Tag Archives: ardennes

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 29th June 2019 – A RECESSION? YOU MUST BE JOKING!

We keep on being told that economies are in a bad state and that many businesses are in crisis. But at the rate that they are turning away good money, it must be just a false rumour.

Last night I went to the Food Court in the basement of the Gare du Midi at 20:50 for my evening meal, bearing in mind that it closes at 21:00. Most of the stalls were already closed, another one was tidying up and cleaning up, and the final one told me “we’re not cooking now – we’re just closing”.

Obviously, it’s too much like hard work for anyone to be bothered to earn good money when it’s 10 minutes short of going-home time.

Not like the Indian restaurant in Crewe all those years ago. One of my taxis was out at 04:00 and the driver radioed me to ask if there was anywhere where his passengers could find somewhere to eat.

I telephoned the Indian restaurant
“sorry, we’re closed”
“but I have a taxi with passengers who are hungry”
“A taxi? How many passengers?”
“Four passengers”
“Four passengers? WE’RE OPEN!!!!”

And people complain that they are taking over.

For the first time in I don’t know how long, I had a really decent sleep, right the way through until the alarm went off. I’d been on a little voyage too but I can’t remember anything at all about it. Any recollection of it evaporated before I had time to grab hold of the dictaphone.

After the usual morning performance I had a shower and washed my clothes, and then went down for breakfast. I need to start the day as I mean to go on;

Back up here, I dealt with a few things that needed doing, and tidied up and packed my possessions ready to leave tomorrow.

When Alison texted me, I headed down to the station and took the metro, changing at Arts-Loi to travel to Kraainem where she was waiting.

We went to Brico and Carrefour and then headed out, via her house to drop off some stuff, to the Ardennes in the sweltering heat.

We stopped off at Tellin for a cool drink and then off to the other side of the autoroute to Redu, which is the Belgian equivalent of Hay-on-Wye, full of second-hand bookshops.

Nothing there caught my eye so we headed off for Sohier. “Sohier we are”, I mused to myself.

It’s said to be one of the prettiest villages in Belgium. Pretty it may well be, but I’ve seen plenty that are prettier, and in Belgium too.

Back up the road to Han-sur-Lesse (home of the legendary caves) for a late lunch and a walk by the river.

Finally to Rochefort and its famous church, where I discovered not only carvings of masonic symbols such as the arc and compass but also a Sol Invictus – the Conquering Sun, a pagan symbol adopted by the emperor Constantine after the Battle of Milvian Bridge in 312AD.

We also stumbled, quite by accident, upon the old abandoned Rochefort railway station on the abandoned lne between Jemelle and Houyet, closed to passengers in 1959 and to freight in 1978. There was also a tacot – a rural tramway – that started here and went to Wellin

That was enough for today as we were sweltering by this time in 35°C. We headed back to Brussels.

Alison dropped me off at the Herman Debroux metro station where I fuelled up her car for her and then I took the metro back to the Gare du Midi and my adventures in the food court.

Tea ended up being a baguette and tomato, followed by a banana. At least the Delhaize supermarket in the basement was still open.

Back here I sat down and ate my tea, and then I had in mind the idea of writing up my notes. However, the next thing that I remember was that it was about 23:30 – I’d been asleep for 90 minutes “just like that”, so I gave up the idea and went back to sleep.

Sunday 19th February 2017 – WHAT A NICE …

… meal that was!

Alison took me to the Indian restaurant on the Grote Markt for a birthday treat. I had a lentil curry which was delicious. not as good as mine and certainly nothing like as good as you might find in a restaurant in Stoke on Trent, but for an Indian restaurant in mainland Europe it was excellent.

Just for a change I had an excellent night’s sleep. Well away with the fairies right until the alarm went off. And I was on my travels too. Back to the hotel that bore a startling resemblance to the place in the Ardennes where I stayed in November. I was there with some people, one of whom was a disagreeable person with whom I worked at that weird American company where I spent 12 of the most bizarre months of my working life. She was complaining (as usual) about something or other and I had to go down to sort it out. This involved descending (at breakneck speed) a set of stairs with two different doors at the bottom. One of them was the door into the main area but the other one would take me round the back down a long dark alley, and that was the route that I decided to take.

Alone again at breakfast, which suits me fine of course, and then back down here where I had some work to do. I have a meeting on Monday and I need to be up-to-date with my paperwork. So I went throught and sorted it all out yet again. And I now have much more of an idea as to what I need to know for tomorrow at 11:00.

I had a nice chat on the internet with some nice friends of mine and then went for lunch. Nothing to go on my butties, but I had the other half-uncooked demi-baguette from yesterday (they come in packs of two and I used one for my garlic bread last night) so I baked that and used some more of the packet soup that I had bought from LeClerc when I was in Sedan.

