VCR Tour of Flanders
A group of intrepid club members set out recently on a tour of the Flanders Battlefields by bike. Words and pictures supplied by Mike Hickey.
Our brief tour of Belgium and the more famous graveyards, memorials and battle sights was not only sombre but great fun and the weather gods shone all three days with bright sunshine and low 20’s temperatures.
Arriving in Dover on Thursday night we stayed in some rather disastrous accommodation however it was only £15 a night so you can use your own imaginations. On the plus side it was 2 mins from the ferry and we all survived without contracting major diseases. Despite allowing plenty of time to get through the port we only just made it onto the ferry, with customs deciding we had to unload our panniers and put them through X ray before we were allowed to board.
Arrival in Dunkirk and our onward Journey to Nieerport was uneventful; dedicated cycle lanes at the road edge for most of the way however they did keep swapping road sides, nonetheless what a wonderful network. Nieerport to Ypres was a joy, wide, open and largely empty purpose built cycle tracks the whole way, along disused railway lines, forest tracks and the like, passing plenty of locations of Great War related monuments along the way.
Entertainment and worry was provided by Matt! His Alfine hubbed wheel decided to shed spokes at an alarming rate. He lost five in total however testament to the wheel he managed to cover 30 miles during this destructive period, rolling into Ypres with a distinctly wobbly rim. The accommodation for the night made up for Dover’s effort, clean tidy and our hosts were extremely welcoming and helpful.
Our first morning in Ypres was to the cycle shop, arranged by our hosts.
“Can you fix this and give us a hire bike? Yes this is no problem”. So we set off, Matt on his Netherlands Shopper and the rest of us free of panniers. In deference to Matt we took no photos of his temporary steed but we did mercilessly take the mick. A very enjoyable day was passed cycling along almost deserted roads, past endless cemeteries and monuments including Tyne Cot, Hill 62 with its never touched since 1918 trench system and hill 60 famous for the front lines being only 40 metres apart and the tunnelling and explosives by the Australians resulting in huge bomb craters, again all untouched since 1918. On return to the bike shop to collect Matt’s re laced wheel, all beautifully done for the princely sum of 77 Euros including the hire bike!! In the evening we went along and witnessed the Last Post Ceremony at the Menin Gate
Our final day despite a poor forecast turned out to be once again hot, dry and sunny the 30 miles to Nieerport was again dedicated cycle tracks along the river bank the whole way, passing Vimy Ridge with it’s reconstructed trenches and battlements and many field dressing stations including the one near to the Essex Road Cemetery where John McCrae wrote In Flanders Fields
Nieerport to Dunkirk was a re run of our outward journey with the odd navigational error arriving at the port to catch the earlier than booked 4.00pm ferry.
Overall for me a good experience across some lovely cycling country with a wonderful infrastructure and plenty of interest along the way, not only military. Would I do it again - most definitely. What would I do different - limit the cycling to 40 miles a day to provide plenty of time for sightseeing, build in a spare day just to spend time in Ypres which is beautiful but mostly missed by ourselves, except for the bars!!