Five smiles to finish Waterloo 200 – things we might not have seen in 1815

Waterloo 2015 Wifi zone Waterloo 2015 characters 11a

When a modern day re-enactment meets the challenge of recreating a 200 year old battle we all have to suspend belief a bit and get in to the mood.

As I said in my previous posts there were some organisational cock-ups that were frustrating and for some people might have ruined their enjoyment.

The travel planning certainly didn’t go according to expectations!

waterloo 2015 travel

But here to close my coverage of our visit are five moments that just appeal to my sense of amusement and make me smile when I look back at my photos.

Walerloo 2015 by bike

Bicycles to be involved of course. Two years after Waterloo Count von Drais invented a two wheeled machine for propelling himself around Mannheim. Perhaps he had other inspiration?

And of course if there is a party going on, anywhere in the world, do you imagine it could go ahead without a few Aussies and Kiwis gatecrashing? Hmm, wonder what to wear as a disguise?

Waterloo 2015 Anzus batallion badge

In terms of the re-enactment itself we were placed close to the recreation of the battle for the farm-chateau of Hougoumont. In reality this sturdy example of Brabaconne architecture stood firm all day, resisting waves of French attacks and the same walls are still there today.

Unfortunately the model reconstruction was not so resilient.

Waterloo 2015 Hougoumont farm reconstruction

Within 5 minutes of the first simulated attack the structures started to collapse like the very worst Do-It-Yourself project. In front of the grandstands we were highly amused by the French and British re-enacters handing each other bits of wood and scratching their heads wondering how they might create an air of invincibility. By day 2 the impregnable brick walls had transformed themselves into the barricades of a street revolution, and everyone clearly had instructions “Don’t lean on the walls”. It wouldn’t have been out of place in a TV comedy.

The actor playing the Duke of Wellington did a fine job looking authoritative and inspecting his troops. What was totally hilarious was the behaviour of the press gallery nearby who couldn’t help themselves and started behaving like the paparazzi on the Hollywood red carpet. “Give us a wave your dukeship”. “Over here, Duke, just a quick look”, “one for the press sir?”

Fortunately for them noblesse did oblige. Celebrity was probably easier in 1815.

Waterloo 2015 Duke of Wellington photocall

Finally of course we have to end with the intrusion of the smartphone.

To be fair the re-enacters were brilliant, when they went in to character all the modern stuff seemed to disappear, we saw no phones and the air was not filled with ringtones and bleeps.

Unfortunately nobody told this on-field steward, who seemed to spend half of both battles engaged in deep conversation. Quite how he carried on a chat with the Battle of Waterloo raging around him I have no idea but he somehow must have felt the smoke made him invisible to the 50,000 spectators behind him.

Waterloo 2015 steward on phone

And one little group of re-enacters did lose their discipline, right at the end. When the Hougoumont farm re-eactment tailed off the “defenders” had probably the best view of the whole audience for the march of the French Imperial Guard. This was by far the most impressive sight of the whole two days as every French re-enacter on site was marched right down the centre of the battlefield. The relaxing actors clearly couldn’t resist a quick snapshot on their phones because it was a great sight. Probably no-one would have noticed, except for the fact that in the near dark those phone screens are a real giveaway.  Waterloo 2015 camera phones

This was not lost on some of the marching French troops who suddenly broke away from the main march and launched what was clearly an unexpected assault. There were phones flying all over the place and complete panic stations as they tried to get back into character!

They are all forgiven for providing us with such entertainment.

200th Anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo – photo gallery

Gallery

This gallery contains 9 photos.

To make the most of this post I have added a gallery of my pictures which I hope sum up some of the atmosphere of the battle of Waterloo re-enactments of the last two days. All credit to the organisers … Continue reading

Facing our Waterloo – time for the 200 year birthday party

Gallery

This gallery contains 19 photos.

This week is the 200th Anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo, by far the biggest thing that ever happened round here so the various layers of Belgian local government and the former allies have finally got their act together to … Continue reading

Potential book chapter? “Cycling across Belgium with Andrew Sykes and a bike called Reggie.”

Photo by Kevin Mayne

Regular readers will recall my book review for “Along the Med on a bike called Reggie” by cycling traveller and write Andrew Sykes. I am delighted to say that we have had a chance to meet up because Andrew is passing through Belgium on his latest ride as he heads from the south of Spain to the very North Cape of Norway. That’s about 7,000 km by the way, one hell of a trip.

Planning the meet up has been interesting because it has made me watch Andrew’s Twitter feed and daily postings on www.cyclingeurope.org quite closely and by doing so I feel I am watching his next book write itself in front of my eyes, whether it be the never-ending saga of the lost sunglasses or a detailed commentary on French Atlantic Coast cycle routes.

I feel a bit of responsibility here. I have somehow become “Belgian expert” for this part of the route, a big ask for someone with just three years in the country. And I am guilty of encouraging Andrew to divert off his planned EuroVelo routes through the south of the country and further in to the centre nearer to Brussels and Flanders to be our guest in Lasne. If it doesn’t turn out well my EuroVelo colleagues in the ECF office will kill me for spoiling part of their publicity.

Last but not least he is a “proper” author, print and pages and Amazon listings and all that stuff. On the internet we may be a bit ephemeral and a rude remark on Twitter can be laughed off. However I am a bit old school and I like my books to last. Somewhere in the deep recesses of my mind I am worried I might feature forever in print as “the man whose instructions sent me cycling into a canal” instead of some nice words about the Belgian countryside.

Anyway, so far so good. A few hours ago I left Andrew in Leuven plotting a route east towards the Netherlands and Germany following roughly the route I did with my Dad last summer. Prior to that we have had three good days cycling and sightseeing together with the Belgian countryside and indeed the weather doing us proud.

