The music is from Karl Jenkins superb CD 'The Armed Man - A Mass for Peace' available from Amazon and all good retailers
Self-Drive tours and short YouTube video of our acclaimed self-drive tour guides (opens in a new window)
Our Self-Drive hotels
Unlock the past with our
the GREAT WAR
battlefields of the
Great War at a time
A quick summary.
Please also cast your eyes to the left as we've included some downloads and videos to help you decide what's best for you, including a video 'guide to our Self-Drive guides'.
If you visit the Somme and Ypres battlefields unprepared you will most likely end up being seriously frustrated at not being able to appreciate precisely what happened where. You could well find yourself just staring at open French or Belgium countryside, being unable to discover the tragic legacy that lies beneath the thin veneer of normality that covers the battlefields today, and most likely beneath your very feet! This may be so even if you have a good understanding of the Great War.
To truly comprehend the battlefields of today, for how they were all those years ago, requires a combination of present day and original WWI ‘Trench Maps’, photos, diagrams and a clear narrative of what precisely took place and where, and, most importantly, how to get to these places! This is the service we provide. Please read on...
group and I returned last Friday from our four days visiting the
Somme Battlefield. We all thoroughly enjoyed it, thanks largely to
your fantastic and detailed information pack. The instructions on
getting to the various locations were such that there was no way we
could get lost. The ability to compare present day maps with maps of
1916, and of course with the trench maps, was absolutely superb. . .
. I spoke to Phoebe, Teddy's wife at the Ulster Tower. She said your
tours are the best, and I can't disagree with her! I'll probably
come back to you in a couple of years re the Ypres Tour."
Conducted tours, whether small or large, understandably require you to comply with a fairly strict itinerary. If you travel as part of a group you may well be frustrated by not being able to explore the landscape and 'follow your nose' to uncover for yourself the legacy of the Great War (this lies at the heart of what I and so many others have always so enjoyed doing!). Having to get back into a bus after 20 minutes or so is a recipe for disappointment, made even worse as the coach whizzes past places that are just crying out for you to stop to explore!
Our Self-Drive tours are now one of the most popular ways of visiting the battlefields as you choose when to travel and to then explore the battlefields at your own pace. In a nut-shell you drive and we arrange your hotel and Channel crossing (not necessary for non-UK travellers) as well as providing our all-important detailed written guides to the Somme and/or Ypres battlefields. We can also arrange for an experienced battlefield guide to pick you up at your hotel and take you on a one or two day personal tour to the battlefields you wish to see (ideal for visitors from Australia, Canada, New Zealand etc). Tips for driving in Europe are at the bottom of this page - or just click here.
We have spent many years creating written self-drive guides to the Somme, Villers Bretonneux and Ypres battlefields of the Great War. Our written guides are not just any old collection of briefing notes or cobbled together maps as offered by some as ‘self-drive’ companies. Our self-drive battlefield guides are professionally produced and regularly updated colour booklets which have been carefully designed to take you on a journey of exploration, so you know exactly where to stop, where to walk and, most importantly of all, what to look for. It’s the time and effort we have spent in producing our guides that has resulted in our national press recommendations and awards and why we have received such positive feedback from those who have undertaken one of our self-drive battlefield tours.
At the heart of the guides lies a comprehensive selection of original trench maps, linked to present day easy-to-read maps, battlefield diagrams, panoramic and aerial photographs and descriptions, all arranged in very easy to follow sections. Please have a read of some of the testimonials we have received (see inset right) from those who have taken our self-drive guided tours to judge for yourself!
MORE ABOUT OUR
GUIDES (see also FAQs below)
Our two main Self-Drive guides cover the infamous Ypres Salient (Passchendaele etc) battlefield and Somme battlefield of 1915-16. Have a look towards the bottom of this rather long page (sorry...) for details of our respective Self-Drive guides to see if they meet your expectations, or click here to go straight to this part of the page.
HAVING A 'REAL' GUIDE IN ADDITION TO YOUR WRITTEN SELF-DRIVE GUIDE
We can easily arrange for a local 'real' guide to pick you up at your hotel to take you (in their vehicle) on a tour of just about any battlefield on the Western Front. You will not be expected to join a group as our experienced, independent guides specialise in providing a personal service, and focusing on areas of specific interest to you and just you (such as where a relative served or where soldiers from a particular regiment or country saw action).
