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      April 2011 > At the going down of the sun…

At the going down of the sun…

I’ve just come back from a glorious weekend in Ieper (the accepted Belgian spelling of Ypres) - glorious weather, with not a cloud in sight; glorious bowls of delicious mussels and flagons of refreshing Belgian beer; glorious architecture and pretty rolling countryside; and myriad poignant memorials to our glorious dead.

Main square, Ieper, BelgiumWe stayed in the centre of Ieper, a town rebuilt in its entirety after the destruction of the First World War, including the magnificent Cloth Hall on the wide main square, which hosts a bustling market every Saturday morning (left). But go back almost one hundred years to 1917, and this whole region, known as the Ypres Salient, was ‘hell on earth’, the town being shelled from three sides by the German artillery. Troops gathered here to march up to the front through the mediaeval city gate. Many never returned. After the war, a new Menim Gate was built which now presides over a moving ceremony that takes place every evening at 8 o’ clock.

The Last Post, Menim Gate, Ieper, BelgiumAs the crowds gather, uniformed buglers from the local voluntary fire brigade line up (right) and play the 'Last Post'. There’s a minute’s silence while wreaths are laid before 'Reveille' announces the end of the ceremony, which has taken place every evening since its inauguration in 1929, apart from the years of German occupation in World War Two - every day, rain or shine... Here, one cannot escape the First World War and the cataclysmic events that were played out on the surroundings poppy-covered fields of Flanders. Among the dead are at least three of my ancestors and we went to pay our respects at the small, well-kept cemeteries where they were laid to rest.
Tune Cot Military Cemetery, BelgiumWe also went Tyne Cott, the largest commonwealth military cemetery in Europe (left); the Passchendaele 1917 Museum commemorating this small village that was wiped from the face of the earth; the striking Canada Memorial, a tribute to all the Canadian soldiers who died here; Hill 62, its surface still peppered with shell craters; the remarkable and original trench system at Sanctuary Wood (below); and the ‘In Flanders’ Museum in the centre of Ieper. Between visits, we revelled in the warmth of the spring sunshine, wandered quietly through gentle landscapes and enjoyed fabulous food, while enjoying the open hospitality of a people very much at ease with itself and its place in history.

Trenches at Sanctuary Hill near IeperIf you choose to make such a pilgrimage - or simply wish to visit this delightful region to enjoy the culture and countryside - why not stay in one of Inntravel’s comfortable country auberges just over the nearby border? The three small villages of Isbergues, Le Wast or Wierre Effroy, are just a short drive from Calais (ideal if you live in the south) and an equally short drive from Ieper. From the north, do as we did, and take the overnight ferry service from Hull to Zeebrugge. It’s an easy drive to Ieper on well-signed roads that were surprisingly quiet - we even had time to call in at Dunkirk on the way there and Bruges on the way back, before our ferry set sail into the setting sun.

Monument, Canada Farm Cemetery, near Ieper, Bbelgium

Posted: 12/04/2011 13:29:07 by | with 0 comments
Filed under: Belgium, gastronomy, heritage

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