Today’s photo shows the old stone bridge at Seyssel over which I crossed the Rhone. The theme of this year’s Tour de Travoy was “To Savoy with Travoy” but here at Seyssel, I bid adieu to Savoy and crossed into l’Ain region of France.
Total cycled today – 90 km. Total cycled so far – 775 km. The lowest point in the middle of this profile coincides with the Rhone river. Rather than take the main road between Annecy and Nantua, Strava recommended I first go west to Seyssel and then north to Nantua. It meant an extra 5 km or so of cycling but the de-tour was well worth it as the traffic was light once I got clear of Annecy.
Lots of building work in Annecy. Unlike most French towns, there was a lot of cranes and building sites throughout Annecy. The town is a popular holiday destination due to it’s location on Lake Annecy and the traffic this time of year was horrendous. It took me over an hour to make my way through the suburbs and out into the countryside.
New Holland combine harvester. It was great to leave the traffic behind in Annecy as I made my way along the countryside to the east of the Rhone valley. Near Vallieres, I passed by this New Holland CX8050 combine harvester which was parked in a field. The local landscape was mostly grassland but there were a few fields of wheat here and there and this combine was all ready for the harvest. The CX8050 model was produced by New Holland between 2007 to 2014 and is a mid range model with about 500 horsepower. The top of the range New Holland combine harvester is the CR1090 and it has a 16 litre diesel engine which produces almost 700 horsepower, which is similar to a Formula One car.
Guinness World record for harvesting wheat. The world record for harvesting wheat was set by a New Holland CR1090 last year in Lincolnshire in England. The combine harvested almost 800 ton of wheat in under 8 hours. That is the equivalent of a 25kg bag of wheat every second which is just incredible. The combine used over a litre of diesel for every tonne of wheat and burned 900 litres of fuel that day but didn’t need re-fueling as it has a 1200 litre fuel tank. Wheat sells for about $200 a ton so the combine earned about $160,000 that day, which is 5 times more than the world’s highest paid footballer, Leo Messi, earns in a day. The New Holland CR1090 has a list price of $750k but it could potentially pay for itself in less than a week during harvest season.
Poppies growing in a grass verge alongside the road near Vallieres. Today was the first day of July and a number of ceremonies were being held today throughout Britain and France to commemorate the centenary of the Battle of the Somme. Last year, I had visited the Somme during August but only came across 3 poppies growing alongside the road. But here today, in the Rhone Alpes, there were hundreds of poppies blooming in the fields and grass verges.
Centenary commemorations. Meanwhile, at the Thiepval memorial in the north of France, ceremonies were being held to commemorate the centenary of the start of the Battle of the Somme. In Britain, all radio stations observed a 2 minute silence at 7.28 am to mark the exact time the battle started. Ceremonies were also being held in Westminster Abbey and York cathedral but in France, apart from at Thiepval, there were no other commemorations. That is probably because France lost relatively few men at the Battle of the Somme unlike the British and Commonwealth forces.
1st July 1916 was the worst day for casualties the British army ever suffered. By the end of the first day, over 20,000 British soldiers had been killed all to gain less than 1 km of territory. As well as 20,000 dead, the British Army also suffered a further 37,000 casualties. Some of these injured soldiers had to wait a week in no mans land before being collected by stretcher bearers and some only survived by eating the rations of their dead colleagues. The French only lost about 1,500 soldiers that day and gained considerably more territory than the British. The main reason they were more successful is that the French artillery kept firing all day ahead of the French forces whereas the British artillery stopped firing at 7.28am just before the order was given to go over the top.
British Army commander, Douglas Haig spent the day at his HQ. Meanwhile, the commander of the British forces was at his headquarters at the Chateau de Beaurepaire near Montreuil about 60 km from the Somme. Douglas Haig would have spent the morning reading messages from the battlefield but that afternoon went for a ride on his horse around the grounds of the chateau before sitting down that evening to a lavish dinner normally consisting of quail and fine wine. Haig had spent 3 months organizing logistics and his troops for this battle to “end all battles” and couldn’t understand the lack of progress. In the evening of 1 July, Haig wrote in his diary,
North of the Ancre, VIII Corps said they began well, but as the day progressed, their troops were forced back into the German front line, except two battalions which occupied Serre village, and were, it is said, cut off. I am inclined to believe from further reports that few of VIII Corps left their trenches.
