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Messines area and street fairs

Messines, Belgium

The day started with a visit to Boescheppe to see a show of draught horses doing their thing pulling logs, carts and ploughing etc. We decided to be clever and use the back roads to get there, which was a mistake as all the approaches from our direction were 'deviation'! We managed to find somewhere on the far side of the small town to park and walked in. There we discovered the problem. They were having a combined street market and car boot sale and the whole of Flanders was invited; most of them accepting the invitation. The masses of stalls had everything catered for and there were some tempting articles. There was no sign of the promised horses so we went back to the car and decided to go on to the Messines ridge that was our next objective. Reasoning that if the horses were somewhere in the vicinity, they were likely to be on the outskirts, we motored around the remainder of the place just in case. Sure enough at the furthest point, there they were, large as life – well actually roughly twice life sized. We were directed to a large and rather muddy field whose corn had been cut very recently indeed and I was duly grateful for traction control which gave me the confidence to have our underside thoroughly scrubbed by the stubble while clogging up the wheel arches with mud. Walking from the car to the show itself across same field was another experience; every time you trod on a bit of stubble, it released the rainwater it had stored from the heavy rain of the previous night straight up your leg as soon as you lifted your foot. It was a joy, however to see the draught horses in action, although less so to see one trainer with his beautiful greys making them walk over a stairway made of hay bales just to show that he could. It seemed rather pointless to me and unnatural. In the field, there were horse doing what they should, pulling carts, logs and ploughs demonstrating great skills from both horse and driver.
Off then to Messines ridge and our first stop at the Island of Ireland Memorial commemorating protestant and roman catholic soldiers who fought as one against a common enemy.
On to Ploegsteert where we saw the memorial to Winston Churchill's service near there in WW1 and thence to Hyde Park Corner and H Charlton-Bradshaw's Ploegsteert Memorial to the Missing on opposite sides of the road. The Missing in this case are from the battles of Armentieres, Aubers Ridge, Loos, Fromelles, Estaires, Hazebrouck, Scherpenberg and Outtersteene Ridge; some 11,367 men. Near here is the simple wooden cross erected in 1999 to mark one of the spots where the unofficial Christmas 1914 truce took place. In to Messines (Mesen) and the New Zealand Memorial to the Missing and British Cemetery on the ridge itself with a commanding view of the countryside beyond. From here we made our way to Mount Kemmel, a steep hill with an understandably desirable outlook. On the slopes of this is the French Ossuary – a mass grave of 5,294 soldiers, only 57 of whom are known by name. At the top is the French monument to those who died in Belgium.
Our next stop was at the site of the Lone Tree Crater, one of the craters left by the mines of 1917; now transformed into the Pool of Peace. I can't help feeling that it is wishful thinking that dedicating something that was so hugely destructive into a sentiment such as this will make anyone think twice about war. Quite apart from anything else, we are still quite primal and once threatened will strike to try to remove that threat rather than rationalise it. Once struck the other party will retaliate to show that it cannot be dominated in that way and before long a war has started. Plenty of people understand this and work on it to achieve their own ends. What we as human beings would do well to master is the art of communication without agenda.
Our way back to the campsite was through Roteberg and Mont Noir villages. We came to a grinding halt at the edge of Mont Noir Village as the party had relocated itself from Boescheppe to Mont Noir. Swollen with the mass of the great unwashed that gatecrashed the party from the whole area between Paris and Brussels, the street was running with people – certainly not cars. Pedestrians did their best impression of invulnerability with gallic insouciance and cars somehow managed to avoid them but it took 12 minutes to cover ground that normally takes about 90 seconds.

permalink written by  rickandsuejohnson on August 14, 2011 from Messines, Belgium
from the travel blog: Paying our respects
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