Scouts and Explorer Scouts from Waltham on the Wolds have recently returned from an eight day cycling exploration of West Flanders.
Based in Koksijde, which is near De Panne, they took advantage of the wonderful Belgium cycle network to visit many of the local historic and cultural areas of the region.
Highlights of the week included a trip to the Ypres area to visit the German cemetery of Langemark, followed by the Commonwealth forces cemetery at Tyne Cot.
1st Waltham Scouts leader Allison Green said: “The contrast between the two cemeteries was quite apparent, Langemark is very dark and overshadowed by mature oak trees and Tyne Cot is airy and serene.
“We were lucky enough to get tickets to go down into the dugout at Zonnebeke church. This was first discovered in 1989, when a team of archaeologists were trying to locate a 12th century crypt of an Augustinian abbey. It has been carefully drained and opened to the public.
“It was opened on the anniversary of the start of the Battle of Passchendaele and will be closed forever on November 10 when the battle ceased. It was the only safe place to be during the violent shelling from the German lines.
“Our experience was broadcast on BBC Radio Shropshire after we were interviewed by Adam Green the Drive Show presenter.
“The day was rounded off with a visit to Ypres for a meal and the Last Post ceremony at the Menin Gate. This ceremony takes place every evening at 8pm and has done so since 1926.
“We also cycled to Diksmuide where we went up the 22 stories of the Yser Tower which is an amazing museum. There followed a visit to the Trenches of Death at Deodengang. The Belgium and German trenches were only about 100 metres apart and the museum told the awful story of the high casualty figures.
“Our group was also able to take part in a special Land Art project, known as ‘ComingWorldXRememberMe’ to commemorate the 600,000 Belgian victims of the First World War. The project will come to fulfilment next March when in an area of ‘No Mans Land’ at Palingbeek near Ypres, 600,000 clay statues, each representing a fallen Belgian, will be laid out across three hectares.
“We each moulded and cast a clay statue to join the hundreds of thousands of statues being made by the people of Flanders to help achieve the required total by next year. The project also helps to raise funds to alleviate child suffering in current war torn areas throughout the World.
“A truly wonderful sight was the shrimp fishermen on the beach at Koksijde. This method of fishing on horseback, by dragging trawl nets behind Belgium Draft horses at low tide, has been practiced for over 500 years. Hundreds of people turn out to witness this spectacle during the summer months but you have to be up early to see it.
“We also cycled to many seaside resorts in search of the huge sculptures that form the Beaufort Exhibition which takes place every three years. These huge structures are sometimes purchased by the coastal towns and become a part of the landscape.
“We all enjoyed a truly varied week of living history, cycling the Flemish countryside. We even managed to have lots of fun!”