Having a bike holds very fond memories for me, memories of building bikes, using rusty old frames we’d salvaged, with no or at least optional brakes. We’d paint them up to zooming about in the woods and race around the local Rec. Mine had a fixed gear so by standing on one one pedal you could go up and down like the horse rides on a merry-go-round.

I remember watching Eddie Merckx on the TV and dreaming of having a new racing bike like his. So imagine how chuffed I was when Christmas 1969 after all the presents had supposedly been opened and my Dad told me to take out the wrapping paper to the garage and there where they’d smuggled it was a shiny two tone blue second-hand racer, with drop handlebars and clip-in peddles.

Easy rider: Merckx takes a breather as he leads the pack during stage 8 of the 1969 Tour
Eddie Merckx’s victory in the 1969 Tour de France

Lesley and I have had hybrid bikes for a while but haven’t really used them much since moving to Cumbria. During our last trip in the Loire in Charlie I we’d really enjoyed hiring electric bikes which fired us up and as soon as we got back we started looking for a pair of our own. The size of Charlie II’s garage was perfect to fit in all our stuff (skis etc) and a couple of E bikes. After much research we settled on a pair of Sduro Hiabikes, chosen mainly for the battery size and the powerful Bosch Performance Line CX 75 Nm motors, that is just perfect for helping a fatty like me up the hills.

Belgium seems to be very, very bike friendly – bike racks and many cyclists in towns like Ypres. I guess with famous Belgium riders like Merckx and Sir Bradley Wiggins you’d expect cycling to be ingrained in the national psyche.

After a good first run out on our steeds in Ypres our next stop turned out to be an even better area for cycling. Suitably aided by a distinct lack of bumpy bits (hills) we found the traffic free routes and really easy to follow signs showing the direction to and at each section end-point.

Image result for google translate

Reading the reviews we had already decided to stay for two nights at ‘Nollekes Winning’, in the garden of a restored traditional Belgian farm. Its rural location was in the middle of a fruit growing region with a wide variety of crops from apples & pears to multiple varieties of fir trees. It’s always a great feeling when you arrive somewhere and have a good first impression. Although our host didn’t speak much English he did make us very welcome and showered us with maps of cycle routes, recommendations plus a host of tourist guides albeit in Flemish…..!

Not speaking the ‘lingo’ wasn’t so difficult as we’ve discovered for the first time the wonders of google translate, A couple of French children introduced it to us last trip and it is bloody marvellous. By speaking to the mic, the app will translate your speech in whatever language you choose. But the best function is the camera. Whilst using the app you point camera at text and it overlays the original text with English. This is brilliant for menus, road signs, camp site info in fact anything….. “Are you open on Sundays”? Haben sie Sonntag Geöffnet, brill. AND if you’re too embarrassed to give an instant pronunciation a go, the app will say it for you… unnnnn….believable!!!

The almost traffic free cycle routes were exactly what we had hoped for before coming away, a mixture of cinder tracks, tarmac road sections and autumn leaf covered bike specific paths. Most of them smooth and mostly level with just enough hills to warrant using the TURBO setting occasionally.

Typical of the quiet roads we encounter on our ride
Reading between the Lines church

This impressive sculpture near Borgloon called ‘Reading between the Lines’ was reached via a short walk through cherry and pear fields, was a modelled on a nearby church although I’m not sure how much protection the parishioners will get when it rains

This would have been a nice spot for lunch, had we remember to bring the purse!

We found this nice spot near a small lake in Bilzen about 13km from where we’d stayed and a perfect place to stop have our lunch and relax in the sunshine. So relaxed was Dave he left his rucksack behind and only discovered it was missing when we got back to our parking to the farm. A frantic dash was required back to Bilzen in Charlie II this time, to thankfully find it still on the bench where we’d left. pheeeew. All I can say in my defence is I think Lesley should have spotted that I wasn’t wearing it? That makes it was her fault right, eh wrong, oh well it’s worth a try….

So it’s goodbye Belgium hello Germany, and a quick stop in Aachen to have a look at their famous Cathedral. (A B C, it’s as easy as one, two, three
As simple as do re mi…. )
In 1978, Aachen Cathedral was the first building in Germany to be declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

During World War II, Aachen, including its famed cathedral, was heavily damaged by Allied bombing attacks and artillery fire, but the cathedral’s basic structure survived. Many of the cathedral’s artistic objects had been removed to secure storage during the war, and some which could not be moved were protected within the church itself. However, the glazing of the 14th-century choir hall, the Neo-Gothic altar, a large part of the cloister, and the Holiness Chapel (Heiligtumskapelle) were irretrievably destroyed. Reconstruction and restoration took place intermittently over more than 30 years, and cost an estimated 40 million euros.

We liked Aachen lot, a manageable size not small, attractive but not overrun with tourist. But with Charlie II needing somewhere to rest his wheels, we set off to the Rurberg in The Eifel National Park, a huge area of natural beech mixed forests with panoramic views of impressive lake landscapes and open grasslands.

