Alarm is still at six thirty, but we both wake up at six with an urgent urge to use the facilities. It’s dry when we hop the 20 m to the common building, though the ground feels like it’s been raining during the night. When we get back to our hut, we figure we might as well stay up, but decide on doing something completely useless for a change and take up a book. The banana-choco roll is a bit of a challenge today, as the bread slice is just too small for the banana, can you picture it? The cottage cheese with grapes and blueberries is delicious, honestly there’s no need to eat bad even when trekking and camping. My knees are killing me this morning, the salve I massaged into them yesterday evening did not have much of an effect.
We pack up and leave the camping ground around eight fifteen and ride through to center of Ieper (famous in English as Ypres) through the Menenpoort (Menin Gate). It is raining again, but only slightly, so we’re happy! The center of Ieper is always impressive: the old buildings and many memorials make it a special and lively place.
Today is another canal day: we leave town on the Ieper-Ijzer canal, that connects the town of Ypres to the Ijzer river. The end near town is an actual terminus with a small yacht harbour, where pleasure boats are moored. I’m assuming there’s some tourist traffic on the water in summer season, though now the green canal is extremely quiet and populated only by duckweed and masses of water birds. This canal actually dates from the 13th C, can you believe it!
We stop and read the information panels at each of the points of interest: the memorial for the Van Raemdonck brothers, the locks at Boezinge – where the front line was located between ’15 and ’17 – .. It continues to rain slightly as we ride north, but I take off my rain pants anyway because I have the impression my knees were a bit less bothered yesterday when I didn’t wear them. It’s only a total of 40 km today, so I prefer wet knees over achy knees, though honestly they’re still pretty bad. We’re starting to think about alternatives, because it doesn’t feel like this ache is going to go away by itself and I’m thinking that continuing the activity that caused the ache in the first place is not a good idea.
We pass the time by discussing our next sewing projects and trying to identify what’s on the fields. Over the last few days we’ve recognized leek, winter potatoes and lots of brussels sprouts, yummy. Most of the maize is already harvested and some fields are already turned down for the winter, exposing the dark clay in deep furrows.
We continue at slow tempo, at the Ijzer we leave the canal and take a shortcut towards the next one, following a street called Zeedijk: the ‘sea dike’. The fact that we’re still about 20 km away from the sea tells you a lot about the history of this place. The whole area between the Ijzer river and the sea is known as Bachten de Kupe: ‘Behind the Ijzer’ and is carefully managed to avoid inundation. To keep the fields dry, the land is finely veined with waterways, from really narrow ditches to wide canals, each with its own set of locks and pumps to keep the water flowing to the sea.
The land is extremely flat and the horizon is dotted with poplars, church towers and electricity pylons, though the waterways are barely visible because of the dikes surrounding them. The Ijzer river itself has a very even profile and can only be emptied into the sea at low tide, as a result it overflows several times per year during heavy rainfalls and the fields it occupies are called broeken. This is not the same thing as the wielen we saw earlier along the Schelde river: these are created when a dike breaches and the force of water coming through digs a deep hollow, which remains as a lake once the dike is repaired.
The whole system of locks and sluices has been in place for a long time in this area and was used as a defense during the first World War, when a large area was inundated to stop the advance of the Germans.
We continue on the Lovaart (the Lo canal), an smaller canal from the Ijzer to the coast. It’s mostly dry now and we take the opportunity for the first time to take a break on a bench. I’ve been cycling with just a wind jacket and merino wool tights, though the wind is a bit chilly and I’ve put on my gloves. We encounter a few locals out for a walk and a few die hard cyclists, but all in all it’s still very quiet. We approach our destination Veurne, though it’s pretty well hidden behind the trees until the last moment. Grandma has lunch prepared and we take the rest of the day off. My knees by this time are a bit swollen and warm, so I call my husband to arrange for a pick-up tomorrow.
- km today: 36 (only one road block)
- average speed: 15 kmph
- riding time: 2h30