Thursday, 17 April 2014

Day 10 – Ferry in to Hull –17th April 2014


It was another very calm night crossing. In the morning we woke up to greyer skies than we had become used to and went and had another delicious breakfast. Paul then went up on deck to watch as the ship negotiated the narrow lock into Hull’s port.




Once docked the announcement was given to head down to the car decks and reunite with Monty. We drove out and headed for home, sad that our trip was over but pleased that we had enjoyed such a wonderful trip with lovely weather.

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Day 9 – Bruges and Zeebrugge –16th April 2014





The next morning after a bit of a lay in we walked back into Bruges. It was another sunny morning. We went to a cafe for a waffle breakfast which was fantastic. By now it was about 10’' o’clock but not very much was open. We decided to take a canal boat tour. It was about 8 euros per person. We waited for about 15 mins chatting to some friendly Americans. There was a nail biting moment when the largest gentleman sat on our side of the boat and it felt as if we may topple out but the skipper did a good job of seating the remaining passengers by size to redistribute the weight load and balance the boat! Again this was a lovely way to see Bruges. The guide gave a very amusing commentary in both English and French. Some of the bridges were very low and our  (bald) guide joked that this was where he lost his hair! It was lucky we went at that  time because afterwards many boat firms that we passed said fully booked as there were quite a few coach parties.


16_04_2014-10_35_05-2387Brugge    16_04_2014-10_37_21-2393Brugge16_04_2014-11_24_25-2400Brugge











All too soon our time in Bruges was ending. We would really like to come back here again and spend more time. Although Amsterdam and Bruges were similar with their architecture and canals we preferred Bruges. It has an olde world charm and felt unhurried but this may be because we went slightly out of season. 

To exit the Aire you pay at a machine in the coach parking area which was quite easy to use and you could change and select your language to complete the transaction. As we had been at the aire for over 24 hours  we were charged  for two nights. We noticed that there is a drain and hose pipe here for the coaches to use but we did see a motorhome using this as well.




On the road  for a short trip to Zeebrugge to catch the ferry home. Again with P&O ferries, this time on the Pride of Bruges. We arrived very early and were first in the queue but were soon joined by other early arrivals. When the ticket office opened we were then directed through to the waiting area. If you take your passport and boarding card you can leave this area and visit the terminal for a drink/ loo stop. We must look dodgy because we were once again checked, this time by G4 security. After another wait we drove onto the boat. This ship was older than the last one but was still  lovely. It was clean and in good repair. Our room was really nice again and even more spacious than the last one. The bathroom was bigger and once again had nice White Company toiletries, fluffy towels and robes. We used the shower and it was unexpectedly very powerful!

We had paid for the meal  deal for the return crossing as well so headed off to the buffet restaurant. There was an even better selection of dishes including Indonesian Cuisine. The staff were really friendly and attentive. Having eaten our fill we went to bed  and slept really soundly.

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Day 8 – Hooge Crater & Brugge –15th April 2014


Before we left we reflected on Jeugdstadion. The negatives - the toilet block could do with a bit of a facelift. The showers are not very powerful and the temperature cannot be altered. You also have to keep pressing the button to operate the shower and the button is out of the shower in the drying part of the cubicle so everything gets wet as you go back to hit the button again. Free Wi-fi was supposed to be available near to the reception building but didn’t work for the duration of our stay. The positives – very handy for walking into Ypres and for driving to the nearby places we visited. It was reasonably priced. On balance we would stay here again but would stay on the motorhome section.

Approach to Hooge Crater Museum & Cemetry


When we had visited Bellewaerde Park we had noticed the Hooge Crater Museum just down the road. Whilst chatting to a coach tour driver in the Tyne Cot Car Park he recommended visiting so we left Jeugdstadion and arrived at the Hooge Crater Museum as it opened. There is on the road parking here. The museum is over the road from the Hooge Crater Cemetery and is housed in the old Chapel and schoolroom. There are some great displays here. Most of the exhibits are from two private collections. Some bits have been returned here from England – for example a crucifix that had been taken home by a soldier whose descendants felt that it should be returned to Belgium.


