I don’t have to adjust my prejudice about the Belgian coast in a positive way, on the contrary, it was more than just confirmed on the stretch of the Coast-GR I walked today: really ugly and entirely in concrete, except for the dunes within the provincial domain Raversheide.
The so-called ‘dune walk’ on this stretch consists of a strip of dunes of about 100 meters width on the left and right of a paved path, bordered with (barbed) wire.
Here on the coast, the dogs are enjoying themselves, they also seem to be in holiday mode.
The coastal road and the Coastal Tram rails run on the sea side of the dune strip. Behind that there are only buildings of at least 10 floors high. The old residential area of the elongated coastal municipalities was built on the landward side. I wonder what one can see from the Warande watchtower just before Westende …. Only the wide sandy beaches are beautiful, when they’re not too crowded. Due to the coronavirus and strong wind, this was not the case today. I passed Mariakerke, Middelkerke and Westende respectively.
In Nieuwpoort I walked along the imposing Western Front monument. After that I crossed several bridges again over the Brugse Vaart and the Yser.
Next to the Yzer reservoir where (the former) Bloso has a water sports center, I had the pleasure of staying at the largest campsite in Belgium (Kompas Camping Nieuwpoort) : almost 1500 places. Not really my thing, but after three days of washing with only a washcloth and a tiny pot of water, a warm shower was very refreshing. My feet are still doing well. 😊
Today I had a nice hike through the polders. First along the banks of the Yser, then next to creeks via small polder roads, with very wide views over the wheat fields and meadows. Unfortunately 98 percent was on asphalt along the GR130. Apparently sand or gravel roads have been abolished here. The 2 percent not paved paths was the other extreme: a rough path through long grass, thistles and nettles.
According to Google Maps there was a historic farm hotel with restaurant after 8 kilometers: the Schoorbakkehoeve. I was looking forward to eating something warm, because nowadays I only eat cold because I no longer carry a fire. That was without taking the coronavirus into account: the large establishment was closed! As there weren’t any cafes on the map for the rest of the road – except in Diksmuide itself, of course – and there was absolutely no shadow on the polder roads, I installed myself on my backpack in the shadow of the hotel’s gate wall to have a sandwich and to ‘ventilate’ my hot feet.
Camping IJzerhoeve is located 2 km outside Diksmuide, quite far away from the AVV-VVK Iron Monument, the Walhalla of Flemish Nationalism. I consider it a hijacked peace monument … No more war, a utopia ….
The campsite was a relief compared to the gigantic Kompas Camping Nieuwpoort yesterday. The IJzerhoeve is farm in the middle of the polders, without any busy animation and entertainment. An oasis of peace and a very friendly manageress. Definitely worth coming back to, when I will visit this region with better mobility.
Especially for my ecological followers (most of you, I hope) I start the hiking report of today with a picture of an information board about a reed field that purifies all the wastewater from the hamlet of Sint-Jacobskapelle. For about 20 houses. That’s quite some liters per year. Great work from these slender reeds. It was absolutely odorless, I stood right next to the field.
Next to the beautiful church of that village I saw some Celtic crosses. They should not be missing from this report. A bit of nostalgia for my fantastic bike tour around Ireland last year.
A little further on I saw two young people ‘metal fishing’ on a bridge over a canal: with a strong magnet they scanned the mud bottom in search of metal objects. Today their catch was nil, but they once dug an obus, two guns and some bullets from the mud. Memories of the horrific “great war” that raged over here.
It was quite hot when I arrived at the manège Hof ter Zeedycke. Although it was a private club, they served me a fresh Coke. The smell of horses, the teacher and the horse stories catapulted me many years back in time, when I was still riding and giving riding lessons (until I was 22).
From the riding school I only had 5 more kilometers to go, first through the polders and then over the Knockebrug to cross the Yser. There was an information panel about Fort De Knocke by the bridge, another remnant from the time of the religious wars in the 17th century. Another encounter with the occupying Spaniards who fought against the rebellious Beggars of Ostend. Nothing remains of the fort except for the moats.
The last part I walked along the Ypres-Yser Canal, to end my walk in vzw De Boot with a latte coffee and a piece of apple pie.
More about the special campsite vzw De Boot on the Sponsors Blog page.
Thursday morning I could resist the temptation to crawl back into my sleeping bag at 5:30 am, after my natural ‘wake up call’ (having to pee) I stayed up because it was going to be quite hot that day and walking in the burning sun next to a canal is no fun.
The advantage of getting up so early is that I have already seen and photographed beautiful sunrises during this trip.
At 7:20 am I was already on my way. In Merkem/Houthulst, the canal still curves naturally and the tree reflections in the slightly steaming water were very poetic. It looked like a real ‘David Hamilton’ effect, but my mobile phone camera was not able to capture the haze.
