Don’t worry; until earlier this afternoon I’d never head of Seraucourt-le-Grand myself. It’s not too far from Saint-Quentin (and don’t worry, even French teachers like me pronounce it that way as well!) More of my destination in a moment.
First up today was, of course, a visit to the chateau in Pierrefonds. Fascinating place with a bizarre history. Originally constructed in the 15th century, dismantled (partially) in the 17th century and rebuilt in its unique, almost kitsch current style by Napoleon III in the 19th century. I loved it! Much more interesting than Fontainebleau a few days ago and much, much quieter at 9.30am. I was the first person through the door and there wasn’t anybody behind me for quite some time. How wonderful to have the place to myself. Much more of the story of Pierrefonds and its rebuilding in the book but in the meantime you can enjoy the pictures in the previous post.
I had left the tent erected back at the campsite while I visited the castle. It must have been rained upon and then dried at least two times during the morning. That pattern of weather was to continue for the rest of the day – rain – shine – hot – cold – repeat… However, once I had uploaded the pictures of the chateau back at the campsite, everything was dry and I set off, continuing along the road that I had been following yesterday in the vague direction of the Belgian border near Charleroi. Once again I had no idea where I would end up.
The first heavy downpour came not long after I had climbed the hill out of Pierrefonds. Hail was a bit of a worry but it only fell for a brief period; the rain was, alas, a bit more persistent. However, after around 20 km things had brightened up significantly, so much so that I was able to once again start looking around and appreciating the environment through which I was cycling rather than cowering behind the hood of my raincoat. One of the first things I noticed were some neatly arranged black crosses in the sloping land to my right. My initial reaction was to assume they were supporting crops of some kind. Then, of course, the more rational explanation came to mind; a war cemetery. The black crosses indicated a German rather than an Allied one.
I’ve seen German war cemeteries before on school trips to Belgium. They are very much more somber places than those of the victors. It would be wrong to say that I ‘like’ or ‘prefer’ them but I do find them perhaps even more moving. In the small patch of ground nearly 2,000 soldiers had been buried. Their cause was ultimately defeated which makes their deaths even more futile, even sadder. It was interesting to note the handful of Jewish grave stones; people fighting for a country the leaders of which would soon turn their backs against such people. I sat for a few moments on the steps leading back to where I had parked the bike and thought about it all. Life, war, death. I also took a moment to think about a school friend who passed away only last week. He too had died tragically young. I shed a tear for all of them.
Back on the road the weather was still annoyingly changeable. It’s worth noting that I don’t tend to take pictures when it’s raining so please don’t get the impression from the pictures posted here that I am over egging the whole thing. Rain, shine, rain, shine… The climatic cycle continued.
In Biérancourt I finally decided to do some serious thinking about accommodation options. A Google search threw up a site in Setaucourt-le-Grand with some good reviews so I decided to head in that direction. Navigating using the paper map I didn’t have too much trouble joining up the small towns and villages before eventually, at around 6pm, arriving at my destination. At 67 km it was only a little short of my target average distance of 75 km so the current average – which stands at 73.6 km per day wasn’t dented too much. Despite the little flies that are desperate to have a piece of my flesh the campsite – Camping Vivier aux Carpes – is a very nice setting by a small lake and is predominantly British campers in the motor homes.
Other things to note? A few curious signs: Cuts and L’Aventure (which is where I’ve been apparently), and bricks. It’s beginning to feel a lot like Belgium, everywhere I go… Brick houses, poor quality roads and young men in crappy little Citroëns, Renaults and Peugeots trying to prove their manhood by driving fast. It’s a very curious thing that I noted when I cycled through these parts back in 2010. They are still at it. Grow up boys…