2015-08-07 Kemmel – Dunkirk

Today’s photo shows the Duchess Anne sailing ship which is permanently moored in Dunkirk harbour. It was built in 1901 in Bremen in Germany and was taken over by the French Navy after WW2. It was acquired by the city of Dunkerque in 1981 and has been moored as a museum ship ever since. My destination today was the port of Dunkirk to get the car ferry to Dover.The port of Dunkirk used by the car ferries though is actually about 20 km from the town of Dunkerque and is nearer to Calais than to Dunkirk. It was almost another hour after I took this photo before I made it to the ferry port.


Today – 85 km. Total so far – 2650 km. Not shown in the above map is about 10 km from Kemmel to Ypres as the battery was flat on my bike computer. Not one hill today but the strong sea breeze made for a tougher day’s cycling than I had expected.


Camping Ypra in Kemmel. The campsite is fine and very well maintained but anyone with a tent is made to pitch in a dark forested section. This is fine on a very hot day as there is loads of shade but is no good if you want to charge your phones or dry your clothes. It wouldn’t have been a problem if there were power points in the tent section of the campsite but there were none.


I have a horse outside. I was tempted to ditch the bike and load everything onto this fine horse instead. I remember reading Tim Severin’s account of a trek he undertook from Belgium to Jerusalem on the back of a horse in 1987. He was trying to re-create the route taken by Duke Godfrey from Chateau de Bouillon in Belgium all the way to Jerusalem as part of the First Crusade. Although it sounds idyllic, he actually had a lot of trouble with his horse and it ended up getting injured. Seeing as I have had no trouble with my bike or trailer so far, I decided to stick with what I had.


Lille gate in Ypres. Ypres had long been fortified to keep out invaders. Parts of the early ramparts, dating from 1385, still survive near the Rijselpoort (Lille Gate). The moat around the town is known as the Kastelgracht and there were quite a few people fishing in it.


In Europe by Dutch journalist Geert Mak. I decided to stop for a few hours in the park beside the Lille Gate to give my phone and bike computer time to charge up using the solar panel. That gave me time to read some of Geert Mak’s book about the history of Europe in the 20th century. There is a whole chapter about Ypres in the book and it was a bit surreal to read about all the horrors the town went through during WW1 while actually in the town itself on such a beautiful day.

In Europe, the TV series. Dutch TV station ThreeNL produced a TV series about the book and episode 3, which covers Ypres, is linked to above. The program is introduced by Geert Mak himself and really brings his book to life. He interviews the son of a farmer who was killed in 1986 from an unexploded mine on his farm in the Flanders, almost 70 years after the end of the war. We also meet the bomb disposal team from the Belgian army, who every day recover and destroy dozens of bombs and shells, some of which contain mustard gas. He interviews Anton Verschoot, who for 52 years has been playing the “Last Post” at the Menin Gate memorial every evening at 8 o’clock. But the person who features the most is Piet Chielons, the coordinator of the In Flanders Fields Museum at the Cloth Hall who shows Geert some of the exhibits and also takes him to the Tyne Cot cemetery on the outskirts of Ypres. During WW1, the cemetery was beside a field hospital and for 3 years, graves were dug neatly beside each other until 1917 when the Battle of Messines started and there were so many bodies that the graves were just dug anywhere and everywhere. In 2003, Piet organised a sit-down protest at the Menin Gate to protest British involvement in the Iraq war. At the time, he was criticized by the British press for desecrating their memorial but as he puts it Belgium has for almost 100 years being trying to clean up the mess left by foreign forces and he didn’t want the Iraqis to have to suffer the same fate.


Cloth hall in Ypres. The Cloth Hall was one of the largest commercial buildings of the Middle Ages, when it served as the main market and warehouse for the Flemish city’s prosperous cloth industry. The Cloth Hall is, in fact, a series of buildings surrounding a rectangular courtyard. The building work was started in 1200 and took over 100 years to complete, being finished in 1304. Until the mid 1840s the small Ieperlee river flowed through the town and past the Cloth Hall. Small boats with a low draft could make their way right up to the Cloth Hall to unload their goods into the halls. The original structure lay in ruins after artillery fire devastated Ypres in World War I. Between 1933 and 1967, the Cloth Hall was meticulously reconstructed to its prewar condition.


Cloth hall in Ypres in 1918. The first damage to the the Cloth Hall and the Belfry occurred as the First Battle of Ypres drew to a close in mid November 1914. On the 22nd November, German incendiary devices hit the Cloth Hall and the belfry was set on fire. A few months later, Ypres began to be shelled by long range German heavy howitzers from positions several kms east of the city. On Monday 19th April one of the German Army’s two huge German 42cm guns “Big Bertha” joined in. It had been brought to the Houthulst Forest by rail and the bombing reduced the Cloth Hall to rubble.


Menin Gate in Ypres. The Menin Gate memorial bears the names of 54,389 officers and men from British and Commonwealth Forces who fell in the Ypres Salient before 16th August 1917 and who have no known grave. The lion on the top is the lion of Britain but also the lion of Flanders. It was chosen to be a memorial as it was the closest gate of the town to the fighting, and so Allied Troops would have marched past it on their way to fight. Actually, most troops passed out of the other gates of Ypres, as the Menin Gate was too dangerous due to shellfire. Following the Menin Gate Memorial opening in 1927, the citizens of Ypres wanted to express their gratitude towards those who had given their lives for Belgium’s freedom. Hence every evening at 20:00, buglers from the local fire brigade close the road which passes under the memorial and sound the “Last Post”.


