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SF2014010520160718 (R3)

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As events are held this month commemorating the Centenary of the Battle of the Somme - when more than one million men were wounded or lost their lives -

Paul Farley journeys down France's sleepiest river whose character belies its violent history.

Paul travels source to sea along the River Somme in northern France, rising in the hills at Fonsommes near Saint-Quentin and flowing quietly westward for 152 miles to empty into the English Channel. The name Somme comes from the Celtic samara, meaning 'tranquility', and the river's course through the Picardy chalk along a constantly gentle gradient gives a clue to its peaceful character.

However, for the past century, the phrase 'the Somme' has been used to sum up and distill the utter futility and waste of the Great War. The Battle of the Somme, which took place during the summer and autumn of 1916, has given the river a lasting infamy and melancholy in language. But the Great War is only one of the conflicts in which this quiet river has found itself the centre of, and the Somme has much deeper historical sources linking it with warfare and the English.

The river has such long-standing associations with the English and warfare that it also flows into Shakespeare, and Henry V, of which the Agincourt campaign is the centerpiece, entering the very heart of our literature.

Paul travels gently downstream from the river's natural source, while shooting the huge historical rapids, and discovers a still and reflective passage at the centre of its tumultuous past.l looks at how the river has also been a conduit to creativity, flowing down towards the open sea and a borderless realm of infinite possibility.

Producer Neil McCarthy.

Part of Radio 3's Music on the Brink.

Paul travels source to sea along the River Somme in northern France, rising in the hills at Fonsommes near Saint-Quentin and flowing quietly westward for 152 miles to empty into the English Channel. The name Somme comes from the Celtic samara, meaning 'tranquillity', and the river's course through the Picardy chalk along a constantly gentle gradient gives a clue to its peaceful character. But its valley forms an ancient marshy belt, an important strategic barrier in the approaches from Flanders towards Paris, and this has led to the river - and its name - entering history for altogether more turbulent reasons.

For the past century, the phrase 'the Somme' has been used to sum up and distil the utter futility and waste of the Great War. The Battle of the Somme, which took place during the summer and autumn of 1916, has given the river a lasting infamy and melancholy in language, a proper noun that has become a byword for the futility of conflict. On the day this campaign began, the British alone suffered 60,000 casualties. And from 1914 onwards the Somme became a frontline for a series of German offensives including The Race to the Sea. But the Great War is only one of the conflicts in which this quiet river has found itself the centre of, and the Somme has much deeper historical sources linking it with warfare and the English.

William the Conqueror assembled his great fleet for the 1066 invasion in the river's bay at Saint-Valery-sur-Somme, and the river was also a key crossing in the Agincourt and Crecy campaigns. The feudal medieval armies of Edward III found the River Somme an impassable barrier, the bridges heavily defended or destroyed, forcing them to march down the left bank to the sea. They finally crossed at the mouth of the river at low tide, just evading the clutches of the pursuing French. Exhausted and soaked Edward's troops encamped in the Forêt de Creçy on the north bank of the Somme. Geography and geology have always determined the character of conflict, and the German army that dug into stronger limestone positions over five hundred years later wreaked wholesale havoc and slaughter by using the lie of the land to their advantage. Paul's journey along the river explores how natural features still visible today have shaped human history, and how history itself changes course in the same way as a river. The yew bows of Edward's archers and the high explosive barrages of the British Army rained their arrows and shells onto the same Picardy soil.

The river has such long-standing associations with the English and warfare that it also flows into Shakespeare, and Henry V, of which the Agincourt campaign is the centrepiece, entering the very heart of our literature.

The Somme has been associated with the English and war for time out of mind, bearing English blood along its current towards home, and the Channel. But alongside this, Paul travels gently downstream from the river's natural source, while shooting the huge historical rapids, and discovers a still and reflective passage at the centre of its tumultuous past. He finds the river's tranquil, innocent source and explores how the pools and backwaters of the upper Somme might offer an analogue to memory and healing, the clearer reaches before the current enters the long historical nightmare. He finds how the river has also inspired dreamers and the imagination.JULES VERNE wrote 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and Around the World in 80 Days while living near the river at Amiens, and Paul looks at how the river has also been a conduit to creativity, flowing down towards the open sea and a borderless realm of infinite possibility.

The river has such long-standing associations with the English and warfare that it also flows into Shakespeare, and Henry V, of which the Agincourt campaign is the centrepiece, entering the very heart ofSunday Feature

The Somme has been associated with the English and war for time out of mind, bearing English blood along its current towards home, and the Channel. But alongside this, Paul travels gently downstream from the river's natural source, while shooting the huge historical rapids, and discovers a still and reflective passage at the centre of its tumultuous past. He finds the river's tranquil, innocent source and explores how the pools and backwaters of the upper Somme might offer an analogue to memory and healing, the clearer reaches before the current enters the long historical nightmare. He finds how the river has also inspired dreamers and the imagination.JULES VERNE wrote 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and Around the World in 80 Days while living near the river at Amiens, and Paul looks at how the river has also been a conduit to creativity, flowing down towards the open sea and a borderless realm of infinite possibility.""

The Somme has been associated with the English and war for time out of mind, bearing English blood along its current towards home, and the Channel. But alongside this, Paul travels gently downstream from the river's natural source, while shooting the huge historical rapids, and discovers a still and reflective passage at the centre of its tumultuous past. He finds the river's tranquil, innocent source and explores how the pools and backwaters of the upper Somme might offer an analogue to memory and healing, the clearer reaches before the current enters the long historical nightmare. He finds how the river has also inspired dreamers and the imagination. Jules Verne wrote 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and Around the World in 80 Days while living near the river at Amiens, and Paul looks at how the river has also been a conduit to creativity, flowing down towards the open sea and a borderless realm of infinite possibility.

""Part of Radio 3's Music on the Brink.

Paul Farley visits the Somme, a river whose sleepy character belies its violent history.

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