A personal tour with pick-up at your hotel costs a lot more when compared with joining a fixed-itinerary ‘public’ tour, but is by far and away the best way to see the battlefield, especially bearing in mind this may be your one occasion to make the visit you are have in mind. A personal tour is also better suited for the quiet exploration and reflection of past events, without the possible distraction of others making up your group - and the need for the tour leader to stick to a fixed time schedule!
This service will be included in the total cost you will pay, thus making your battlefield visit a seamless experience with everything arranged by us in advance.
HOW MUCH TIME?
‘I wish we had allocated more time’ is a comment we hear many times from our clients on returning from one of our self-drive tours. You’ll be surprised how time seems to fly by when you are exploring the battlefields of the Great War. Our self-drive Somme and Ypres guides take about two full days each to complete (may be even more including museum visits), so as a general rule we recommend that you try and spend at least three nights visiting either the Somme or Ypres battlefields, plus whatever time you can spare from your arrival and departure days. If you have in mind to explore both the Somme and Ypres then may be try and earmark a minimum of four nights divided 2:2 between these two most poignant battlefields of the Great War 1914-1918. If you have five nights to spare then may be divide your time 3:2 between the Somme and Ypres, your time away being weighted towards the Somme as this battlefield is more open and easier to explore, using our self-drive guide. Six nights divided 3:3 is best of all. If time is really limited then at a push consider spending two nights visiting the Somme and one night at Ypres.
If you have in mind to visit both the Somme and Ypres battlefields then one other option to consider is basing yourself in Ypres for all three or four nights and to travel south to the Somme battlefield for one or two days (about 90 minute drive each way). Ypres is a vibrant and more English-speaking town with far more restaurants/bars etc than Albert, coupled with having the Menin Gate in the centre of the town. This way you’ll not have to change hotels but may possibly spend more time ‘on the road’. It’s a matter of personal choice.
WHEN CAN I TAKE A SELF-DRIVE TOUR?
Anytime you wish - that's the big attraction of this type of tour! YOU decide when you wish to travel - just let us know what you have in mind and we'll give you an idea of cost (which will be the same for every day of the year so no 'highs and lows' to have to consider).
Our carefully prepared Self-Drive Somme and Ypres tour ‘packages’ comprise:
Return ferry crossing (P&O European Ferries or
Eurotunnel) from Dover-Calais (not necessary for clients travelling from outside the United Kingdom).
En-suite Hotel/guest house accommodation (including breakfast) staying in the battlefield towns of the Great War (as opposed to more 'touristy' hotels situated some distance away). We don't recommend just any hotel, only those we regularly use ourselves when exploring the battlefields. Click
Detailed description of how to find your way around the battlefield itinerary route.
Detailed descriptions of individual actions, including where to park your car and what to look for, combined with all the maps and plans you will need. This is the only way one can start to see the otherwise tranquil landscape of today for what it looked like back in the Great war.
The services of a personal English-speaking locally based guide (see above).
Please note - our Self-Drive guides are NOT sold separately. They are only available to those booking our Self-Drive combination of sea crossing and/or hotel accommodation.
The cost for a Self-Drive tour depends on the time of year you travel, how many are in your group and the number of rooms/nights you require. As these factors vary so much it's best to either telephone or e-mail us for a quotation.
Click to email us
MORE FAQs. . .
SELF-DRIVE GUIDE (SOMME)
including optional additional guide to the Australian Villers Bretonneux
and Hamel battlefields of 1918)
Great emphasis has been placed on making both (Ypres and Somme) guides as easy to use as possible, including where to park your car and the location of little-known footpaths leading to old trenches/shell craters/personal memorials etc. The Somme guide will ‘talk you through’ exactly where to position yourself and what to look for as you stand on the sites of some of the most tragic episodes of the 1916 Somme Battle. The Self-Drive guides are produced specifically for individual clients and are regularly updated so as to ensure that anything of recent interest is included.
The Self-Drive tour takes about two days, but don’t worry if you have less time available as it can be achieved in a day. Please note that the Self-Drive guides are only available as part of the below ‘package’ and as such can not be provided separately.
Here are just some (of many...) pages from the Somme guide. Sorry about the low resolution to aid display but the printed version is much better!
Click the pictures to enlarge, then use your browser's 'back' button to return.
