Friday, June 17th 2016 was the last day of our mission ….
Up until a few year ago the name Lidice had been purely that of a village visited by a Nazi atrocity. One of a long list. It was only when I discovered that the cry “Lidice Shall Live!” - after Hitler had declared it dead - was raised by Stoke-on-Trent GP and Councillor, Barnett Stross, and the miners of Stoke-on-Trent, that it became of greater interest. Why not ride there? Why not boost the work of people like Alan and Cheryl Gerrard and the Friends of Barnett Stross to rejuvenate links between Stoke and Lidice and other communities? Why not carry some artwork across Europe to the Lidicka Gallery and the Museum? A painting by Harry Davies; one of Mark Dally’s happy ceramic sculptures; contrast the atrocity with the rebirth? Tip the police off that we are international art smugglers, for publicity reasons?
Well things went so far. The cobbles of the east did not shatter the ceramic and the occasional storm was kept at bay by the good old British Carradry panniers, so all arrived safely at Lidice and have been handed over to the Director of the Museum.
Mind you, the final day of the ride did threaten to be a greater challenge than expected. An early breakfast got us away from fascinating Decin in the rain. Showers persisted at regular intervals as we ran down the usually very good cycle path by the Labe (formerly the Elbe). With the signage excellent we rolled along merrily confident that we would be Lidice easily by 17.00 without missing lunch. Even the sporadic stretch of cobble did not put us behind time.
Then, the otherwise very good route became a muddy track. There had been heavy rain in the hills which the river carves through in a dramatic gorge. In fact, one wondered how much higher the water level might have to rise before the authorities concerned opened the massive sluice gates a tad.
Two kilometres of paddy-field, loaded rear wheels sliding and for the first time making me wish I had gone for 32s and not 28s or even that the old iron dinosaur Supergalaxy would miraculously turn into one of the trekking bikes some folk coming the other way were struggling along on. Mark’s Shand Stoater was living up to its cyclo-cross credentials, but even then the going was far from speedy. And at the back of Mark’s mind was the fact that he had a well-packed ceramic sculpture which may not be so well-packed as to survive a hefty bump.
An angler told us, we think, - neither of us has much colloquial Czech - that we were mad and should go on the road. He indicated the direction powerfully. Then a hundred metres later the surface was good. We ignored the advice and a kilometre later were faced with another length of paddy-field, further ripped apart by the harvesting of peas in the fields adjacent and the tracks of the machinery. “Two kilometres and then good,” said a strongly built German cyclist as we inquired what the going was like. His partner, maybe wife, was some 400 metres back down the track pushing her bike through the puddles and, possibly, contemplating divorce.
Two kilometres was about right. Misery. Yet these things come to an end and are hardly desperately serious. Yep, my brakes were clogged with mud and everything was spattered and so messy that we had to clean the bikes later. Mark’s disc brakes bore up much better.
So, eventually we got back to the tarmac and quickly reached Roudnice nad Labem. We even tarried to offer help to a cyclist in distress. As it she was already being rescued, but, having discussed Buddhism a good deal that morning, we were all for building a bit of Karma. Initially, we’d wondered how much Karma we were losing every time we crushed a snail or ran over a slug. Both seemed to love the asphalt of the cycle route, though we performed vigorous slaloms to try to save them from our wheels.
After lunch, we hoped and expected that the wind would get behind us. It didn’t. A persistent and strengthening head/sidewind nagged away. Moving away fro the river, we pushed against the grain of he land. Time ticked by. Then, within three kilometres of Lidice, a sort of very short Bohemian Berg intervened.
Cobbled and steep and uneven. Good King Wenceslas would have struggled. We belaboured the pedals and kept weight over the back wheel and ground our way up. It wasn't long, but the Bustehrad Berg felt like a hill too far. Then a level crossing’s warning light halted us, too.
Of course, we made it. On time; fifteen minutes to spare.
We were welcomed at the Gallery and have a room for two nights in the self-catering hostel above, though we'll eat at the restaurant. We haven’t been to Prague yet, but up-country Czech bars and restaurants offer excellent value.
Is this the end f the mission? Yes. Today, Saturday, we have spent an emotionally charged day at the Lidice Memorial. Museum, Art Gallery, monuments on the site of the old village (the mass grave of the males over 15; the memorial to the child victims of war personified in the figures of the 82 Lidice children who were murdered; the monument commemorating the women who were sent to Ravensbruck concentration camp; and more) and the new village which the people of Stoke-on-Trent did so much to build.
In between the old and new sites is a rose garden. A venue for weddings; whilst we looked round two took place. And very suitable, too. For all the tragedy, the good in humanity won out in the end.
The cycling continues on Sunday. Our mission got some coverage on Czech radio and we are off to visit Milan Krcmar. A few years back, he rode his bike from Dolni Milevosice to London; from the place where Jan Kubis was born to the place where the decision to assassinate Reinhard Heydrich, the act that lead to the arbitrary destruction of Lidice, was taken; Bayswater Road, London. Kubis was one of the men who attacked Heydrich.