A short cycling tour of Belgium (Ghent, Ypres, Bruges)

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1 – Zeebrugge to Ghent

After a few days of cycling along a short stretch of the Canal du Midi last Easter, Mrs Bailey was surprisingly keen to take a short bicycle tour of Belgium or Holland this summer. I have to confess to being out of my comfort zone when I looked at the possible routes for this trip, but in the end she simply booked the Zeebrugge ferry, I booked the accommodation online, then we paid a few pounds extra to get the cycling maps just in time for our journey. As we left it, the ferry port of Hull was bathed in glorious sunshine, but after a sleepless night on a choppy sea we were greeted in Zeebrugge by strong winds and torrential rain, the worst, apparently, to have visited Belgium in quite some time.

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The worst of the weather had passed, but these canal paths were strewn with branches for much of their length.

There was one other cyclist on the ferry, and we were among the first off into very heavy rain and wind. I completely missed the cycle lane (it was on our left) and rode up to two roundabouts. We were blown along in what seemed like the right direction. I stopped at the office of an estate agent to get my bearings and ask for directions. It was my fault really, but because I thought we would have to turn around and head back in to the bad weather I went south along the major route Baron De Maerelaan instead of turning left (east) at the same junction.

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Finally on Leopoldkanaal after a detour through Zwankendamme (and after cycling along the side of the busy Baron De Maerelaan), Lissewege and Dudzele. This is near orientation post 41 of Sportoena's cycle path network map 1B.

Now we were on our planned route things got more straightforward. There were still some confusing signs that had us guessing and back-tracking a few times. It didn’t quite rain constantly, but the wind was in our faces all the way to Ghent. Mrs Bailey was less than chuffed. I tried to pitch the weather as a ‘cooling breeze’, but this interpretation was not well received. This was a hard ride for her.

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Some of the route along the canals are shared with motor vehicles. I think this was one of them.

There was some respite from the weather. A member of the CTC’s forum had suggested that we visit Middleburg, but the rain was still bad enough to dampen our enthusiasm for sightseeing. We kept on going and endured rather than enjoyed this leg of our tour.

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No pictures of this historic city. We tried to avoid the rain by nipping in and out of shops on our way to taste a flavour of the local delicacies (okay, McDonald’s) and one or two beers.

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Cheers! from Ghent.

I wish I’d taken a few photographs of the buildings and people of Ghent. When we were eating our burgers we saw a well-dressed woman cycle past holding an umbrella over her head. Lots of people dashed about in the rain and after trying out the Belgian brews we squelched back to our hotel for a microwave meal and some more local beers. (Hey, they do serve them in small glasses.)

(MapMyRide route to follow.)

Next: Ghent to Ypres

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12 comments on “A short cycling tour of Belgium (Ghent, Ypres, Bruges)”

  1. Hilary wrote:

    Great write up and great photos – love the beer animations! Cycle paths always seem to be more difficult to navigate on than roads – if I ever start following a cycle route I'm guaranteed to have lost it within 20 minutes! A friend of mine reckons Belgium is a cyclists' paradise, every time we meet an inconsiderate motorist she always says 'They wouldn't do that in Belgium!'

  2. Kern wrote:

    I notice there are no repeats among the Cheers! images. Surely some of them were worth a second sampling?

  3. Patrick wrote:

    I hope the weather didn't put Mrs Bailey off cycle touring. She did amazingly well to cycle almost 60 miles in one go if she's not used to it. At least she came home with Belgian chocolate. I'm pleased to say I don't like chocolate – even from Belgium, my late mother's homeland. But I do like McDonald's, and the beer photos are making me thirsty.

    There are hills in Belgium by the way. The Ardennes region, which also stretches into France, is hilly and probably much wetter than the northern part, as anyone who watches the Belgian Formula One Grand Prix might remember.

    [ Added after another read ] I agree with 'Belgium cycle touring suggestion' #3!

