Paris Roubaix – The Hell of the North /“L’Enfer du Nord”
We often describe “Paris Roubaix” as “the Hell of the North,” or “L’Enfer du Nord.” But where did this term derive from ? This was France’s coal mining region for many decades during the Great War. The road and the route had survived four years of brutal shelling , trench warfare and death. The Germans looted much of the equipment, and subjected French miners to work in harsh conditions to help the German’s war effort. The coal field was in the front line, and heavy fighting obliterated the entire northern French area. Approximately nine million had died and France suffered the most casualties over any Allied nation. There was destruction, poverty and shortage of men, but France had survived.
Days after the war had ended, those returning to Northern France wanted to know if there was still a road to Roubaix? If Roubaix was still there? As those few returning approached the area, the air began to linger with smells of broken drains, raw sewage and the stench of rotting cattle and carcasses. Trees were turned into blackened and ragged stumps. Their twisted branches pushed to the sky like the crippled arms of a dying man. Everywhere was mud. Nobody knows who first described it as 'hell', but there was no better word. And that's how it appeared next day in the papers. That little party had seen 'The Hell of the North.
Understanding the history of this great region , is going to make my pilgrimage even more monumental and emotional. I often think of numerous past soldiers who’s spirits must roam the area of Arenberg in the hundreds. Ghosts of Roubaix, I’ll be there soon