The Eifel National Park has a motto “let nature be nature” and it applies to more than half of the area. This is mainly because of the military use of this area over the 80 years after the war has generally kept people away leaving nature to its thing. This has enabled thousands of threatened animal and plant species to re-emerge in the special and emerging habitats here. Rare species such as black stork, eagle owl and wild cat have been able to have places vital to their survival in the Park

We will probably stay in some unusual places on our trip but the bargain stellaplatz (overnight €6) with a large parking area on the edge of Ordensburg Vogelsang might yet prove to be the strangest.

Vogelsang is on a huge natural elevated finger of land with a dominating position overlooking the whole Eifel National Park. This former military training area was built in the early 1930s chillingly to take German cadets from humble backgrounds and transform them into the elite of the Nazi Party.

The scale of the camp is enormous, the concept of training a complete leadership from indoctrinated youth is hard to imagine without seeing this reality. In February 1945 it was captured by the American Army with the end to 2nd World War two only months away. After the war it was first used as a training ground by the British army and then by Belgian Forces. Since 2006 it has been open to the public.

A text on a sculpture in the grounds expresses Vogelsang purpose in clear and no uncertain terms: “For the development of a loyal, physical impressive and ideologically resolute group of nationalist socialist fighters”., “creating the racist ideal of a master race in national socialism”.

I personally find this very chilling in the context of what is going on in our world today.

With lunch packed and the rucksack (this time) securely fastened we decided it was too nice a day to spend time inside the museum and so we headed off on a 20km circuit around the reservoir.

This profile of this route was very steep downhill at the start. A beautiful flat section on a level path following the edge of the reservoir. Then a ridiculously difficult steep, rock strewn muddy track up to this viewpoint. After setting me off with a big push from the bottom, Lesley was left to ride, push and wrestle her bike up from the dam to here. it’s no wonder she has her eyes closed…!

We’ve had a few complaints from Charlie II, it’s been suggested that he’s not getting enough credit and that this blog is too much about cycling. To set a better balance I have agreed to point out some of Charlie’s very considerable attributes. For instance like how roomy and spacious his garage is, ideal for transporting the new ebikes and how large the access door is ,just perfect for loading and unloading two bikes… There, even BBC management couldn’t complain about the lack of of editorial balance, could they?

Toodle oo for now


Dawn Chorus

We’re off again…. One of the many small peripheral benefits of being away is that we’re free from the tyranny of the bin collection cycle. For now, at least we don’t have to jump out of bed at the eleventh hour and run around half naked, like headless chickens because we can hear the familiar purr of the Dennis Eagle bin lorry coming up the lane and we’ve only just remember its Monday morning and we’ve forgotten to put out the assortment of coloured plastic recycling containers and the bins!

So, after many weeks of preparation including a last-minute delay to have one of Dave’s front teeth fixed, we finally left on Thursday afternoon leaving the house in the safe hands of our homeless friends Gary & Jen.

We first met these two down on their luck selling the big issue outside M&S in Kendal….. Ok so that’s not true! Those of you that know Gary and Jen will be familiar with the sad tale of their return from holiday to face the clear up and extensive repairs required to their very lovely house in Grange. This is after a top floor bathroom leak, flooded 15 cubic metres of water down the stairs and though most of the ceilings. I won’t dwell on unfairness of their plight further as it must be heartbreakingly difficult for them to find the energy to rebuild what was an already perfect home…

An easy trip down the M6 to a pub stopover in Newbold on Avon, near Rugby somewhere halfway-ish to Folkestone was our intention. However two+ hours of perennial M6 roadworks torment meant we arrived at the Barley Mow just before they called last orders in the kitchen. Tired but pleased to once more be on the go and suitably fed and watered Charlie II provided the perfect place for our first night on the road again.

Next morning after carefully skirting around the swans that had left the water and were milling around Charlie II looking for food. We set off for a short walk along the canal, passing by the usual assortment of dog walkers and fishermen to discover after short distance an attractive trail that looped around a small lake formed by a disused quarry.

Leaving our free overnight parking spot at the Barley Mow we headed off towards Folkestone and the Eurotunnel. However due to the extent of the roadworks on the M11 this time, delayed our arrival by an hour which meant we were too late for our scheduled departure but we were put on the next available crossing at 5:20.

Once safely on the train we took the opportunity to have 40 winks on our comfy bed, waking as we emerged into the darkness of the Calais port. Not wanting to travel too far after a long day we headed for Dunkirk and a free aire in the carpark of a Carrefour supermarket at Bray Dunes.

Our knowledge of the 1st and 2nd world wars, whilst not encyclopaedic is sufficient to know enough to know that Dunkirk is infamous after the evacuations of allied troop’s during the early part of the second world war. Therefore with rain threatening we elected to pay a visit to the Museum Dunkerque 1940 Operation Dynamo which served as a place to shelter from the weather and worthwhile reminder of what happened here nearly 80 years ago.

