet our appetite” because this is the former fire engine of the town of St Laurent in Québec. That’s a town that now no longer exists, having been conjoined to Montréal in 2002. But it’s an area of Montréal that regular readers of this rubbish will know very well because it wasOUR OLD STAMPING GROUND AROUND THE METRO DUCOLLEGE beFore I was taken ill.

As for the vehicle itself, it was new in 1924 and is said to be the first motorised fire engine of the city, serving between 1924 and 1944, and just imagine going out to fight a fire in that in the middle of a Québec winter.

She underwent a complete restoration in 2006/2007.

old cars dodge convertible duranville manche normandy france eric hallYes, as well as the cars outside, there was quite a number inside the building too as you can see and they let me have a wander around inside with the camera.

Right by the door was this Dodge Convertible. It looks beautiful from this distance but that’s because it’s had a full restoration by the looks of things. It wouldn’t have looked like this maybe 20 years ago, I bet.

Unfortunately there’s no indication of what model it might be but it has the styling of a Dodge of the mid-late 1930s

old cars dodge convertible duranville france eric hallIt’s carrying a set of French numberplates issued within the last 3 years or so but there’s no other indication about where it comes from.

It’s not the kind of North American vehicle that I would have expected to have seen being sold in Europe at that particular time – after all, there was a quite a big volume-car marked in Europe at this time churning out all kinds of stuff that was as good as this at probably half the price.

There wouldn’t have been an “exotica” market back in those days, so I suspect that this is a comparatively recent import, like much of the stuff seems to be.

old cars barn find bugatti replica france eric hallThis of course isn’t a recent import, but it’s certainly a lot more recent than it looks.

Had this been a genuine Bugatti “30 plus” you wouldn’t find it in a place like this looking as if someone has dragged it out backwards from a haystack. It would have genuine alloy wheels on it for a start and be locked up in a vault somewhere because it would be worth a fortune.

My guess is that this is a replica, of which there are several examples available and on the road. It has a few quite modern features that you wouldn’t have found on the originals 90-odd years ago.

old cars dodge pickup duranville france eric hallWe saw a Ford stp-side pickup just now parked outside, but here tucked away in a corner is a Dodge pick-up of an earlier vintage, I reckon.

There was a series of lightweight Dodge trucks, the WD series (or DD series if made in Brampton, Ontario) between 1939 and 1947 of various carrying capacities between half a ton and one ton and if I had to guess, I would say that it’s one of these.

The position of the sidelights on the A-pillars suggests that it’s later rather than earlier but the absence of window vents suggests that it’s not one of the final ones made.

old cars buick 8 renault prairie 1952 mgb duranville france eric hallThis is a bit of an eclectic assortment of vehicles stuck away in a corner.

The MGB is of no interest to us of course but the big Buick 8 in the foreground is of course. Again, it’s difficult to say much about it except that because of where the spare wheel it is, it might actually be a Buick 8 Special of the late 1930s

The Renault at the back is a Renault Prairie of 1952 and if you want to see a close-up of one of these I’ll have to dig out my photos from 2007 because regular readers of this rubbish in a previous guise will recall that we found one in a scrapyard in France back in those dats.

Talking to the owners later, it appears that they have an agent in Québec who sources this kind of thing and has it shipped over from there. So much for yet another business opportunity then, unfortunately.

But right now I have other things to think about, like finding a hotel.

hotel du haut marais saint marcel 27950 eure france eric hallThere are several along the river but I need to be careful because one of th bridges is closed for repair. I have to track my way through all kinds of countryside before I arrive at Vernon.

And this is my hotel for this evening, the Hotel du Haut Marais at St Marcel. It looks as if at one stage it’s been one of the Accor group’s places but really these unit hotels all look so alike that there’s no way of telling.

Anyway, it’s a reasonable price without going too far and it’s comfortable. And I’m off to have an early night. It’s been a long day and there is plenty to do. A good night’s sleep will do me the world of good.

Thursday 2nd July 2020 – WITH NO ALARM …

… this morning I slept right through until everyone started appearing in the dining room. 07:55 or thereabouts. nd todaym for the first time since I can’t remember when, I had three proper meals today. This sea air has given me an appetite.

But more of that anon.