Sign at outskirts of Ypres showing the Flemish spelling only. This section of road is only a few km from Langemarck, where the Germans launched the first major poison gas attack in WW1 in 1915. The Germans gained about 3 km of territory during this attack and the N8 road to Veurne became the new frontline north of Ypres.

Source: Wikipedia

WW1 frontline in May 1915 after the poison gas attack. On 22 April 1915, the German Army released 168 tons of chlorine gas over a 6.km section of the frontline.  The French troops in the path of the gas cloud sustained about 6,000 casualties. Many died within ten minutes (primarily from asphyxia and tissue damage in the lungs), and many more were blinded.


New house being built on outskirts of Ypres. There was very little construction or renovation work to be seen in Belgium just like in France. But I did come across a new house being built in the countryside about 5 km from Ypres. The builders seemed to use clay blocks on the inside of the house and clay bricks on the outside.This house features circular windows each side of the front door and vertical bricks across the top of each window.


Molen te Oost Vleteren. This wooden windmill, built around 1760 in Gijverinkhove and protected since 1943 as a monument, was operational until 1954. In 1973 the dilapidated mill was dismantled, restored and rebuilt in Oostvleteren next to the main road between Ypres and Veurne .


Herd of Belgian Blue cattle near Linde. The Belgian Blue has a natural mutation in its myostatin gene , which leads to extra muscle development, known in the trade as double muscling. This mutation also interferes with fat deposition, resulting in very lean meat. A Belgian Blue cow can yield up to 20% more meat that other cattle of the same size. However, Belgian Blue calves are very big and often have to be delivered by a vet using a Caesarean section.


Veurne on the Belgium coast. Veurne was the HQ for Belgian troops during WW1 as it was one of the few places in Belgium which was not occupied by the Germans. During the war, over 180,000 Belgian troops were crammed into this small town for the best part of 4 years. I had traveled on the N8 all the way from Ypres to Veurne but when I got to the outskirts of the town, I made the mistake of staying on the N8 instead of taking a local road. Unfortunately, the N8 at Veurne is like a motorway without a hard shoulder and nearly every car that went past me was beeping. But as I couldn’t turn around, I had to keep going for about 3 km until I came to an exit. I was probably only on that stretch of road for 10 mins but it felt like 100. The Belgians might be big into cycling but they don’t like to see cyclists on their main roads. Most of the drivers whizzed past me doing over 100 km/hr in the slow lane even though there was often no traffic in the fast lane. In Britain and Ireland, cars will often move into the overtaking lane before going past you on a dual-carraigeway but that doesn’t seem to be the case in Belgium.


Contemporary apartments being built alongside the canal near Adinkerke. These apartments were being built by Immoalbatros.be and were priced from €195,000. A total of 67 apatments in 7 blocks were planned to be built around a 19th century house called Villa Emma which has been renovated.


Tobacco shop near the French border. Tobacco and cigarettes are much cheaper in Belgium than in France. In Ireland in the recent budget, the cost of a packet of 20 cigarettes was raised to €10.50, of which roughly €8.50 is tax and excise duty. I have no idea what cigarettes cost in France but here in Belgium, at Tobacco Alley, a packet of 20 costs between €5 – €6 and every customer gets a free cup of coffee.


L’Auberge garage and shop right beside the French – Belgian border. Diesel is about 20c a litre cheaper in Belgium than in France whereas petrol is about the same price. At this garage, diesel was €1.05 and petrol was €1.39 a litre.


Sign for Dunkirk (Dunkerque in French). It was starting to get dark when I made it to Dunkirk.


WW2 graveyard in Dunkirk. Unlike most cemeteries I had come across, this one is not from WW1 but WW2. Dunkirk was about 50 km from the frontline in WW1 but was the scene of fierce fighting in WW2 as the Germans swept into France in 1940. Over 300,000 troops had to be evacuated from Dunkirk in 10 days at the end of May 1940. Over 800 boats took part in the evacuation, some from as far away as the Isle of Man and even Glasgow. There were over 100,000 French troops evacuated, many of whom who were later shipped back to France via Normandy. A lot of these troops were later captured when France surrendered to Germany on June 22 and they ended up spending the war in German POW camps.


DFDS Seaways office in the Port of Dunkirk.  DFDS seems to be the only ferry company that uses the car ferry port at Dunkirk. A ticket to Dover costs €39 and I booked to go on their midnight ferry.


DFDS ferry. There is a ferry every 2 hours between Dunkirk and Dover during the summer. This photo is off the 10.00 pm ferry. I ended up getting the next ferry, which left Dunkirk at midnight.


Razor wire on top of the fence around the port of Dunkirk. All week in the UK, the main story in the news was refugees at Calais attempting to board trucks and gain entry to the port of Calais. Here at Dunkirk, just 20 km from Calais, there was no sign of any refugees but there was a lot of razor-wire around the port.


Midnight ferry from Dunkirk to Dover. It was quite dark by the time my ferry arrived. I was the only cyclist getting the ferry but there were 4 motorbikes in the same lane as me and they were allowed on the ferry first. There must have been about 300 cars in the DFDS car-park as well and I was made to wait until most of them were on-board before being escorted onto the ferry.


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