Quite the calmest ferry crossing ever. It was hard to tell the boat was moving overnight. We could have been tied up at the quay! But we weren’t. Zeebrugge appeared right on cue – and bathed in wall to wall sunshine.
Jane and Del gave us a send off at the docks, and then we had a lovely 25 mile coastal ride, mostly on bike paths running parallel with the main road. The last bit was along the promenade.
The start of the Western Front, near Niewpoort, was where we paused for ‘official’ start of ride photos, sun shining on the North Sea. Hard to believe that there had been a war here, what with holidaymakers all around.
Within a couple of miles we arrived at the King Albert memorial, to the Belgian king who was the last royal to command troops in battle, and who sucesssfully defended this end of the front in Oct 2014, partly by flooding the Iser.
We saw our first preserved trenches at Dodnengang – the scence of intense fighting in 1914.
By lunch we had reached Dixemunde, where the battle of the Iser is commemorated by a tower, which is also a statement of Flemish identity.
The final leg was a circuit of the first half of the Ypres salient, starting with the section of front line that first saw a German chlorine gas attack in 1915, and where there is a German cemetery (they weren’t allowed many) to a lost youth division, who had volunteered patriotically – the mirror of the British ‘pals’.
But the most impressive site was Tyne Cot, where some 12,000 are buried, some named and some unnmamed, and some 35,000 others are named as ‘missing’ – mainly at Paschendale – the 3rd battle of Ypres.
Tonight we are in Ypres, where we attending the daily wreath laying ceremony at the Menin Gate. It’s really rather overwhelming. Given that there were roughly 6 million killed on the 600 miles of the Western Front that we’re planning to ride – that’s about 10,000 per mile – or about 40 deaths per turn of our pedals.