First thing though was to check the dictaphone. And sure enough, I’d been miles during the night. It must have been a very restless night, that’s all I can say. And when I return home and transcribe them I’ll find out where I’ve been. And, more importantly, who came with me.

After breakfast I went ashore to use the facilities in the port, and then came back on board. We left port pretty smartly in the beautiful sunshine and once clear we ran up the sails.

And now I know why I felt so ill the other day. This afternoon I banged my head on the hatch cover (yet again!) and found that I’d left half of the skin off my head hanging onto the edge of it.

That prompted me to go and look in the mirror. And sure enough, a bright red face, swollen eyes – I caught the sun when I was steering the boat the other day and I’m pretty badly sunburnt around the face.

No wonder I was feeling so cold!

We eventually arrived at the Ile de Chausey without mishap – no patrol boats or policemenm although there was a Customs boat in port – but he paid us no attention. Lunch had been taken in mid-ocean so as soon as we arrived we took a zodiac ashore.

This time I managed to make a full circuit of the island, visiting qlmost erverywhere that I wanted to go, and then we had a drink at the hotel and came back to the ship. But not before Strawberry Moose had his photo taken with yet another admirer who fell in love with him.

Pierre, our captain, knows someone on the island so he came beck too and we had a good chat for an hour or so.

It was also the birthday of Catherine, one of our passengers, so we had a little birthday party. I played the guitar too and someone told me that I had a good voice. It just shows you how much alcohol everyone had drunk this evening.

This evening there’s a very low tide so we can’t anchor here. We’ve retreated round to the north side of the island. We’re catching the wind full on and with the running seas it’s pretty uncomfortable when we are stationary. But apparently when the tide recedes, we’ll find ourselves in a little lagoon surrounded by rocks and in the shelter so it should be very comfortable.

There will be no alarm tomorrow either so I’m hoping for a good lie-in. It’s my last night on board tonight which is a real shame. I’ve really enjoyed it.


Wednesday 1st July – MUCH TO MY …

… own surprise I once more beat the third alarm to my feet. But that was more in the hope that I wouldn’t awaken my fellow passengers with the racket that it makes rather than any keenness on my part. Some stuff on the dictaphone too and I’ll tell you more anout that as time goes on. I’ve not yet listened to it so I don’t know as yet if I have had any exciting company.

Mind you, my shipmates aren’t so pleased with me. Apparently David Bowie awoke the whole ship this morning and they have politely asked me to switch off my alarm tomorrow.

We had a leisurely start today and Strawberry Moose became the first moose ever to set hoof on the Isle de Brehat. There he found himself a girlfriend – it was love at first sight.

This all involved a zodiac ride and if anyone from Adventure Canade were to see the security precautions that we took, they would blanch. But we made it ashore (and back) safely and had a good tour around the island for three hours or so.

Back on the Spirit of Conrad we had an unexpected hitch. The anchor was jammed and it needed both the crewmen to free it. However we needed to leave at that moment because of the tide so Yours Truly was trusted with the controls all on my own for about an hour or so.

Luckily I wasn’t at the controls a little later because we had “an incident”. There was a ship anchored off the coast right in our path and as we approached it, it signalled to us to “clear off”. We saw no reason to so we carried on regardless and right behind it was a police launch – the Geranium I. And they came to intercept us.

Apparenty this ship is surveying the ocean bottom and there have been some disputes with the local fishermen, so a 500-metre exclusion zone has been declared around it. All very well if you are a local and you know, but if you don’t know, you don’t know.

They were on board for almost an hour verifying all of our papers and everything before they cleared off.

The weather, that hadn’t been too good to start with, deteriorated over the course of the day. We passed Cap Frehel in a heavy cloud and by the time we moored at St Cast le Guildo) it was raining heavily. Mind you there are some good modern showers in the harbour office so I for one took full advantage.

Rosemary called me for a chat too which was nice – but that meant that it was quite late when I came back on board. However with no 06:00 alarm in the morning it doesn’t matter all that much. I’m off to bed and hopefully I’ll be having a good lie-in


Monday 29th June 2020 – JUST FOR A CHANGE …

… I was even up before the second alarm this morning!

And how long is it since that has happened?

