The Western Front Way Champagne
The Western Front Way
A message from the Western Front Way
The Western Front Way is a small UK-based charity (Registered charity number: 1174793) The charity has a global ambition – to create a continuous long-distance walking path from the Swiss border in the South to the channel coast in the North to serve as a route for remembrance, ‘a via sacra’ and to provide a permanent lasting memorial to the loss of life in the First World War and all conflicts since.
It is not a battlefield tour, but a walking route – a path for peace and reflection. Inspired by a young soldier killed at the battle of Loos, Lt Douglas Gillespie who wanted to build a “long avenue between the lines from the Vosges to the sea....I would make a fine broad road in the 'No Mans Land' between the lines, with paths for pilgrims on foot and plant trees for shade” he envisioned this as a “a via sacra” and hoped it would become “the most beautiful road in all the world”. Gilliespie wrote of his vision in a letter home in 1915 which was rediscovered by the historian Sir Anthony Seldon while researching for his book on Public Schools and the Great War. Inspired by the idea Anthony brought together members of the Gillespie family and others who were enthused by the idea and together they have set up a charity to make the vision a reality. Founding Trustees Amanda Carpenter and Rory Forsyth now run the operational side of the charity on a pro bono basis, and others give their time and expertise in filming, writing, mapping and development.
Quite simply this idea has captured the imagination of hundreds of British, French and Belgians and together they are working to map, mark and establish a 725km tree lined, waymarked walking route running from Pfetterhouse to Nieuport. This modern ‘via sacra’ will take walkers past battle lines, past cemeteries, through gardens for peace and through some of the most beautiful landscapes of France and Belgium. Imagine walking up over a hill through a late summer afternoon to see just for yourself how close the battle lines were, then turning a corner to come across a tiny half hidden cemetery surrounded by maize with larks singing all around: an unexpected moment of stillness and peace.
If you are interested in joining a guided walk please contact the Amanda Carpenter or Rory Forsyth at the Western Front Way charity. Joining a walk offers you a chance to walk accompanied days along the route; along already identified paths, which will become part of the permanent Western Front Way in years to come.
The itinerary below related to a special tour organised in partnership between the Western Front Way and Belle France in 2018, that predated the developments on the public open way marked path.
The Western Front Way are working closely with international partners and governments in the expectation that the first stage of the way marked path will be available for walkers from Spring 2019. This path will run from Arras to Ypres initially.
Belle France and Western Front Way will partner again during 2019 to offer a guided and non-guided tour for walkers using the new Western Front Way path once it is in place.
For more information on the Western Front Way campaign and to donate to support this charity in created a long lasting legacy project for peace then visit their website.
Guided walking holidays are designed to include a mix of interesting historical sites relating to the First World War, as well as beautiful walking country, opportunities to sample local culture and cuisine.
Walks each day will be along well marked routes using existing paths, and each group will be led by a member of the Western Front Way team who will act as walk leaders – but not formal battlefield guides.
The guides will know the routes and we envisage groups of no more than 10 people to keep the pace comfortable.
- The Southern Section runs from Verdun to The Somme.
- The Northern Section runs from The Somme to Dunkirk.
Each walker will receive a copy of the Field Guide to the Western Front Way
Self guided walks
In 2019 we are hoping to offer self guided versions of the walks and details of the route/hotels will appear here shortly.
Itinerary & Hotels
Southern Section - Verdun - Fort Vaux, Douaumont, Bras-sur-Meuse, Monument Le Mort Homme day 1
‘Verdun was France’s soul’ as the saying goes, so it is fitting that we start the centenary walk at the scene of the largest and longest and most costly battles of the First World War. It lasted for over 300 days with estimates putting the loss of life between 740,000 and 976,000 across both sides. Our walk loops the right bank, past the remains of the major forts and the imposing Douaumont Ossuary which houses the remains of more than 100,000 soldiers. In the afternoon we will walk along the left bank finishing at Le Mort Homme (Dead Man’s Hill) with its haunting statue.
Distance approximately 13 miles. The terrain is mixed gradient and requires full walking gear with hardwearing boots, it can be muddy even in summer at the base of the gorge.
Stay in Verdun, the beautiful medieval city with its 11th century cathedral. This tranquil town, bordered on one side by the magnificent River Meuse, offers a peaceful contrast to the battlefields that surround it.
Southern Section - The Argonne – Romagne-sous-Montfaucon, Charpentry, Varennes, Vauquois day 2
This year marks the centenary of the massed American offensive in the Argonne region, so it is particularly fitting that you begin today walking directly south from the US cemetery, approaching the forest from the North. Varennes, where you can see the building in which Louis XVI was captured during the French Revolution, sums up everything that the Western Front Way stands for: tranquillity, breath-taking countryside, excellent local cuisine and wine, all set against a background rich in history.
Distance approximately 12 miles. The terrain is varied, with dense tree cover in some parts. Insect repellent is a must. There are rest spots along the way and beautiful scenery as you straddle the River Meuse for most of the day.
Southern Section - Suippes and Bubbles – Suippes, Champagne House day 3
Suippes is your base for the morning. There is plenty to explore in the town itself, where there are French and British cemeteries, as well as the main monument. There is the museum, Marne 14-18 Centre d’interprétation de Suippes, which we highly recommend. In the afternoon you may visit a local Champagne house for a tasting and tour of the cellars and premises. Very light walking. Approximate distance 6 miles.
