It’s our only morning off after a late night but like time and tide, breakfast waits for no man so after not enough sleep it’s down to the refectory for some aspirin and french eggs, a bowl of coffee, croissants and pain au chocolat. Continental breakfasts lack the bacon and tattiesconedness of a full Scottish but remedies it somewhat with cheese. A quick shower restores the vitality but due to the unisex nature of the ablutions men approach wearing everything including shoes and women approach swaddled in dressing gowns and bath towels, in silence.
James the Hat has arranged that a few of us should visit the 51st Highland Division memorial and Newfoundland Park at Beaumont Hamel. The 2 or 3 envisaged becomes a gaggle and then a group so taxis are speedily arranged and off we zoom while our compadrés head into Albert to explore.
The Picardy countryside is gorgeous and being titivated by hoards of men trimming the verges, there is evidence of getting ready for the main event. When we arrive at Beaumont Hamel it’s shut, bleachers are being erected and security is tight. Thiepval is the same but they let us visit the Museum and watch the Welch Fusiliers band. It is dawning on some that the slaughter here was more vast and terrible than their worst imaginings. There are cemeteries everywhere but the 100th Anniversary has closed them all so we head back to Albert for a spot of sightseeing. And beer.
The town is full of pipers in mufti wandering about gawping, I headed to the Trench Museum under the Basilica for a spot of light harrowing. I trod the dark path beneath the streets and when I came out I had no idea where I was, total disorientation. I was in a sunken garden with a battle tank, after a frantic bit of wandering I found James the Hat and we headed back to the Lycée.
After lunch, in kilts, we headed the 200m to the railway station where we were taken on an extended ramble to the velodrome. Clock was carrying all the capes and he was suffering cruelly under the weight but Pipey was adamant we weren’t to wear them. Out by the lake we got rained on slightly and Jo got stuck in the toilet just as a shedload of burley Canadians arrived; attention seeking minx. We discovered that Alan can sleep standing up and Pipey relented and Clock gave us our capes back. The Massed bands were here to escort the Marchers for Peace on the last leg of their journey from Ypre. Last night’s practice had shown the drummers couldn’t see the Drum Major so we either extend his mace with a baguette or insert a mini mid-section into the pipe corps. The latter resulted in the back of the band finishing a full 4 bars behind the front; proper marching order was restored.
There was a lot of playing and Basso was medi-vacced out due to the length of the march, thankfully the sun stayed away or we’d have been dropping like flies. I’d assumed we’d be marching to Place Emile Leturcq where the Mairie is but we wheeled away down another street and still playing strode bravely toward the Basilica. Just as we reached the Basilica I ran out of air; chanter silent, bag empty, lungs empty, fish eyed and gasping I stumbled to a halt. Wee Peter fell us out. PM St Luke led us 200m to the theatre for free cider and nibbles as a restorative.
After dinner we are back at the station milling about, buying beer, using the very public toilet and admiring Ringwood in their Number 1’s. It’s like the backlot of ‘War Horse’ with soldiers, nurses, horses and pipers everywhere. The massed bands lead the procession from the station back to the basilica where we have a wee rest. We dashed to the Highlander bar for revival juice, however half a pint in word arrived we were wanted, (Karen stole my pint about now) so we formed up and bulldozed our way into the square using ‘PM JK Cairns’ as a battering ram, this caused a lot of hilarity as we weren’t actually needed. We then rejoined the massed band and stormed on to Place Emile Leturcq where we split into our separate components and each played a few sets before reforming and creating a huge circle. It was all going well until we were ordered to about turn and face the audience, then our young pipers, who were dead on their feet and pretending to play felt they had to actually play and it was too much. Amber went down and Abbi was wobbling. Thankfully we have trained medical staff with us but poor Amber ended up not getting in til after 2 and we have to be up and out for 4:30am to enter the Ring of Steel.
It’s Contalmaison tomorrow, the main event and Pipey wants us sober and respectful.