Alison came onto the internet – she was going to the English shop and would I like to go? Well, do bears go for picnics in the woods? I went for a quick shower and a shave too look pretty, and Alison picked me up and off we trotted. I bought some more Dandelion and Burdock, more Bombay mix, some vegan burgers and a big bag of oven chips. Now I have all of my food (except the lunch stuff) until I leave here, and there’s even tons of stuff left that I haven’t used. And that’s a surprise.

We passed by here where I could dump everything in the freezer compartment of the fridge, and then off we shot into town for coffee, the Indian meal and a very lengthy chat.

Back here, seeing as how I’ve started to celebrate my birthday early, I opened a packet of mint sweets that I had brought back from Canada. Just a few – the rest are for later.

And now it’s early night time – I’m busy tomorrow.

Monday 28th November 2016 – I WAS RIGHT …

delhaize closed monday bohan belgium october octobre 2016… when I said the other day that I would probably find the Delhaize at Bohan closed if I were to come here today.

Well – I was half-right anyway. Had I come here this morning I would have found it open. But I didn’t – I didn’t arrive here until this afternoon and by then the supermarket here was well-closed.

It wasn’t much of a guess though really, was it? Knowing how things pan out when I’m involved, you should have had the mortgage on it.

delhaize bohan belgium october octobre 2016It wouldn’t be so bad if it were an out-of-town retail outlet but here it is, in pride of place right in the town centre, on a site that’s been used for retail purposes for maybe at least 90 years if an old postcard that I saw had anything to do with it.

But as luck would have it, and quite surprisingly if you are a regular reader of this rubbish, there was a boulangerie open up the side street to the right,and I was able to grab a loaf of bread.

I’d had yet another bad night – this one probably the worst that I’d had so far. and I was awake long before the alarm went off. I’d been travelling too – round Labrador as it happens and I’d been promoting some complicated and difficult projects that I found very hard to explain.

First down for breakfast, even before the staff yet again, and then back to my room and carrying on with my work on Labrador and the Happy Valley-Goose Bay web pages that I’m writing. And I’m stuck. I’ve forgotten the name of a ship that I saw in the harbour and I can’t identify it from the photo. All I know is that it’s the Woodwards oil tanker that takes the fuel out to the outports and isolated islands in the Labrador Sea.

After my butties I set off to Bohan. And it was cold too – the ice warning was going off which was no surprise as the temperature had dropped well below zero during the night and there had been frost everywhere this morning. I sorted out the woolly hat to go on my woolly head.

riviere semois pont cassé bohan belgium october octobre 2016There was a really good reason for wanting to go to Bohan, because it’s another place that has a lot that I would find interesting.

Amongst them is what is called the Pont Cassé – the broken bridge. And if you really need to know who it was who broke it, the answer was that it was the French Army. They blew it up on 11th May 1940 in order to prevent the German Army and its tanks from using it to cross over the river

riviere semois pont cassé bohan belgium october octobre 2016And when they blew it up, they did a really good job of it too.

It was “repaired”, if that’s the right word, with a temporary wooden structure but during the German retreat they set it alight on 6th September 1944 and it burnt down.

And after the war, the decision was made in 1947 not to replace it.

rivere semois pont cassé bohan belgium october octobre 2016It’s possible to walk onto the bridge these days – it’s not fenced off – and so I did.

And you can tell from this photograph exactly what kind of bridge it is can’t you? It’s a railway bridge of course if you need to be told, and more than that, it’s another tacot or “rattletrap” – one of the
chemins de fer vicinaux or local tramway-type railways that littered Belgium just as well as they littered France and which we had near us in Marcillat en Combraille.

riviere semois pont cassé bohan belgium october octobre 2016And talking of my home area in the Combrailles, if you think that the railway line from Pionsat to Gouttieres with its 9 years of existence was quite ephemeral, you haven’t seen anything yet.

This railway line had a lifespan of just about 5 years. It was opened on 5th May 1935 and came to a rather sudden end on 11th May 1940 as I mentioned just now when the French army blew up the bridge.

chemin de fer vicinal bohan belgium october octobre 2016But even that pales into insignificance when we talk about the extension of the line.

Just over there is the railway station. The line came to a full stop over there in 1935 but the decision had been taken to extend the line into France. Just down beyond the railway station is the French border and beyond there is the town of Sorendal.

This was the terminus of the Ardennes tacot – the metre-gauge rural railway network of the French, and on 17th October 1938 an extension was built to join them together.

chemin de fer vicinal gare bohan belgium october octobre 2016While we admire the back of the railway station and what might be a signal cabin to control a set of points that might have worked a siding that looks as if it might have gone to the left just there, I’ll tell you an even more tragic story about the line.

