Five Thousand Kilometres Through France

In the trail of the Young Lawrence of Arabia


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 around Brittany from 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 undertook a journey through Normandy, into Brittany, and then down to the Loire Valley. He made a made a number of trips out of Dinard again, this time photographing the buildings of which there were no good postcards.

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.

TE Lawrence’s 1908 tour

TE Lawrence’s 1908 tour

Lawrence was collecting information, making sketches and sometimes taking photographs of 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 the summer of 1909, between his second and third year at university, he walked for an extraordinary 1000 miles through Lebanon, Syria and modern-day Israel, this time looking at the crusader castles. Over a period of three months, often in 40 degree heat, he covered as much as 30 miles a day 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.