Firstly, here’s the map of my route as I forgot to add it to my last blog post! You can zoom in & out or drag the map around and if you click on any of the little black icons, it will take you to the relevant entry for that area visited.
Click here >> Map of my route
Ypres – Salient
Ypres (pronounced ‘wipers’ by the ‘Tommie’s’ in the war) is a town that has made quite an impression on me, so much so my planned stop of a few days was considerably overran and yet I still leave with a sense that there was so much more to see. It’s very much a place of remembrance for the fallen and you cannot go more than a few kilometers in this part of Flanders without coming across a memorial or cemetery.
Famous as the last line of defense during the Great War of 1914-1918, Ypres (Ieper) was the central point of focus for a small half moon strip of land known as ‘The Salient’. For four years the British prevented the German’s from taking it, (one of only two strips of land in Belgium not captured by the enemy throughout the war) but the cost on both sides was beyond imagining. Ypres was totally destroyed
and when you see the re-constructed cloth hall you cannot be but amazed that it has been rebuilt exactly as it was, as have many of the other buildings in the town.
The Cloth Hall houses the tourist information center and the ‘In Flanders Fields’ museum and was my first port of call when I arrived in Ypres. English is widely spoken, in both the cafe’s and shops and there is very much a feeling that we are very welcome here.
I will link to a separate page for my tour of ‘The Salient’, as many of the images will describe the battles or memorials. The various plaques I have photographed can be zoomed in on and the text is clearly readable – this will give a much better overview than I could. It is impossible to visit this area and ‘see everything’, there are many more images than what will be posted on the blog. In the main with those that are included I have tried to give a flavour of the different aspects of my take on the trip.
If you are at all interested in the First World War, then I cannot recommend enough you visit Ypres and The Salient.
Cycling is IMHO by far the best (and easiest) way to get around this area of Belgium, which is known as the Westhoek. The Cycling Route Network (The Flanders Fields Country) consists of 1,000 km of linked cycle paths, with clearly marked signs and junctions. These paths are marked with numbers, so planning a route is a simple matter of putting the relevant numbers in the order you want – you don’t even need a map thereafter.
It is quite simply superb and you see so much more than if you were going past in a car or (heaven forbid) a coach. The Belgians are very friendly and will often stop you and ask where you have cycled from, or if they can help, should you be standing too long looking at your map!
I purchased the Westhoek Zuid map and then marked my routes from the guidebook (Major & Mrs Holt’s Battlefield Guide to The Salient) with highlighter pen. I also marked out other sights further afield that I wanted to see and additionally stuck them in the GPS, but to be honest the cycle network signs work so well I needn’t have bothered.
The weather hasn’t been kind though, with the freezing easterly wind making my cycling trips short – it was just not enjoyable cycling any great distance, especially if into the wind. This is the main reason why my visit is overrunning, but I’m also hoping things warm up while I’m enjoying taking my time here.
The Menin Gate
The Menin Gate brings home the sheer futility of war. On it’s walls are the names of 54,896 Commonwealth soldiers who died in the Salient, but whose bodies have never been identified or recovered. On completion of the memorial in 1927 it was found to be too small to accommodate all the names and an arbitrary cut-off point of 15 August 1917 was chosen. The names of a further 34,984 UK soldiers missing after this date are inscribed on the Tyne Cot Cemetery memorial.
Behind a brass door lie the memorial registers and this is repeated at many of the other memorials and cemetery’s found in the Salient.
What was very touching were the wreath’s laid on the memorial steps. Many were from the various regiments, but I found it very heartwarming to see so many from schools and colleges – I like the idea that history is still being taught and maybe our next generation will learn from our mistakes.
During my tour of Ypres and the Salient I have taken over 300 photographs, but none have evoked such a feeling of hope for the future as the following picture which is my own personal favorite. I spotted this young girl playing hopscotch on the flags of the Menin Gate, waiting patiently for her parents to walk out of the scene:
The Last Post
I attended the Last Post Ceremony on Thursday. It was a rather strange affair the evening I attended, as they had a small band leading the ceremony and a good few ‘other’ bits tagged on too, which made it feel as if it was being ‘padded out’. The ‘Last Post’ itself was very moving, but I left with a feeling the whole ceremony had been hijacked. I had been told it was a very simple affair and was not expecting it to go on for almost an hour. Maybe the feeling is now it has to be made into a show more for the public, but it’s not to my own personal liking.
Once the ceremony had ended, everyone seemed to make their way to the main square of the Grote Markt. The band continued to play on for a little while, but it was bitterly cold and I noticed the crowd (and myself) quickly dispersed.
I love night photography and would normally hang around waiting for those special shots, however two issues have meant I’ve not taken as many as I normally would. The first is the lack of a tripod, there are only so many walls/objects you can balance the camera on! Second is the cold, I have just been too chilled to stay out in the open at night.
And talking of the cold I was meant to be on my way this morning, that is until I opened the tent and saw the hoar frost and ice everywhere. I’m supposed to leave the campsite at 11:00 a.m. but with no sign of the ice going I retired to the information center cafe (from where I’m writing this) and the sun has just come out, so time for some lunch.