(55) The Somme – Corbie to Ailly-sur-Somme with Chris Erf and Toby.

With Laura and Jon on their way home, I had a day to prepare for the arrival of Chris, Erf and Toby, our friends who live far south in the Gironde. A walk into Corbie confirmed that although quite big, it is very quiet and not much happens there (although I may be doing it an injustice). We did however find the Shopi supermarket, which was a relief as our car was still at Froissy and provisions were running low.

Chris and Erf arrived early afternoon and the fine weather enabled us to sit on deck swapping news and deciding on a plan of action for the next few days. Peter and Erf’s ‘nightcap’ at 11pm turned into a 10litre red wine cubie reducing binge until 3 am, so the next day’s start was a little later than planned………

We eventually set off late morning by car to collect the Micra from Froissy and then drive to Albert. Here, after a tasty lunch in the square by the church, we visited the Musee Somme 1916 which is situated in an underground shelter below the church originally built in the thirteenth century as a place of refuge for the local people. It was converted to a museum in 1992 and shows the life of soldiers in the trenches, particularly on the Somme in 1916.

The church and Museum at Albert – the mural depicts the steeple damaged during WW1.

The tunnel underneath over 200 metres long. The side passages made into reconstructions of trench life on the Somme.

Our next stop was Amiens, where we left the Micra before returning to Corbie via a Leclerc supermarket. He we stocked up with more Grand Sud red and rose wine and plenty of food before returning to the barge. I telephoned the lock keeper to arrange passage through the lock at 10am the next day.

Another fine day dawned and as planned we were at the lock by 10am. Unfortunately the lock keeper wasn’t and it took another phone call and about forty minutes until one arrived. Apparently, there was a shortage of them on our stretch and our man had also been delayed by heavy traffic after an accident involving a tractor and a motorcycle.

Our cruise to Amiens went fairly smoothly after that and we stopped en route for lunch below a pretty lock which still had the old water troughs used by the tow horses, although they have now been converted into barbecues. I had expected the outskirts of Amiens to be a bit industrialised and was pleasantly surprised so see the allotments (Hortillonnages)for which Amiens is famous( I evidently had not done my homework!)

Relaxing after a nice lunch.

Water trough BBQ’s

The only thing that spoilt our final approach was the very slow speed of the Passenger boat (Le Picardie) which cruised at tortoise speed and made it hard for Peter to keep us positioned in the narrow river. We inched our way forward for the next forty minutes into Amiens, the skipper of ‘Le Picardie’ making no attempt to let us past despite a couple of blasts of our horn in the wider sections.

We eventually made it onto the near end of the town pontoon after ‘Le Picardie’ had turned around in slow motion and moored on the quay. Chris and I took a walk into the centre to explore the famous Notre Dame Cathedral which is really huge (145m long and 42m high).

After a roast dinner, we waited for dark and then walked up to the Cathedral to watch the sound and light show. Having enjoyed the fantastic show at Reims Cathedral in May, Peter and I were somewhat disappointed by the one here. The narration was obviously in French and while it evidently gave an interesting history of the cathedral to fluent French-speakers, once the statues and figures on the front were in colour, there was little change to the scene except for a few clouds blowing across. Chris and Erf enjoyed the spectacle and the fact that the lights were left on for several minutes after the show meant that we could walk up to the cathedral and see the ‘colours’ very clearly.

Beautifully lit but not as spectacular as Reims.

As expected, being close to the city centre, the mooring was quite noisy so no one slept very well that night. The next morning we had a late start and visited Amiens Prison, scene of a bombing raid by the RAF in World War 2 known as Operation Jericho. Evidence of the destruction of the walls was visible and the commemorative plaque by the gates remembers the Resistance fighters who died that day- preferring to take the chance of escape during the bombing raid to certain death at the hands of the Gestapo.

The gate to the prison used during the war by the Germans to house captured Resistance and allied POW’s. Shows the repaired breach in the wall to the left. 250 prisoners were able to escape and many of the Gestapo were killed when the guardhouse was hit.

100 captured French Resistance were to be executed the day after the raid was scheduled, many of them having been tortured for information relating to the Allied invasion plans.

Nearby in the St. Pierre Cemetery where local citizen Jules Verne is buried, we found the graves of two of the pilots involved in the operation who were shot down nearby.

Group Commander Percy Pickard, leader of Operation Jericho and just behind, his navigator J A ‘Bill’ Broadley. Having dropped their bombs they were shot down over the prison by a FW 190.

Percy Pickard

Percy Pickard (centre) 28yrs old. DSO and two bars. DFC. Brave man.

The chaps went off to recce ahead and leave the cars somewhere accessible, but could find no suitable mooring spot, so after a late lunch we left the ‘port amont’ and headed off once more.  Erf sensibly decided to abandon ship on the other side of Amiens and return to his car with Toby. He then drove on ahead to try and find a mooring. We meanwhile cruised through the pretty but increasingly winding and narrow River Somme. The flow was fast as we were heading downstream and Peter had to work hard to keep us in the middle.

We eventually stopped about 300m above Ailly-sur-Somme lock and relaxed on deck while the sun set. Peter and Erf even had enough energy for a few games of boule.

Ailly-sur-Somme, Pimms o-clock.

At last, a chance to get out the boule.

In spite of the proximity of a duck farm, we all slept well that night and Chris , Erf and Toby left mid- morning the following day, dropping Peter back to collect the Micra on the way. It had been great to see them again.

We spent the next couple of days at Ailly and took the opportunity to visit Naours, which has an ‘underground city’ north of Amiens. Originally dug in the 3rd century. The caves were used by the British and Commonwealth soldiers in World War 1 and by the Germans in World War 2. Apparently the smoke from below was routed to pass out via the chimneys of cottages above the ground to keep the tunnels hidden.

Started in the 3rd Century the ‘underground city’ now has 300 rooms and could house all 3000 inhabitants of Naours plus their livestock in times of danger.

Pictured below is one of the chimneys which was routed up through the chimney of a house in the town 100 feet above.


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2 Responses to (55) The Somme – Corbie to Ailly-sur-Somme with Chris Erf and Toby.

  1. Anonymous says:

    Reading your blog now as we are in the area and doing the same trip. Sometimes disappointed as we cannot see some of the memorials due to the fact that we have no car! Love your blog, Nicci. Keep on. Torild 19.8.2017

  2. Anonymous says:

    Very interesting and most enjoyable all the Photographs and the History throughout your Blog a pleasure to read and look forward to more of your very interesting journey.

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