And that is that despite only being opened in October 1938, the French closed the border at the outbreak of war and this part of the line didn’t even manage a whole year of working.

chemin de fer vicinal gare bohan belgium october octobre 2016There wasn’t any doubt in my mind that this was the old railway station. There wasn’t anything carved on the stone or any old sign that might have given me a clue – it just looks exactly as anyone might expect.

Thoroughly magnificent and thoroughly over-the-top, which was a feature of these rural railway stations. No wonder that the lines didn’t last all that long with this kind of expense.

chemin de fer vicinal gare bohan belgium october octobre 2016This is the line-side of the station – the roadway today is the track-bed and there is a pile of waste-land in front of the building that might easily have been the platform.

It looks as if it’s derelict now – all closed down and with damp rising up the stone walls. But it was at one time a garage and then later became a dwelling-house. But there’s no land with it unfortunately, and it’s far too big for me, as well as needing far too much work.

pont cassé chemin defervicinal bohan belgium october octobre 2016But before we leave the Pont Cassé, all 90 metres of it, let me just explain to you why it took until 1935 for the railway line to reach here.

It actually reached Membre in 1913, construction from Gedinne having begun in 1909. But then we had the war of course and afterwards, we had to wait for the Belgian economy to restart. And then we had the decision as to how actually to reach here because it’s a horrendous civil engineering problem.

In the end, they dug a tunnel through the rock, a tunnel of 22O metres in length and which was one of the marvels of Belgian engineering. Unfortunately, the portal at this end is on private property and overgrown so it’s not accessible.

road bridge bohan belgium october octobre 2016While we are on the subject of bridges, this is the road bridge over the Semois.

Of course, it’s not the original. There’s no need for me to tell you what happened to that – and on the same day that the Pont Cassé went up too. They didn’t do things by halves.

We had another temporary type of bridge subsequently, so I was told, but this one here is built of concrete and dates from 1957

maison de marichau bohan belgium october octobre 2016So back in the town again, I went to have a look at one of the oldest houses in the town.

It’s called the Maison de Marichau and it’s said to be one of the very few remaining examples of traditional Ardennais architecture that’s remaining.

Although in dreadful condition, it was classed as an ancient monument in May 1973 and is currently undergoing renovation – and not before time either if you ask me.

bohan belgium october octobre 2016Not a lot seems to be known about the history of Bohan.

It first seems to be mentioned as a fief of Orchimont, where we were the other afternoon, in 1205 when the Lord Of Orchimont, Badouin passed it over to his younger brother Rigaud.

However, you only have to examine its situation here on an easy crossing of the Semois with several valleys feeding in from all points of the compass to consider that it must have been quite an important ford here, and subsequently a settlement, for hundreds of years prior to that.

river semois bohan belgium october octobre 2016
The river here by the way looks as if it has all the air of a natural border or frontier, and that was indeed the case in the early Middle Ages.

Long before the emergence of national states here in north-western Europe, it was the church, with its various bishoprics, that divided up the country amongst themselves, and when we were in Bouillon the other day we noted that the Bishops of Liège managed to hang on to their independent provinces until as late as 1795.

river semois bohan belgium october octobre 2016
But the River Semois was the frontier between the Bishops of Liege and the Bishop of Reims. The southern side of the river was part of the Bishopric of Reims and in 1190 came under the control of the Abbey Church of Mézières, where it surprisingly stayed until 1802 when it passed into the hands of the Bishops of Namur.

All of this makes me so surprised to have seen nothing mentioned whatever about a fortress. Obviously the Lord of the Manor would have to live somewhere impressive and in view of the town’s strategic importance right on some kind of border I would have expected the town to have been fortified and some kind of fortress built.

river semois bohan belgium october octobre 2016
In fact we are told that by 1287 it had become the seat of a feudal nobility and villages on both sides of the river depended upon it. But if there had been fortifications and a fortress here, mention of them has escaped me.

Bohan is next in the news in 1559 when the territory is willed to the two daughters of Gerlache de Bohan. And in 1605 it passes into the hands of one Jan Baptiste van den Bosch. He’s of the family “du Bois de Fiennes” and Lord of Drogenbos in the Province of Brabant, and it stays more-or-less in the hands of his family until maybe 200 or so years ago.

river semois bohan belgium october octobre 2016
And this is probably the reason why it’s part of Belgium and not, as you might expect, part of France, even though the Semois would make a wonderful natural boundary.

I said “more-or-less” just now because we all know that this area is the “cockpit of Europe”, with marauding armies passing back and forth through here continually even as late as 1944.

