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Somme Battlefield Tours Ltd
Self-Drive Battlefield Tours
TESTIMONIALS

2012

Email from Andrew Harding following a Ypres Self-Drive tour March 2012

James

A quick note from all four of us to thank you.

The guides, explanations and maps were invaluable to us. It became very quickly clear that we could not have achieved a fraction of what we did without your expertise.

Whilst we were disappointed with the museum and presentation at Sanctuary Wood (we all felt it was tatty and tactless), this issue in no way diminished from our weekend. The hotel too [The Albion Hotel] is an absolute delight.

Again then, our thanks and appreciation.

With kindest regards,

Andrew

Email from Dr Tim Redmond following a Somme Self-Drive tour April 2012

James,

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. We stayed in the Basilique Hotel which, again, was great. It is a nice, small and friendly hotel and staying in Albert was so convenient. 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.

Thanks again,

Tim Redmond

Email from Amanda Skelton following a Somme Self-Drive tour March 2012

Dear James,

Sorry for the delay in sending this e mail.  I just wanted to say that the trip was absolutely brilliant.  My father was overwhelmed with his surprise and found the material fascinating.

Both hotels were great, in particular the Basilique in Albert the staff and service was exceptional.

Your guides were very informative, and we found the “before” and “after” pictures very helpful.

I have put my father in copy to this  email as I know he wanted to express his thanks as well.

With Best Wishes,

Amanda

Amanda Skelton, PhD

Email from Julie Markey following a Somme and Ypres Self-Drive tour April 2012

Hi James

Having just returned from our holiday in Albert and Ypres, I thought I would drop you  a quick line to thank you for organising our holiday and particularly for the tremendously interesting pack of information that you gave us for each site which enabled us to put ourselves in the footsteps of those serving in France in 1914-18. We could not possibly of asked for more and it made the visit so much more than just a collection of stop off points at various memorials, cemeteries and sites of historical significance. The mind boggles at how much time must have gone into writing those packs of information, a result I assume of much research and many visits.

Unfortunately our car got a puncture on the morning of the second day. Nowhere in Albert had a tyre of the right size so we had to go to Amiens to get a replacement. This effectively wrote off the second day for Chris and I (though not the other members of our party) so we will return one day and see what we missed and maybe take in a few other sites like Peronne. In fact Delville Woods and the South African memorial was unfortunately closed and will remain so until 25th April for renovation so we would not have seen that anyway.

The other thing you might want to know if you have other people doing the same tour is that the bridge over the A19  between Ypres and Zonnebeke is closed, and looks as if it might be for a while, which necessitates taking a detour to reach Zonnebeke.

Having missed out completely on day two of the tour, we stopped off at Vimy Memorial on the way to Ypres which we all found very impressive and moving. Time did not allow us to explore the site, but it's another place on our list to return to one day. For me, the Canadians seem to create the most beautiful of memorials.

Thank you once again, we all had a really fascinating and interesting few days. Even the weather played its part with some brooding skies and showers in the afternoon adding atmosphere to the sites.

Kind regards

Julie

Email from Sir Bryan Cartledge following a Somme and Ypres private and Self-Drive tour April 2012

Dear James, 

This is just to let you know that our battlefield tour was a great success. The Main Street Hotel is really excellent- superbly equipped and very comfortable bedrooms, with amazing attention to detail, excellent breakfast (Karen gave us ours on Saturday 1 ¼ hours ahead of her usual start time without demur or question), free minibar, complimentary wine and water and, not least, a very friendly welcome and atmosphere. It is a 5-star hotel masquerading as a 3-star- a reversal of the more usual situation!

As we expected from your recommendation, Jacques is a superb guide and we were lucky to have him. His knowledge and enthusiasm are extraordinary- he told us, I think sincerely, that he had enjoyed the day as much as we had. We were able to follow in my father’s footsteps both in the Ypres Salient and on the Somme and Ancre, thanks to Jacques’ extensive research.

Many thanks for your help and excellent advice, and best wishes, 

Bryan.

Email from Sue Bresnahan following a Somme Self-Drive tour April 2012

Dear James,

My husband, our 14 year old daughter and myself returned last Saturday from your self drive tour of The Somme and Ypres Salient.  It was marvellous and far exceeded our expectations.  We suffered quite some resistance from a teenager prior to going but that was soon put to rest as we started to explore your routes in the Somme [...] We enjoyed staying at The Hotel Basilique - the food and friendliness, not to mention location are fantastic. The museum at the Cathedral is very good - well worth a visit particularly with our daughter as it put the Great War into context prior to the tour.  

