Day 12, 29th May 2011, Kortrijk to Ypres

We have noticed over the years that bike routes such as the one we are following now seem to have a number of different designers.  While this is hardly a profound observation, it has consequences.  On this route, we found that over the first portion of perhaps 100km, we went through all of the market towns.  Then we noticed that we were no longer going through the market towns, but seemed to go through all of the little hamlets, while skirting around the larger towns.  Some route designers love to take you on gravel roads, others meticulously avoid them.  Sometimes you find that the designer goes to great lengths to avoid shared road sections, other designers seem not to be concerned.  Similarly, sections of the route and its marking vary quite widely.

In other words, we got a bit lost.  It didn’t matter as we used TomTom to intercept our route later on, but it is quite easy to miss a sign and end up in a bit of a mess some distance away with no real idea of where you are. The GPS is a great backup.

We decided last night just to ride to Ypres, and check out the major World War 1 sites.  My grandfather fought here, and survived, so it seemed a bit perverse to just ride on through and ignore the whole scene.

We arrived in Ypres after a 43km ride against a big headwind, checked into a hotel, ate a patisserie, got a bike route map of the cemetries from the tourist information centre, went to a supermarket and bought food for dinner, and then, without our luggage set out on a truncated version of the bicycle peace route, the Vedesroute.

This route passes numerous memorials and cemetries before passing the large Commonwealth cemetery called Tyne Cot at Paschendale.  I find these places hugely draining.  It is beautifully designed and maintained, light and airy and full of flowers.  From there we rode to the German cemetery at Langemark.  This is interesting partly because of the contrast.  There are no flowers, where Tyne Cot is full of roses and other flower gardens.  The graves are marked by a flat granite slab on the ground.  Oak trees are planted throughout the cemetery, so the whole place is in subdued shade. The whole thing is remarkably understated and the more powerful for that.  It is a pity that the few men who were responsible for this tragedy were not also buried here, perhaps in 1913.

We went back to our hotel to eat our supermarket dinner and then walked to the Menin gate for the 8.00pm evening ceremony, something that has been happening since the 1920s.  The Menin gate is a vaulted arch over one of the roads leading into town, on which are inscribed the tens of thousands of names of Commonwealth soldiers whose bodies were never identified.  The half-hour service is nicely done and on this occasion featured an English choir, and the Colchester scout band.  It all went well until the band finished the ceremony by marching off playing the theme to Dad’s Army.  Roz thought that the choir was superb and the finishing number by the band was an inspired choice, I thought the Dad's Army finale was a bit tasteless.

79km for the day.

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