We’ve seen how the French went on the rampage all around here in 1635, recaptured by the Spanish in 1652, the French again in 1657 and finally back to the Spanish by the Treaty of Rijswijk in 1697. And then we had the Wars of the Spanish Succession, the Wars of the Austrian Succession, the Napoleonic Wars and so on.

river semois bohan belgium october octobre 2016
But by 1830 and Belgian independence, things had settled down and there were 130 houses counted here. Forestry products were important, as was agriculture, especially as the area seems to have a microclimate that makes it a couple of degrees warmer than one would expect here. There are excellent alluvial soils due to regular periodic flooding of the river and it’s sheltered from the winds.

There was also quite a substantial cottage industry here, making nails.

tobacco drying shed river semois bohan belgium october octobre 2016But surprisingly, 100 or so years ago, this area was quite famous for tobacco growing and all around us are open barn-like buildings that were actually the drying sheds for the leaves.

It seems that in 1876 someone brought some tobacco plants back from Kentucky and to everyone’s surprise, they flourished here and grew like wildfire. But all of that has been abandoned now – not that I would know a tobacco plant if I were to see one.

eglise st leger church bohan belgium october octobre 2016As for the church, this was built in 1760 and seems to be dedicated to St Leger. Its construction was financed one-third by the commune, one-third by the Lord of the Manor and one-third by the Monks of the Abbey of Laval Dieu in Monthermé.

It’s certainly not the first church on this site. There’s a reference in a will of 1235 in which a “Clarisse de Gedinne” leaves a sum of money for the “repair” of the church at Bohan, and a ducument of 1190 seems to imply a church here too. We don’t know what that one looks like, or why it was replaced.

This church is built of stone brought from a quarry at Don-le-Mesnil, near Charleville-Mézières.

Its tower is 30 metres high and formerly contained two bells. The larger one, cast in 1860, was taken away by the Germans in 1943 to be melted down. It was replaced in 1949 and a third bell was added in that year too. The second bell is apparently called Marie and was cast in 1839 and repaired in 1909.

eglise st leger church bohan belgium october octobre 2016The interior is quite basic. We have the typical paintings of the “Chemin de la Croix” which date apparently from the very early 20th Century and the painter is unkown. There’s the principal altars and two side altars are also present, one dedicated to Mary and the other to Joseph.

There are several statues too, including ones of St Antony of Padua, St. Theresa and St Hubert, and several paintings that are signed “Renon Letellier de Charleville, 1827”, as well as a painting of Mary that seems to be older than that.

calvaire bohan belgium october octobre 2016As well as the church, there are a couple of other places of religious significance in the town.

This is a calvaire, a calvary, and seems to be dedicated to Mary as far as I can tell. I think that that’s a statue of her over there in her grotto. It must be some kind of spring too because I could see water cascading out under the road opposite this spot and discharging into the river.

I wonder if that is what is covered up by the tarpaulin.

And this does remind me of the story that I heard about the Quebecois painter who was asked to paint a picture of the Calvary. He came back with a drawing of John Wayne and several United States troopers on their horses.

As for the wooden construction on the left of the photo, I wonder if that’s an old tobacco-drying shed.

marriage stone bohan belgium october octobre 2016Here by the side of the river we have a very peculiar couple of stones. They are called the “Marriage Stones” because some kind of weird ritual is performed here by newly-weds after the church service.

The purpose of this ritual is apparently to symbolise the difficulties that married couples face during their life together. And I suppose that seeing as this is Belgium, the greatest difficulty that they might encounter is to deal with this ritual in the pouring rain.

hotel bohan belgium october octobre 2016There’s a hotel over there, the white building down at the end of the road. And I missed out on an opportunity there because it advertises long stays with breakfast for just €30:00 per night, which would have done me just fine.

I decided to make a note of that for future reference, which I duly did. But would you believe that Brain of Britain forgot to make a note of the name of the place.

Ahh well! I suppose that I shall have to carry out some further research.

And now I’m done. I had a coffee and went off home for my butty and another early night.

After all, I’m off in the morning.

You can stay here and read all of this – all … errr … 2554 words of it.

Sunday 27th November 2016 – I FINALLY FOUND …

…some football this weekend, at my third attempt.

stade jean alame e s vouziers U S st menges 08200 france october octobre 2016U S St Menges were down to play E S Vouziers this afternoon and not only did I manage to find the ground, the teams were actually out there warming up when I arrived, ready to play.

That makes a pleasant change from just recently, having missed all kinds of matches just now.

But what was really interesting was when I walked into the pie hut. The woman behind the counter took one look at me and asked “coffee?”. First time that I’ve been here too!

My fame must be spreading, that’s all that I can say.

stade jean alame e s vouziers U S st menges 08200 france october octobre 2016So once the match kicked off, we all settled down to watch the game.

And in the words of the good old cliché, it really was a game of two halves too.