  4. Garry Lee wrote:

    GPS is great is you have the maps!
    I've never been to Belgium yet, but I certainly wouldn't have had McDonalds! Belgium cooking is famous and McDonald's I would regard as close to poison, given my former occupation! In America if you map the really fat people on a map, they all live near a fast-food restaurant! It isn't that I don't like fast food. I do. But I don't approve of it!
    Chris, if you haven't been to Germany with your Mrs., consider it. It has great cycling facilities, great food and beer and it's cheap. I've done the Romantische Strasse twice, the Rhine, Mosel, Neckar, Bavaria and Berlin-Copenhagen. The Romantische S. is a great tour, though some of it is not easy.

  5. Chris wrote:

    Garry wrote: McDonald's I would regard as close to poison

    First it was toasted teacakes. Now McDonald's. If you dare have a go at my beloved flapjacks we're going to fall out, Dr Lee 😀

    Mrs Bailey points out that it was more than 60 miles from Ghent to Ypres. My apologies.

    Some beers were worth a second tasting. But I felt it would take each page even longer to download. I brought a few samples home in my panniers. Mrs Bailey made do with chocolate. I've still got some of my cargo left.

    Motorists were what you would consider to be unnecessarily courteous if they behaved that way in this country. But it's just the norm on the continent it would seem. Amazing.

  6. Patrick wrote:

    Mrs Taylor makes nice flapjack. She uses oats, treacle, syrup, brown sugar, and butter. Only the oats are doctor-friendly. I prefer it when it's slightly moist and not too crunchy.

    I've also found continental motorists to be more courteous than here but they're quick to react when the cyclist is in the wrong. I got hooted at in Denmark when I didn't give hand signals turning right off roundabouts because it caused motorists also turning right to have to wait to see which way I was going. Cyclists have priority on roundabouts. And in Holland you get hooted at if you cycle on the road when there's a cycle path available. Zero tolerance of cyclists' misdemeanours!

    I haven't cycled much in France but my brother has. He says drivers regard cyclists as a nuisance but are careful towards them because they 'approve' of cycling as a sport – part of their national culture – or something like that. Anyway he felt safe on the roads.

  7. Bronwyn Harvey wrote:

    Hello!! Your trip sounds amazing.. I'm looking to do the Bruges – Ghent cycle leg by myself. Is it safe for woman.
    Also desparately looking for someone who will rent a bicycle out in bruges but let me drop it off in Ghent as I am meeting friends there and dont want to do a loop.... Anybody have any ideas?

  8. Chris wrote:

    Hi, Bronwyn. I'm afraid I can't help with bike rental – as you will have read we took our own bikes and didn't need to look in to that. Sorry.

    I haven't mapped the route between Bruges and Ghent, but I would imagine it's as safe as anywhere for anyone to cycle in Europe! There are a couple of short stretches where you come away from the canals and, say, pass under a motorway bridge, but there's nowhere I can think of that looked like a no-go area.

    If you haven't done so already I would recommend that you get a map that includes those little green numbered signs as an extra precaution. Enjoy, and point us to any photographs you may take and upload to somewhere. Cheers!

  9. Paul Kirkwood wrote:

    I'm the chap who enquired about your ride via the CTC forum before Christmas. Thanks for the reply – and blog link. Enjoyed reading about your adventures – although the weather sounded far from ideal. My son and I are planning to cycle from Zeebrugge to Rotterdam via Hull and I now have a plan but still interesting to hear how you got on in Ghent etc.

    I blog about UK bike rides. See my website if interested.

    Happy cycling in 2016.

    Paul.

  10. Chris wrote:

    Hi, Paul.

    Yes, I've read your articles in Cycling Active (and follow you on Twitter). I wonder how many more of your words and pictures will appear in that magazine now they've gone all sportivetastic.

    I do hope you enjoy your ride over in Belgium. It doesn't fit in with the title of your web site, so if you had the time you could always write a guest blog post about your trip. Sadly, we don't pay for such things, but I'm sure plenty of people would enjoy reading about your adventures.

    Take care and enjoy your cycling in the coming year.

    Cheers – Chris.

  11. Paul Kirkwood wrote:

    You're right about the sportivetasticness of CA. The editor left in protest over the new direction and, with no rides features, my freelancing with the title has sadly finished. I no longer buy it either.

    Paul.

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