Pete and Jeanette’s Trip To Belgium
This trip was organised by the MG enthusiast magazine and Continental Car Tours. On receiving the tickets and route plan it promised to be an enjoyable long weekend. My grandfather fought in the First World War near Ypres and after researching his Regiment, The Loyal North Lancs. I think I know where he was captured. Although with it being nearly 90 years since he was there I don't think that there will be any thing there.
We left the Rugby early Saturday morning in an attempt to miss the road works on the M1 and M25 this plan worked and we were able to enjoy a breakfast near Dover without the usual fear of missing the ferry. On arrival at Dover we could found in our lane for the ferry quite a number of MG’s from a couple of MGA’s to a MG TF. The ferry across to Calais was not exactly flat but not too bad either. If it is any thing more than billiard table flat I think I am in the perfect storm , but it was not too bad and my breakfast survived. On arrival in France we exited the port and made our way towards our final destination Belgium. The route we were given navigated us through some of the most unspoiled roads of France, that is no speed cameras every or speed bumps every ten yards.
We arrived in Cassel for lunch and the cobbled roads certainly gave your suspension and back a good work out luckily for Jeannette it was dry or it would have been an interesting journey up the hill over the wet cobbles.
Cassel is on the top of a large hill with some beautiful views over the surrounding countryside which consists mainly of large open farms. In the first world war it was a headquarters for the French army and it probably has not changed much since then as it looks and feels untouched by progress.
Most of the houses are of a certain pre world war one era. After lunch we started on our journey to Ipres or as we spell it Ypres. once again the roads we traveled on we unspolt and mainly empty though we did notice that the roads in Belgium were not of the same high standard as those in France and were considerably more bumpier.
As we approached Ypres we came across the first heavy traffic that we had seen all day, and it took us a few minutes to enter the town. We parked in the town center near the magnificent Cloth Hall and Cathedral, both were very spectacular and it was only later that after looking at some old photographs that they were both almost raised to the ground in the first world war. We looked around it and it looked perfect inside and out. Unfortunately the museum in the Cloth Hall was closed and so we made our way to he Menim Gate.
This was built to remember the dead of the First World War. It has on it all the names of the soldiers who have no known grave and there are thousands, whole regiments even. Words can't describe how brave those troops must have been to go out into certain death on the sound of a whistle at dawn. Almost every inch of the monument is covered with names some with several of the same family.
We wandered around the town some more, and after a visit to the local Spar shop for a couple of bottles of wine, we left and started our journey to Roeselare. We had been warned in the instructions to fill the cars up as the petrol stations close on a Sunday and they don't accept British credit cards in their automated machines.
Of course we couldn't find a petrol station never mind one that was open, then we saw one at a roundabout on the left. We indicated left which always puts panic into the hearts of the continentals as they don't know which way you are going to go around it , the English way or theirs. We drove onto the forecourt switched off the engine and discovered that it was closed, it was at this moment that the car started to go into a sulk and would not start, there was not even a click from the starter motor.
Jeannette then had to give me a push to bump start it, well navigators do have their uses. The petrol gauge was low, we had not got to the panic stage yet but we were close, then we found two almost together. We filled up and continued on our journey.
Roeselare is a modern medium sized town with its own docks and railway station which was where our hotel was. It was a nice hotel overlooking the railway station, after we had booked in a gone to our rooms we decided to have a drink of wine before dinner. Because I wouldn't pay € 6 for a corkscrew I decided to open the bottle in the shower with a screwdriver, having done this before at Le Mans I thought I would be OK, but it was like the shower scene from Psycho as red wine went every where. luckily I wasn't wearing many clothes but I wasn't popular with Jeannette. We managed to change for dinner without any more disasters and went down stairs to the bar before going into dinner. This was a welcome dinner by Continental Car tours to introduce us to our Belgian MG host Eddy who was going to lead us to Brugge the next day. We were going to have a late start on Sunday as there were elections and in Belgium everybody has to vote.
The dinner was excellent but the wine was expensive I was glad that we had already had a taste upstairs. It was only a taste as most of it was on the walls. After dinner we retired to the bar for a nightcap or two or three. With some new found friends.
Sunday arrived nice dry and with bright sunshine we were one of the last to make breakfast. It was the usual continental type and very nice after filling up with coffee, orange juice and croissants it was time to depart to Brugge. Eddy arrived in his MG Magnette which was immaculate and started to give out route books. After a quick look through the log book my navigator said it would be no problem , that is when I started to worry.
Soon it was time to leave we went 2nd car in the convoy right behind Eddy if the man who wrote the route doesn't know the way what hope is there for the rest of us. We followed Eddy all the way to Brugge taking in some back roads and some very narrow roads. All went well until we arrived in Brugge and the local council workers closed a road we had to take. Due to being behind Eddy we had no problem getting to our final destination. The old hospital, most of the other cars followed but one or two were lost.
We parked up on the grass in a long line opposite one of the canals, and it wasn't long before the people on the canal trips were taking photos of the cars.
We left the cars and people admiring them and went on a tour of Brugge, it is a delightful town full of olde worlde shops selling enough chocolate to sink a battleship and the usual tourist trinkets. The canal trip was beckoning and it was worth it to see another side of the town even the for sale signs in English on the apartments.
After the canal trip we went walking around the town with another couple, the town is very pleasant with lots of historic buildings, there is even a tour of a brewery but unfortunately we had missed the last tour. We did though find a restaurant that made Faulty Towers 5 star.
We returned to the hotel to leave all the chocolate we had bought and other items, and after a quick change left for Ypres. On arrival at Ypres we found a nice restaurant for dinner and had a wonderful meal. It was nearly eight o'clock nearly time for the last post. At eight o'clock every night the last post is played for the thousands of troops that never made it back. It was started I believe by Rudyard Kipling whose son was lost in the Great War, and has ever since being sounded by the Belgian army. It is a quite moving experience and even though it was a normal Sunday there was quite a crowd. On return to Roeselare we had a quick drink and went to bed.
Monday morning was sunny and after breakfast there was a tour to a chocolate factory, but we declined this tour and made our way back towards Ieper to a village called Gheluvelt. This was where I believe he was captured, it was an important hill giving views over the German lines. They were overwhelmed by artillery and superior numbers. The landscape probably looked the same now as it did then, this was at the beginning of the war before the big trench works took place.
Near to Gheluvelt there is a private museum called Hill 66 this has some of the original trenches from the Great War and other relics from that era including what the butler saw machines with some terrible three dimensional photos in them.
Leaving the museum we traveled north to Adinkerke to buy some drinks in tobbaco alley , from there to Dunkerque where we saw some of the bunkers from world war two. Then it was onto Calais for the ferry here we met some of the other people on the tour and we swopped stories from the weekend.
On landing in England the difference in traffic volumes was tremendous from the empty roads in France and Belgium to the overcrowded ones here.
Overall we had a great weekend and hope to go on some more.