The time and effort you have invested in producing the superb self drive guides are more than compensated for by the ease and flexibility with which we could explore (avoiding the more commercial and tacky enterprises), learn and ultimately pay our respects.  

A wonderful experience. Thank you.

Susan Bresnahan

Email from Linda Smith following a Somme and Ypres elf-Drive tour with her grandson May 2012

Hi James,

Just a quick note to say a huge thank you for a wonderfully organized trip for me and my grandson Justin. Avril's was a delight in so many ways. Justin was missing his cats at home so was excited to make friends with Avril's kitties. The "mini-society" of other guests there was so much fun and so interesting. The two authors, Andy and Steve were there, did a talk and walk for us, of surrounding sites which we otherwise would have not known about. They took a special interest in helping Justin find shrapnel and bits of shell casing.  

They actually found two undetonated large shells in a field we were walking by; they took Justin and some others back to find the farmer, who had just finished ploughing there and hadn't noticed turning up the shells with his machine--fortunate that we didn't hear a big explosion!

Avril was such a good host, lots of laughs, easy, made us feel very welcome. Two days after leaving her place, we realized we had left a nap-blanket there, but I have not contacted her about it since it was an inexpensive one.

The Ariane was a very nice upgrade, so completely different from Avril's but excellent. The only drawback was that we could not access the hotel easily because of the road closures for the Cat festival.  

Thank you again for all the excellent material; we used it extensively. I will certainly recommend your services to any friends who express plans to do battlefield tours.

Sincerely, Linda.

Email from Alastair MacLeod (Australia) following a Somme Self-Drive tour with his brother May 2012

Hi James

Just wanted to thank-you for all your help with our trip to the battlefields last week. The whole experience was excellent from the tailoring to suit our time-frame and inclusion of some Australian components as well. We left feeling like we had a taste for how things were back then, it was a very moving experience.

The owners at the Hotel de la Basique were exceptionally helpful as well, they ended up going out of their way to secure a garage for my brothers car, he was very appreciative. Food at their restaurant was superb as well.

Thanks again James for all your help, we had a fantastic and very memorable trip.

Kind regards,

Alastair MacLeod.

Email from Shaun Brennan (Australia) following a Somme Self-Drive tour May 2012

James 

A brief, and slightly overdue, note to thank you for the guides you sent for the Somme battlefield. We had a fantastic trip and without the guide would have seen so much less and appreciated so little of what is there - congratulations on the most detailed and informative guides that I've ever seen.

Pretty sure that my father and myself will be back to get the guide to Ypres.

Thanks again for all your help!

Regards

Shaun M Brennan

Email from Jane and Derek Bradshaw following a Somme and Ypres Self-Drive tour June 2012

Hello James,  We promised a resume' of our tour to the above with relevant comments which we hope you will find informative. A few general comments to begin with. Firstly we would recommend anyone thinking of doing a trip of this nature to do so independently rather than by coach. As you will know from personal experience access to the more intimate smaller sites is impossible by coach so as a result this was a major plus. We didn't come across many coach parties at all and when we did we are glad to say they were well behaved British children efficiently supervised by motivated teachers who maintained the kids interest . We were delighted to have the opportunity of arranging our tour with you and were so impressed by the attention to detail, from the route finders to and from the channel tunnel through to all the sites that we visited. We only did one or two detours to a few museums which of course all adds to the knowledge of the experiences that all troops went through throughout this horrendous war. So we followed your recommendations more or less to the letter and got to know the area quite well. Jane was disappointed that the superimposed blue arrows on your prints were not actually painted on the roads ! ! !  Never mind. 

