Club weekend to Belgium 12th to 15th October 2013.
Six club members: John, Chris, Dave, Matt, Jim & Jackie met up at Hull on Saturday to travel on the overnight ferry to Zebrugge. It was a grey, wet day and there was a strong wind blowing - not what you want for a thirteen hour ferry journey. We parked on the long stay car park and put all our gear on the bikes.
Jim and Jackie were travelling light with just a saddle bag each. I'm relatively new to cycle touring, so had probably packed more than was necessary, so I was relieved to see others had packed similar amounts and alos had two panniers. After checking in we were packed off toward the ferry. It felt strange walking onto the ferry alongside the parked cars and lorries and we stowed our bikes right at the front of the car deck.
The ferry crossing was forecast to be quite rough due to the stormy weather. I get seasick so I was not looking forward to the journey, but fortunately Jackie had brought some motion sickness tablets and shared them out to the group. I took two and hoped for the best. We had prepaid our meals and once aboard agreed between ourselves to upgrade to the Brasserie retaurant. It was a good decision as we had an excellent meal with good service. It was impossible to walk down the corridors in a straight line by this time as the boat was rolling quite a bit, but the pills seemed to be working. After a couple of drinks in the piano bar we retired to our bunks. The worst of the weather was forecast for approx 1am but I slept through it and we all emerged for breakfast in good spirits.
After the buffet breakfast we donned our cycle gear ready for departure. As we could see it was raining, wet weather gear was definitely in order. As we all covered up it was obvious that Dave is made of stern stuff because he was in his cycling shorts! We made our way out of the ferry port and soon found the cycleways. The routes were of a good standard and seperated from the carriageway and pedestrians. We headed for the town of knokke Heist where we found a tourist information centre and bought a local cycling map. Using this and the maps John had downloaded from the internet we planned a revised shorter route to Sluis. We were already dripping wet by this stage and could wring our gloves out. It was really windy and still raining but so far the wind had been behind us as we headed north eastwards along the coast, but we knew that when we turned to head for Brugge we would be cycling into the wind.
We got to Sluis about 1pm and found a nice restaurant for lunch. We really only wanted a snack and a brew but the cafes didn't seem to cater for that so we ended up having a meal. We left around 2:15pm and continued our journey via Damme to Brugge and the santuary of the hotel. The cycling was very well signed and of an extremely high standard and it made navigation relatively simple. It is difficult to describe just how flat the area is and the only 'hills' we encountered involved cycling onto the canal levees. We arrived on the outskirts of Brugge and located the area of the city where our hotel was and plotted a route to it. The cycling in the city was so easy with priority given to cyclists when crossing side road junctions and dedicated phases at traffic signal junctions. We finally got to the hotel about 5pm, booked in and stored our bikes in a locked outbuilding. The hot shower was very welcome. The hotel had a dryer and they very kindly agreed to dry all our cycling kit.
After freshening up we met in the bar and booked a taxi into the centre of Brugge to find somewhere to eat and have a look at the historic city center which was very impressive. We returned to the hotel and turned in after a brief drink in the bar discussing the following day's ride.
The continental breakfast at the hotel was really good and accompanied by fine weather which was a bonus. We assembled for a photogragh outside the hotel and then rode into Brugge to see the city square and buy some gifts before riding northwards out of the city centre to pick up a large canal which would take us west towards Oostende. True to form the rain started as we joined the canal but fortunately it was accompanied by a mild wind rather than the raging storm of yesterday.
It was about 15 miles to the outskirts of Oostende whrer we turned north and headed on quiet roads for the coast, and the town of De Haan where we planned to find somewhere to have lunch. We found a small cafe where we had some nice cake and a welcome warm drink. From here we continued along the coast to Blankenberge which looked like a nice seaside town. We were a little early for the ferry and the rian had stopped so decided to take a less direct route to Zeebrugge.
For the first time all trip we missed the signs for the route we wnated and ended up on a cycle path at the side of a main road. We raelised we had gone wrong but found a cycle route which crossed the main road and as it turned out, it was the one we were meant to be on. Back on course we followed the quiet roads through fields of corn towards the coast and the ferry.