‘Passe Lagom’, ‘Inevitable’, ‘Eugenie’ and ‘Shell V’ also stayed in the port at Ypres and on the morning of the 11th we all made for Diksmuide. joined by ‘Iron Lady’ as we headed north to the lift bridge at Knokkebrug.
‘Mizar’ and ‘Neeltje’ arrived at the junction at the same time, travelling from Fintele and as we all went through, walkers, fishermen and cyclists were surprised at the sight of so many fine barges in transit.
The fun started when we reached the port and discovered that we all had to turn and face upstream. This meant going past the pontoon mooring through a narrow winding section of moored boats to a wider turning area. With so many arriving at more or less the same time it became an impromptu manoeuvring competition. John had the moorings all marked out on the wall of the quay and was on hand to guide everyone to their place using a handheld VHF. 17 barges were soon settled into the correct positions with another 4 expected later. Everyone can count themselves joint winners of the barge handling competition!
Over the following couple of days old friendships were rekindled and new ones made. The weather was sunny and warm and the atmosphere relaxed.
On Friday evening we all walked to the Cultural Centre in the town for a welcome reception by the Mayor. Champagne and wine flowed freely all evening and we were served with a variety of delicious hot and cold regional canapés, served by friendly local youngsters. Well, compared to us lot they were young!
On Saturday morning there was a visit to the nearby ‘Trench of Death’ – part of the Belgian front in the First World War. A coach was provided; the more intrepid walked or cycled.
The ‘Trench of Death’ looking back towards Diksmuide.
Some of the Belgian troops in the trench.
We had wondered what had happened to the part of Belgium north of Ypres during World War One, most books simply state that the Belgians defended it. In fact much of the area between the River Ijzer and the railway embankment was flooded by opening the sea sluices at Nieuwpoort. This prevented the Germans from overrunning this part of Belgium. However, at the ‘Trench of Death’ the Belgian troops suffered terrible losses.
Many buried where they fell.
Rather symbolic I thought.
Lunch had been organised in Ypres, a thirty minute coach ride away. The town was buzzing with shoppers and tourists and we all had a very good meal at a restaurant in the town centre.
There was plenty of time to explore the town and visit the ‘In Flanders Fields’ museum or do some shopping. Having already ‘done’ the museum we took a walk along the ramparts, visiting the Ramparts War Cemetery which contains a number of Maori soldier’s graves. A relaxing couple of beers in a local hostelry filled in the remaining time before the Last Post ceremony at the Menin Gate. A DBA wreath was one of those laid on this very moving occasion while a choir sang several beautiful hymns.
The fortifications at Ypres.
The Last Post.
Sunday morning was filled with a visit to the Ijzer Peace Tower and Museum just opposite the moorings. We had a guide who provided some interesting facts regarding local history and the rather odd divide between the Flemish and French speakers in Belgium. We then watched a short film depicting life in the trenches before ascending in the lift to the top of the tower. The panorama was superb and we had a grand view of all the DBA barges 84 metres below.
The Peace Tower.
The barges 85 metres below.
Interestingly, the museum is inside the tower and the exhibits are viewed as you descend the (many) steps to the different levels. Understandably, the emphasis is on the Belgian war effort and there were some very good exhibits and videos.
This was followed by a very nice barbecue lunch at a restaurant adjacent to the quay where we enjoyed the various meats and salads, plus the odd glass or three in convivial company.
With the organized rally events having concluded, some barges departed on the Monday but quite a few remained until Wednesday. We had an impromptu soiree on Tuesday evening aboard ‘Aurigny’. The weather having deteriorated somewhat our saloon was soon filled with more than twenty people. What better way to end a very relaxed and enjoyable event.