This was our first trip through the tunnel following a night stop in Folkestone and as there was a strong wind we were grateful we avoided the ferry which would been interesting. The onward journey down to Albert was trouble free, and isn't it a pleasure to drive in France where the traffic is best described as light. Albert is a friendly town and the hotel Basilica comfortable with superb food , much needed after a days touring. Interestingly I think our favourite site from all those visited was the first one at Aveluy Wood, I suppose just because it has an instant impact as we have never experienced anything like this before and it created a wonderful first impression. The gate, the register, the layout and the immaculate lawn , then you realise why these sites are so important. Newfoundland Park is very impressive with young Canadians manning the visitor centre which is interesting particularly when you visit the trenches and put it all into perspective. What you don't realise it just how close the front lines were to each other during the fighting and how the shell fire affects the landscape. Your before and after pictures were therefore quite astonishing. Thiepval is of course a must for visitors and the surrounding countryside is truly stunning so the visits to the Ulster memorial and Thiepval itself was inspiring. Only 2 coaches as well as us at the site . Connaught and Mill Road sites, beautiful .Of course we stopped at Avril's tea room and had a look at the trench in the back garden. I am reading a book on Thiepval at the moment which makes you realise how much destruction there was in and around the area and how much effort was required to restore the land to farming and tourism which has taken the better part of a century to achieve. We experienced the tunnel museum at Albert and went down the one at La Boisselle with a guide who was involved in restoration work at the site . The South African memorial at Delville Wood is amazing and another on the must see list. You were right about the WWW1 museum at Peronne which was one of our deviations and is highly recommended .Our last trip for the Somme was Fricourt and the only time in the whole trip when we had a brief shower, but we stoically ploughed through the mud and were rewarded with a lovely quiet site, perfect for reflection. 

Our journey to Ypres was again trouble free and easy thanks to your maps and once again a lovely town with great character. The hotel Ariane is well situated and easy walking distance from the town centre. As we expected it was comfortable and the food excellent and nothing was too much trouble for the staff who all seemed to speak about half a dozen languages. Obviously the outstanding feature is the Menin Gate where we attended the remembrance ceremony on our first evening. We also made time to walk the city wall and you see a great deal of the architecture, river and lake as you do so. Among our visits were Sanctuary Wood which is beautifully set out, Hill 60 which is a bit too touristy for us and Vancouver Corner . We did the museum at Hooge which is similar to others but not quite as good I don't think. The cemetery across the road however is impressive. We avoided the theme park. The R.E.Grave and Railway Wood site is delightful and quiet, no chance of meeting a coach there. Glad to say the Passchendaele museum is open although still in the restoration process and in a beautiful setting at Zonnebeke. Always well worth a visit as are all of the historical   museums. Oh by the way the Canadian memorial site seems to have dispensed with it's roses as there was not a rose bush or tree in sight, surprising as all through our trip we were greeted by wonderful floral displays at most of the sites together with the poppies, obviously the right time of the year to visit. We eventually arrived at Tyne Cot which creates it's own atmosphere given the size of the site. We concur with the views with regard to the visitor centre - just awful - although the content is well presented and interesting with the haunting voice naming those who fought and died in the surrounding countryside. Once again it is an inspiring place which should not be missed. We finished our tour at the rather depressing German cemetery at Langemark and whilst you can understand the Belgian government not wishing to allocate much land to Germany, these boys, like ours, fought and died for their country and it seems a pity that they could not have been buried in a more appropriate and dignified site.

James this was a wonderful experience for us both and totally  unforgettable and we are so grateful we had great weather for our trip . We would both like to say thank you again for guiding us around these beautiful sites which is a tribute to your organisational skills and we would happily recommend anyone thinking of doing a trip like this to arrange it through you. We hope also the the Commonwealth War Graves Commission continues it's great work for future generations to benefit from a historical and personal perspective and to help us all  to understand the sacrifices that all those who served and died made so that we can enjoy our freedom.

 Best regards , Jane and Derek

Email from Jennifer Crook following a Somme (and own D-Day) Self-Drive tour August 2012

Dear James

A short note to say thank you for enabling Oliver, my son, and I to have such an incredible experience through your Battlefield Tour on The Somme.

The wealth of historical background that you put together, combined with the 'conducted' tour with maps was absolutely stunning. We wandered freely between the battlefield Memorials - not always in the correct order and quite alone on some occasions (holiday season for the French can be a blessing!) and covered all that we could; I think about 90%, which nicely leaves more to see for another trip.

I don't think that I could adequately describe the emotions that come to the surface, except that this is an experience that will stay with me (and I speak for Oliver too) for ever.

The Hotel Royal Picardie was good, very friendly and the food just as you described - good too.

[...]

We travelled in excess of 1000 miles in the five days and I must say, in the areas that we were, we were really impressed - not only were the French people kindly and helpful but everywhere was so clean and picturesque.

I have gone on a little but, but so appreciate all that I have experienced and wanted to let you know.

