Having a weekend spare my pal Alan and I decided to have a foray into Flanders Fields and try our hands at Bikepacking and recce a future group trip to The Cycling Mecca of Belgium….
Annually we arrange a Remembrance Sunday weekend ride where we usually trek to the YHA in Brighton or North Downs and have a service at 11am on the Sunday followed by a tear up on the way home.
2018 being the centenary of the Great War we decided it would be a great idea to have the ceremony in Flanders fields so the recce was on.
Credit to Alan for making the arrangements. Having failed to Bikepack on any of my touring trips this year we decided it was time to give it a crack (although a soft version sans bivvi and tent).
I was sporting a full Apidura kit whilst Alan had an eclectic mix of Blackburn, Rapha and Alpkit.
The plan was to drive to Formula 1 in Calais for the night and then ride a route to Ypres through Flanders Fields B &B then onto Passchendaele and back to Calais a very doable 220k ish Over 2 days.
After a fantastic brekka at the Formula 1 (do you recognise the sarcasm) we made our way out on to the roads of Northern France roads that many of us speed through on the motorway but very rarely ride.
The weather gods were kind and after a grey Northern Europe start we even enjoyed some sunshine and blue skies.
Alan is posh so he brought some posh grub along for the ride Baclava very nice too and in true bikepacking fashion it spent the weekend hanging off the seatpack.
Almost immediately we saw flags containing the Lion of Flanders, we learnt that Flanders is in fact a region that spans both France and Belgium in fact down as far as the coast at Dunkirk.
“Bikepacking VS Touring”
The downside of course is This is not carrying a tent or a sleeping bag.
Alan on the other hand was having the reverse problem it being his first time bikepacking over distance, it really was a game of snakes and ladders I was gaining on the climbs and losing on the flat.
Back to the ride.
As we moved towards Belgium the scenery was excellent with many windmills and lovely little villages, surprisingly hilly with around a 1000 metres climbing for the day.
We passed through a Town called Cassel which was full on with cobbles a really nice town with eateries, they were shut obviously as we were still En France. I don’t do well on cobbles as i am too light, Alan however copes really well, not that he is fat.
We could tell when we were in Belgium as Cafes and Restaurants were actually open! We reached the border town of Westouter which was a bit like the wild west with casino’s strange supermarkets and wotnot, we liked the border towns they were funky.
We had not seen a single sporting cyclist all the while in France but within a very few minutes of being in Belgium we were stopped as a top class pro conti race sped by (won by Griepel we were later to learn).
Cycle paths were now the thing and very good they were too with Motorists giving way to cyclists on roundabouts most satisfactory.
We were soon riding into Ypres and what a surprise it was fantastic full of life and brimming with Tourists on the Battlefield trail and paying their personal respects.
The B&B lent us Dutch bikes to get back into town which was great fun.
Alan seemed particularly happy about the Dutch bikes.
After decanting to the B&B we made our way to the Menin Gate where the last post has been held at 20:00Hrs everyday since 1924, this was very moving indeed with in excess of 1000 people attending.
Ypres (Leper) is a beautiful town steeped in history, it is the entryway to the battlefields of the great war and the home of the Flanders Fields Museum.
The Menin gate being a memorial to those members of the Commonwealth who lost their lives in the Battle of Ypres also know as the battle of Passchendaele.
The ride home
After a hearty breakfast we faffed around with the bags (obligatory) and made our way to Pashendaele where we were wanting to visit the memorial as we made our way through the drizzle I had ordered we passed many memorials.
The Paschendaele memorial was too big to look around in the time we had, from what we saw it is a memorial a museum a church and a park kind of a living memorial. Even a trench Church.
we headed toward the coast and along to Calais we passed through a place called Plopsland which amused me no end, it also has a Plopsland Theme park.
Its fair to say whilst it was an interesting route I preferred the interior route. Much of the coast is very industrialised and pretty awful to look at we never saw much of the dunes or anything interesting and the coastal towns look pretty run down.
All in all though I am pleased we did that route to tick it off of the list.
In summary it’s amazing how far you can get into Belgium in a days ride from a port, very soon you are deep into berg country I Will certainly do this again.
As far as bikepacking versus touring the bikes are much lighter and quieter which gives us the option of travelling a little faster and further however you are at the whim of accommodation availability.