SOMME BATTLEFIELD TOURS LTD 

AWARD WINNING SELF-DRIVE TOURS TO THE BATTLEFIELDS OF
.
THE GREAT WAR 1914-1918

.


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Video
Click the above image for our small tribute to the Great War
(may take a few minutes to download)

The music is from Karl Jenkins superb CD 'The Armed Man - A Mass for Peace' available from Amazon and all good retailers



Click below to download a PDF overview of our
Self-Drive tours and short YouTube video of our acclaimed self-drive tour guides (opens in a new window)


Some basics and road maps (see below for updated itinararies)


See what our Self-Drive guides look like


Updated Somme and Ypres guide itineraries


     

Click above maps of northern France and Belgium  to see the location of the main motorway routes/driving distances (top) and principal battlefields (bottom)


Our Self-Drive hotels


Somme
(Click here for details)


Ypres
(Click here for details)


 
'Then and Now' Left - looking out over the Thiepval battlefield from across the Ancre valley with a 1916 photo superimposed over the same
terrain showing shells bursting over the German front line. Right - original front line (Newfoundland Park) with 1916 superimposed.

Unlock the past with our

SELF-DRIVE TOURS
.
TO THE

 SOMME & YPRES
.

BATTLEFIELDS of the GREAT WAR
.
"The freedom to explore the most significant

 battlefields  of the Great War at a time
and pace of your choosing".

 


'Best Guided Tour'

A quick summary. . .

Firstly, have a look at our testimonials (see right).  We update our website, which we made ourselves, every few days so as to bring you our very latest letters as they are written (we just edit references of a more personal nature or most helpful suggested updates to our guides!).

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...

"My 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."

Dr Tim Redmond, April 201
2

BACKGROUND

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.


"52 Great Weekends"
"Mark the 90th anniversary of the end of the
first world war with a self-drive tour of the Somme.
Somme Battlefield Tours Ltd  provides excellent
guide packs, with trench maps and
superb commentaries."

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.


Email from Trudi Belcher & family
Click to enlarge!

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!


If you have in mind to book one of our tours for 2014 then please do so ASAP as our hotels only have limited accommodation and demand will be high
 

  Standing on the old German front line near Beaumont Hamel, looking out over the Ancre Valley (middle distance) to Thiepval (far distance). Mill road can be seen far right, with Thiepval Wood to the right.

The Somme battlefield 'then and now'.
Looking out over the Ancre Valley, with the Thiepval Ridge
and wood (right) in the far distance

 


Somme and Ypres guide itineraries

 

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.

Delville Wood 'Then and Now'. Could those who experienced the appalling conditions of this wood ever have envisaged that one day little children would skip through the trenches of yester-year, seemingly unaware of the legacy that lies beneath...

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).

WHAT'S INCLUDED?

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 here for our hotel recommendations.

  • Our much acclaimed Somme and/or Ypres Battlefield Self-Drive written tour guides (one for each battlefield)  which include:

    Copies of original trench maps.

    Present day maps, over-written with the course of the front line trenches.


    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.

    COST

    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.

    HOW TO GET A QUOTATION OR MAKE A BOOKING - WHAT WE NEED TO KNOW FROM YOU!

    For Self-Drive tours we no longer need a booking form to be completed. To make a bookin

    ·         Your full address and home/mobile phone numbers (important)

    ·         The number of persons in your group

    ·         Which hotels you wish to stay at (see our ‘Hotels’ page). A second choice is helpful

    ·         The number of actual hotel nights and the dates you have in mind (if dates not known, then just the number of actual hotel nights as the cost is the same for all days of the year)

    ·         How many rooms and what type of rooms
    (i.e. singles/doubles/twins)

    ·         Ferry or tunnel - and your preferred crossing times if known (or crossing not required). Pleased note we are only able to offer Dover/Folkestone - Calais route.

    ·         Vehicle model (so we know if it requires extra height provision). A registration number will be needed should you book a tour

     

    If you are making a booking then a deposit of £80 per person or 20% of the total tour cost, whichever is the greater will be required (which may be paid by credit card or cheque). Please note that payment in full will be necessary if booing within eight weeks of intended departure.


    Click to email us

    A sample of what people have said about our
    Self-Drive tours...



     



    'Best Guided Tour 2009'

    We are proud to be the only tour company to have been awarded Vanity Fair's prestigious
     'Best Guided Tour' accolade for 2009

     

    YouTube link to excellent
    recent BBC documentary

    "The Somme -
    From defeat to Victory"
    (click image)


    battlefield tours to the somme and yrpes battlefields of the great war, first world war. ww1. Battlefield tours.
     