Towards the end of the exhibition there is a screen showing “The Diggers” (the same chaps who unearthed the Yorkshire Trench) as they excavate at Essex Farm. This footage is amazing to watch. They toil day after day to expose the trench. As they work you see the water and clay soil that plagued the soldiers of the Great War. It is amazing how much has been found in recent times and how much more waits to be rediscovered.

 15_04_2014-09_36_51-2274Hooge Crater museum

15_04_2014-09_43_48-2278Hooge Crater museum15_04_2014-09_46_26-2279Hooge Crater museum


At the end of our visit we visited the attached theme cafe. We then crossed the road to pay our respects in the cemetery. As with all these memorials it is immaculately maintained with on going repairs and up keep.  Three men were working, cleaning the engraved words on some of the headstones.



We headed off to an aire in Bruges. The journey was approximately 50 mins.This was our first visit to an aire. We arrived  and took a ticket from the machine in front of the barrier.  It wasn’t too busy and we selected a space. We were surprised and pleased to find that there was also electricity here. The aire is between two canals and is pleasant. There is a boat restaurant nearby on one of the canals. There is also a Marina Clubhouse which visitors appear to be able to visit. The site is fairly level. You have to pay 50 cents to get fresh water and empty your black water.

Approach to aire


Walk round of the aire

There is also shorter stay motorhome parking and a large coach parking area. It is very handy for Bruges. We walked into the town centre ( there is a sign pointing you in the right direction to the town) over a bridge and through Minnewater Park (Lake of Love) and fell straight in love with Bruges!


A short distance from Minnewater Park we came to a little cobbled area and lots of horse drawn carriages which cost 39 euros for a 30 minute tour. We decided this would be a great way to see Bruges. This point was just a midway resting/feeding/watering area for the horses and we were directed to head for  the Belfry to board our own horse drawn tour . We had a very friendly, female, informative driver who pointed out all the points of interest and gave us snippets of history and local legend.  (I mention how friendly she was because later as we walked around and were passed by other carriages we noticed that some of them looked a bit surly and weren’t chatting at all and one was just texting on her phone  - it’s just the luck of the draw who you get). This tour was a very good way  to see the sights and get your bearings so you can revisit again on foot if you wish. Our guide told us that Bruges was once a port until  the sea access became silted up.  Despite being a city it has fabulous, fairy -tale like Medieval architecture. There are 17 churches, the tallest being the Church of our Lady which is the tallest structure in the city and which houses the sculpture of the Madonna and Child by Michelangelo. Located near to the Church of our Lady is Old St. John’s Hospital which is an 11th century hospital, one of Europe’s oldest surviving hospital buildings and amazingly it was still a hospital until the 1970’s. It is now a museum.

Picture slideshow

After our tour we explored Bruges on foot. There are lots of places to shop. Bruges is famous for lace and quite a few shops feature this. Of course there are a lot of chocolate shops and a good few beer shops and we bought a few more souvenirs. There are numerous places to eat. We ate outside at a restaurant near the Belfry in the Market Square. Paul tried and enjoyed his Flemish stew. There was a bit of drama when a couple of ladies on a nearby table said that they had already paid but the waiter denied that they had and so the Politie (Police) were called. Being the nosy type it was very frustrating that the exchange was all in Flemish but eventually the ladies were allowed on their way so not sure what really happened. We then headed back through Minneswater back to Monty for a peaceful night’s sleep.

15_04_2014-20_48_32-2355Brugge Aire

Monday, 14 April 2014

Day 7– Passchendaele & Tyne Cot–14th April 2014




We set off for the Passchendaele Museum which was a 15 minute drive away.

Approach to Passchendaele

The Battle of Passchendaele was in 1917. During the British offensive from July until November 1917 almost 500,000 soldiers died in the immediate area over a period of just one hundred days, gaining barely eight kilometres.This is a very informative museum set in a beautiful, old chateau. After viewing all the exhibits, photos and film footage you go down into a replica 1917 Dugout. Here you get a feel of the dimensions and the conditions that the men lived and slept in. You then move outside into a replica Trench system. Thoroughly recommend this museum.

