Beer & Bike: Ypres Salient and Westvleteren

Salient

Salient is an English word.  I looked it up.  But the only time I have ever seen it used, and I mean ONLY, is together in reference to Ypres, the city in Belgium.  As in Ypres Salient.  It is always used as if it was completely obvious what a Salient is.  After years of taking it for granted, Ypres Salient became something that just is.

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I always assumed that it was a word which was geographical in nature but why do I only hear it used with Ypres?  Is there a Philadelphia Salient?  All I knew up until a few moments before writing this post was that the Ypres Salient, whatever that is, is a great place to do a Beer & Bike ride.  And in fact, this Beer & Bike ride is my favorite in all of Belgium for reasons you will soon find out.

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Lys Salient is another name for the Ypres Salient in the Fourth Battle of Ypres.

Salient Explained

Let’s cut right to the chase with the Oxford Dictionary definition:

Noun.  An outward bulge in a line of military attack or defence.

A picture says a thousand words and if you look at a map of the defensive line in the Second Battle of Ypres in World War I, the term Ypres Salient makes complete sense.

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By “Current History” (New York Times) – New York Times Current History. The European War, Vol. 2 No. 3, June 1915.
Downloaded from http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/15480, Public Domain, Link

On the above map, I direct your attention to certain places such as Hill 60, Hooge, Zonnebeke, and Langemarck.  These are just a few of the interesting waypoints on an amazing beer and bike ride thru the now-explained Ypres Salient.

The Route

This is a recommended route which I have made on routeyou.com.  I have done a couple variations of this route, but this is the shortest one I can suggest where the stop at the John McCrae Memorial is included as the last site.  The route is intended to be followed counter-clockwise starting from the Markt in Ypres.  If you start early enough (e.g. 9am), you should have plenty of time for the morning sites before arriving at the Oude Kaasmakerij for lunch.

  • Starting Point:  In Flanders Fields Museum, Ypres
  • Finishing Point:  In Flanders Fields Museum, Ypres
  • Eating/Drinking Points:
    • Oude Kaasmakerij  (Passendale)
    • In de Vrede (Westvleteren)
  • Distance:  71,8 km

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Why I Love This Ride

I cannot imagine that in all of Belgium there is another ride with more historical sites per kilometer.  The Ypres Salient is a treasure trove for both history and World War I buffs.  If you are like me and enjoy the thrill of bicycling thru history, you will absolutely love this ride.  The piece de resistance is that the ride includes a stop at the most prestigious of Trappist beer monasteries, Sint-Sixtus Abdij, where Westvleteren beer is brewed.

Sites

(Note:  My apologies for not having photos of each site.  Some of my pictures were lost forever on a stolen iPhone.)

Hill 60

A strategic hill along the defense line which changed hands several times between the British and Germans.  It was finally captured by the allies when mines were detonated in tunnels beneath it during the Battle of Messines in 1917.

Sanctuary Wood Cemetery / Hill 62 Museum

Sanctuary Wood Cemetery holds about 2000 burials including over 1700 British.  Just nearby is the Hill 62 Museum and Memorial.  Hill 62 is a site where Canadians defended the area against the Germans.  I did not visit the inside of the museum since I had planned to spend time at a couple others mentioned below.

Hooge Crater Cemetery and Museum

Hooge was the site of a large mine detonation by the British allowing them to re-take a chateau that the Germans had captured.  Here there is a cemetery with over 5900 burials and a museum.  The museum was worthwhile but if you decide to choose one museum stop, it should be the Passchendaele Memorial Museum (see below).

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Buttes New British Cemetery / Polygon Wood

A cemetery containing over 2100 burials.  A special memorial to the Australian 5th Division marks the capture of this area from the Germans in 1917.

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Passchendaele Memorial Museum

20180211_100816.pngIf you visit one museum on this route, it should be this one in Zonnebeke.  This museum covers not just the Battle of Passchendaele (or Third Battle of Ypres) from 1917, but the entire World War I in this area.  Besides the incredible collection of artifacts inside the museum, there are replica trenches to explore.