In the first half, it was a pretty even game. E S Vouziers – in the black-and-white – looked slightly the better team but that was failing to take into account two of the US St Menges players.

stade jean alame e s vouziers U S st menges 08200 france october octobre 2016US St Menges had two attackers who looked streets ahead of anything that ES Vouziers could offer and they combined to make really good attacking play.

The St Menges n°7 and n°9 were really having a good first half and it was absolutely no surprise to anyone that the end of the first half found then 2-0 up. And they were really good value for that score too.

And so we all went off for a half-time coffee and a warm because it was freezing out there.

stade jean alame e s vouziers U S st menges 08200 france october octobre 2016Now I’m not sure what each of the trainers put into the half-time cuppa because we had two different teams out there on the field for the second half.

The two US St Menges attackers had gone completely off the boil and were pretty much anonymous for the second half, whereas the ES Vouziers players came out full of beans.

Vouziers scored within two minutes of coming back on the field and at the end of the match they ran out 3-2 winners. In the second half, they were hardly troubled by US St Menges.

One of the most dramatic half-time turnarounds that I’ve seen for quite a bit.

chasseurs ardennes hunters st menges 08200 france october octobre 2016We had a brief interruption – or, at least, the spectators did. It’s hunting season of course and we are right in the Ardennes here.

Consequently, we had the 21st-Century version of the Chasseurs Ardennais driving past the football ground, on quads, in pick-ups or on these 4×4 machines that you can see here in this photo

I hate hunters with a passion, as you all know, and I shan’t bore you by ranting on about them right now. You can take it as read.

église d’Iges glaire 08200 france october octobre 2016Just across the river, in a tight meander of the River Meuse is the hamlet of Iges, part of the commune of Glaire since 1971. That’s the village church that you can see just here.

The village has a claim to fame in that it was in the Chateau de Bellevue that Napoleon III met Kaiser William during the signing of the surrender document to end this phase of the Franco-Prussian War after defeat at the Battle of Sedan in 1870.

The French soldiers were confined in the open air as prisoners of war, the meander serving as the boundary of the camp. Some were here for 10 days.

It’s also the site of one of the crossings of the Meuse by Guderian’s Panzer Armies in May 1940 in the early days of World War II.

Talking of World War II, you’ll remember on Friday when we went to see the spot just to the north of St Menges where Fairey Battle L-5581 from 88 Squadron RAF crashed into the trees and its crew, Sergeant FE Beames (observer), Sergeant WG Ross (pilot) and LAC JHK Gegg (wireless operator/air gunner) were killed.

I told you at the time that I’d try to track down the graves of the crew and my search led me to the communal cemetery of St Menges. It’s listed as a Commonwealth War Cemetery so I reckoned that it would be a good place to visit.

beames gegg ross fairey battle L-5581 cemetery st menges 08200 france october octobre 2016

My search around the cemetery was rather like that of Tuco near the end of The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly but I eventually found the plot.

There’s no site book here, no Union Jack or anything, and the plot is rather small. I was told that just one coffin was used and that rather unfortunately tells us rather too much about the condition of the bodies when they were recovered.

But it is typical of many plots in may cemeteries in this part of Europe, as I said the other day. Three graves in a quiet corner – pilot, navigator, rear gunner – monuments to the absurdity of the Fairey Battle.

I had a bit of a bad night last night. Up and down a couple of times, couldn’t sleep, awake far too early. First down to breakfast, before the staff yet again. And then back to carry on with Happy Valley and Goose Bay.

Having hung my damp clothes from last night on hangers on the curtain rail over the radiator, they were dry by lunchtime too. That was impressive.

And so, off on the attack this afternoon.

I had my pizza tonight down in the village and now I’m off to my room. I’ll try my best to have an early night and a good sleep. My time here is quickly drawing to a close.

Wednesday 23rd November 2016 continued – BOUILLON

bouillon belgium october octobre 2016Rather than amend what I had written last night before going to bed, I reckoned that I would break with tradition and just quickly dash off a new page about Bouillon, for your entertainment and education.

You won’t see much in the photos because it was rather dark when I arrived and went darker still before I’d finished. But never mind.

bouillon belgium october octobre 2016Bouillon has a major claim to fame in that there is a huge castle, dating from the 10th Century with subsequent improvements, here in the town, up there behind those houses.

And I was so dismayed to see that the castle wasn’t illuminated. I would have expected to see it all brightly lit up, given its fame, especially as they have managed to illuminate those houses, But no such luck.

bouillon belgium october octobre 2016The castle is perched on a tall, prominent rock situated in a very tight meander of the River Semois and to reach it is quite a climb. It’s not for the faint-hearted and was an ideal defensive spot.

