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  • Jamie Shannon

Following a very long canal to Bruges and onto France

The next morning, I headed back into Ghent to have another look around before heading west along an exceedingly long and wide canal towards Bruges. By mid-afternoon, the weather was pleasant enough to stop for lunch and to dry my tent out. Although the road alongside the canal was nice enough, this being Belgium, the scenery wasn’t exactly spectacular. Due to this, I developed a system of resting my kindle on my handlebar bag thus allowing myself the curious habit of reading whilst cycling. This kept me entertained for large stretches of the ride. The only thing I had to look out for were scantily clad, lycra wearing cyclists zooming past at 40km’s per hour in the opposite direction but the road was sufficiently wide enough not to warrant any accidents along the way.

About halfway between Ghent and Bruges, my route took me through the countryside and through these rather odd looking towns that, for me, looked as if they had been built only the day before and with little thought to their overall architectural aesthetics. Every house, road, street sign and business looked as if they had been thoughtfully and neatly arranged into the perfect model of suburbanism. They looked, in affect exactly like little toy towns. Very strange but, they did have smooth roads!

Eventually, I came to Bruges and immediately cycled through the modern city suburbs and into the old medieval quarter which is obviously what I wanted to see first. It was stunning to say the very least but, the city has been renovated so much over the last century in order to make it look exactly how it once would have looked, that it took a little bit of the authenticity away. Okay, I know most things need a little renovation from time to time due to general wear and tear, but Bruges it seemed, had visited a plastic surgery on one occasion too many. It was so obvious that it took a little bit of the shine off for me and reminded me of the toy towns I had cycled through earlier. Having said this, it was still very pretty and of course I wanted to take some photographs too. This meant that I really did decide to actually pay for somewhere to sleep so I could get up early the next morning and have a walk around without the hassle of my bike and the attention that it inevitably brings.

With this in mind, I found a lovely campsite/parking lot just out of town. It had all the modern amenities and facilities that one could wish to hope for when camping and wanting to get away from it all; coin operated shower blocks, a very reasonably priced coin operated wi–fi @ three Euros per hour and exact numbered grassy areas in which to erect your tent. All for 15 Euro’s a night. I won’t be back any time soon I think. It was close to the centre however and for this, I was eternally grateful.

No matter how many face lift’s the city has had, I would still advise people to visit as you will no doubt be awed by its creaky building’s and majestic squares. Just make sure, like anywhere, to visit early or later on in the day when it’s a lot quieter and thus a lot less flashy.

Having returned to the campsite and gathered my things, I set off in the direction of France, and ultimately Dunkirk. This would be the first time that I would be able to test out my gear to see how it performed in the rain and it proved to stand up to the wet and chilly weather very well. I was extremely pleased about that. I again followed a meandering canal out of Bruges for at least 30 km’s until I deviated somewhat through the farmland near the coast. Being completely devoid of shelter, the wind was unbelievably strong which meant I was, at times, cycling around 6km’s per hour and had to exert an extreme amount of effort just to achieve that. Frustration is too soft a word to describe my dismay, but I knew I had to just push on as my ferry was due to leave the next day at around 2pm.

As I was nearing the French border, I noticed some dark and suspicious clouds overhead and so elected to throw my rain gear on just in case. No sooner had I done this than it rained so heavily I could hardly see. My gear worked a treat but for one small mistake; I forgot to pull my super expensive, waterproof/bullet proof gloves up into my jacket sleaves, and so they failed, quite miserably. Other than that, I was as dry as an un-buttered slice of toast.

After a bit of wandering and generally getting lost in and around the small villages that dot the countryside, I finally reached the French border and whilst I was very happy to have reached this milestone, I did feel a pang of sadness that Europe was almost behind me. I couldn’t reminisce for too long however as I still had a way to go until I reached the outskirts of Dunkirk, and I still needed to find somewhere to camp.

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