Passchendaele is also memorialized with its own beer brewed by the makers of Kasteel beer, Brouwerij Van Honsebrouck in Ingelmunster, Belgium.  There is always something special about what I call “History Beers”.

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Tyne Cot Cemetery

This is the largest Commonwealth (i.e. British Empire) military cemetery in the world with almost 12000 graves.

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De Oude Kaasmakerij

De Oude Kaasmakerij makes Passendale cheese.  There is a modest museum showing the history of the company and how the cheese is made.  But the best purpose of this stop is the cafe where a light meal such as cheese croquettes or uitsmijter is possible.  For beer lovers, there is the Passendale beer (not to be confused with Passchendaele beer) which is brewed by Brouwerij Duval Moortgat.

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Langemark German Cemetery

This German cemetery has more than 44000 burials including almost 25000 soldiers in a mass grave.  This is the site were the Germans first used gas attacks.

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Brouwerij Leroy  website

This brewery is located in the town of Boezinge which will be where you leave the “loop” of the ride and start heading to Sint-Sixtus Abdij.  The brewery is not open to visitors on the weekend, but those looking for a beer photo opportunity (my photo is now lost) can easily make a stop here.  This brewery is responsible for Poperings Hommelbier, SAS Pils, and the Kapittel Watou beers.

Sint-Sixtus Abdij / Cafe In de Vrede (Westvleteren)

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The Westvleteren XII

Finally after several solemn, thought-provoking sites, it is time to take a less sobering break from the Ypres Salient and enjoy the most famous and hardest to find Trappist beer in the world.  The monks of Sint-Sixtus Abdij brew three varieties of beer, the 6, 8, and 12 (also referred to as XII).  The Westvleteren 12 was once named the best beer in the world by Ratebeer.com in 2012.  These beers are only authorized to be sold either by the abbey or by the cafe across the street from the abbey, In de Vrede.  If you find these beers anywhere else for sale, they are considered “black market” and you will normally pay 10-12 euros per bottle.

 

Buying from the abbey requires calling their phone number and making an appointment.  If you are lucky and persistent enough to get thru on the phone, you may reserve a maximum of 2 crates of 24 bottles which you must pick up by car.  For more information, go to the Westvleteren beer sales website.  Visitors to the cafe, if lucky, can buy up to two 6-packs of whatever is available.  Prices are not cheap at the cafe, about 23 euros per 6-pack during my visit in January 2018.  Otherwise it is possible to sit down at the cafe and enjoy all three as much as you want.

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I hope you do not see this sign

John McCrae Memorial / Essex Farm Cemetery

John McCrae was a Canadian physician who wrote the famous poem “In Flanders Fields” on this site.  McCrae observed how quickly red poppies would grow on the graves of the buried soldiers and mentioned them in his poem.  The red poppy has become the symbol of remembrance and can be seen everywhere in the Ypres Salient.  McCrae worked here in these bunkers which were used as dressing stations.  Just adjacent to this site is the Essex Farm Cemetery with 1100 burials.

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Final Words

This bike ride is a must for anyone who wants to become intimate with Belgium’s history.  The Great War still resonates today and you can almost sense that to many Belgians, it still feels like it happened yesterday.  It is very much a part of the Belgian psyche.  This is also a ride that can be done in many permutations.  What I have listed here is only part of the many World War I sites which make up this rich historical region.


3 thoughts on “Beer & Bike: Ypres Salient and Westvleteren

  1. Another great post with interesting historical facts. Circling through history, what a wonderful idea! The cemeteries and replica trenches remind us of the brutality of WW1. It made huge impression. Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much for your comments, Isabelle! It is very true that these things leave an impression. They remind me to appreciate life and how I feel blessed to even be able to do such a bike ride. In some small way, every day I am living a dream.

      Liked by 1 person

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