Southern Section - The Chemin Des Dames – Pontavert, Craonelle, Craonne, Chemin Des Dames, Paissy, Cuissy-et-Geny day 4
The Chemin de Dames (Ladies’ Path) is stunning. A ridge running for over 30 kms between the valleys of the rivers Aisne and Ailette, it took its name from Louis XV two daughters, Adélaïde and Victoire, who, in the 18th century, used to travel along the route from Paris to visit Louis XV mistress, Françoise de Châlus, at her Château de Boves. The top of the observation tower provides a magnificent panoramic view, not only of some of the most glorious French countryside, but also offers an insight into the scope of the battle here which cost the French army so dearly throughout the war. The high ground attracts a wide variety of bird species and, if you are very lucky indeed, we might see Bluethroat, Black-winged Stilt and the Red-backed Shrike.
Distance approximately 14 miles. The terrain is very mixed with steep ascents and descents throughout. Break at midday at the museum ‘Caverne du Dragon’ and finish the walk at Cuissy-et-Geny.
Southern Section - The Armistice – Fontenoy, Attichy, Rethondes, Armistice Carriage day 5
A visit to the famous site of the Armistice Carriage must. A memorial to the signing of the peace declaration that brought an end to 4 years of the bloodiest and most costly conflict Europe had ever seen. Your walk takes you along the river, keeping to the high ground, so you can look down over the forests of Compiegne. Traverse ground that was crossed and re-crossed by British, French and German troops throughout the war.
The museum at Compiegne includes a replica of the railway carriage; the original was removed by the Germans during WWII to the forest of Thuringe and burnt down in 1945.
Distance is around 10.5 miles. Terrain is mixed and there is some cross-country walking involved we would advise long trousers.
Southern Section - The Somme South – Albert, Fricourt, Mametz, Longueval, Courcelette, Pozieres, Contalmaison day 6
No walk along the Western Front would be complete without some time spent in the Somme region. For many people the Battlefields of the Somme epitomise the First World War: scenes of huge casualties with so many lives lost. However, as our WFW route is about so much more than battles and conflict, we you visit the key sites, but also have a chance to take in the natural beauty of countryside – now peaceful and still. This day perhaps most evokes what we are trying to achieve by creating our long distance walking route. It will be a permanent living memorial but also a walk for peace, a route for remembrance. This is an opportunity to reflect on the cost of all conflicts across the world.
Distance 14 miles. The terrain is mostly flat but it can be hard going.
Northern Section - The Somme North – Albert, Auchonvilliers, Serre, Beaumont Hamel, Thiepval, Ovillers day 7
Begin the WFW Via Sacra Northern France walk in the Somme as no walk along the Western Front would be complete without some time spent in the Somme region. For many people the Battlefields of the Somme epitomise the First World War: scenes of huge casualties with so many lives lost. However, as our WFW route is about so much more than battles and conflict, we will visit the key sites, but also have a chance to take in the natural beauty of countryside – now peaceful and still. This day perhaps most evokes what we are trying to achieve by creating our long distance walking route. It will be a permanent living memorial but also a walk for peace, a route for remembrance. This is an opportunity to reflect on the cost of all conflicts across the world.
Distance 14 miles. The terrain is mostly flat but it can be hard going.
Northern Section - Arras and Loos – Arras centre, Dud Corner, Auchy Les Mines day 8
Arras provides a break from the intensity of the Somme and is a beautiful town, highlighting as it does how life moves on, and communities rebuild and repair themselves overtime. Arras offers a chance to visit the Napoleonic barracks and the peaceful town squares before we move to the cemetery where A D Gilliespie, the inspiration for the WFW Via Sacra is commemorated. His name is inscribed on the wall with many thousands of others whose bodies were never found.
Distance about 8 miles with beautiful scenery and easy terrain.
Northern Section - Vimy – Maroeuil, Neuville Saint-Vaast, Vimy Ridge day 9
Follow the route the troops took, straight up the ridge line passing the reserve lines until we reach the summit of the ridge, the front line. Vimy is quite simply an astounding place – now preserved and protected as a national monument by the Canadian government. The sheer size and scale are unforgettable.The excellent visitor centre is staffed by Canadian interns who are not only helpful but whose enthusiasm is infectious. There is also time to walk to the Lichfield Crater.
A slow ascent for 7 miles, so we recommend strong footwear with ankle support.
Northern Section - The Ypres Loop - Ypres Centre, Sanctuary Wood, Zonnebeke, Passchendaele, Langemarck day 10
The Ypres loop will see you start from the iconic Menin Gate, walking to Hill 62, with time for a break then on to Tyne Cott. Finish at the Langemarck German cemetery, which must be seen to be believed – so different from the British or American & Canadian cemetries. Deep in the Belgian countryside now with immaculate farmhouses and rolling fields ahead, once mud and tree stumps, now restored.
Distance 14 miles. The terrain is mixed with some quiet country road walking as well as paths and cross country.
Northern Section - Dixmuide to Nieuport day 11
Set off from the Belgian National Monument of remembrance at Dixmuide, which towers over the town, then walk due north alongside the area that was flooded by the Belgian army in an attempt to stop the German advance. The path runs along a raised track for ten miles straight, a long, relatively easy walk with markers to show your approach to the sea. At the end you will see the famous peace statue with Germany, Britain, France and Belgium all represented. This forms a fitting end to what will be our long distance path -the ‘Via Sacra’.
Distance 11 miles with relatively easy walking.
Northern Section - Dunkirk day 12
For us at the WFW this is a fitting way to end on the site of an extraordinary rearguard action of the Second World War - just 20 years after the end of 1914-18 war. A long beach walk, with chance for a swim.
Easy walking, if sandy. Approximate distance 6 miles.
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Additional pricing information
Price is per section (either Northern or Southern section) based on two sharing and does not include travel. Pricing includes an optional charitable donation to the Western Front Way charity.
Please contact Amanda Carpenter or Rory Forsyth for a details of the guided walks. For self guided walks, please use the form below for a detailed quote.
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