We passed through the lock at Dampoort and the unusual lift bridge on the other side and were soon into open country once more heading towards the mooring we had seen at Jabbeke.
Clever bridge just outside Bruges.
There is an interesting cantilever bridge here and a little while later we were joined on the pontoon by ‘Aquamarin’ whose owner Henrik is an ex-commercial skipper of 45years. He told us that he was on way to the sea festival ‘Oostende at Anchor’ the following week. It turns out that Aquamarin is over a hundred years old despite the modern looking conversion on the topsides.
Cantilever footbridge at Jabbeke.
We were able to offload the BMW and spent the next four days exploring the area and checking out suitable moorings, we still had around three weeks until the start of the DBA Rally in Diksmuide. The motorcycle had a long overdue airing when we dropped the car to Nieuwpoort and then continued by bike to Veurne, the Lo Canal and a quick look at Diksmuide itself. Sadly, we had chosen the wrong day for exploring as it rained heavily and our gear got soaked. It took most of the next day to dry out!
Our friends Lynn and Keith (‘Paprika’) arrived with their relatives Tanya and Ian to stay for a couple of days. ‘Paprika’ was undergoing unexpected repairs to her shaft in Holland and they were doing some sightseeing while they waited. We enjoyed catching up as we dined on Coq au Vin and drank copious quantities of wine. The next day they came with us as we cruised to Nieuwpoort, stopping off at Oudenburg to fill up with water and do some shopping. While we waited for the one way system there to work in our favour we bought fresh eggs, potatoes and jam from an opportunist elderly gardener who came along the pontoon.
It took a good couple of hours to reach Nieuwpoort and we moored on some posts before the sea lock (Gampoort), not ideal as it wasn’t a proper quay, just a long narrow wooden structure. A tasty ‘Toad in the Hole’ using some very meaty Belgian sausages went down well that evening. The next day after the inevitable car shuffle, our friends left for their long drive to Germany where they had booked into a hotel for a few days. It had been a lovely interlude.
We were in no hurry to leave Nieuwpoort and spent the weekend there, enjoying a longish walk to the seaside one afternoon. There are very few communal rubbish bins in Belgium and after lugging a bag for about a mile we found a broken bin in a park in which to leave it. Recycling is also limited to clear/coloured glass and clothing. Strange!
The Gampoort, calmer at high tide.
Nieuwpoort is a typical seaside town with a long beach, two large marinas and the usual seafront bars and restaurants.
We left the mooring at around midday- high tide – when the water in the port is at its calmest. The Gampoort (Goose’s Foot) is a complex system of locks where the River Ijzer, two shipping canals and three drainage canals all converge. It was here that the Ijzer Plain was flooded to keep the advancing Germans out at the end of 1914.
The canal to Veurne passes through pretty farmland and is adjacent to a road. We had been given a swipe card with which to operate a lift bridge. On opening the cupboard which contained the switches, I was initially confused as the instructions were in Flemish. However, it was fairly straightforward and we were soon through.
At the Veurne railway bridge, we wondered if we would have to dismantle our wheelhouse, but fortunately after a radio call to the ‘Bridgemaster’ and short wait, the bridge lifted and we headed towards the stop lock and swing bridge at the entrance to the port of Veurne. Once through the lock, we turned around in the port and reversed back to the long pontoon we had seen on our bike recce.
Holding up the trains this time.
The sign said that moorings were free for 48 hours, so we walked into the pretty market place in the town centre and bought a couple of electrics cards from the tourist information office. (2,50euro)
We were surprised and a little annoyed when the ‘Havenmeister’ arrived early the following morning demanding 20 euro for the previous night! Apparently, the port had recently taken over the pontoons, but had failed to remove the signs. I did a couple of wash loads, vacuumed through and then we obtained a refund for the remaining card before setting off along the Lo Canal.
This proved to be the narrowest canal we have been on in Europe so far and our first stop was Fortem just 50 metres from the Snoek brewery, museum and bar. ‘Snoek’ is Flemish for ‘pike’ and we enjoyed several tasty glasses in the small bar, one of which was 10% proof and sent me to sleep in the afternoon!
Very nice local brew.
Wednesday is market day in Veurne so we cycled back to have a browse and collect the car. We enjoyed lunch and a couple of beers in the market place while Peter accessed the free wifi to update the blog. Shopping and a drive to recce the moorings at Fintele where we again left the car and cycled back to the barge, rehydrating with some more Snoek beer.
The next day we had a pleasant cruise to Fintele where we were able to stay for 72hours and access electrics from the adjacent restaurant at 3 euro per day. The mooring was on the River Ijzer in a pretty, rural spot. I enjoyed a couple of walks along the canal and from there we drove to the ‘Oostende at Anchor’ festival. The harbour was buzzing with activity and we spent an interesting few hours wandering around the exhibits admiring the various boats, barges and ships.
Oostende at Anchor.
Our 72hours being up, we reluctantly left Fintele and cruised to a rickety pontoon at Steenstratebrug, annoying a sleeping fisherman who had several rods out and was slow to heed the warning blasts from our horn.
I returned by bicycle to get the car and saw the barges ‘Inevitable’ and ‘Eugenie’ that had passed us at Jabbeke and were now moored at Fintele. We drove to Ypres to check out the port and secured a week for 70 euro (no electrics) and began the first of many visits to the WW1 places of interest.
After driving to Essex Farm Cemetery and Advanced Dressing Station where John McCrae wrote his famous poem ‘In Flanders Fields’, we searched for the well hidden Yorkshire Trench. We eventually found it in the middle of an industrial area just north of Ypres and rather fortuitously were joined there by the chap who discovered the trench twenty years ago whilst metal detecting. He showed us his personal photographs and gave us a .303 bullet from the site. He told us that he had been poisoned by mustard gas from a German shell he’d found. The casing was eroded and the gas had caused him severe respiratory and skin problems. Looking at all the pictures of the munitions he’d uncovered over the years he’s lucky to still be here at all.
Patrick Van Wanzeele, he discovered the dugout while metal detecting 20yrs ago, we were lucky to see him there and he gave us a memento.
Our appetites for exploring Ypres were now well and truly whetted and we cruised to the port the following morning, helped by a very pleasant lady lock keeper. We turned around before reaching the port, reversed a couple of hundred metres and were soon moored up in front of Passe Lagom, a nice Luxemotor barge about the same size as us. I walked back to get the car and on my return joined Peter, Torild and Nils on board Passe Lagom for drinks.
We had a great week in Ypres and visited lots of the WW1 cemeteries, museums, sites and memorials. The staggering waste of human life and the horror of war never ceasing to amaze us.
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