In actual fact, VIII Corps had left their trenches and over 14,000 men became casualties. Haig had ordered that over a million shells be fired at the German lines and all week, 1,500 guns had been pounding the German lines night and day along the Somme. But at 7.28 am, the guns fell silent and the troops were ordered to go over the top. The British army thought that the German forces would have been decimated by the shelling but in actual fact, all that artillery had little effect on the German forces as they had deep bomb shelters dug behind their frontline trenches. When the shelling stopped, the German troops rushed back to their machine gun posts and then mowed down the advancing British forces. Of the 60,000 British casualties that day, 90% were caused by machine gunfire.
Battle of the Somme after the first day’s fighting. Haig had hoped to break through German lines at Fricourt and then turn north to capture the key railway hub of Arras. The Germans had launched a major offensive against the French 200 km away at Verdun in February 2016 and Haig wanted to relieve the pressure on the French by attacking the Germans at another location. The Germans had expected an offensive against Alsace – Lorraine as it was lightly defended and at that time was part of the German Empire but instead Haig inexplicably targeted the Somme, which for almost 2 years had been heavily fortified by German forces. Philip Gibbs, a journalist, who was at the Somme on the morning of the 1st of July wrote ;
Before dawn, in the darkness, I stood with a mass of cavalry opposite Fricourt. Haig as a cavalry man was obsessed with the idea that he would break the German line and send the cavalry through. In front of us was not a line but a fortress position, twenty miles deep, entrenched and fortified, defended by masses of machine-gun posts and thousands of guns in a wide arc. No chance for cavalry!
Our men got nowhere on the first day. They had been mown down like grass by German machine-gunners who, after our barrage had lifted, rushed out to meet our men in the open. Many of the best battalions were almost annihilated, and our casualties were terrible.
A German doctor taken prisoner near La Boiselle stayed behind to look after our wounded in a dugout instead of going down to safety. He was a tall, heavy, man with a black beard, and he spoke good English. “This war!” he said. “We go on killing each other to no purpose. It is a war against religion and against civilisation and I see no end to it.”
No-one was more responsible for the slaughter during the Battle of the Somme than Douglas Haig. An attack on the Somme was Haig’s idea and he had spent 3 months personally organizing the preparations for the battle. Even after the murderous first day, he made no plans to scale back the offensive and instead ordered that army reserves be called up. When Australian troops landed in France in September, he insisted that they also be sent to the Somme only for thousands of them to be slaughtered in Pozieres. It would be November before he gave the order to halt the battle, apparently because it started snowing heavily. Had it been a mild winter in 1916, who knows how many more soldiers would have needlessly died. No-one is more responsible for the Battle of the Somme than Douglas Haig yet his name was barely mentioned at all during the centenary commemorations.
Battle of the Somme frontline. By the time the battle finished in November, over 1 million soldiers had been killed and the Allies had advanced only 11 km. Yet despite the slaughter, Haig was promoted to Field Marshal on January 1st 2017. Haig would go onto to command the British forces at an even bigger slaughter in 2017 at Passchendaele in the Belgian Flanders and yet incredibly, finished the war still in command of the British army. Haig died in 1928 and was given a full State funeral. But many of the men who had served under him were very critical of Haig and his tactics. For example, Private James Lovegrove wrote ;
“General Douglas Haig had no respect for human life and cared nothing about casualties. Of course, he was carrying out government policy, because after the war he was knighted and given a lump sum and a massive life-pension. I blame the public schools who bred these ego maniacs. They should never have been in charge of men. Never.”
It was only 50 years later that Haig was given the nickname the “Butcher of the Somme” but despite this, there are still numerous statues of Haig throughout Britain, including one at Whitehall in London. .
La Route du Val-de-Fier. For about 5km, there is what the French call a “balcony road” along the Fier river valley near the town of Val-de-Fier. The road was first established by the Romans but it was blocked by landslides in the 15th Century. However, due to the initiative and tenacity of the mayor of Rumilly, Joseph Amedee La Ravoire, the road was re-opened in 1863. A hundred years later, in 1963, a plaque was unveiled to celebrate the centenary of the opening of the road through the river Fier valley.
Tunnels on the Route du Val-de-Fier. There are 2 tunnels on the Route along the Fier valley, one which is about 50m long and another which is about 200m in length. Almost certainly, these tunnels were first excavated in the 19th Century and were not dug by the Romans.