But it was just as well because there’s a lot to do this morning and there isn’t much time. I’m going to be on my travels again this morning and I’ll be away for at least 5 days. I’m not going far but I’m not sure what the internet arrangements so the updating of these pages during my absence might be somewhat sporadic – rather a case of pot luck I’m afraid.

I was in Wales last night and there was a group of us standing on the corner of a field. We heard this strange noise and it was a lorry that went past – an 8-wheeled seed tanker thing painted beige and green from somewhere in Church Stretton. It was making a really weird noise and the driver had his foot down, was driving through these lanes and turned back onto the main road and shot back off down this main road at an incredible rate of knots. Someone said “does he always drive like this? Fast?” and my father said “Oh God yes – this is nothing. Wait until they get on the open road”. A friend of my father’s who was with us he came out with something or other about it. Then we were all discussing our sleeping arrangements – who was going to sleep where, all this kind of thing. It was quite evident that a couple of use were going to have to share a bed because there were not enough beds to go round. As you can expect, there were a couple of ribald remarks made about that as well.

Having backed up everything on the computer I went for a shower and then finished off my packing. Knowing that food is going to be an issue I took some supplies out of the freezer, some vegan cheese an a couple of vegan burgers as well as a few things to nibble on.

Then loaded up with supplies, luggage, a guitar and Strawberry Moose I headed off into town. I reckon that I was somewhat over-ambitious with the amount of things that I’ve taken because it was a struggle, but luckily with the tide being out the harbour gates were closed so that I could take the short cut over the top of the gates.

Arriving at the harbour, I quickly located Spirit of Conrad and lugged my stuff aboard. She will be my home for the next few days. There’s a trip organised down the Brittany coast where I’ve wanted to go, as regular readers of this rubbish will recall. Pierre the owner told me about it but it was fully booked, although someone wasn’t quite sure. As it happened she withdrew and he came to see me two weeks ago to say that the place was free.

Knowing full well about these cruises I chose one of the two cabins in the stern section. All the others can stay up front in the noisy bit.

When everyone had assembled we had a snack and when the harbour gates were opened, we set off, right into the teeth of a howling gale. We crossed the Baie de Mont St Michel at an angle of about 45 degrees, meeting Thora battling her way in.

It took ages to cross the bay but eventually we found ourselves in the lee of the Brittany coast. We sailed for a while up and down in the Cancale roads before finding a suitable place off the Port de Briac to drop anchor.

After a rest and a good chat we had tea and then everyone else went off to bed. Because of the tides and current we have an early start in the morning so I’m going to go and join them.

Not literally, of course. I’m off into my own little corner of the boat. All this sailing has made me tired.


Friday 25th October 2019 – I’M ALL …

… alone here tonight. And I will be for the next couple of weeks too.

Strawberry Moose has gone off on his travels again to see some more of his fans.

No-one is quite sure when he’ll be back again but I bet that he will have a few stories to tell me when he returns. It’s all right for some, isn’t it though? Some of us have to stay behind and work for a living.

Not that you would notice, though, around here. Despite the three alarms going off this morning, it was still 07:40 when I finally hauled myself out of bed.

But then I’d had another late night (albeit not as late as the other night) scratching my head over this blasted Javascript menu. I told you last night when I wrote my blog that I was a just a couple of inches away from a breakthrough. And so by the time that I went to bed I must have advanced about half a millimetre.

It wasn’t all work though. TOTGA was on-line so we had a good chat for an hour or so too. It’s been ages since we had a really good chin-wag and it was nice to hear her dulcet tones again.

The purpose of my chat was to try to persuade her to come and join in the fun in Leuven. But without success. “A Prior engagement” she said. Not like Kenneth Williams who once turned down an invitation on the grounds of “a subsequent engagement”, so I suppose that I ought to be thankful for that at least.

So this morning after the medication and breakfast, I had a stinking hot shower and then dashed round to tidy everywhere up. I was expecting visitors and the place was something of a tip with my having unpacked a l’improviste.

By the time that Liz and Terry turned up, the place was looking something like, and they could at least sit down.

We had a coffee and a good chat about this and that – not about the other because that is of course sub judice right now – and I told them of my (mis)adventures on my voyage just now.

I’d mentioned it to TOTGA last night and she told me that she had never heard me talk like I did at that moment (which is not really true because she remembers me when I was someone else, although she was only a kid at the time) so I made an effort to restrain myself (something that doesn’t come easily to me, as regular readers of this rubbish will recall) when talking to Liz.

