Sunday, 18 October 2015

White Water CC Site

Having finished work early, we set off on a sunny Friday to White Water CC site at Stockton on Tees. We arrived to a warm welcome from the friendly wardens. The majority of the pitches are grass and we were loaned some anti-slip mats to put our wheels/ramps on in case it rained. The campsite was almost full so we picked one of the few plots left which was near a caravan storage area. The site was (as all CC sites are) maintained to a high standard, clean and tidy. It has a large shower/toilet block and also a games room. We pitched up and sat out enjoying the sunshine, marvelling at how warm it was for the beginning of October.
On Friday tea time there is a fish and chip van in the visitor’s car park. We didn’t partake but it was very popular - we even saw someone pull up who wasn’t from the site but had made a special trip for his tea! Near the entrance of the site there is a Premier Inn with a Beefeater restaurant so we headed there for our tea. We enjoyed a lovely meal and then headed out for a little wander. Behind the Beefeater is a nature reserve and in front of the Beefeater, at the bottom of a grassy bank is a man made, white water rafting site. We had a brief look then headed back to Monty, ready to explore properly the next day.

The next morning was quite foggy. Every day had started like this recently and had then burned off into a hot, sunny day so we had high hopes. At the Beefeater last night we had noticed that they did breakfast so we headed over. There is a continental buffet (croissants, muffins, cereals , toast etc) or for a little extra you can have the full English cooked to order (unlimited) and visit the buffet if you still have room! Having thoroughly enjoyed our breakfast we walked down to the white water raft centre. This is a man made course using tides from the nearby River Tees.

You can walk all the way round the course and cross a bridge to walk round the middle. Quite a few people of all ages were on the course, practising their rolls and battling the rapids. Apparently it is sometimes used for rescue training and also for films/dramas - all the action without the risks. It is a really clever set up with Archimedes screws the size of buses which also generate power.

We turned to look at the nearby River Tees and there were 4 seals in there! It is a popular place for them to come and feed when the salmon are migrating upstream.

There are steps to help the salmon up and this area was so popular that they had to put anti seal bars on the steps to stop them sitting on the steps and eating them all. We also saw a kingfisher whose colours in real life were fabulous - even more vivid with the naked eye than in pictures. We walked along the river towards Stockton-on-Tees where there were ducks and swans to feed. They are building a Go Ape or similar climbing frame here by the river. We also walked in the other direction towards Middlesbrough on a path along the river. Sadly the fog showed no sign of lifting and it was a much chillier day. We then had a walk into the nature reserve. We only saw a moor hen but apparently early in the morning you can sometimes see deer. Later that evening we had a walk again around the rapids although it was much calmer now as the rapids had been switched off and the ducks and swans had ventured onto the water. The next morning, as I was handing our toilet and barrier key in a chap was asking if he could extend his stay - how I wished we could too but sadly it was back to work for us.


Wednesday, 22 April 2015

Operation Normandy - Wed 22nd April - Day 11

Today we pack up and leave Ypres and head to our last night stop before catching the ferry back to England.

But before we head to Bruges we had a few more places to visit. The first stop was to Hill 62 and Sanctuary Wood. A short drive of some 2-3km to the east of Ypres. Allow plenty of time to look around as there is a lot to see and take in. The museum is owned by the grandson of the farmer who founded and owned the site since before World War 1.

A section of the original wood and the trenches in it were cleared of debris and casualties after the war but the farmer left a section of a British trench system as he found it. This site is now one of the few places on the Ypres Salient battlefields where an original trench layout can be seen in some semblance of what it might have looked like. Elsewhere the trenches were filled in and ploughed over by returning farmers leaving only the occasional chalky outline of what had once been there. Housed on the site in two buildings he has a large collection of weapons, uniforms, shells, photos and posters. Some of which was found on the site.

Our next destination was to Bedford House Cemetery, located approximately 2-3km to the South of Ypres. Bedford House cemetery is one of the Ypres Salient's largest cemeteries. While most of the burials relate to the 1914-18 war there are also graves dating from the Second World War. The cemetery was established in the grounds of the destroyed Rosendal Chateau. The chateau's moats remain in place and the drive leading to the chateau is intact today leading instead to the cemetery. The ruins of the chateau can distinctly be viewed in the cemetery.. There are 5,139 Commonwealth casualties from the First World War buried in the site of Bedford House Cemetery. Of these casualties 2,194 are identified burials. Special memorials commemorate those Servicemen who are believed to be buried here but their marked graves were destroyed and could not be found. There are also two German servicemen buried here.
Also 69 British servicemen of the British Expeditionary Force who fell in the vicinity here in May 1940 during the Second World War are also buried in this cemetery site.

