I must have been there hundreds of times. In years gone by I would go there two or three times a day. For those of you thinking ” Aye Aye, he doesn’t even own a dog” , I had far too many opportunities to mountain bike before my broken back and lack of talent accident. I left a little of myself on King Billy’s, mostly my courage and a little blood, maybe a bit of wee.
Since that time I haven’t really visited the Chase. I have cycled through it on the tarmac but mostly avoided the wooded bits. Over the last few months Linda has been reintroducing me to the Chase and aside from some great trails and some amazing views there is some amazing history and most of it has passed me by.
Today we visited a living history experience at the Centre on Marquis Drive, which not only exhibited relics of the day and brought to life the fading black and white photographs of people and times gone by. In one of the original huts is a scale model of the camps and some high definition photographs of a high altitude laser surveys which show the locations of ground disturbance through the trees pinpointing the exact location of the structures. It brings reality to the history and even shows bell pits and other far older manmade alterations to the landscape. The pictures are simply mind-blowing.
Having covered just about every square mile of the place, how was I not aware that 500,000 troops training for the trenches of World War One called the Chase home for a few weeks? That two camps holding 20,000 troops each occupied the area and that a lot of the trails are a legacy of the occupation and that the railway climbed up from Milford to supply them?
Having visited the Somme leaving humbled by the bravery and brutality of men and war, to see the other side; the days before the horror was revealed in its enormity brought back all those memories. To read letters written home by innocents, and discover the relics recovered, left me once again humbled and saddened. Did they realise what fate really awaited? Did they realise this was a production line for a machine that was constantly in need of more lives to fuel the fire of destruction? How did the Chase look to them as they sat on ammunition boxes, smoking their Woodbines in a moment of quiet where there was no enemy sniper waiting for a pot shot?
As usual I have arrived at a point in history later than everyone else and I have found another subject I want to learn more of. What amazes me is that I blissfully rode past unusual features and never gave them a second thought. I wonder what else I haven’t yet learned I have missed.
The event is on again tomorrow and if you are at a loss, please go and visit, it is so worth the effort.