The weather gods had a few wonderful days in store last weekend . Nice sun, no wind and ideal to get a little fresh outside. I decide to walk along the 100 km hiking network “ Ieperboog”. Some of my other ‘hiking stories’ clearly refer to the turbulent First World War and the green hiking harbor around Ypres Salient.
As starting point, I opt for the Hooge Crater Museum. Anyone who’s entering for the first time the chapel on ‘t Hooge, will be catapulted a hundred years back in time. Life-size reconstructions of violent war scenes, an extended collection of weapons, equipment and photographs clearly characterize the image of the First World War. The Hooge Crater Museum was recently appropriated the title of best private World War museum. Across the museum you will find 6,000 gravestones: always someone’s father always someone’s child … I can’t emphasize it enough.
The Hooge Crater Museum also functions as an information point for Tourism Westhoek. A kind of mini-tourist service where you can find great tips and the purchase of cycling and hiking maps. You are immediately good to purchase the map of the Ypres Salient. Two years ago opens also the small visitor center “Instappunt Oost”. It’s the starting point for a long walk on your own belong the Flanders Fields.
Today I will hike past the walking nodes. Junctionpoint 73 is the start of a walk that still bears the traces of the battle of the past. Here on ’t Hooge the landscape was treated with grenades and soaked with the blood of thousands of soldiers. Behind the museum you will discover the true war history. Close to a little forest, eleven original mine craters from ’14 -’18 can still be admired. Moreover lies on the edge “Liverpool Scottish Stone” dedicated to the 10th Batallion King Liverpool Regiment. On June 16, 1915 the regiment attacked the German positions on the notorious Bellewaerde Ridge . Only 132 men of the 542 remained unharmed. On Bellewaerde Ridge I look out over the Flanders Fields with farms and the peaceful Ypres inner city . Blue and red peace trees mark respectively the British and German front lines. Some are barely 20 meters from each other in an area that was prodigious at that time , full of holes and potholes , mutilated by bitter fighting. The area is still full of ammunition, which gives the ground time value. Recently a zinc hole arose here in the area, caused by the collapse of a WW1 tunnel.
Hill 62, an prodigious 360 ° view
Two rows of Canadian ash trees symbolize the British line. Canadians defended the area on the crest of Hill 62 with tooth and nail. A path let me turn off from the infamous Canadalaan, I lean for a while against the little village of Zillebeke. Near the Maple Copse Cemetery – one of the many Commonwealth cemeteries – I notice for the first time the fearsome height that cost the lives of 8,500 Canadians between 2 and 13 June 1916. At the top of the hill I admire an prodigious 360° view of the Flanders Fields. It’s so beautiful , that I lose sight of time.
In the Hill 62 Sanctuary Wood museum, not far away from the memorial hill ,you will come face to face with the real First World War. The front line with the trenches and underground constructions are still intact as they were 100 years ago. Sanctuary Wood was initially a retreat where older soldiers found safe shelter under the command of General Buffin . After the war, the forest had been recreated in a lunar landscape. Now you only see trees, plants and the immense Sanctuary Wood Cemetery. I continue my walk along the Blueberry Hill 62. In the summer, blueberries grow here in abundance on the picking meadow. Via the Drieblooteweg I finally reach the Hooge Crater Museum again. A last idyllic view, overshadowed by the immense military cemetery, spans the slightly undulating landscape of Flanders Fields.
- Distance: 7.5km
- Free parking: near Hooge Crater Museum, Meenseweg 492, 8902 Ypres
- Start: You follow the nodes 73-72-71-70-44-45-46-71-72-73 of the walking network Ieperboog
- Not suitable for wheelchairs. Boots or sturdy, walking shoes are not a luxury in the winter.
- Horecatip: along the walking route there are various food and beverage options.
- The Hooge Crater Museum also houses a cozy theme café where you can enjoy a sandwich in addition to a wide range of regional beers. Impressive is the enormous collection of machined ammunition sleeves.
- The Hill 62 Sanctuary Wood Museum includes items of equipment and weapons, preserved trenches and underground structures. Open every day from 9 am to 6 pm
- The walking map Ypres Salient is available in the Hooge Crater Museum or via the Westtoer webshop at € 6.
© Text & photos Stefaan Bailleur