Early in the Second World War, in late May 1940, the Allied forces of British, French and Belgian troops were trapped by the invading German army on the coast of France and Belgium, in the area around Dunkirk. The desperate and near-miraculous rescue that followed – controlled from Dover Castle – saved the Allied cause in Europe from total collapse, and was the biggest evacuation in military history

By rescuing the bulk of the army, in what was the biggest evacuation in military history, Operation Dynamo returned to Britain a priceless asset – most of her trained and experienced troops. If they had been lost, the whole conflict might have taken a very different course. It was a critical moment for Britain in the Second World War

We saw this car in the Dunkerque 1940 Operation Dynamo Museum, staged to illustrate how civilians loaded their cars to the gunnels to escape the conflict. Seeing this reminding me of our comprehensive van packing to escape the dread of Brexit except we not only brought the bed but the kitchen sink as well.

After Dunkirk we debated for a bit whether or not to go as intended to Ypres (‘eeepra’). It’s difficult not to be affected even by the very isolated exposure to the horrors of war the experience of the visit to the museum had. But we weren’t here specifically to see, experience or understand what the wars(s) did to this area. So not due to morbid curiosity, but because we were in an area that is so full of significant history we decide we should go.

The excellent Searchforsites app led us to a great aire which became even better when it turned out to be free… saving €8.00 off our daily budget. This overnight spot was also the perfect place for us to try out the ebikes in anger. So next morning we set off along the track that starting at our the aire and following the trail by a lake then to a well signed cycle path and a beautiful tree line riverside cycle route that led right into the heart of Ypres town.

The Cloth Hall

Given the history of the battles in and around Ypres The Cloth Hall, which runs along the large cobbled square could easily fool you to believe it was at least 500 years old. When actually, like the entire town, it was levelled and was reconstructed after the 2nd world war.

The Menin Gate

Cycling through the square we reached the Menin Gate an imposing broad and tall white archway stands solid over the road. 60,000 men’s names are engraved within, listing a vast array of initials, surnames and regiments from all over the commonwealth.

Although the names only represent those killed in this area who have no grave, it was found to be too small, another monument for 35,000 more was created at Tyne Cot Cemetery. And, these memorials are just for those with no grave. It doesn’t take much imagination to realise what these men went through and to be moved by those thoughts. We left it tearful.

Passing up the opportunity to pay a respectful visit to the Tyne Cot Cemetery near Passchendaele or any of the other 157 similar cemeteries in the region we headed for Bruges.

Both us have been looking forward to ‘Brugges’ with Its attractive combination of pretty canals meandering through the medieval centre. But Bruges disappointed us as much of ‘medieval’ Bruges is a clever lie, built only 100 or so years back? I guess also part of our disappointment was the unexpected volume of other tourists, many of whom had arrived by cruise ships docked at Zeebrugge. Who even on a grey October day thronged through the place like sheep to market, only sheep with cameras.

Belgium is famous for beer and chocolate but one thing that strikes you when wandering the streets is the sheer volume of shops selling chocs of every variety. It’s amazing who buys and eats it all!? There were some amazing displays including this one full of chocolate skulls.

Perhaps this where the name Death by Chocolate originated?

Needing food, we found the place away from the main square, that appeared not too expensive (looking) and not fast food? It only took cash which fortunately restricted our selection to what we had in the wallet. The cheese panini and a croque monsieur were ok but was steep at €40.

Can you spot Lesley in the The Beer Wall

The Beer Wall bar is on the tourist map and I think it suggest the Belguim’s make a few different varieties of ale, with a whole gamut of confusing names like Abbey, blonde, tripels, dubbels and quadrupels but which are apparently generally the same style of beer.

There’s a lot of folktales about where the names “dubbel,” “tripel” and “quadrupel” came from. You might think dubbel is “twice as strong? But the term Dubbel came about because the Westmalle Trappist abbey had long made a single beer, but then they made a second type of beer, which happened to be much stronger (but not necessarily twice as strong). They called this beer “dubbel” to denote it was their second beer. The tripel, however, is a very dry, golden beer which has its origins in the early 20th century; generally speaking, the tripel is very similar to a beer it was allegedly patterned after: the Belgian Golden Strong Ale (e.g. Duvel).

After a few hours of looking at the tourist looking at touristy things, we’d had enough and headed back to Charlie II, deciding we wanted to find somewhere off the tourist map so we upped sticks and set a course for Rotselaar, not heard of it?, neither had we, so just perfect!

It’s great to find a quiet spot all to yourself (well almost just one other MoHo). Peace and quiet achieved it was only mildly disturbed by the sound of the rain pitta pattering on the roof during the night. When camping ‘living amongst nature’ hearing birdsong at daybreak is always a pleasure. So imagine our delight for the third morning in a row of being woken at 7am by the unmistakable sound of the ‘Eagle’ arriving for their early morning collection at a nearby refuse point. Ah, Home Sweet Home

Toople Pip