Photo by Kevin Mayne

On Friday Andrew’s arrival over the border from France was a good excuse to take an afternoon off work so I could meet him part way guide him though some of the interesting routes through Wallonia using mostly the Ravel cycle network of canal towpaths and converted railway lines.

I took the train to the old Roman city of Nivelles where I took a ceremonial photo of my bike being dwarfed by the imposing west face of the church of Saint Gertrude.

Photo by Kevin Mayne

I then had a lovely ride down the route I planned for Andrew enjoying the wild flowers, birdsong and warm sunshine on the traffic free routes that took me swiftly south, firstly on the old rail line of Ravel 141 and then the old Brussels Charleroi canal, Ravel 3.

Photo by Kevin Mayne

Our meeting point was La Louviere, crossing point of a number of routes due to its extensive canal network. Not a town I knew at all because it doesn’t feature in any guide books, When I approached the town past the steel works I realised why, because these canals were first and foremost industrial corridors and La Louviere was clearly a solid working town, struggling like much of Wallonia with the decline of historic industries.

The town is trying very hard to spark itself up and I thought I could not have picked a better meeting point in the town square which was full of “animations”. Landmark? There can only be one purple and yellow tree in La Louviere surely.

Photo by Kevin Mayne

That didn’t quite work out because La Louviere has a few satellite suburbs that have their own squares and for a while we were missing each other completely. Eventually a rendezvous was made so we could have a very enjoyable summer afternoon ride back to Lasne. Last time I was here was the 5th of January when it was gloomy and so cold the canal surfaces were partly frozen, today was like another world.

Photo by Kevin Mayne

Yesterday is going to lead another blog post or two because we took a sightseeing diversion up to Waterloo, the most famous tourist attraction of the area.

Photo by Kevin Mayne

I am going to write about it separately because the 200th Anniversary is just a few weeks away and work is flat out in preparation for the events to mark the occasion. The existing Waterloo tourist area was frankly a bit of an international disgrace, run down and unappealing so I haven’t written about it much. However the new visitor centre was opened just a few days ago and it is a transformation, worth a write up in its own right.

Photo by Kevin Mayne

It was also an excuse for an hour or so gentle cycling to and from the battlefield through some of my local favourite routes. I am often very, very scathing about Walloon customer service so a special shout out to the landlady of “Le Gros Velo” the wonderfully named bar-restaurant in Plancenoit who knocked us up a couple of bowls of spaghetti bolognese hours after the lunch service was officially over, supped in the tranquil square with a glass of Leffe.

Photo by Kevin Mayne

And today we sent him on his way with the ride up to Leuven, countryside full of sporty Flemish cyclists out on a Sunday spin on a public holiday weekend. None of them knew they were passing a man on a trip with 3,000 km done and still 4,000 to go, perhaps we should have demanded some respectful salutes.

What else can I say? Well for those potential hosts further up Europe in the Warm Showers network I can tell you the Andrew you get in the books is very much the Andrew of real life. He is a very warm and engaging guest, full of chatty anecdotes and commentaries from his travels and teaching career. In particular I can see how the life of the traveling author suits him because he has an open mind and is curious about the countryside and cultures he is traveling though, much like a journalist as well as a writer. I admire that quality, it must sustain him.  While I have secret hankering to set off on ride across a continent one day I find it almost impossible to imagine months on the road, I am very happy to be a reader of these travellers’ books and I am looking forward to Andrew and his bike Reggie reporting back after they get to the North Cape.

Andrew posts his reports daily on cyclingeurope.org so you can see his perspective on the visit as it unfurled too, with much more clever stuff like videos and commentary.

I will be slightly nervous until they do arrive. Andrew told me he blames broken spokes on his very first trip on the cobbles he hit in Lille early on that journey. I must be getting a bit too accustomed to them because I just forget that many of my favourite routes have several sections of the horrible rattly stuff and my British guests are often distinctly discombobulated by bouncing around on the stones. I may just have passed over a few sections in my three days with Andrew and Reggie.

Photo Kevin Mayne Photo Kevin Mayne

They didn’t seem impressed. Having the bike laden with camping gear and everything you need for three months on the road just make it worse, so even if I didn’t end up as the man who sent the author into a canal I will be mightily relieved if I am not blamed for a wheel collapse, somewhere in northern Norway, three day’s ride from a bike shop.

Bon voyage!

Photo by Kevin Mayne

Today’s Belgian cycling conundrum. “What makes one set of cobble stones more special than another?”

Aside

The strangest thing.

Somebody has decided to repair a 10 metre stretch of Grand Chemin (the big path)

Grand Chemin Lasne

It is a former roman road that runs through our patch, a mix of cobbles and dirt paths, most of which are unfit for normal car and road bike use. Some of it is almost unusable except for tractors in winter.

I use it all the time as it links loads of useful tracks and trails. Even on road bikes we sometimes ride this way on the grass verge in dry weather, you can just see the worn patch we all use in the picture below.

But repair it? That would be something entirely odd.

These are the stones on the approach.

Lasne Grand Chemin

And these are the stones on the other side.

Belgian cobbles

And just the road there are some much worse sections that look like nobody has replaced a single stone for several centuries. One of the reasons I like it up here is because you can almost visualise the French and Prussian skirmishers who moved through here en route to the Battle of Waterloo, it won’t have changed much.

So why these few distinct stones? Why do they deserve maintenance in a country where the quality of a road surface is a lottery?

Curious indeed. I expect nothing less than a magic carpet ride when the work is done.