Nevertheless Liz was rather aghast. Not that this means that she was surprised. She used to be a primary school teacher in a deprived area of the UK so she’s seen human nature at its worst, but I suppose that with the voyage being as expensive as it was, we both expected a better class of person with a better standard of behaviour.

So they wandered off and I sat down to crack on with my Javascript menu. I forgot about my additional walk.

By 16:00 I had made a breakthrough – of sorts. I can now make Javascript tags pick up web pages on my own site but not on an external site. Still, it’s progress of a sort and it means that I can go onwards.

To celebrate, I made lunch. Yes – at 16:00 because I had forgotten earlier, being engrossed. And it was something of a disappointment because the bread that I had left in the ice compartment of the fridge and which I had taken out to defrost – well, it wasn’t very good at all and it all ended up in the bin.

But it’s Saturday tomorrow and I’m going for a walk to LIDL where I can buy some more.

Not wishing to forget another walk, I nipped out straight afterwards for a lap around the headland and then back to carry on with my menu.

And, as is quite often the case, the simplest solutions are usually the correct one. I was struggling away for quite a while trying to work out how to display a vertical line. ASCII codes, ALT codes and all of that didn’t work, so in a moment of despair, I tried
document.write( ‘|’);
and much to my surprise, it actually worked. And I’d wasted an hour or so on it too.

Another thing that I tried to do was to figure out how to make a space in Javascript. Once again, after much binding in the marsh, I tried the simple
document.write( ‘ ‘);
and that worked too.

After that, passing onto a new line was easy. Yes. I tried
document.write(‘br /’);
and that just printed out the br /. So I tried
putting the br / bit in the “greater than” and “less that” brackets, and that worked just fine.

There’s probably a far easier method to do it all, but at least I know that what I’ve programmed seems to work well enough for now. And having it all saved in an external file, I only need to update it once for it to update on every page on my site.

Just two tasks to work out now.

The simplest one is how to access an external page via a Javascript link. I’m hoping that that won’t be too difficult, but knowing me, it probably will.

More difficult will be the task of nesting Javascript files. I want to make a sidebar file with the menu, the hit counter, the stats analyser and the Amazon blocks in it. Then I can just import the main Javascript file into every page on my site with all of the subsidiary blocks in it, and an amendment to the main Javascript file will make the amendment on every page.

Iframes or *.php would ordinarily be the answer, but Secured sites won’t display iframes and I know nothing about *.php, and at my age I’m too old to learn this kind of thing.

Talking of being too old, I went for my evening walk around the city walls and at one stage broke into a run. I kept it up for a couple of hundred metres too.

That surprised me immensely, because regular readers of this rubbish will recall that after my operation in January 2016 when they ripped out half of my insides, I couldn’t even walk and had to have re-education.

It really impressed me, that little bit of running did. Maybe it’s something to do with losing all of this weight. I dunno.

This evening I carried on with the Javascript menu, listening to a couple of really belting albums. Elegy by the Nice was the first one. No relation to Grey’s “Allergy to a Country Churchyard”, it’s one of the all-time classic albums that will always be on my playlist.

The second is much more exciting. One of the ones that I picked up in Ottawa.

After Arthur Brown disappeared from “The Crazy World of …”, Vincent Crane and Carl Palmer recruited a couple of new musicians and carried on as “Atomic Rooster”. Palmer left to join ELP, but Crane struggled on for quite a while, with a revolving door of new members and mental health breakdowns until he committed suicide in 1989.

In 1980, during one of their more active periods, they played at the Marquee Club in London. No bassist – and no vocalist either, so the guitarist John Du Cann sang on the vocal tracks. And while he will be the first to admit that he’s no vocalist, he gave it a really good go and the energy and enthusiasm that roared off the stage on Live at The Marquee 1980 is absolutely phenomenal.

But now it’s bed-time. And I have a lot to do tomorrow. All on foot too!

And I almost forgot to say “hello” to Pollux who put in an appearance during the night. First time for a while too.

Sunday 20th October 2019 – APARTMENT SWEET APARTMENT!!

Yes, after almost 4 months away from home, here I am back in the comfort and safety of my own four walls.

And what a nightmare it was in order for me to make it back here.