Hyperlapse video of the Route du Val-de-Fier. I filmed my trip through the Route du Val-de-Fier using a Garmin Virb camera attached to my bike. However, the footage was a bit shaky so I used the Microsoft Hyperlapse app to speed up and improve the video. It took me almost 15 minutes to cycle the Route du Val-de-Fier but using Hyperlapse, I was able to reduce the complete video to less than a minute.
Cave Lambert sparkling wine warehouse in Seyssel. The Seyssel region is famous for its sparkling wine and one of the largest local producers is the Cave Lambert. Wine has been produced in the Seyssel region since the 13th Century and in 1901, Royal Seyssel Grand Cru sparkling wine was launched by a local vineyard. Royal Seyssel is fermented for at least 3 years using the same traditional brewing techniques used by Grand Cru vineyards in the Champagne region of France. The Royal Seyssel label was acquired by the Lambert family in 2007 and they produce 200,000 bottles a year at this warehouse of Royal Seyssel and also Petit Royal which is similar to Royal Seyssel except that it is fermented for only 2 years.
Cable stay bridge over the Rhine at Seyssel. This cable stay bridge was built in 1988 across the Rhone about 1 km south of Seyssel. It was one of the first examples of an inverted Y-shaped cable stay bridge, a design that has been copied by numerous bridges built since. While cable stay bridges are not a recent development, for example the Brooklyn bridge (1883) in New York is both a cable stay and suspension bridge, the bridge built here at Seyssel showed that major rivers could be spanned relatively cheaply by simply building a single concrete pier to support a number of cable stays. Aesthetically, the fan like arrangement of the cable stays is quite pleasant to look at and numerous bridges have been built worldwide since to a similar design.
Pont de Seyssel cable stay bridge. The bridge was built as part of the D992 bypass of the medieval town of Seyssel. The D992 is the most direct route north-south between Geneva and Chambery and also east-west between Annecy and Lyon. You can clearly see from the aeriel photo above that the bridge was located to take advantage of an island in the middle of the Rhone. The longest span of the bridge is 115m so it is much smaller than the Pont de Normandie cable stay bridge near Le Havre in northern France which spans 856m.
Pont de Normandie and its designer Michel Virlogeux.. Both the Pont de Normandie and the Pont de Seyssel bridges were designed by Michel Virlogeux, who in 1987 was put in charge of the Bridges department at the French Highway administration. So the bridge here at Seyssel would have been one of his first bridge designs. Since this bridge opened in 1988, Michel has worked on over 100 bridge projects both here in France and worldwide. He was the main designer on the Pont de Normandie (1995) and the Vasco da Gama bridge (19998) in Lisbon and has also worked with Norman Foster on the Millau viaduct (2004) and with Jean Francois Kiel on the recently opened Third Bosphorus bridge (2016) north of Istanbul.
Mary McAleese Boyne valley bridge near Drogheda in Ireland. You can see from this aerial shot that the layout of the river Boyne is very similar to that of the Rhone near Seyssel in that both rivers have an island in their middle. But due to environmental considerations, the Boyne river island was not used as a foundation for the bridges pier and instead the pier was built on the northern riverbank. Consequently, the longest span of the Boyne valley bridge is 170m or 55m longer than the Pont de Seyssel eventhough the Boyne is much narrower in width than the Rhone. As a result of the longer span, the pier of the Boyne valley bridge is also much higher (90m) than the pier at Seyssel (55m).
Old cast iron bridge in Seyssel. The original stone bridge dates from the 14th Century so has been standing here across the Rhone for almost 800 years. The cast iron supports were added in the 19th Century.
Mural on a house near Bellegarde-sur-Valserine. There are numerous hiking trails in the Jura mountains to the north of Bellegarde and this mural commemorates them.
Euro 2016 French and Portugese flags. Portugal had beaten Poland the day before and France were due to play Iceland on Sunday but these 2 flags were the only flags I saw all day.
The sign says “Last garage before the A40”. The A40 is the main motorway to Geneva in Switzerland where petrol and diesel is on average 20 cent a litre dearer than in France. However, despite the cheaper prices, there were no cars or trucks getting fuel when I passed by this garage.
Mural on building in Nantua. The town of Nantua is charming town of about 4,000 people located halfway between Lyon and Geneva. There are numerous murals on buildings throughout the town including the one above.
Camping du Signal in Nantua. It was about 6 o’clock when I made it to my campsite for the night.