No-one is sure when the rock was first fortified, but a castle is definitely referred to in a letter in 988AD. It was slighted by Henry 111, Holy Roman Emperor, in 1045 but rebuilt shortly afterwards.

pont riviere semois bouillon belgium october octobre 2016In 1082 it was inherited by its most famous owner, Godefroi de Bouillon.

However he sold it to the Prince-Bishops of Liège in 1095 for a sum believed to be 3 marks of gold and 1300 marks of silver in order that he would have funds to go off on the First Crusade.

And as we all know, went on to be the first ruler of the newly-conquered Jerusalem.

bouillon belgium october octobre 2016The castle, and the town which had grown up at its foot changed hands from then on, on occasions too numerous to list.

Its strategic position at the “entrance to the Ardennes” and “the gateway to France” had made it a key position on the ever-changing frontier in north-west Europe and it was never left in peace as marauding armies swarmed all over it.

bouillon belgium october octobre 2016It even fell into the hands of the La Tour d’Auvergne family from my neck of the woods on several occasions, but was almost always eventually restored to the Price-Bishops of Liège until their lands were definitely extinguished in 1795.

It was then absorbed by France, handed to the Netherlands by the Treaty of Paris of 1815 that ended the Napoleonic Wars in 1815, and became part of Belgium in the partition of 1830.

Its most famous modern inhabitant would be Leon Degrelle, a prominent and unrepentant Nazi collaborator who led a large body of Wallon Nazi collaborators and front-line SS troops during World War II and fled to Spain after the War.

bouillon belgium october octobre 2016It’s another one of these places that must have been absolutely magnificent 50 years ago, but cheap foreign travel has killed off much of the town like many other places in Northern Europe. There are several empty, abandoned hotels, shops and restaurants, and the good times have definitely gone.

But there’s still some kind of wealth here in the town with a few expensive hotels and restaurants that are way out of my reach.

But it did have a fritkot or three, one of which served falafel, so I was ok.

Wednesday 16th November 2016 – HOW STUPID …

… can you be?

I need to leave Belgium for a while for various reasons, and so I checked all around the area of Sedan, which is not too far away from here but across the border, and I found a place that looked absolutely perfect from my point of view. Isolated in the countryside miles from anywhere up a mountain and probably swathed in fog. And bed-and-breakfast at the same price as my hostel.

And here I am gazing across a river and over the river is in France, and here I am, stuck on the Belgian side of it all in the Hostellerie La Sapiniere at Vresse sur Semois.

Unbelievable, isn’t it?

So why aren’t I heading back to my house then? The answer is that while my blood count has gone up slightly to 10:0, the protein loss in my body is accelerating slightly and that’s causing them some concern. As a result, they’ve changed my medication and they want me back IN A WEEK to see how I’m doing.

And not only that, they have some more appointments for me in the haematology department in two weeks time, and so I’m stuck here yet again. But I don’t want to be stuck in Leuven – I need a change of scenery;

But returning to our moutons as the French say, the trouble with going to bed early is that everyone else comes in later. And so even if you do drop off to sleep by 22:30, then at 23:30 you are wide awake as people come back into the building. and that’s rather annoying, so say the least.

So having had a disturbed night (for many reasons) I was awake quite early as the alarm went off.

And I’d been on my travels too. I had to visit a town that was “just across the border” in some kind of Spanish-speaking area. I’d found a bus that would take me there and so I climbed on board. It wasn’t a journey of 10 minutes either as I was expecting, but one of hours and interminable hours. A woman on board the bus, small and dark-haired, tried to help me out – every ten minutes or so coming to reassure me (although I couldn’t understand what she was saying) and then as we reached the border I suddenly realised that I didn’t know where I was supposed to be going or at what stop I needed to alight, and I had no way of asking either.

There were the usual hordes at breakfast this morning, and we had a major problem with the kitchen area being flooded again. The skylight had been left open and we were in the middle of a torrential downpour.

Still, I’d breakfasted and even showered and back in my room again long before 07:55. THat’s something of a record, isn’t it? And once I’d tidied up and packed my rucksack I set off to the hospital, braving the driving rain.

I wasn’t feeling so good this morning either. All of the joints in my legs were aching and I didn’t have the puff to climb the hill. I had to stop on four or five occasions to get back my breath. This is the worst trip to the hospital that I have ever had.

I was there and registered by 08:30 and sitting in the waiting room. I was seen a little later than my 08:50 appointment , and given all of the tests and the like. My weight was stable which was bad news – I want to lose it all and I can’t do this as it’s all to do with the water retention issues that I’m having and that’s one of the issues that I need to resolve – hence the new medication.

By 11:30 they released me from the hospital and that was that. I went down to Caliburn and we all, Caliburn, Strawberry Moose and I set off for the wilderness.

The weather was pretty miserable – with rainstorms and the like all the way down to the Ardennes. And once I started to climb up into the mountains I was encased in hanging clouds just like home. In fact it made me feel quite at home.

