Travellers' Tales: Cycling From Belgium to Dunkirk

Travellers' Tales: Cycling From Belgium to Dunkirk

Barrie & Anne Whittamore rode across the Low Countries on a sentimental journey

In May 1940, my wife’s father, then 19, got on his bike and rode from his home in La Louvière in Belgium to Dunkirk, with the invading German forces hot on his heels. A destroyer took him to England where he enlisted.

Seventy-five years later, Anne and I followed his route as best we could.

We felt that we were with him in spirit throughout the 160 miles to the coast"

Barrie & Anne Whittamore

We took our Bromptons on Eurostar to Brussels and, after a short stay in La Louvière, set off for Geraardsbergen. We followed the Canal du Centre, passing the huge 19th century boat lifts, and headed into the rolling Wallonia countryside through Mignault and Soignies.

From Geraardsbergen, we picked up the Flanders Fietsroute 6 to Ypres, using beautifully-detailed 1km-to-2cm maps. They took us through the Flemish Ardennes via river paths and minor roads, scattered farms and lovely surprise views.

We spent the night in Avelgem, courtesy of a local antique dealer, in a superbly furnished flat, complete with bronzes, prints, classical statues and the largest bed I’ve ever seen.

Our largely traffic-free route continued to follow rivers and canals and, after passing through Menin and visiting a number of war cemeteries, we rode through the Menin Gate into Ypres.

We left the Fietsroute at Ypres but there are a number of good cycle routes to Dunkirk, and we finally joined the Canal de Bergues right into the city.

Our last morning saw us travelling the 12 miles to the ferry port in driving wind and rain. This was the most difficult part of the route as the cycle path was intermittent and left us, at times, dicing with juggernauts.

We’ll never be sure of Anne’s father’s exact route but we must have cycled (and walked a bit) through the same countryside. We felt that we were with him in spirit throughout the 160 miles to the coast.

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