SELF-DRIVE GUIDE (SOMME)
Our Ypres Self-Drive battlefield guide (see illustration above), is modelled along the same lines as our Somme guide described above. Like the Somme guide, the Ypres guide is believed to be the only such publication currently available which provides such an abundance of trench maps, present day maps and diagrams - in short, everything you will need to explore the legacy of the Great War. Others will be looking at fields and trees, whereas you will be 'seeing' the battlefields of 1914-1918!
Here's the index to the main headings of our Ypres Self-Drive battlefield guide (the main sections A-L form the heart of the guide):
Commonwealth War Graves Commission
Section A (Hellfire Corner)
Notorious intersection of roads and former railway where navigating the junction was very much a matter of life and death. Our ‘then and now’ photos and accompanying narrative will allow you to stand at this very spot to see how the busy roundabout of today looked back in 1916!
Section B (Hill 60)
Preserved area of one of the most violently contested areas of the Ypres battlefield, both above and below ground. Tunnelling companies, including many from Australia, lost hundreds of tunnelers in the underground battles as each side tried to burrow beneath each other’s defences. There is a memorial here to all those soldiers from Australia who lost their lives on and under this most heavily defended area of the Ypres battlefield (a memorial which also has bullet/shrapnel marks from another war to follow this ‘war to end all wars…). The surface of the land still shows the shell holes and mine craters that speak volumes for the appalling battles that ravaged this 'hill'. At the rear of the 'hill' one can discover one of the best German (and subsequently 'modified' to being British) concrete fortifications, as witnessed by the bunker's shell-ravaged exterior. This is an area most large coach visitors rarely get to see due to a weight restriction on an adjacent bridge
Section C (The Bluff)
Near to Hill 60 is an part of the battlefield very few people get to visit. The Bluff was a hotly disputed area of high ground adjacent to the Ypres-Comines canal. The British endeavoured to hold this high ground (the old spoil from when the canal was constructed) at a high cost. The remains of the numerous mines detonated here by both sides can still be seen today (if one knows where to look….)
Section D (Clapham Junction)
German third-line defences fought over during the Third battle of Ypres (and other occasions)
Section E (Hooge)
Another hotly contested areas of the front line where so many lives were lost in the continuing ebb and flow of attacks and counter attacks. At the spot close to where Hooge crate once defined this hotly contested spot, there now stands an excellent though small museum, including many artefacts from the battle (including a well preserved German bunker a short distance further up the Menin Road)
Section F (Sanctuary Wood and Hill 62)
Famous preserved battlefield and trenches open to visitors to the adjacent museum
Section G (Royal Engineer’s Memorial)
A most poignant memorial to just a few of the many servicemen who died undertaking mining operations on the Ypres battlefield (many of whom stand beneath your feet where you stand surveying the battlefield). Your self-drive guide will allow you to contrast and compare the farmland of today with the very same spot as so clearly shown when one studies the gripping reality of the battlefield as depicted in the trench maps of 1916
Section H (Passchendaele)
The final and most tragic phase of the Third battle of Ypres 191 where soldiers from the UK, Australia, New Zealand and Canada suffered losses in such unimaginable numbers. A battlefield whose name, like the Somme and many other battlefields, still casts a shadow over the legacy of the Great War. This section includes Tyne Cot, Zonnebeke (and an option to visit the recently opened Passchendaele Museum
Section I (Vancouver Corner)
The battlefield of April 1915 where the Germans first used gas and where there now stands the striking 'Brooding Soldier' Canadian Memorial to over 2000 of their servicemen who died here defending the eastern flank of the German advance.
Section J (Langemark)
The largest German cemetery in the area and new visitor centre
Section K (Yorkshire Trench and Dug-Out)
Following excavations back in the late nineties an area of the old Front Line dating back to 1915-1917 was excavated and made available for visitors to explore today
Section L (Essex Farm)
The cemetery and striking remains of a First Aid station just behind the Front Line where the Canadian physician John McCrae penned his memorable poem ‘In Flanders Fields. It is here where many believe the origins of the poppy can be traced, which today acts as an enduring symbol of remembrance for all wars
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Average weather conditions for the Somme & Ypres battlefields:
Click here to see current weather conditions for Lille (nearest weather monitoring station which lies midway between the two battlefields)