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.
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.
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.
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.
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