    Clear maps showing the area you are looking at 'then and now', together with diagrams and photos, will allow you to 'see' beneath the tranquil countryside of today. Our Self-Drive guides are essential if you are to fully appreciate the battles of the Great War.

    A moment I will always remember...

    Battlefield artefacts still to be found today  on the battlefields today (see also below). Please remember not to trespass on farmers' fields without permission (most farmers are happy to give permission if asked...). Warning - the use of metal detectors is a criminal offence.

    Please also note that shells, grenades, bullets etc still pose a real danger and as such should not be touched . lf in doubt leave well alone!


    One of only a few remaining German
    bunkers (Passchendaele).





     

    The British Front Line today
    (preserved area of battlefield -
    Newfoundland Park, Somme)

    Fricourt German cemetery
    (Somme)


      
    (click to enlarge)
     

    Above - A 303 bullet from the Somme battlefield and unexploded shells recovered during recent ploughings. Also a lethal pile of rusting grenades and trench mortars dumped near Mametz Wood (our tour minibus in the background).

     

    Yet another reminder!
    ANYTHING remotely suspicious, such as ammunition, grenades, shells - or indeed anything suspicious  should NEVER be touched.
    If in any doubt always
    leave well alone!

    Just because an item is covered in rust does not mean that it's now harmless - it's the very opposite!!!!!



    Click to enlarge

    These pictures taken from our Somme guide show how trenches are revealed after ploughing.  Panoramic photographs such as these have additional descriptive text/narrative as the illustrated example above shows).

    MORE FAQs. . .

    SELF-DRIVE GUIDE (SOMME)

    (Now including optional additional guide to the Australian Villers Bretonneux and Hamel battlefields of 1918)

    Ours are the only self-drive guides currently available which include detailed copies (laser colour) of original trench maps.  For the Somme guide the trench maps date from 1916 and are cross referenced to large scale present day maps and easy to follow narrative. The guide also now includes panoramic photographs, clearly marked with trench lines etc., to use in conjunction with the trench maps. This unique combination allows you to easily find the exact spot where the various actions took place, as well as precisely where the trenches were, something not possible with many off-the-shelf guide books.

    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.

         Page from the Somme Self-Drive guide (Delville Wood)  The guide includes many trench maps, such as this 1916 map of SommeDelville Wood.  A separate part of the guide helps you navigate the battlefield.

    SELF-DRIVE GUIDE (SOMME)


    SELF-DRIVE GUIDE (YPRES)


     
    Specimen page
    (click to enlarge)

    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):

    The Western Front

     

    The formation of fighting units  

      

    About  Trench Maps    

      

    An introduction to Ypres  

     

    Places to visit in Ypres

     

    The trench system

     

    The Ypres battlefield 1914 - 1918

                        The 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


    Click here to find out
    more about the 'Last Post'
    ceremony at the Menin Gate

    Please note - the above guides are NOT sold separately. They are only available to those booking our Self-Drive combination of sea crossing and/or hotel accommodation.

    SOME HELPFUL ADVICE DOCUMENTS YOU CAN
    DOWNLOAD AND PRINT OFF

    (You will need to have the safe Adobe PDF reader installed on your computer. You'll soon find out whether your have this little bit of software installed when you try to open a PDF file. If you don't then simply click below and
    follow the simple download instructions)

    Get free Adobe PDF Reader

    DOCUMENT Click to download
    (will open in a separate window)
    Our guide to Self-Drive Tours
    General tips for driving in Europe (AA guide)
    Compulsory equipment (AA guide)
    Tips for driving in France (AA guide)
    Tips for driving in Belgium (AA guide)

    Average weather conditions for the Somme & Ypres battlefields:


     

    Jan

    Feb

    Mar

    Apr

    May

    Jun

    Jul

    Aug

    Sep

    Oct

    Nov

    Dec

    Avg. Max.

    6°C

    6°C

    9°C

    12°C

    17°C

    19°C

    22°C

    23°C

    19°C

    14°C

    9°C

    7°C

    Avg. Min.

    1°C

    1°C

    3°C

    4°C

    8°C

    11°C

    13°C

    13°C

    11°C

    7°C

    4°C

    2°C

    Mean

    3°C

    3°C

    6°C

    8°C

    13°C

    16°C

    18°C

    18°C

    15°C

    11°C

    7°C

    4°C

    Avg. rainfall

    48 mm

    41 mm

    43 mm

    43 mm

    51 mm

    56 mm

    61 mm

    58 mm

    56 mm

    64 mm

    61 mm

    58 mm

    Click here to see current weather conditions for Lille (nearest weather monitoring station which lies midway between the two battlefields)



    Click below to download a PDF
    overview of our Self-Drive tours



    Get free Adobe PDF Reader