Five Thousand Kilometres Through France

In the trail of the Young Lawrence of Arabia

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TE Lawrence - The Cyclist

The young TE Lawrence, known to his family as Ned, was an avid cyclist, a habit he had developed with the encouragement of his father. It gave him the independence he sought - he would head off for the day, sometimes with a friend, into the countryside around his home in Oxford, where he would look at the carved stone effigies of crusader knights and take brass rubbings (catching the words and images of brass memorial plates and stone graves with tracing paper) to hang on his bedroom wall. In our age of electronic games, this seems an odd pursuit for a teenage boy, but it was a popular pursuit at the time and TE Lawrence was in thrall to the crusader age.

Over the last two years of his schooldays and his first year at university (1905-8), he made longer and longer trips around Britain and France. In 1906 and 1907 he toured Brittany gtom the town of Dinard, where his family had lived a decade before. And in 1908 he undertook an independent trip of 2500 miles around France, pretty much encircling the whole country. xxSee more about his cycle trips.

He enjoyed the mechanical side of cycling (later he was to work as a mechanic in the RAF). He also loved to test his body and endurance, stating that he could ride 180 miles in a day. In his letters Lawrence comments quite regularly about his cycling, from the punctures he repaired to his ability to cover long distances. See more about Young Lawrence the Cyclist. In my Journals of his trips, I highlight any comments made about his cycling in xxyellow text. See the xx2019 Cycle Journals.

Interestingly, this was about the same time that the Tour de France came into being. The race was staged for the first time in 1903 and the 2794-mile 1908 event set off from Paris three days before he arrived in France, and followed a roughly similar course around the country. Unfortunately there is no record of TE Lawrence’s thoughts on the Tour de France (which was very different in those days: cyclists raced independently and were able to get support from shops and people along the way), but he was certainly interested enough in cycling for him to muse on the idea of entering the Bath Road 100, a popular cycle race of the time.