Day 1 – Swanley to Dunkirk, Dunkirk to Bruges (79km cycling)
Early start leaving from Swanley, which is where I have been house-sitting for a friend. It is right on the inside edge of the M25, London’s outer limit. A little too far from civilisation for me, so I am glad to be leaving, crossing the M25 and heading (by train) for Dover. I’m up early, as I want to be gone by 6.15, I have a 6.50am train to catch.
Train trip is relatively uneventful, although I do have to be up and down making sure I am keeping my bike out of the way of people getting on and off. It’s a beautiful summer’s morning across Southern England, you can feel the landscape awakening.
Dover seems quite a pretty town with a very impressive castle looming over it, but I don’t really have time to appreciate as I have to get to the ferry terminal. I’m rescued from going the wrong way by one of a group of three young Dutch women, who yells out to me as I head off down the wrong route in the ferry terminal.
Spoke to a young Muslim guy who was heading into Europe for a couple of weeks in his car, he didn’t have a planned route at all. Very nice chap, I hope his trip goes well for him.
The trip across the English Channel is very uneventful, but calm and lovely going across, barely a breath of wind.
And once I get out at Dunkirk (Dunquerque) it is just cycling! I’ve set myself a relatively long ride this first day, the idea being to get to Bruges in Belgium, a distance of 79km. By the end of the trip I think I’ve probably done close to 100km, as I drift off the path a little (i.e. get lost!) with alarming regularity. I realise I’ve crossed into Belgium only by looking at Google maps, I am sitting right on the border. It’s odd being in two places at once.
I meet a lovely Dutch or Belgian family who strangely ask me for directions, and I tell them they musn’t listen to my navigational advice, I’d have them going in completely the wrong direction.
I go into the little town of Veurne, which is meant to be very beautiful, but I can barely see it, as the town square has been taken over by a tacky funfair, so all the views are blocked by things whirling about, and bright lights.
The last 15 or 20km are along a lovely canal, as the sun is starting to lower in the sky. I finally get into Bruges about 7pm, and find the campsite I have my eye on is great (Camping Memling). I’m very tired, and very happy – it feels like I’ve come a whole world away from inside the M25 this morning.
Note: I’ve written a story about this day, you can read it here: http://rstanleyscott.com/leaving/
Day 2 – Bruges
Had a great sleep, after a hard day yesterday.
Had a wander around the historic centre (where I was fooled into buying an expensive – and quite disgusting – hot chocolate), and the Begijnhof – these are found in Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany I think. They are like convents almost, but they are more of a sectioned off community for widows and women who did not want to take Holy Orders, but who nevertheless felt some attraction to religious life. They are generally lovely and serene places. The was a little museum that showed what a Beguines home would have looked like.
After that, wandered around Minnewaterpark where the Beguinehof is situated, but managed to get myself turned around and completely lost.
Finally found my way to the Jerusalemkerk which was built by the wealthy Adornes family, merchants in the 1500s. Interesting chapel with a very beautiful vaulted ceiling.
Then went to have a quick look at the windmills near the Kruispoort, and I’d also heard of a nice pub there – which was, of course, closed! Luckily, there was another across the road which served very well. Here I drank my first beer in Belgium, a Westmalle Dubbel – very strong and it went straight to my head.
Bruges is very pretty, almost too pretty for my tastes. A bit too picture postcard. It has a similar look and feel to Amsterdam to me – lots of tourists but not too crazy.