Thank you and kind regards.

Jennifer

Email from Prof James Dunn following a Somme and Ypres Self-Drive tour July 2012

Dear James (if I may – after our Somme/Ypres tour we feel we know you rather well),

My wife and I returned from mainland Europe this weekend and wanted to write as soon as possible while our tour of the Somme and Ypres battle sites was fresh in our memory.   You may recall that we were at the Somme July 25-27 and Ypres July 27-29, before going on to a conference in Leuven and to our son and family in Middelburg thereafter.

In summary we found the 4-5 days as powerful a few days as we’ve ever experienced (I would say ‘enjoyed’, but it doesn’t seem to be the right word), with memories and impressions which will last a long time.   Your travel instructions were wonderful (the only two times we took a wrong turning we hadn’t paid enough attention to the clear directions you had given!) and made navigating splendidly easy (photos at tricky points were very helpful).

The accompanying notes and commentary, including the brief biographies, were very informative and made ordinary farming scenes come alive in an all too horrific way.   The hotels were very fine, though in Ypres the Belgians had just changed their system to digital (or something) which left us able to watch the Olympics opening ceremonies with hardly any sound!   We could not have asked for a better guide and recommended accommodation.

Thanks for making possible such a memorable tour.   We have already regaled family and friends with the many memories and impressions made by the tour and will continue to do so for some time.   We have no hesitation in strongly recommending what you offer.

With greetings from Chichester and all good wishes,

James and Meta Dunn
 

Email from David Newbery following a Somme and Ypres  Self-Drive tour August 2012

James

I thought I’d write and thank you for organising our tour of Ypres and the Somme battlefields.  The tour worked out extremely well and the hotels were excellent.  You requested some feedback, so here it is (notwithstanding the fact that the tour was, overall, extremely good and I will, certainly, recommend you to any friends and colleagues who are contemplating a similar tour).  Anyway, some comments – in no particular order.

The road directions were excellent.  I had a GPS in the car but didn’t, really, need to use it.  My 16 year-old son was navigating and, in common with most young people nowadays, his map-reading skills are pretty challenged!  The photos of the road junctions were particularly useful.

We both felt that the Itinerary Route for Ypres worked better than for the Somme.  The Ypres guide made it quite clear when to refer to the main guide whereas, for the Somme, we found ourselves constantly changing between the Itinerary and the Guide.

I know that it might be difficult, but it would be useful if some of the trench maps were “pull-out” – perhaps printed on double-sized paper, so they can be unfolded out from the Guide or readily detachable.  We found ourselves constantly searching through pages of the Guide between the description and the relevant maps [under consideration].

The Hooge Museum was closed for a month for holidays – pity!

Photos such as that on Page 42 of the Ypres Guide are great – showing the actual lines of advance overlaid on the photo.  Likewise, other photos with the trench lines/machine gun positions superimposed and the “before and after” photos – it really brings it home to you.

August is a good month to visit – none of the sites were at all crowded.  In fact, we arrived at Newfoundland Park at 9.15am to find ourselves as the first visitors.  It was a beautiful, cool, still morning and we had the park to ourselves for about 30mins, which was quite a moving experience.

If you look at page 3 of the Somme Itinerary – there is a photo of a farm track at the bottom of the page.  Somebody has placed a hand-grenade at the base of the metal pylon.  Don’t know how long it will stay there.         

On the Somme tour, the track from the Welsh Memorial to Flatiron Cemetery was easily driveable (especially in the best all-terrain vehicle in the world – a hire car!).  However, in August, Mametz Wood is just about impossible to penetrate without a machete – the edges are completely overgrown with brambles and nettles – not good in shorts!

The poems and personal writings in the Guide were very moving – my son loves WW1 poetry.

The hotels were excellent with friendly staff and good food.  The Royal Picardie was quiet with few guests.

That’s all I can think of at the moment.  Thanks a lot for organising a memorable few days for us both.

Regards

David NEWBERY  

Email from David Amanda Hornsbury a Somme Self-Drive tour August/September 2012

Dear James

We completed your battle field tour yesterday and I wanted to thank you.  I know that this is your business but the clarity and precision of the tour was exceptional!  It seems wrong to say how much we enjoyed the tour as that implies that we did not recognise the misery inflicted by both sides, but we did!

The hotel was lovely and as you rightly said, the food was wonderful, and we thought, very reasonable!  We were first in and last out on both nights!