During the First World War the chateau was used by local British Field Ambulances and Dressing Stations. At an early stage burials were effected in the grounds. In January 1917 the chateau was adopted by 55 Brigade as its headquarters until it was severely damaged by German 8-inch shells (with 500 gas shells falling in one day during the Third Battle of Ypres).

From here our next destination was the aire at Bruges (info here). Not cheap but so handy for getting in to the city. Located to the South of Bruges, with one section having good views of the river and marina. Electric included and this time when we went the motorhome services were free.

We headed on into the city through the park. It was still very busy with horse and carriages transporting tourists around the sights and the boats on the canals were packed with more tourists. We had done these last year when we were here. This time we browsed more of what Bruges had to offer in the shops.

Then on to the main square to find somewhere to eat from the many restaurants that surround the main square. It was cold but we opted to eat outside under a gas heater, so as to watch the world go by.


Tuesday, 21 April 2015

Operation Normandy - Tue 21st April - Day 10

Woke up to another lovely day. Seeing as we were in Belgium we decided to have Belgian waffles for breakfast. We weren’t disappointed. We opted for a hot chocolate to go with our waffles. A large hot glass of milk arrived along with Belgian chocolate pellets. It was then up to you as to how many of the chocolate pellets you added to your milk to make it as weak or strong as you like. It was lovely.

After breakfast we headed to the Flanders Field Museum in the Ypres Cloth Hall in the market square. The museum depicts the WW1 battle in the region. Entry to the museum costs just 9€ per adult and is worth every penny. On entry to the museum you receive a “Poppy Bracelet”. The bracelet contains a microchip which activates your chosen language. It also activates the personal story of four individuals as you make your way around the exhibitions.

We had lunch outside at one of the many restaurants in the market square. Afterwards we browsed some of the small shops and chocolatiers. Then off for a walk along the city walls.

Later we headed to the Menin Gate to watch again the daily ritual of the Last Post. This has been performed every evening since 1928 at 8 o'clock sharp.

Read our blog from last year (Blog) and watch the videos of the ceremony.


Monday, 20 April 2015

Operation Normandy - Mon 20th April - Day 9

Our destination today was Ypres, some 120km drive. En route we would stop at a few World War 1 points of interest that we didn't get to when here in April 2014 (blog).

Our first point of interest (Map) was the Island of Ireland Peace Tower on the outskirts of Mesen. Approaching from the south on the N365, the tower rises up. Dedicated to the those soldiers of Ireland who died, were wounded or missing in World War 1. The 33metre high tower is lit up by the sun only on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, the time that Armistice was declared. A bronze plaque in the park reads "From the crest of this ridge, which was the scene of terrific carnage in the First World War on which we have built a peace park and Round Tower to commemorate the thousands of young men from all parts of Ireland who fought a common enemy, defended democracy and the rights of all nations, whose graves are in shockingly uncountable numbers and those who have no graves, we condemn war and the futility of war. We repudiate and denounce violence, aggression, intimidation, threats and unfriendly behaviour."
More info on the memorial can be found here.

Next on our agenda was the Messiness Ridge British Cemetery, 2 minutes drive away, and can be seen from the Peace tower cemetery.
More info on this memorial can be found here and info on the battle here.
Our younger daughter who had been on a history trip to various World War 1 sites a few years back recommended that we visted a German cemetery to see the difference to Commonwealth cemetries. So our next destination was Langemark cemetery (map) approximatley 30 minutes drive or 21km away.

It was near here that the Germans first used poison gas on the 22nd of April 1915 (officially the Battle of Gravenstafel Ridge). Despite deploring this awful atrocity, the Allies did not take too long to employ this weapon themselves, at Loos just five months later.

