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CHARLES L. FREESTON legitimately appended F.R.G.S. to his name. Indeed, he was a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society, founded in 1830 for the advancement of geographical sciences. In the early 1900s, Freeston researched and wrote a series of travel books, among them Cycling in the Alps, 1900; Guide to Switzerland, 1901; The High-Roads of the Alps, 1910; and Passes of the Pyrenees, 1912.
The War to End All Wars, aka World War I, precluded continental adventuring for a bit. But Freeston resumed in 1921 and, by 1927, he had assembled enough detailed itineraries to compose France for the Motorist.
Freeston’s touring was with his 1921 Rolls-Royce 40/50. This model (because of one specific example) acquired the moniker Silver Ghost and became legendary for its durability and refinement. Among the 16 half-tone plates in the book are several showing this car.
The best image of the car is of it posed at La Roche-Bernard in Brittany, a fortified village known for its Viking settlement around 1000 AD. Freeston visited it on his tour of Brittany which also included the rather more famous Mont Saint-Michel.
Brittany is one of the book’s six Route Maps, the others being Northern and Southern Alps, Eastern and Western Pyrenees and Provence. Within each region, Freeston also suggests itineraries detailed with town-to-town route numbers, intermediate distances and progressive totals. The village of La Roche-Bernard is on Itinerary no. 19, Route N.165, 12.2 miles on the way from Nantes to Vannes.
In southern France, not far from the Spanish border, lies Freeston’s Itinerary No. 124, Mende to Millau via The Tarn. He suggests, “… those who carry a chauffeur may elect to send him on with the car between La Malène and Le Rozier and view the Gorge from the river itself.”
Though Freeston chose to drive his Rolls-Royce, he was also known to bring along his mechanic Waldron. Hence, it’s possible he relinquished the wheel for 5.6 miles so he could boat his way down the Tarn.
An itinerary familiar to auto enthusiasts, No. 36, is in Touraine and the Loire Valley: Tours to Le Mans. Freeston cites Le Mans as “a fine old town from which many roads radiate and which was famous a few years ago as the chief point in the circuit of one of the Grand Prix races.”
Indeed, the first 24 hours of Le Mans was run in 1923. Just south of Le Mans, at 9.6 miles of his itinerary, Freeston encountered the village of Mulsanne. Today, this is on Route D338, the Ligne Droite des Hunaudières, i.e., the Mulsanne Straight.
An adventure of mine coincided with Freeston’s Itinerary No. 135, Poitiers to Saumur. He notes, “It is not altogether an easy matter to find one’s way out of Poitiers, even with a Michelin town plan, for the latter marks a tram route along the Boulevard de Grand Cerf although the rails have been uprooted.”
At 7.0 miles along N.147, Freeston mentioned the village of Auxances. At 37 Avenue de Châtellerault, Migné-Auxances, I encountered one of the most interesting collections of stuff in all the world: the Musée d’art populaire Chez Manuel.
This is why I love old guidebooks such as Freeston’s. A route taken in 1927 may still offer pleasure today. ds
© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2016