The day started well enough – or actually, badly enough as it happens because even though I was in bed “something like”, a couple of girls decided that they were going to have a party. What annoyed me was that I’d made a special effort to have an early night, even watched (the first five minutes of) a film just to make sure too.

But then they came in later and started to party, and woke me up.

From then on I was tossing and turning throughout the night, going on some amazing voyages but then eventually the alarm awoke me, as it always does.

For a change I was quickly out of bed, packed and then had a few things to attend to. It’s the birthday of someone very dear to the heart of Strawberry Moose and he wanted to send a card. I had to help him of course, so I hope that the person concerned received it. It goes with all of his greatest esteem and affection and with particular (but not exclusive) reference to one night and several evenings.

Food was next so I enquired of the night porter where I could buy a baguette. He took me a few doors down the road to a large wooden door, and after banging on it for a while, it opened.

It turns out that it’s the door of a commercial bakery that supplies bread to hotels and restaurants, and for a mere €1:00 they sold me a baguette big enough to have made lunch for the entire hotel – staff and residents combined.

What I did was to make my sandwiches for lunch (of course) and also a couple for breakfast – saves me buying my raisin buns. And with what was left I made some butties for tea too.

For the first hour of being back on the road, things were going on as normal. I left the hotel and, dragging my heavy load behind me, made it up to the Gare du Midi.

The train was already in the station so I was one of the first aboard and settled down in my comfy seat ready for the off.

We were about half an hour or so into the journey when the commotion started. The ticket collector came along to check the tickets, and it turned out that the young guy sitting on the seat across the aisle from me didn’t have a ticket. The ticket collector asked him to 3come along with” him, and that was when the violence started.

As I said, I am (unfortunately) a different person from when I set out on my voyage. The artist Samuel Gurney Cresswell remarked that a voyage into the High Arctic “ought to make anyone a wiser and better man”.

Well, I don’t know about “better” but it’s certainly made me a lot wiser, after everything that was thrown at me on that final voyage and it’s awoken a lot of things in me that had lain dormant for years. And so while I vowed that for as long as I lived I would never ever help anyone out about anything ever again after how I was repaid for it, I wasn’t going to stand by while some young thug was dishing it out to an elderly gentleman merely doing his job.

Sparing you all of the gory details, the net result was that when we arrived in Paris there were four policemen and a police dog waiting on the platform and he was carted off. The ticket collector (the complainant) went along and I was “invited” too, ostensibly to give evidence but possibly in case the assailant started to complain about his dislocated right arm and shoulder. He won’t be hitting anyone again for quite a while.

The drive through Paris was exciting – just like Louis de Funès in the old Renault Estafette – blue flashing lights and sirens and the full works.

Three hours I was there waiting my turn, and upsetting everyone by wandering off to look for a toilet. I ended up in someone senior’s private office and “there will be an enquiry” about that, apparently.

By the time that they had dealt with me, my bus had long-gone and that was that.

But not quite.

After a 10-minute walk I found my way to the ticket office at Gare Montparnasse (luckily the Police Station wasn’t far away) and joined the mile-long queue, everyone trying for revised travel arrangements due to a lightning strike by the TEC drivers.

And I was lucky. There was a TGV going to Brest in half an hour’s time and there was a seat vacant as far as Rennes. At Rennes there would be a 20-minute wait for the last train to Granville – if it’s running.

So I took a gamble and scrambled aboard the TGV. If the train to Granville isn’t running, I fancy my chances much more finding a hotel in Rennes than in Paris. And thinking on – my ride in a police van had meant that I hadn’t had to struggle around on the metro.

But my luck is in! And isn’t that a change from just recently? The Granville train is running, and it’s here, and I can climb aboard without any problems. So I do – and promptly fall asleep.

At Granville I decide to bite the bullet and for once, take a taxi. But there isn’t one. So I go round the corner to the café to ask the proprietor if he knows of anyone. He nods to someone at the bar who replies
“I’ll take you. 15 Euros”.

Like hell he will. I only wanted a ride, not to buy his cab from him.

The walk was difficult with my 30kgs of luggage, but once I’d organised everything it wasn’t as difficult as I had imagined. I took my time and had plenty of rest stops but I made it fine enough. I’m badgered if I’m going to pay €15:00 for a 3-km trip.