Picture slideshow

Video footage of the dug out


From here we moved on to nearby Tyne Cot Cemetery.



Video of approach

Tyne Cot Cemetery is the largest Commonwealth Cemetery in the world. On 4th October 1917, Australian soldiers captured the site where the cemetery now stands and used it as a dressing station. Soldiers who died of their injuries were buried on the spot and a small cemetery was created with approximately 300 graves. Between 1919 & 1921 specialist units called Exhumation Companies brought almost 12,0000 dead to Tyne Cot from the surrounding battlefields. Most of their bodies could not be identified and their graves are marked as @Known unto God’. Tyne Cot Cemetery has a new visitor centre. As you approach the visitor centre and whilst inside the centre itself, a female voice reads out the names and ages of the fallen. It is haunting. There isn’t a huge amount in the visitor centre but a lot of what’s there is truly heart breaking. For example there are letters, addressed to soldiers with chatty,newsy, information in them …. hope this letter finds you well… and then underneath there is the name and date of death of the soldier who the letter was intended for.

Moving out into the cemetery itself, and despite by now having visited a few of these memorials, once again it is hard to grasp the enormity of how many men are buried or commemorated here. The cemetery slopes gently down to the countryside and again there’s just row upon row of white headstones glowing in the sunshine. Lots of the stones are for four, five and even six soldiers of the great war. The lists of names on the walls around seem endless – some of these are here because there was no more room on the Menin Gate. The original German bunkers are here in the cemetery.  Another very moving experience.




We went back to the campsite for lunch. After a couple of hours sat in the sun we headed back into Ypres for another mooch around. We then enjoyed a nice meal in the newly opened Captain Cook restaurant near the Menin Gate. We had decided to attend the Last Post again and after our meal we joined the crowd. This time we were further back and at the opposite entrance of the gate. I had thought that the Last Post would be identical each night but it varies.This night there were Australian soldiers laying wreaths, no big choir tonight but the Australian anthem was sung by a small group.


Back to Monty for our last sleep at Jeugdstadion.






Sunday, 13 April 2014

Day 6 – Bellewaerde Theme Park - Sunday 13th April


Woke up to another bright day although showers had been forecast. We had breakfast and then set off to Bellewaerde Theme Park which was just a 10 minute drive from the campsite.  Motorhomes can park in  the coach area.

13_04_2014-13_33_04-2150Bellewearde Park

13_04_2014-13_30_39-2148Bellewearde Park

The park was open from 10am.  We arrived about 9.45 and it was already getting quite busy. It costs 30 euros per adult and 7 euros to park your vehicle. Soon the gates opened and the excitement began. This is a lovely theme park which is 60 years old. It has something for everyone. Big thrill seeking rides, water rides, a good section for small children and safari animals. It is themed in areas e.g Wild West, India etc.  It was clean and tidy and despite being quite busy, it didn’t feel busy as there was so much to see and do and it was nicely spread out. The longest wait in a queue was 10 mins so there was plenty of time to ride again and again. As it was so early in the season not all the shops and eating areas were open but there was sufficient. We enjoyed Bratwurst and crepes and sampled a very big candyfloss.

13_04_2014-14_12_32-2152Bellewearde Park

The zoo section is great. You get a very good view of the animals. A little safari train takes you through the big cat section where the lions and tigers were sprawled out sunning themselves. There are elephants, giraffes and various primates.

We were so lucky with the weather as it became hotter and sunnier and everyone dried out nicely after getting soaked on some of the rides. We stayed until about 5.30 having had a lovely time.

Saturday, 12 April 2014

Day 5 - Ypres & Menin Gate - Saturday 12th April


We woke up to quite a foggy morning. We packed up as we were moving on from Parc de Cygnes.

We headed back towards Belgium – the roads were still very foggy as we set off but the sun was burning steadily through it and another sunny day beckoned.

En-route we stopped at Warlen Court British Cemetery. Another beautiful, moving place with cherry blossom trees watching over the graves.

