Five Thousand Kilometres Through France

In the trail of the Young Lawrence of Arabia

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TE Lawrence - His Cycle Journeys

Already as a boy, at the encouragement of his father, TE Lawrence was making long cycle rides around the English countryside. In the summer of 1906, as he turned 18, he began to explore further afield, riding out of Dinard on the northern coast of France, sometimes with his friend CF Beeson, nick-named Scroggs. His aim was to see the medieval castles, cathedrals and abbeys of Brittany.

In the Easter holidays of 1907 he undertook a long ride around Wales (see more about his trip to Wales), again to look at castles and abbeys, and then over that summer he made a number of trips out of Dinard again, this time photographing the buildings where there were no good postcards. He also undertook longer rides, riding more than 100 miles in a day - for instance overnight to Mont St Michel and then down to the Loire.

In 1908, in the summer holidays between his first and second year at university, then aged nearly 20, Lawrence set off on an extraordinary journey of some 2500 miles all around France. He covered the distance in 50 days, visiting more than 50 medieval castles. His journey was not too different from the course of the sixth Tour de France, which started a few days before he arrived in France.

TE Lawrence’s 1908 tour, links to TEL Studies

TE Lawrence’s 1908 tour, links to TEL Studies

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The Tour France, 1908

Lawrence was collecting information, making sketches and sometimes photographing castles, abbeys and other medieval fortifications, initially because of his boyhood interest but later with a sharper focus, as research for his undergraduate thesis. He would also collect and often send postcards, again as a record for his research.

It’s worth adding that in 1909, between his second and third year at university, he walked for an extraordinary 1000 miles in Lebanon and Syria, this time looking at the crusader castles, over a period of three months: that’s an average 30 miles a day in 40 degree heat, on unmade roads in extremely unforgiving country. He arrived back in Oxford three weeks late for his university term.

These journeys are recorded in his letters home, which he would often write on Sundays (he had been brought up in a religious family. In his letters Lawrence comments quite regularly on his cycling, from the punctures he repaired to his ability to cover long distances. See more about Young Lawrence the Cyclist.