I rested my feet for the first time at the monument for war volunteers Edward and Frans Van Raemdonck.
The low wall was suitable for a short morning meditation about and for these two brothers who died here in each other’s arms in 1917, during the third battle around Ypres. Their souls are still noticeable. Such a monument emanates a special energy.
A few hundred meters further, on the bridge near Steenstraete, an information panel stated that the first German mustard gas attack had taken place there in 1915. A monument was erected after the Great War, which the Germans destroyed in WWII because they did not like it.
After a stretch of unpaved forest path, the last part of the canal to Ypres was straightened and bordered with concrete. The crucible made the water look as green as a billiard cloth. Around noon the pigeons sheltered ‘en masse’ in the shadow of a bridge, while I enjoyed the shadow of a picnic area with quite some trees.
Around two o’clock I was in Sarah’s uninhabited garden house near the vests, where I was allowed to spend the night. I dropped my backpack and went to a post point in the city (2 km away) to pick up the tent I ordered in Ostend last Sunday. To return to the garden house and for Friday – the next day in Ypres – I rented a bicycle in the cyclist pub Biking Box.
In the evening I was not alone either in Sarah’s garden house. Joris De Fraeye, who is cycling around Belgium in the opposite direction, came to Ieper from the Belgian-French border to meet me. I also made a separate report about him, because he arrived with a very big surprise! 😊
More about Joris on the Sponsors Blog page: Joris De Fraeye
37 degrees… that’s a bit too much to wander around with a backpack in the sun-drenched and shadow-poor Westhoek.
After saying goodbye to Joris De Fraeye, I went to the men’s shelter in Lombaardstraat. I was warmly welcomed by Tine Welvaert, who gave me a general explanation about the homelessness problems in Ypres. I filmed her explaining the situation of eight homeless people. Tine was visibly emotional while telling those stories. I’m going to try to edit the footage of the eight cases, but I can’t promise I will manage to do it during this trip.
Then I went to the post office to send my old torn tent home and around noon I checked in at Camping Jeugdstation: had a shower, washed clothes and updated social media. In the evening I enjoyed my first hot meal after 5 days.
I only heard the ‘Last Post’ from a distance, because the Menin Gate (Menenpoort ) was already fully booked when I arrived.
In the evening it rumbled somewhat, but there was no real thunder. Even after sunset it was still sweltering hot in my tent. A small sauna cell … I had to leave the entrances of my inner tent open to create some air circulation. Result: my legs full of ant bites on Saturday morning.
Immediately outside Ieper, my trail led me past a beautiful pond and a little further along a war cemetery of ‘railway dugouts’ next to the railway in Zillebeke. 2048 identified war victims, mainly Australians and British are buried there.
Then I crossed the provincial domain Palingbeek and passed an egg artwork by Koen Van Mechelen with numerous small clay figurines in memory of the war victims of WWI.
Around 1860 an attempt was made to build a canal from Ieper to Komen, right through a hill. 16 locks were built to bridge over the difference in height, but they were never used because some of the walls of the canal crumbled down. Now only the channel bed is visible, but for the greater part it is overgrown. A little further on I took the GR5a.
In the afternoon, the GR again went through beautiful but sweltering hot field roads where there was hardly any shade. Fortunately, I could relax and air my feet in the shadow of an electricity building, sitting on my backpack.
The distance from Ypres – Menen is 17 km via the road. I had expected a third more via the GR, but in the end the stretch was 11 km longer. I was not prepared for that; on the way I had to ask inhabitants to refill my water bag. I would also be too late in Menen to be able to buy food. Luckily Taverne De Zunnewyzer in Geluwe was open, so I could enjoy a nice salad with warm goat cheese.
Around 20:45 I finally arrived at my garden host family Erwan en Yasmine. More about them on the Sponsors Blog page: Yasmine & Erwan.
First straight through the centre of Menen and luckily a few food shops were open on Sunday so I could get some essential supplies for the road.
Then I followed the GR5a. To start with a long stretch via the left bank of the Leie to Lauwe, and then via country roads and small asphalt lanes until 2 km before Rollegem. The last 2 km (I thought) I followed a calm regional road.
In the centre of Rollegem I first wanted to eat something in a pizzeria before going to my host family. However, my intention was without taking corona into account: eating indoors was no longer allowed, only taking out.
No sooner said than done, I thought I only had about 600 meters or so to go, but the Tombroekstraat turned out to be a very long street, the GPS indicated 1.9 km to Josephine Baele and Clément’s house. I didn’t expect this, so I stopped for fifteen minutes to rest on a bench in front of the library and give my gradually getting overheated feet some air.
In the end, those last kilometers were not too bad thanks to the gently sloping landscape in the beautiful light of the evening sun.
I was the first ‘Welcome to my garden’-guest of Josephine and Clément.
More about them on the Sponsors blog page: Josephine & Clément