We’ve just come back from 5 days touring West Flanders in Belgium, and what a fabulous country it is.
A brief 48 hour visit to Brussels and Bruges on a boys weekend away 2 years ago had whetted the appetite for a longer visit with my wife ever since. This autumn the opportunity presented itself to us and the ferry crossings and BnBs’ were duly booked. The plan this time was to visit the cities of Ypres, Ghent and Bruges as well as take in some World War 1 sites and museums as my knowledge on that significant part of history was, to my shame, lacking.
We caught the ferry to Dunkirk, a short 2 hours from Dover and for our first night stayed at the ‘Grand Maison‘ AirBnB in the small French town of Hondschoote on the Belgium border. A beautiful house, very quiet and plenty of room meant we had very comfortable first night on our trip. Highly recommended!
One thing you quickly realise on visiting West Flanders is there are many museums and memorials relating to World War 1. Hence you have to manage your time and budget (as many of the museums charge entry) as to which ones you visit. For our brief few days in the area we visited (in order) Dodengang (The Trench of Death), Yser Tower, the iconic Menin Gate and the very moving Last Post cememony, the ‘In Flanders Fields Museum’ at Ypres, Tyne Cott Cemetery (largest Commonwealth War Grave Cemetery in the World), and the very good Memorial Museum Passchendaele 1917 at Zonnebeke.
The following morning refreshed, we headed towards Belgium and our first stop at Diksmuide to visit Dodengang or, in English, the Trench of Death, and the 84 metre high Yser Tower.
Trench of Death WW1 memorial site
The Trench of Death is a 270 m section of preserved and restored WW1 trench where many men were killed on both sides in World War I during a stand off between the Belgian and German armies that lasted for the 4 year duration of the war.
As part of the Yser Front, it played a key role in preserving the front line in this area and stopping further German incursions across the Yser Canal. Belgian soldiers fought here under the most perilous conditions until the final offensive of 28 September 1918 when around a third of all Belgian army fatalities in the whole of WW1 occurred
There is a small museum on site and a raised viewing platform from where you can survey the whole area. There is also a demarcation stone onsite, unveiled in 1922 by King Albert as part of a series of markers all along the Western Front.
A short drive south following the Yser canal to Diksmuide and you come to the spectacular 84 m high Ijzertoren (Yser Tower) memorial.
The first tower on the site was built after the 1914-18 war by an association of Flemish veterans but this was dynamited in 1946. The authorities never caught those who committed this action but it is thought to have been carried out by French-speaking radicalists. The Ijzertoren has always been a rallying point for Flemish nationalism and a new and indeed higher tower was built and the remains of the old tower now form the ‘Gate of Peace’ to the site.
The tower also has the abbreviation “AVV-VVK” written on it. This stands for “Alles Voor Vlaanderen-Vlaanderen voor Kristus” which translates as “All for Flanders-Flanders for Christ”.
The tower houses an interesting museum (charged entry) including a lift that takes you to the 22nd floor where a viewing area provides a magnificent 360 degree panorama of the surrounding area.
Our visit part 2
Read the next post in our visit to Belgium as we reach beautiful Ypres and the horror of the events of the First World War really hit home. Travel: Beautiful Belgium and WW1 history Part 2 – Ypres