Using a railway cycle path to visit the sites of the Battle of Bastogne

Peaceful lane in Belgium

Whilst staying in northern Luxembourg; I felt the need to pay my respects to the soldiers that fought and fell at nearby Bastogne. Surrounded by overwhelming enemy numbers; a few American soldiers held out through the bitter winter of 1944.

Studying the maps, I realised Bastogne was only a short distance away. I could use a cycle path on a old railway line and quiet country lanes; to reach Bastogne and pay my respects.

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Out of Luxembourg

Modern windmills in Luxembourg

I was staying in a brilliant municipal campsite, in the town of Troisvierges, northern Luxembourg. Using part of the signed Genzen cycle tour route; I carefully climbed out of Troisvierges onto a ridge above the town. (For my review of the Genzen tour, see here: Tour de Genzen). Reaching the ridge, I was surrounded by enormous wind turbines; which overshadowed the landscape and made a curious sound as their blades cut through the air. It reminded me of the tale of Don Quixote when he visited the windmills. Yet I hoped my adventure ended in a more peaceful way.

A deep forest of pine trees then appeared on my right as I rode on. Through which I could cycle after I turned right at the end of a long field. I stopped to rest in this forest as it was hot in the midday sun. It was in similar woodland that vicious fighting took place around Bastogne during a very cold winter in 1944. Yet here, in mid summer; I could only feel at peace between the trees.

A quiet lane near Troisvierges

Riding out in to open countryside once more; I took a series of turns on to unmarked country lanes. A distant tractor carefully cut a straight line of grass, the modern windmills lumbered on and birdsong carried on a fresh breeze. As I reached the border with Belgium; the country lane turned in to fairly rough gravel. I slowed to choose the safest line as I passed through a dark copse down a steep hill. Then before I knew it; I passed the unmarked border and arrived at a railway cycle path.

Line 163

A green kaleidascope on Line 163

Ravel Ligne 163 or Line 163 is a 30 mile (50km) off road cycle path on the route of an old railway line. Starting at Libramont – Chevigny in the west, passing through Bastogne and the Belgian Ardennes, then on towards Gouvy near Luxembourg and Germany. To find out more about this route and other parts of the amazing Belgian cycle network; see here:

As soon as I rode onto the smooth tarmac of Line 163; my pace quickened even without pedalling. Heading south towards Bastogne; there was a gentle descending gradient ahead of me. So I changed up to my highest gear and powered my legs as hard as I could down the line. Although I was on a mountain bike; I had fitted a pair of fast rolling Vittoria Mezcal tyres. This meant I was soon reaching speeds of 25 mph (40kmh) and maintaining this velocity for miles.

Line 163

The close proximity of the trees either side of the path gave me the impression that I was flying through a green tunnel of light. Like a spaceship breaking through the colours as I went faster and faster. The sun and the wind highlighted every shade of green as I rode on and on. I was on a natural high as I witnessed this ever changing kaleidoscope of colour and light.

Bastogne and a Band of Brothers

Dense pine forests like this were the scene of fierce fighting.

When the allies re-entered Europe via the D Day landings of June 1944; the tide of the Second World War began to turn in favour of freedom and good. With the Nazis also floundering in Russia; Hitler became more desperate by the day. So he decided to launch a massive counter attack to the west; in the deluded hope that the allies would agree to a ceasefire on his terms. Standing in the centre of his massive counterattack was the small city of Bastogne in the Belgian Ardennes.

Completely surrounded and then attacked; the American soldiers held out through a bitter winter. Where temperatures sometimes dropped to -28 degrees Celsius; they had inadequate winter clothing, were short on ammunition and shelter. A small ‘band of brothers’ of the 101st Airborne Division; were stationed in the woods on the outskirts of Bastogne. Their efforts were made famous by a Steven Spielberg TV mini-series; that is well worth a watch.

A memorial to: ‘the Band of Brothers’ of Easy Company, 101st Airborne Division. Fourteen brothers lost their life defending Bastogne.

Remembering the Maquis

A memorial to the Belgian Resistance fighters

As well as the allied armies fighting to liberate Europe from such an evil force; there were small groups of local resistance fighters. Without protection of the Geneva Convention and the support of an organised army; these small groups bravely fought and died behind enemy lines. From acts of sabotage, espionage and assassinations; they played a vital part of the effort against evil.

On the road to the very interesting Battle of the Bulge museum and Mardasson Memorial; there is one of many memorials to these heroic individuals who gave their lives for future freedom. For more information about visiting the museum; see here:

Reflection ride out of Bastogne

Cycling north out of Bastogne and Neffe

After spending some time trying to comprehend the horrors of those cold days; I cycled back out of Bastogne towards Luxembourg. I chose a slightly different route to see the ‘The Wood of Peace’; a 4,000 tree forest planted in the shape of the UNICEF symbol for peace. Planted on the fiftieth anniversary of the Battle of the Bulge; the wood is dedicated to the memory of the American soldiers and resistance fighters that fought for freedom. As well as remembering all those who have lost their lives in conflict around the world

The Wood of Peace

Leaving the Wood of Peace behind too; I cycled back to Line 163. The late afternoon was cooler now as I raced back up the railway line. I soon reached an earlier turning that was signed to Hachiville and Troisvierges. I decided to take this path as another variation and was soon back in the open Luxembourg countryside. With initial thoughts of sadness about what happened here in the past. My thoughts turned to the future and making the most of everyday and every moment. I thought I could best pay respect to these fallen heroes; by enjoying my days as they would have hoped to have done themselves.

Riding back to Hachiville and Luxembourg

A balmy summers evening

A peaceful summers evening in Luxembourg

Climbing a small hill out of Hachiville; I stopped in the shade of a oak tree. Looking back at the peaceful landscape; I was relaxed and at peace. I was enjoying a freedom that has only come from their hard fought battles.

There is another signed bike route around the city of Bastogne that takes in the battle locations, cemeteries and memorials. It is called the Freedom Trail; find out more here: I hope to return to the area soon and try this route too.

For other local routes to relax; please see here: Routes in Belgium and Luxembourg

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