Thursday, 25 June 2015

Damme - Belgium 2015

Damme as mapped in 1558
This summer JJ's Wargames has temporarily relocated to Belgium for a few days to do a bi-centennial visit to Waterloo, later this week.

We set out from Devon on Tuesday and got caught up in the French dock workers strike in Calais which closed the port to shipping. With hopes of avoiding delays by our using the Channel tunnel train, our frustration developed as we discovered that dock workers were setting light to tyres on the French end of the railway and that migrants trying to get into the UK illegally were clambering all over lorries queueing on the French side, just adding to the chaos!!

Forced to wait for four hours whist the French authorities got control of the situation our delayed departure was slightly relieved by a glorious sound and sight for any Englishman, a Spitfire cruising over the car departure area with that deep throbbing sound that only a Rolls Royce Merlin can produce, and I got a blurry shot of it as it sped overhead.

Trust me, that is a Spitfire
We finally boarded our train late on Tuesday afternoon and drove up to our first stop over in Belgium staying in a lovely little town house in historic Bruges.

Spared the worst excesses of two world wars the city of Bruges still has the charms of its original streets and buildings arranged around its network of canals linking it to the sea. If you haven't been then I would highly recommend it.

Damme 1649 with its Spanish designed defensive walls and moat in place
Today we hired bikes and decided to cycle into Holland following the canal towards the Dutch town of Sluis, a round trip of just over 35km. On the way we passed through the lovely little town of Damme, which has its Vaubanesque defences on show, a fact we only realised when we stopped to picnic besides the cycle path, only to find we were right next to one of the massive ramparts of the inner defence.

The building of this substantial work, harks back to the days of the Spanish Netherlands, a place mentioned in my history lessons in school as where the Spanish Armada hoped to stop off at to pick up troops for the eventual invasion of Elizabethan England, only to have their ships set upon by Drake and Effingham, sending in fire ships that caused their eventual dispersion and destruction.

The scale of these defences are very impressive for a small place like Damme and the whole effort was principally a defence against the town we were heading to, namely Sluis.

The information board set up on one of the gun bastions
The view from the gun platform, with the tree line marking the forward glacis
This aerial picture was on one of the sign boards, and shows the outline of the defence really well, with the canal redirected through the centre of the works
This part of Belgium and Holland has been fought over for centuries and these defence works are a reminder of that fact, together with a rather more poignant reminder of the more recent First World War that we spotted whist cycling through the most beautiful countryside.

Poppies growing in Flanders fields
Just past the field of poppies we passed an amazingly restored windmill and the house next door had a rather impressive addition to its chimney pot.

A beautiful stork, perched on a chimney pot, another highlight in Damme, Belgium
So as I write this post I am looking forward to a well earned night's sleep after a long day on the bike.
Tomorrow we are packing up and heading off to our hotel in Waterloo, so lots more stuff to come.


  1. Thanks Jonathan, Always love your travelogue pics & commentary.
    I'm looking forward to the next post.

    1. Cheers Gozza, the food, weather and lovely welcoming country that Belgium is has got me in the mood for some battlefield touring. Plenty of stuff to talk about coming up.

  2. Wow. Starting the trip with some adventure but at least you are on your way and able to check out this really awesome town and its surrounding historical features.

    Like you ive heard and read about some of these locations but never seen them. The pictures are great. And I believe you about the spitfite. A few years back at an airshow in Pennsylvania they were taking people up for a 5 min ride for several hundred dollars. Looking back I wish I had done it.

    Hands down that spitfire is my number one favorite fighter plane.

    1. I think you have to be fairly philosophical when traveling, expect the best and prepare for the worst, and treat both imposters with the same indifference.

      Oh Adam, you should have had that 5 minute flight, what a memory. I have a few of those, should have, could have moments myself.

      This part of Europe is jam packed full of history and for the military historian there is just so much to take in. The city of Bruges have come up with a great tribute to the "Old Contemptibles" having the Belfry chiming out "It's a long way to Tipperary".

  3. Looks like a great trip Jonathan, very interesting history of the place!

    1. Thanks Paul, we stayed in Bruges about twenty years ago and had always intended on coming back at some time, so tying it in with a trip to Waterloo seemed the obvious thing to do. It really is a lovely spot to wonder round.

  4. As Gozza above, i too, enjoy your travelogues. Keep them coming!

    1. Thanks Jon. Arrived at our hotel in Waterloo, this afternoon, so more to come.