We had received a tweet from @northallertonmh recommending that we try and find the Yorkshire trenches as we are fellow Yorkshire folk. This was located in an industrial park area on the edge of Ypres and had been discovered by accident in 1992. “The Diggers” found 2 corridors 10 meters below ground with small and large rooms. It seemed as though you are able to go and have a look down in the trench but on our visit it was taped off.

Approach to the Yorkshire trench

Walk around of the Yorkshire trench

Pictures relating to the Yorkshire

We continued on to our site in Ypres at Camping Jeugdstadion. We arrived about 1pm and had to use the automated check in as reception was closed 12.45 until 4pm. The automated check in had simple instructions to follow which then dispensed a card to open the barriers and our plot number was printed on the receipt.There are 3 areas –field for tents, motorhomes and caravans on grass hardstanding camping pitches and an aire style area for motorhomes only.In hindsight this area would have been perfectly adequate but  we had booked a camping pitch.There is electric and water to each pitch. The toilet block isn’t really big enough for the size of camp. The camp is handily situated - a 10 min walk into town and there is an Aldi 10 mins in the other direction. After setting up we walked along alongside a moat into nearby Ypres.

Approach to the site

360 degree view of the site.

We entered Ypres through the stunning Menin Gate. This is a huge memorial spanning the road. The Last Post ceremony is held here at 8pm every night.

12_04_2014-19_59_52-2051Menim Gate

After paying our respects we continued into Ypres. This is a very pretty town with lovely architecture ( a lot of which had to be rebuilt after the war). There are plenty of places to eat and of course there are shops full of fabulous Belgian chocolate.

We went to the In Flanders Field Museum which is in the Cloth Hall, a lovely building which has been rebuilt after sustaining heavy damage in the war. In contrast to the Museum at Peron this was fantastic. There was so much to see! It was interactive by way of a wristband. It was very good value for money.


We climbed the belfry which was exhausting but worth it for the view at the top.




Part of the exhibit showed a scaled down model of the Yorkshire Trench and dugout that we had earlier visited. This was really good to see. There were also items found in this trench in the exhibition.



We enjoyed a meal in the town and headed back to smarten up before attending the Last Post. We nipped into Aldi on the way back but there was no milk!! Paul and Sophie went further on to a Spar (wish we’d just gone there first as it was really nice and well stocked) and returned with 2 bottles of milk feeling rather victorious. It turned out later when everyone spluttered on their strange tasting tea that this was not milk but bottles of drinking yoghurt!!

Back to the Menin Gate. We arrived about 7.15 and already the main public viewing area was thronged with people. There were at least 8 coaches parked near.  We took up a spot on the road next to the Menin Gate and waited. The crowd grew and grew. It is amazing and a testament to the memory of all those lost men that this ceremony continues to draw so many people every day. It was very busy and the crowd was packed together but we were only 2 or 3 people back so had a reasonable view.  At 8pm The Last Post sounded and selected people went to lay wreaths. A choir sang a couple of songs including an anthem (not sure which country) followed by God Save The Queen. After the ceremony dusk was just drawing in and the Menin Gate looked lovely all lit up.

Video of todays ceremony



We visited a chocolate shop to stock up on Belgian Chocolate and popped into Tommy’s Souvenir shop for postcards, stamps and souvenir car stickers (Paul likes to get Monty a sticker of places we have visited). The lady here was very friendly and chatty and told us about the Cat Festival held in Ypres tri-annually since the 1950’s. This involves a Cat themed parade culminating in (toy) cats being thrown by a jester, from the Cloth Hall Belfry into the crowd below. There are various legends how this cat throwing originated, some related to witchcraft and dating back to Medieval times. The local story is that Ypres had a mouse/rat problem so cats were brought in to keep vermin down but then bred so much that they then became a problem themselves and were thrown off to reduce their numbers.

We headed back to the campsite. Shortly after going to bed the local disco started and unfortunately the heavy base beat could be heard until about 2am.