But the strap on my fitbit has now definitively parted company. I’m annoyed about that.

So here I am, safely back home in familiar surroundings at long last. But for how long? What’s next on the agenda? and how long will I be away for? I was disappointed that my nice little office chair was broken but it wasn’t made for heavyweights.

So I’m off to bed. I’ll check round the place tomorrow and see what else needs doing and then I’ll start to unpack. I’m not doing anything tonight. I did make a start on backing up but the spirit was weak.

It’s probably a good idea to go to bed – my first night in my warm comfy bed. And I’ve missed it, although I wouldn’t have missed for anything the experiences that I have had over the last four months. Good or bad experiences, they were all good really regardless of the outcome. Je ne regrette rien

But here’s a thing.

Regular readers of this rubbish will recall that I’ve had a great deal of issues with the statistics recorder on this blog, convinced that I’m not having accurate readings.

As a result, a week ago, I spent some time uploading a new statistics reader to run alongside the existing one, and the difference is startling. The new one is much more accurate, much more up-to-date, updates quicker and tells me much more about my audience.

So why doesn’t my audience tell me more about themselves? You can see the “Leave a Reply” link just underneath the title up at the top. Use it to introduce yourselves.

And I shall add my best birthday wishes to those of Strawberry Moose. I hope that you enjoyed your day.

Saturday 21st September 2019 – OTTAWA!

So here we all are, people, despite all of the prophets of doom and gloom. Strider, Strawberry Moose and Yours Truly nicely settled down in Ottawa in the bosom of another branch of family – one that I never knew that I had until I posted a casual remark on a page on the internet.

This world is far too small for my liking, as I have said before, except for my cousin Sandra.

And do you know what? It’s two years TO THE DAY that we met on the only other occasion, in Kingston.

A rather late-ish night last night but a really good sleep, and awakening to find no less than FOUR voice files on the dictaphone, one of which goes on for 00:08:42 and I’d love to know what that is all about.

I had a laze around for a few hours and then a shower, a shave and a general clean-up before slinging all of my gear into Strider.

A walk took me around the shops to buy some deodorant as I have run out, and some food for the next stage of my journey. And the crisis is over, it seems. Epinette, or Spruce Beer, is back in the shops. They are minus two bottles now.

On the road now for Ottawa and fighting my way through the roadworks and traffic jams and breakdowns. It took me ages to pass through Montreal this afternoon.

But soon I’m on the clear road and Strider and I can open up a little. I’m doing 100 kph – the legal limit on the highway – and everyone is going past us as if we are standing still.

What’s the matter with Canadian drivers? Don’t they understand anything about speed limits?

There’s a rest area ahead so I pull in for lunch. Baguette, tomato and hummus again. A ride on the porcelain horse and then a trip down the road to the service station where I saw fuel at $1:13 a litre (I saw it at $1:09 a little later) even though Strider didn’t really need it.

Back on the highway in the heat and I’m in Ottawa in about 90 minutes. Roadworks everywhere of course. But I find the chocolate shop to buy some chocolates for cousin Sandra who is kindly hosting me for the night.

Sandra has a lovely house right by the river, so it’s a good job that I have o holes in my socks or anything to let the side down.

Recently, I had heard from “a reliable source” that there was a really good Indian restaurant in Ottawa. “Ohh yes” said Sandra. “It’s on the corner here” so off we trot. A tiny place and we have to wait 20 minutes for a table and then another 45 minutes for the food. But I do have to say that the food made it worth every minute of the wait. It was delicious.

Sandra’s sister was passing briefly so she called in for a chat too.

Back at the house we exchanged family stories and then I went off to bed. Sunday morning so a lie-in, I hope. I think that I’ve earned it.

So now that I’m in Ottawa, what will tomorrow bring me?

Tuesday 27th August 2019 – I HAVE SPENT …

… a very pleasant day in the company of those two two very pleasant young girls whom I have mentioned previously. I’m not sure quite why, but I seem to be Flavour Of The Month right now – a situation to which I’m not accustomed at all

When we saw the polar bear the other day the younger one of the two who was wandering around the deck on her own wasn’t able to pick it up with her camera very well To help her out, I put her memory card into my camera and let her take a few photos using the big zoom lens. No kid should ever go around being disappointed if there’s someone around who can lend a hand.

