Belgium is a country that is very easy to travel through and not stop in. This was the case in 2007 as the destination was KASSEL in the Hesse province of Germany and with only a week to get there and back there was no time to linger in Belgium. Read more on why Kassel was the chosen destination on the Germany page.
On this occasion Belgium was actually the main destination, although France and Holland were also sampled. In 1914 my grandfather had signed up with the 13th Battalion, the Royal Scots and after only 3 months in France he was wounded at the Battle of Loos and died of his wounds on the 10th of October 1914 in German hands it seems. Loos, or to give it its full name, Loos-en-Gohelle is a few miles to the north of Lens, about an hours drive south of Calais. Today Loos is a typical small French village surrounded by flat farmland and the slagheaps of former coalmines. You can read a very detailed account of that momentous battle HERE.
From Loos we crossed the border into Belgium and headed for Ypres. Even if you do not have a connection with a family member who took part in WW1, everyone should visit Ypres. There is a super campsite/aire in the town a short walk from the centre of town. The pretty town of Ypres was almost flattened during WW1 but it has been restored to a very high standard and if you had not seen the pictures of the damage from WW1 you would believe the buildings had been there for hundreds of years.
Since 1928, at 8pm every night, hundreds, sometime thousands of people gather at the spectacular MENIN GATE memorial where there is a ceremony commemorating the fallen and the LAST POST is played in honour of the soldiers of the former British Empire and its allies. The Ypres Menin Gate Memorial bears the names of more than 54,000 offices and men whose graves are unknown. It is particularly moving to see bus loads of school children arriving with wreaths to pay their tribute. The ceremony was so moving we stayed another night to see the ceremony again!
On leaving Ypres, we went up to the coast and had a visit to the city of Ostend where there is motorhome overnight parking in the city centre. At least I think it was Ostend. The freezing fog was so thick we could have been anywhere, hence no pictures!
From there we drove further east into Holland and that is described in the Holland page.
On the way back towards Dover we stopped off in BRUGES, one of the most beautiful small cities you can ever visit. It was mid-November and the shops and stall holders were preparing for Christmas. Very atmospheric. If you only have a few days in northern France or Belgium, Ypres and Bruges are must see destinations.
The visit to Belgium in 2015 was towards the end of the epic ‘Grand European Tour’ and where better to end it than Bruges (again). The last time was in a November and this time was towards the end of January and it was heaving with tourists. That said, the motorhome aire in the town had a few spaces and we were lucky to get in and service the van again. Check before you go, but when we were there the market was in the main square on a Wednesday and is not to be missed. Our final night on the continent after 9 weeks away was to blow some Euros in a superb steak restaurant enjoying a fillet steak smothered in a Jack Daniels sauce!
The drive from Bruges to Ostend is only half an hour or so and from there we headed west along the coast towards the ferry at Dunkirk which is about an hour away. With a midnight ferry (much cheaper) we had all day to get there so after raiding Lidl at Middelkerke for some last minute provisions, the van was parked for the afternoon beside the beach at Middelkerke.
After crossing into France we took the opportunity to see the small seaside resort of PLAGE de BRAY-DUNES where there was a small fete in the main town car park. It is not the most attractive of seaside resorts but what draws people here is to see the beach, which is impressive, and think back to the scenes that must have unfolded here as the remarkable evacuation of the British Expeditionary Force took place in June 1940.