Ypres – SKCC Pay their Respects
Well where to start……a gaggle of SKCC’ers met at the allotted time and headed down the M20 , the final stretch to the Chunnel where our first challenge of the day would present itself. Due to the cavalier way that ETunnel seem to treat their customers a few of us were bumped back 2 shuttles which would seriously compromise our agenda the ‘other side’ ……a bit of persuasion saw our hopes rise as we headed for the right train, only to see the doors shut with 4 of us still left on the loading ramp. Doh! Hasty phone calls were made and Plan B came into effect – Neil would gather up those on the train and those already the other side and start the route whilst we four would follow on. A conflab on the train resulted in us needing to cut a few waypoints and add in a few miles of motorway to allow us the chance to get to Coffee at a similar time to ‘Red Group’.
As I changed my lenses to tinted my co-pilot for the day questioned my decision, after all it had been extremely overcast on the way to Ashford. He needn’t have worried for once the other side the sun shone brightly giving us perfect conditions to start making up time. The two groups proceeded independently – a common goal – Coffee at the Town of Cassel. The approach to this town is one that needs to be explored again – as it makes up part of a hillclimb course, a series of tight bends taking us higher up the hill towards the picturesque town with its cobbled streets and roadside cafes. But where were our comrades – they should have arrived before us – no, a sole Caterham waited us – Rik who’d kindly given some input to the area and who’d decided last minute on Friday to join us! So we settled down for a drink and waited for Red Group and also our special guest who had been invited for coffee – Bruno from les Grange aux Damiers – the club that hosted the recent Rallye that we attended. Bruno arrived first and we sat and chatted about his clubs upcoming events, cars and life in general – when suddenly the quiet was pierced by the noise of 8 more SKCC’ers making their subtle entrance – yep, Red Group had arrived ( complete with honorary SKCC’er for the day -Vince with his RS Focus. ).
Refreshed and with pleasantries exchanged it was time for the 2nd leg and one by one we set off, the roads it has to be said less attractive than the first leg, and interesting to note that once inside Belgium its clear they like to use concrete, and I mean lost of concrete – even the single track roads were often concrete. Single track I hear you say – oh yes, this was to be a ‘normal’ SKCC run – and as readers know, you have to have a single track road – it’s the Law! Oh, and of course you do need to throw in the odd U turn as well, ours executed at speed, hah, I imagine that a few drivers further back the column were kept on their toes after the first ‘Uey’.
Tyne Cot was our 1st stop….picture flat farmland, hay gathered and waiting collection, and there in the middle a huge cemetery, brilliant white headstones glistening in the sunlight, immaculate rows of stone after stone, each bordered by an array of flowers. The ages shocking – 18, 19, 20 – old ones at 26……sobering, especially in the still of the countryside. Pictures probably won’t go the setting and place justice.
Re-grouping in the shade of a tree ( did I say it was hot ) tummies began to rumble so we mounted up and headed for Langemark, those that had researched would know that Langemark plays host to the German version of Tyne Cot, but first we would eat……some faster and more replete than others! For it turned out that Langemark was a one horse town, a choice of 2 hostelries and we picked the wrong one! Imagine your elderly aunt on prosaic and you get the picture, clearly serving 20 drinks was a challenge and as for ‘lunch’ – mmm that’ll be ham or cheese in a roll then ( but possibly not 2 each as we haven’t enough bread)……a splinter group made a break for Café ‘Deux’ smug in the knowledge that they’d be eating something a tad more filling. The rest of us didn’t care as we basked in the blinding sunlight ( did I say it was hot )……
We left for the German Cemetery, leaving the ‘splitters’ to their fine fare. What a contrast. The grounds shaded by tall trees, the air still, cool, no vertical headstones here – just markers on the ground, two per ‘stone, German crosses in banks of 3 dotted around. I asked others if they too ‘felt’ the difference – and yes, we all felt the same, this was more chilly, darker.
Heading out now to our final port of call we passed the ‘Splitters’ as they’d finally finished gorging themselves, so with a quick ‘about turn’ they joined the rear of our column and for once we were a complete unit 13 cars running across the Belgium countryside to Sanctuary Wood / Hill 62. This is a museum purported to have opened in 1919, a collection of memorabilia, artifacts, trenches within the newly grown woods and the most striking photos of the war that I’ve ever seen. Inside the museum there are 3D viewers, the pictures ranging from interesting to gruesome – a horse up a tree, a field of bodies….to many to describe. If the cemeteries had made a point then this was hammering it home.
Our final destination was Ypres, the site of the Menin Gate, the memorial to those fallen who were never found. But first it was time to savour the evening sun as we sat outside a restaurant bantering ( well its SKCC and banter is obligatory ), enjoying a drink and watching the locals marvel at our motors which as usual were attracting a crowd.
At 7.40 it was noticeable that people were making their way to the Gate which closes to traffic for the Last Post which is sounded at 8pm every ( I mean every ) day. I you don’t know the ‘Gate’ is a memorial to those fallen who were never found, 54000+, yep, 54,000 people who have no known grave. That’s a powerful statistic isn’t it! The Last Post combined with the names of every soldier ‘missing’ is too poignant to describe. Something that perhaps everyone should experience – because they should not be forgotten.
Time to run for the hills ( gratuitous Iron Maiden content )…….Tony B led the way, with me close behind and we blatted…..oh boy , those initial roads that ate up about 30 miles were awesome and I was smiling inside, the sun had its embers on us, as it turned from the fiery orange to a more subtle hue. Casting its light over some lovely countryside, one shot particularly memorable – a rise in the road leading to a narrow bridge, heading into the waning sun, I hope someone got a picture, unfortunately my co-pilots camera had decided he’d taken far too many piccies and we were out of battery…..doh!
ETunnel decided to play more of their games. How can they be so disorganized? Train times were irrelevant as every car was let straight through to board, by luck we all managed to get on the right train and a convoy of SKCC’ers headed West into the dark of the night.
160 miles the other side, new faces, new memories, banter, sunshine, reminders of those who gave their lives for their countries. What a day. There must be many faces that read these reports and wonder about joining in – ‘Hubby / Liamrose / Rik ‘ were 1st timers, I suspect that they’d all agree that it was a truly great day and so much fun. So don’t just read – get involved!