The occasional ramblings of a bewildered Camp site owner...
- Published 25 Nov 2014
Belgium, Battlefields and a Bus
"What do you do when Greenacres closes for the winter?" is a question I'm often asked.
As much as we love welcoming you all to our little corner of Somerset, in the last week of September 2014, we couldn't wait to bolt the gate. That was the signal for our own camping adventures to begin in "Woody", a shiny blue 1970 VW van we purchased back in June. First we lined up a couple of weekends shakedown, one in West Bay and the other a riotous Halloween VW bash - Oktoberfest - at the wonderful River Dart Country Park in Devon. These short trips were to build confidence before a week-long tour of northern Belgium.
So when the half term arrived we left Greenacres after school on Friday and headed south towards an overnight stop near Brighton. No M3/M25 nightmare traffic for us, we decided instead on the tortoise route to Folkestone. All went well and, refreshed by a full English, we pulled into the Eurotunnel terminal slightly ahead of schedule mid-morning on Saturday. Woody appreciated the lack of motorway stress and purred sweetly all the way. We've been through the tunnel using the Eurostar train before, but this was our first time with our own car and I have to report an excellent experience. No fuss, no delays and within minutes we were exiting the carriage straight onto the French motorway system, remembering to drive on the right of course.
A couple of incident-free hours later we checked-in at our camp site in Bruges for 4 nights. Time to pop-up our Khyam awning (ace!) and tuck into the spaghetti and meatballs we'd prepared before leaving home, along with a bottle of red. It’s always good to have that first meal almost ready to serve after setting up. Woody behaved impeccably all the way there, no coughs or sneezes and burning no oil, which is great for a 44 year-old bus.
The weather for the next few days was warm and sunny, so we hired bikes to explore the city and pretty nearby villages such as Damme. What an amazing cycle route system they have, with dedicated lanes everywhere and car drivers giving way to two wheels without even thinking. Bruges is truly lovely and we fell into all the usual tourist traps with our girls - boat ride, carriage ride, climbing the belfry (366 narrow steps!), buying lace, nibbling chocolate and demolishing lots of waffles!
Wednesday came and it was time to pack for the short trip across to Ypres and the historic WW1 Flanders fields. Typically it was pouring with rain that morning, pay-back for the many times we've watched people pack in the wet here at Greenacres. I guess that's what black bin liners are for! We were soon on our way and pulling in to the second campsite, Camping Jeugstadion, located in a little park only 5 minutes from the town centre.
Ypres, or Ieper as it's sometimes written, hosts the famous Last Post Ceremony each evening at 8:00pm by the stunning Menin Gate, itself a monument to around 36,000 of the commonwealth soldiers killed in the region with no marked grave. The ceremony is full of solemnity, dignity and respect for their sacrifice. It's impossible to watch with dry eyes. The night before we arrived was a special 100-year memorial with Royalty from 3 allied nations, including Prince Charles.
A tour of the Flanders museum, located in the painstakingly restored Cloth Hall (the original medieval structure was completely destroyed by the German bombardment of WW1) preceded a day touring trenches and immaculate cemeteries, each tended with love by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. Our two girls were as deeply moved as Mary and me, so nothing needed to be said.
We chose Bellewarde theme park for a bit of silly screaming on our last day. It was built on the site of one of the most hell-like places of the war and some would say that hasn’t changed much. But no complaints, we had a very enjoyable week of sightseeing and waffles in equal measure. The best bit was coming back each evening to our gorgeous, snug camper van, drinking Belgian beer and playing Happy Families, literally. Belgium is a great short-stay holiday destination, with easy access, few language issues, lots to do and decent grub. Oh and waffles, lots of waffles.
Saturday and the end of our holiday came around too quickly. We packed like true professionals (honest guv’) before hitting the road back to Calais and catching an early tunnel train. Driving on the left when returning home always seems harder somehow, but we cruised steadily back to Somerset, with only a short stop for lunch. Our little V-Dub did us proud, the only spanner rattling all week was to secure a loose wiper arm. 25mpg overall too, which wasn’t bad considering all the weight Mary piled in there!
Now we have our camping mojo back, where next?
There had better be waffles...