The Lady Who Lives In The SatNav couldn’t find the hotel, which was hardly a surprise seeing as I was looking in the wrong country. I had a beautiful drive through the Ardennes and ended up in Sedan in the driving rain. I took the opportunity to do a huge pile of shopping at the Leclerc – what with food prices in France being much less than in Belgium – and then tracked down the hotel where I’m staying.

It’s a very impressive hotel from the outside but it’s all very 1960s from the inside. And there’s no internet in the bedroom which is very depressing to say the least. I’ll have to sort this out somehow but I’m quite tired after my drive. I made a butty (because I wasn’t able to check on what the surroundings had to offer) and had an early night instead.

Thursday 8th May 2014 – I HAD THE BEST …

… night’s sleep that I have ever had in Caliburn, to be sure. I was late dozing off – round about midnight I reckon, but I remember nothing else until the alarm went off at 07:30. Even the morning’s heavy traffic didn’t wake me up. I’ll remember this spec – down at Boisfort on the road out towards the motorway and tucked behind a hedge on the road at the side – for another time.

So once I was organised, I went to park Caliburn on the hypermarket car park and I was off on the Metro once I found the entrance to the station.

First stop was the Troc. All of Marianne’s possessions have been sold, so it seems, and her account cleared. Similar news at the Bank too – the notaire has done the necessary there.

gravestone marianne orban cimetierre ixelles bruxelles belgiqueOne of the things that I needed to do was to make my annual report to Marianne and check on her grave now that her gravestone has been installed.

The gravestone contains several errors that need to be corrected and so I’ll have to get on to that pretty smart-ish. But at least an all-over stone means that no work is required to maintain her grave. That was always going to be my biggest headache.

Anyway, it’s hard to believe that a year has gone past since she went to meet her maker, and I hope that she is happy wherever she might be.

After that, I turned my attention to happier things and WHA…HEY! I’ve booked my annual journey to Canada. Leaving 28 August and returning 8th October (actually 9th October as it’s a night flight). And with booking so far in advance and not travelling at a weekend the flight works out even cheaper than my previous two flights there, which is excellent news. Just €580 including taxes (which are more than the base price of the flight, would you believe?)

That’s not the best of it either. Had I wanted to go via Air Transat it would have cost me €50 less, if that were possible, but I’m flying Air Canada – a flagship airline too at that price – direct on the outbound flight and via Brussels on the return. I’m quite pleased with that deal, as you might guess, and I’m pleased that Connections, my travel agents, came up with the goods.

I’ve booked 4 nights at that hotel at the Cote de Liesse on the edge of Montreal where I stayed last year. That gives me plenty of opportunity to continue my exploration of the city so I need to make a list of things that I would like to see. I need to focus myself much more positively this year.

I’ve booked another big Dodge too and I do hope that I get one – I’ve heard a nasty rumour that Avis are planning to change over to Fords and the Ford Flex isn’t half as versatile as a Grand Caravan. That was a good deal too, better than last year.

The plan is to explore Montreal, then do the Richelieu Valley in the reverse direction (I hope that they have good mirrors on the car) then go to the Maine State Fair and tractor pull at Clinton. From there to the Harvest Jazz and Blues Festival at Fredericton and then I’ll be off to Cape Breton, Newfoundland and then back to Labrador ro complete my visit of Highway 138 and then retrace my steps along the Trans-Labrador Highway.

Such is the plan but as we all know, “the best-laid plans of mice and men” etc etc.

One final task before I leave Brussels. They’ve fitted new brake shoes at the rear of Caliburn but I clearly interrupted them when I arrived to pick him up yesterday, for they had of course slackened off the handbrake cable to remove the brake pads but in the confusion they forgot to tighten it up so I had no rear brakes and no handbrake to speak of when I left the garage.

Now we are all happy again.

Leaving Brussels in a rainstorm, with traffic queues and roadworks all the way beyond Charleroi and I’m now in a lay-by with a couple of lorries in the foothills of the Ardennes near Couvin. Still not out of Belgium, but as my adventure starts at the frontier just up the road, I don’t want to do it in the rain and the gloom of the evening. Who knows? It might brighten up in the morning.

But I won’t have the sleep that I had last night anyway – the rain is bouncing off Caliburn’s roof and it sounds like a drum in the back.

Tuesday 15th March 2011 – Well, I’m off!

Yes, and in news that will surprise, if not stagger, every single (and even the married) readers of this blog, yesterday I was up, breakfasted and working long before the alarm went off. And by choice as well!