As we pulled up and parked we had noticed several white flags on poles placed in the fields on either side of the road and cemetry.
The sign at the entrance to the cemetery reads :-
"The soldiers' graves are the greatest preachers
of peace. (Albert Schweitzer, Nobel Peace Prize laureate).
This military cemetery for war dead of the First World War was laid out by the Volksbund back in the 1930s. Even back then, the construction of this site was funded by grants from Germany, just as today the Volksbund is reliant on the donations of its members and friends in order to maintain
this special commemorative site. Young people from
throughout Europe help on international youth camps, where they maintain the site and build bridges of understanding.
In the 22-days-battle of the Yser and Ypres, the 4th Army fought on the German side. For the most part, it was made up of poorly trained volunteers: students, school pupils and apprentices. The front got bogged down here on lath November 1914 until the end of the war in 1918. There were countless losses on both sides. In Germany, the site soon became known as the student cemetery. After the war, the official Belgian burial service transferred the German war dead from the Langemark region and reburied them on land on the northern exit out of the town where the cemetery was laid out. At the time, the war cemetery was home to some 10,143 war dead cluing 6,313 victims identifiable by name. Between 1956 and 1958, the Belgian burial service closed countless cemeteries and transferred more than 30,000 other German war dead to Langemark. Today, 44,304 victims lie here. After 1970, the Volksbund renovated the grave signs (slabs) of the individual graves.
In 1984, the Volksbund redesigned the communal grave containing the more than 24,000 formerly unknown soldiers. In addition, they attached plaques to the wall around the cemetery, bearing the names of the 12,000 dead resting in peace here and whose names had been determined over the past 60 years.
The dead of this cemetery admonish to peace."
During World War 2, the site was visited by Adolf Hitler, which was witnesed by a local man from Wytschaete, south of Ypres, a young boy at the time, he recalled a convoy of big black cars and lots of German officers in their grey uniforms driving near his family's farmhouse. He hid in the wood owned by his family and watched Adolf Hitler walking nearby with his entourage of officers. In the First World War Hitler had served with the Bavarian Reserve-Infantry-Regiment 16 and had been in action south of Ypres in the area of Wytschaete on the Messines Ridge.
Adolf Hitler spent two days visiting the Ypres Salient battlefields. His tour included the town of Ypres and Langemark military cemetery.
Also at the entrance were the old canisters used to hold the gas.

On entering the cemetery you walk along a pathway from the car park through a specially designed tunnel which is intended as a place to spend a few moments of reflection on entering and leaving the cemetery. There are five automated computer screens showing archive film from the Great War.

Outside you’ll see a sign post with various place names - these are relevant to gas attacks - the same type of gas that the Germans first used in the great war.

From there you walk down a tree lined avenue to the entrance to the cemetery.

Inside the entrance building there are the names of hundreds of those known to be buried in the cemetery but not in identifiable graves.

These are carved on oak panels in a room on one side of the entrance building. The other side of the entrance building contains a room with maps carved into the oak panelling, a Visitors' Book and information about the work of the German war graves agency.

From here you the enter the main part of the cemetery. The first thing to strike you is how different the cemetery is to the Commonwealth ones. In front of you is a mass grave containing some 24,000 unkown German soldiers. In contrast to the white headstones of the Commonwealth graves, everything here is very grey and dull. Oaks were planted as a canopy which also makes the site feel overcast. Around the rest of the site there are stones, laid flat, marking the graves of known soldiers, some containing up to 12 people.

The area over to the right towards the carpark has the actual bunker/trench system the Germans used.

When we had entered the cemetery we had been rather fortunate to talk to a Belgium researcher who was a mine of information on the cemetery. He informed us that hardly any Germans ever visited the cemetery, but mainly British and Commonwealth, along with Belgian and French. He made the visit a truly fantastic experience as with out much research we would not have known about some of the facts. He pointed out that the white flags we had seen were the markers as to the German postions on the 22nd April 1915, prior to the horrendous gas attack.

From here we made our way to Ypres (map) where we had booked two nights on the camping car site at Jeugdstadion (website).

We have been before to the site last year (see blog), but then we had stayed on the touristic places, but to be honest we prefer the camping car section. Cost for two nights was €34 including electric. Free wifi which can be a bit hit & miss is included and there is a small toilet block. You can also make use of the larger toilet and shower block. There are also the usual services for motorhomes. The site is accessed by a card system. If the office isn’t open there is a room next door where you either enter your booking info or make a reservation. You are issued with a key card which will let you in to which ever part you have paid for. Unfortunately the automated booking system didn’t work for us as someone had missed a space in our booking info so we had to wait 40 minutes for reception to open at 3pm.
We had a quick snack and headed off on a short walk in to Ypres via the Menin Gate. The campsite is well located just a short walk from the Menin Gate and the town.
We then watched the nightly ceremony at the Menin Gate.