I do not use Tripadvisor but if you wanted any testimonials, we would be very happy to oblige.

We wondered about booking another tour and wondered which you might suggest?

Best regards and thanks again!

Amanda Hornsbury  

Email from Val and Derry Hanratty following a Somme & Ypres Self-Drive tour September 2012

Dear Mr Power, 

Just writing to say that we had a wonderfully interesting trip to the Somme and Flanders last week.  The directions you gave us and the books of details on all the places we visited were superb.  There were no problems with anything and the two hotels were great (it took us a bit of time to find somewhere to eat on the Sunday night at Albert but when we did it was well worth it. 

We knew quite a lot about WW1 but this trip really brought home to us just what a terrible ordeal it was for those fighting.  I have to tell you that a lot of tears were shed along the way especially in those areas you had made it plain were still burial grounds and, of course, the memorials to those missing (at least we know that some of them do have a grave in one of the thousands of "Unknown Soldier"  burials).  What a tragedy for all those involved. 

We didn't manage  to cover everything on the Somme but as we go to France in June most years we thought of driving (rather than flying as we usually do) and tagging a few days onto the beginning of our holiday so that we could re-visit Serre, Thiepval where they were doing walks into the wood and Peronne plus perhaps visiting some more of the cemeteries which are so beautifully maintained. 

I know that you tried to avoid some of the more well known cemeteries but on our last morning we did go to Essex Park as we wanted to see the place where "In Flanders Fields" was written and of course that sad grave of the 15-year old (what was he doing there?).  There were some coaches there and some minibuses but it wasn't too bad and we just waited until people moved on. 

Thank you so much for your help.  It is something we have been meaning to do for some time and was truly a moving experience. 

Best wishes, 

Val & Derry Hanratty

Email from Caroline Birchall following a Somme & Ypres Self-Drive tour September 2012

Hi James

My parents and I have just returned from the self-drive tour which we really 'enjoyed'.  Thank you for organising a tour with such great attention to detail.  Given the French way with signposting your directions were invaluable and we didn't get lost once!  The best part, from my point of view, is the way you brought in personal stories and used facts and figures to bring the horrific images of World War 1 to life.  The battlefields are all so peaceful now that it's hard to imagine the extent of the suffering that took place.  The Last Post at Menin Gate was very moving. 

Your hotel recommendations were great - food, service and location wise!  I would happily recommend this tour for anyone with an interest in learning more about WW1 - it gives you freedom and flexibility to go at your own pace. 

Many thanks and best wishes, 

Caroline Birchall

Email from Maureen & Denzil Duncan (New Zealand) following a Somme & Ypres Self-Drive tour October 2012

Hi James

Just a quick note from Frankfurt before we head to the airport!

We wanted to say how much we appreciated the detail and the accuracy of your self-drive guide. It was excellent - and we wouldn't hesitate to recommend you to anyone we hear of visiting the battlefields. It was great to be independent!

We made a side trip to Arras to the Wellington Carriere (sp?) and really enjoyed seeing the tunnels that the NZers had helped carve out.

Also in Albert we went out to the "Dig" at La Boisselle. That was fascinating - and they are very welcoming of visitors who may contribute to the dig's funds! The reason we ended up there was because we bumped into an old friend of yours who is working on the dig - one Ewan (sp?) of Scotland. He asked to be remembered to you and invited us to visit!

It was great having a look around. A TV documentary was just being finished on- site that day and they had just made a break-through to the tunnels at 80ft. Ewan was saying that the tunnel they had reached was pristine - no ceiling collapses - it was as if the men had just walked out!  It must be amazing working on such projects!

The only hassles we had along the way were not of your making! At Messine the whole town is being dug up while they put in a new one-way system! Even our TomTom had to keep "recalculating". We gave up on the NZ Memorial at Messines Ridge initially - but did make it out there as we headed back to Lille at the end. We had instructions from someone who knows the current roadworks! Even then the road immediately in front of the memorial was blocked off!! Still with a bit of driving on the wrong side of the road we did get to our "objective"!!! 

Many thanks again

Kind regards

Maureen & Denzil 

PS Both hotels were wonderful and the reception people all spoke fondly of you! [Hotel Royal Picardie, Somme and Ariane Hotel, Ypres] so we enjoyed excellent service as a result we are sure of your standing with the hotels!!

MD & DD

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