Unfortunately I had my camera set on RAW data rather than *.jpg so her camera couldn’t see it, as I came to realise afterwards. But I was working with the laptop in my little corner in the upper lounge today when they both came past, so I grabbed her memory card, edited the photos for her, converted it into *.jpg format and, for good measure, slipped her a photo of my walrus from yesterday as a little present.

We ended up having quite a chat, that started at about 15:00 this afternoon and went on until … errr … 00:30. And I’ll tell you something for nothing – and that is that they are far more intelligent and interesting and have much more to say for themselves than any of the adults on board The Good Ship Ve … errr … Ocean Endeavour.

And that, unfortunately, is not saying very much either. To tell the truth, this is a pretty miserable lot of passengers on board the ship for this section of the voyage. There’s not even one of them with whom I’d choose to spend any of my spare time, and I’m pretty certain judging by the number of times that I’ve sat at a table and taken my meals all alone that the feeling is pretty much mutual.

Not that it bothers me at all though. As regular readers of this rubbish will recall, I’m much happier with my own company and It seems as if I’m condemned to prowl the deck of the ship totally on my own until all kinds of late hours until I fall overboard, rather like Joshua Slocum, which is par for the course these days.

Mind you, I don’t know how I do it because I had another dreadful night. Wide awake at 01:00 and then not going back to sleep at all. And I was feeling dreadful too – fearing a recurrence of my trouble of the other week.

I know what caused it though. Basically, I was in a totally foul mood and it was eating me up all yesterday evening.

Yesterday or the day before, I’d mentioned that we have someone from the Archaeological Service of Canada Parks on board and as a result things are being run “by the book” on board, to the total exclusion of everything else.

Consequently, even though I’ve travelled for 40 days and spent not far short of $40,000 over two years to travel to a certain point and to take a certain photograph, it’s been decided that I won’t be permitted to take it.

I was furious (to say the least) about the idea of missing out on the photo that I really wanted to take, and it was preying on my mind. But being wide-awake enabled me to have a good think and it gave me the opportunity to come up with a solution.

And so at breakfast I buttonholed Rachel the Archaeologist and bent her ear somewhat (poor girl), telling her of my utter dismay and disappointment. She replied that she would “take my concerns on board”.

It was snowing slightly outside and freezing cold, as you might expect up here in the High Arctic, but we all warmed ourselves up in our really warm expedition clothing and hit the zodiacs. 10 minutes later we were on Beechey Island. at last, after all of these years.

We visited the graves of the three sailors who died at the start of the Franklin expedition and I took the photos that I wanted. Permission had been obtained (although, I suspect, unofficially, and I thought it best not to make further enquiries). We then walked on through the rain and the howling wind past a passing gyrfalcon down to Northumberland House (or the remains thereof) built by William Pullen’s expedition to relieve Franklin should he still be alive (which he wasn’t)

The whole place is covered in old tin cans, barrel staves and barrel hoops from Franklin’s and the relief expeditions in the 1840s and 50s and that all adds to the mystery of the place. But at long last I have made it there and that was what I’ve come all this way to do.

But one thing that I couldn’t do was to deal with yet more of this red tape. There’s a shipwreck – the yacht Mary – dating from the 1850s on the island, and known since at least 1854. I was hoping to be able to visit that but because it didn’t form part of the permit that the company had obtained (apparently no-one thought that it would be of much interest to anyone) it had been taped off and an “unofficial excursion’ was out of the question with this official loitering around.

So instead, I cursed my bad luck.

The zodiac ride back was wild, totally wild. You’d pay good money for that in an adventure park. We were all soaked to the skin and frozen to the marrow, so when we returned I had a hot shower to warm myself up.

After lunch I was on deck for a while and then fell in with the girls. They are cousins apparently, both mad on music and keen players of the ukelele. So I’ve been having private ukelele lessons all evening.

There was a concert in fancy dress this evening. Strawberry Moose dressed up for it and won a prize.

Later on in the evening while I was chatting to the girls and learning to play the ukelele, two boys joined in. One of them was no mean guitarist and the other could sing really well and so we had a jam session until long after midnight, all five of us.

And as a result, a cunning plan is developing. But more of this anon. I’m off to bed.