Friday, 11 April 2014

Day 4 – Lochnagar Crater & Peronne - Friday 11th April

11_04_2014-09_46_29-1930Grand war Museum

In the morning (another nice sunny day) we set off to visit the Museum de la Grande Guerre in Peron. This is housed in a nice, castle like building. The outside was more impressive than the inside. Some interesting displays but it was a big space with not a lot in.We also had a wander around Peron which had shops and places to eat.

11_04_2014-12_22_42-1940Lochnagar crater

IMG_9487 IMG_9485IMG_9488

11_04_2014-12_23_25-1942Lochnagar crater

After dinner we drove to La Grande Mine – Lochnagar Crater. This was very impressive. It is almost 300 feet in diameter & 70 feet deep. The Lochnagar mine was an explosive packed mine created by the179th  Royal Engineer Tunnelling companies who tunnelled underneath a German strongpoint and blew it up on 1st July 1916 at 7.28am.Tremors were felt as far away as London. At the time of our visit the site was being worked on by British volunteers who were updating the surrounding pathways. See or twitter @laGrandeMine


Approach to the crater.

Walk around of the crater

On the way back to the campsite we called in at a large intermarche. A circus was performing nearby and all the animals were tethered on land near the supermarket carpark. There were 2 camels, a zebra, 2 llamas, a donkey,  a bison, goats, shetland ponies and a black stallion. They all looked in good health.

11_04_2014-13_28_04-1951circus animals


We arrived back on the site and made the most of the sunshine with another barbecue tea – No not from Netto !.




10_04_2014-19_04_49-1927Parc d Cygnes Amiens


Thursday, 10 April 2014

Day 3 - Holland to France & WW1 – 10th April 2014

10_04_2014-14_01_37-1883Poziere graves
We said goodbye to Gaasper Camping and set off driving down through Holland. Dutch drivers all seemed to obey the speed limits and drove respectfully using all the lanes properly rather than hogging the middle lane as they do in the UK. The sun was shining and soon we passed into Belgium and then on into France. The journey was thankfully uneventful. We were heading for Amiens but wanted to stop at Thiepval. The route I had planned to take was closed so I followed the diverted route and we saw a sign for  Pozieres British Cemetery.
10_04_2014-14_05_53-1888Poziere graves
10_04_2014-14_03_03-1886Poziere graves
10_04_2014-14_02_55-1885Poziere graves
10_04_2014-13_54_10-1880Poziere graves
And there it was at the side of the road, shining almost white in the sun. It was a very moving, humbling experience. So many lives lost. Row upon row of headstones. All the graves are beautifully tended and it is a serene place to pay your respects to all those brave men.


We then drove onto to Thiepval. This is a huge monument dedicated to over 72,000 men who died in the Somme but who have no known grave. Again the sheer scale of loss is enormous. All the names are carved on the monument. Line after line of familiar British surnames. It is so peaceful in the countryside setting which sits at odds with the horror those poor men suffered. Again it was a very moving experience.
10_04_2014-15_09_07-1899Thiepval  10_04_2014-15_08_57-1898Thiepval
Car park                                           Thiepval village
There is a good sized car park and an informative visitors centre.
Nearby we visited the Ulster memorial. This is a turrett like building which is a copy of Helen's Tower which stands in the grounds of the Clandeboye Estate, near Bangor, County Down.
10_04_2014-15_19_42-1904Ulster Tower   10_04_2014-15_26_11-1916Ulster Tower

10_04_2014-15_26_54-1917Ulster Tower

After an emotional afternoon we continued to Amiens to stay at Parc de Cygnes. This is quite a quiet site at this time of year – very peaceful  (Caravan Club and Camping and Caravan Club listed.) It has friendly , English speaking reception staff. Bread and croissants can be ordered for morning collection.

Approach to the site

360 view of the site

There is free wifi if you are near the reception building otherwise wi fi cards can be bought. There is also a small aire here. Toilets are clean and the showers are powerful. There is a bar and small shop but these are closed at the moment.
With hindsight we should have stayed nearer to the Memorial area as we are heading back that way tomorrow. The sun was still shining so we enjoyed a barbecue tea.