We took the sofa and the mattress downstairs to Caliburn and they went off to the tip. Terry came to help so it didn’t take long. And after fuelling up at the garage where the old man moans like hell if you spill any diesel, we came home and carried on emptying.

mobalpa kitchen avenue de l'exposition jette brissels belgiumThe Estate Agent came and spent an hour poking around. She fell in love with the kitchen, which I knew she would, after all Marianne who chose it for me has excellent taste. And I mean – what with Liz whose taste is just as good, who can possibly go wrong?

Once that was done we loaded both vans, thoroughly cleaned up, hitched up the trailer to Caliburn and then fought our way through the rush-hour traffic to the motorway (well, it was 17:20 when we set off). Terry and Liz went home at their own pace while Caliburn and I pulled the 2000E on the trailer over the Ardennes and then over the Monts de la Bourgogne, so it was a long night for us.

But having towed all kinds of trailers with all kinds of cars on them, this trailer that Terry bought to move his tractor and the scaffolding is the best that I have ever used and it is well-worth the money. I’m seriously impressed with that.

I had a few hours sleep on the N7 between Nevers and Moulins as I didn’t want to arrive here in the dark. Reversing the trailer in the pitch-black with no marker lights is not my idea of fun.

But talking of crashing, the concierge of the apartments came over to chat to me while we were loading the van.
While you were taking your old car out of the garage downstairs, you didn’t see anyone trying to break into the garage opposite? There’s a huge dent in the door as if someone has driven right into it trying to break it down
To be honest, Mme Rascar, while Terry and I were down there getting the car out, we didn’t see anyone else at all
Isn’t that bizarre?

What is even more bizarre though is that in the past, if anything in the building had gone slightly wrong, people would always come round to blame me for it, even if I hadn’t been there for a month. But they can’t say anything to me right now because they know what to expect. After the issues about my LDV being parked there for a while and the fuss that they made about it, there are two vehicles even more abandoned than the LDV parked there right now. And the first word that anyone says to me about anything and they know exactly what response they will receive.

Wednesday 23rd February 2011 – We are back in Brussels again

Liz, yours truly, and also Caliburn who is much better and thanks everyone for the best wishes he was sent.

So yesterday I went back to my farm in the Ka (which I got to like much more than I did the first day I drove it) in order to hunt down some paperwork. It didn’t take me long to break in and once there I did some chilling out. Quite literally as it happened as the temperature was a mere 5.6°C in my attic. While we were away the temperature there had dropped to as low as -0.6°C which is hardly surprising as the temperature outside had dropped as far as -12.4°C on one occasion.

We then headed off to Riom for shopping and it was there that the garage rang to say that we could pick up Caliburn and so once we had sorted ourselves out we set off for here. On the way home the gorgeous sunny day slowly descended into a grey miserable wet evening and by the time we were climbing into the Ardennes at the back of Chalons sur Marne it was snowing heavily. Crossing over the Ardennes into Belgium was fraught, having to pick our way around abandoned lorries, sliding around roundabouts on the handbrake and so on. Poor Liz went about 50 miles with her eyes closed. It was not a journey that I would particularly like to do again unless I have to.

03:00 when we arrived back in Brussels after all of this, and Terry was waiting by the window for us. He’d heard about the weather and was rather anxious for our well-being which was quite nice of him.

But now, I’m off to bed to make up for what I’ve missed out on. I’m exhausted.

Monday 21st February 2011 – Now talk about a change …

… here I am sitting in the Auvergne. But not in my little attic but in front of a rip-roaring fire at Terry and Liz’s.

This morning, having fuelled up Caliburn, we went to load him up with another pile of stuff and to load up the trailer to with stuff to take back here. But Caliburn is a little poorly right now – the pump-timing has slipped out one notch so he’s not pulling as well as he might – and in any case with the new plan which involves throwing away most of the stuff in the garage, there didn’t seem to be much point in dragging a quarter-full trailer 750 kilometres to here and then dragging an empty one 750 kilometres back.

Without the trailer, Caliburn bounced along quite happily. Leaving Brussels at about 09:40 and stopping for lunch and for afternoon coffee, we were back here (through the snow in the Ardennes and the rain from Auxerre southwards) by 19:45.

clamecy twinned with grandes piles quebec canada franceThere are some beautiful spots along the old road south of Auxerre so I took a little time out to show Liz some of the scenery.

Clamecy is a particularly beautiful little town and one of these days I’ll spend some time there to have a really good look around. In the meantime though, I shall just tantalise you by letting you look at the town in Quebec, Canada, with which Clamecy is twinned. My imagination is boggling – I dunno about yours.

Back here at Liz’s, it’s really cold and in a stone house that has been empty and unheated for a month in midwinter, it’s even cold inside. But with a huge blaze going it’s quickly warming up. Mind you, after driving all this way it won’t be long before I’ll be climbing the little wooden hill to Bedfordshire.