Yesterday went like a whirl. Any apprehension I felt about this Tour was replaced by excitement the moment I reached France. The journey from Calais to Kortrijk went well and I crossed the border into Belgium (at L’Abeele) more smoothly than Napoleon Bonaparte did in 1815 – there was no border presence at all and if it weren’t for the road signs changing from French to Flemish I wouldn’t have known I had entered Belgium. Kortrijk appeared almost empty as I arrived early on the Sunday afternoon and I was able to park the Van in the centre of the town (N50,83120 E3,26818) without any difficulty and enjoy a quick stroll before dinner. There’s a significant amount of regeneration going on in the centre (especially by the River Lys – that’s the River Leie in Flemish) but the balance between old and new appears to be working.
The town became even quieter as it got dark but the next morning was totally different. I was up early, looking for an early start towards Ypres but a local market was being set up in Kortrijk’s two major squares and I sat for a full hour with hot coffee and croissants watching while the locals noisily set out their stalls with local produce. Freshly baked bread, cheese, cold meats & fresh fish seemed the order of the day. I sampled a few cheeses before driving back down the road I came in on towards Ypres.
The Channel Tunnel crossing from Folkestone to Calais was a doddle (and very quick). I booked it online and simply followed the instructions in the confirmation letter from Euro-Tunnel and then the signposts in Folkestone. The rail crossing itself (if something going under the sea can be termed a crossing) was just 35 minutes but the whole journey from leaving Dave’s house in Canterbury to my parking place in the centre of Kortrijk in Belgium took less than 4 hours.
One observation I would make regarding the crossing is that the train rocked almost as much as any ferry I have travelled on – I didn’t have any Stugeron 25 to hand to combat motion sickness but the acupuncture learned on the Caribbean cruise earlier this year worked once again. Hurrah for alternative medicine (assuming always that acupuncture qualifies as alternative medicine)!
Not very exciting but the first photo in France!
Regarding the journey from Calais to my chosen destination of Kortrijk, it was straight forward. The downside was that I spent a good 1.5 hours listening and responding to a French language tape only to find that the Belgians in Kortrijk studiously avoid speaking French. They speak, read and write Flemish; English as a foreign language and; French only as a last resort. I should have realised this beforehand given that Kortrijk was previously known as Courtrai (at least by me). Oh well.
I know what to do in a fire but what about the rest of it?!?!
Day 6 saw Mick and I arrive at Dave’s place in Canterbury for a small reunion (Mick decided to join me for a couple of days) before I head off to mainland Europe…
Stayed in Canterbury longer than anticipated but enjoyed every minute of it. Drank some good local ales (Kent County from Whitstable and Musket Flash in the Pan which I think comes from a micro-brewery in Maidstone) in a couple of very good pubs (The Bell & Crown and The New Inn)…
Bar in The Bell & Crown
Bunch of happy Germans in The Bell & Crown
Tried to ignore Canterbury Cathedral (which everyone takes pictures of and is for the most part covered in scaffolding) in favour of views which better reflect Canterbury as a whole and I saw a side of Canterbury I had not seen before. It is a compact and charming town with much to see. The only downside is the litter and graffiti – it really is bad – shame on you Canterbury!
Okay, so there is a little bit of the Cathedral without scaffolding
A surprisingly interesting place to visit was St Martin’s Church which, they say, is the oldest church in the English-speaking world…
For those who don’t know Mary Tourtel is the artist and writer who created Rupert Bear.
The best part of the visit to Canterbury, although a close second was our winning a charity quiz for Sri Lankan Orphans during day 8 (well done Team Oblivion), was our night at the Spiegeltent Salon Perdu. We arrived in Canterbury during it’s Annual International Arts Festival and took the opportunity to see the Red Stripe Band perform in the tent which is a highly decorated (lots of mirrors) travelling dance tent which originated in Belgium some time in the 1920’s. It’s been everywhere. It was a great venue for the Red Stripe Band who play a wide variety of Boogie, Swing and Rock & Roll and encourage dancing on the dance floor, in the aisles and even behind the bar – they were probably the most fun band I have ever seen/heard. Particularly entertaining was a musical trilogy of It’s Alright Mama, The Benny Hill (Chase) Music and Lily Allen’s It’s Not Fair.
I wouldn’t normally mention a visit to Sutton (it could never be described as a “see it before you die location” – it’s more of a “I must have died and been really naughty” kind of place) except I popped in to see my mate Mick.
That would be the extent of today’s blog except that his lovely wife Mim, recently returned from visiting her hometown Boro’ (i.e. Middlesbrough – she’s a smoggy), provided a nice welcome and a great meal – tandoori chicken with new potatoes and a home made salsa. I cannot leave the map coordinates but, on a more positive side, I’m not posting any photos of Sutton.
Only other item worthy of mention is that Mick and I enjoyed a fine evening in The Gander public house on Oldfields Road, Sutton drinking London Pride (albeit bottled London Pride) and watching West Ham thrash Tottenham 3-2 in the Carabao (League) Cup. It’s Arsenal in the next round of the cup and I am now en route to Canterbury to see another old friend before crossing to France.
Day 3 (Monday 23 August) saw me drive to Bedford to see my parents (Hi, Mum, Hi Eric!). Parked up at the Box End Watersport Complex in Kempston (N52.125 E-0.522) – the Sat Nav works! No hook up available (it was half term and there were lots of wake board enthusiasts there for the week – nothing left for me) but plenty of level ground to park the van up and electricity was not ever going to be a problem because Travel World had changed the two leisure batteries in the van before I left Telford. Thank heavens for the warranty not expiring until 24 August!
An evening meal at the Alamin Tandoori in Bedford was what you might expect of the longest established Indian restaurant in the town (great welcome, excellent service and… Indian food).
A few pics of Bedford:-
Last photo is of the chef at the Alamin Tandoori.
Saddest part of the visit was that I noticed they have demolished the Queens Head pub on Kempston Road. I was last in there with my Uncle Bill in the 70’s. All that is left is the pub sign.
Day 1 (Saturday 21 October 2017) : The journey begins – Prestbury, Cheshire to Bridgnorth, Shropshire via Travel World in Telford.
Parked the van in Travel World’s yard at Telford (pending a change of leisure batteries Monday morning) and visited family in Bridgnorth. Apologies for not staying awake long enough on the Saturday night to see everyone but the beer at the Bamboo Bar & Pie Shop has a particularly soporific effect when taken in quantity.
Talking of the Bamboo Bar & Pie Shop, the steak and ale pie I had for dinner was outstanding. The local ales are good but the pies are out of this world – reasonable portions, great pastry and packed solid with good sized steak pieces. A hearty meal and at not a bad price either. The Bamboo is on the High Town side of Bridgnorth close to the town bridge over the River Severn and highly recommended if you like steak pie.
I am advised Bridgnorth is in fact two towns, being the High Town “with good views down” and the Low Town “with good views up”. It is said Charles I declared the view from the High Town as “…the finest in all my Kingdom” but, without taking too much away from the place, he was perhaps too easily impressed.
The town was a Royalist stronghold during the English Civil War but it surrendered to the Parliamentarians after a short siege and was subsequently destroyed by the victors. There’s little left of the castle (although some of the keep remains, albeit leaning over at an alarming angle) but the town has considerable character and there is much else to appreciate.
It is perhaps a sad reflection on me or at least of my tastes that I found one of the the most striking features of the town to be the large number of real ale pubs – I shall return!