One of the more special days of our Flanders trip was cycling the Ypres (Ieper) Peace Route, riding past many World War 1 cemeteries, monuments, and museums. Many thanks to the military historian Jeremy Banning who helped me plan the visit.
I was with some Podium Cafe friends (Jens, Jimbo, Megabeth, Chris, Drew, and Susie). We would leisurely ride the well-signed 45km route adding another 10 kms or so with various detours to worthwhile sites.
The route starts and ends in the Ypres Grot Markt – the main square. It is signed as the Vredesroute (Peace Route) in a counter-clockwise direction. A route map with lots of useful information can be purchased for €2 at the tourist office.
We began by leaving Ypres through the Menin Gate joining a bike path along the Kastelgracht – the old town moat.
Much of the route is on dedicated bike paths, and the balance primarily on quiet roads. It is pleasant and easy (flat) cycling. But it is also a sombre, moving experience. Endless cemeteries with thousands upon thousands of headstones (far too many with unidentified soldiers or multiple soldiers). It is a depressing testimony to the pointless slaughter of World War 1.
Most of the cemeteries along our route were for commonwealth soldiers, beautifully maintained by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. We would pass several large groups of Canadian visitors in part due to the numerous Canadian cemeteries/monuments in the area and partly due to the 100 year anniversary of Vimy Ridge. In fact, Prime Minister Trudeau was in the region yesterday visiting Canadian memorial sites.
I’ve marked many of the most important and largest sites on the map above, but we also visited many beautiful and poignant small cemeteries along the way.
There is much more cycling to be done in the region. See this site for a list of World War 1 cycle routes.
We stopped near the Passchendaele Museum for lunch enjoying yet more excellent Belgium Beer. A nice elderly couple from Winnipeg were confused by my Canadian kit and so many American accents, so I threw an “eh” or two into a couple of sentences to make us all feel more at home.
The Tyne Cot Cemetery is depressingly huge but beautiful.
I somehow missed the giant Brooding Canadian monument, but we made a point of visiting the Langemark German Military Cemetery containing over 44,000 soldiers. Many of the gravestones contained 15 or so names. Awful.
The final stretch of the ride includes several kilometres along the Kanal van Ieper – very nice.
We were unfortunately in a rush to meet other commitments so we had little time to explore Ypres. But again, there is plenty to see and another visit on bikes may be in the cards.
My wife and I visited this region 18 years ago with a good friend who had served in the Canadian military. We went by car. But as evidenced by today, cycling is the perfect (and better) way to leisurely explore this historic region.
Wonderful Will, I have occasionally thought of doing a similar bike ride myself having driven The Somme with my Kiwi Father in Law. Maybe one day when the kids are older. Extremely moving… good for you with the maple leaf maillot as well!
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Just reading about this bike trip you took, looking at doing something similar.
How long did this route take you to do?
I am not sure as we continually stopped to see the sights and also to have a beer or two. But it is almost completely flat. Not difficult at all, but very interesting.
Whats the best type of bike to ride this on? Road or MTB?
Any bike will work. A couple of times we strayed off the route on trails to visit stuff, but everyone had road bikes.
thankyou! – were riding across there next weekend and was wondering about the viability of walking round in road shoes and the “off road” bits to visit
today (26/10/2019) I visited the region around Ypres with your map at hand.
The day before my tour I imported the Google Maps–Map into my account and also added the track of the signposted route “Ypres Salient” from here https://www.fietsroute.org/cyclingflanders/route/Ieperboogroute.
That route is a bit shorter and I wanted to have a shorter option, for the case, that I had miscalculated the time.
But fortunately that was not the case. Also the weather was wonderful (20 °C and sun) and allowed me and a lot of people, who also were en route, to concern oneself with the events, that took place about 100 years ago.
Until now I knew the characteristics from books and movies. But it surprised me a lot to see, how tiny some places actually were, where thousands of men died on muddy fields.
The day made me feel a lot of condolence as well as humbleness for the absence of war today in Western Europe.
I can highly recommend to do this trip by bike. It allowed to rest and occasionally stop at interesting points at whim.
Thank you very much Will for your blog post, which encouraged me to go there!
Thanks for the link. Well done. Yes, it is a very interesting day on the bike there.
Thank you for this super route! Tried it for the first time yesterday and thoroughly enjoyed it. Looking forward to trying some more routes of yours!