Bruges – Diksmuide – Veurne – Fintele
Change of Plans
Andy lifted the pedestrian bridge and gave us the all clear to pull out into the main canal, we checked the AIS and saw that a commercial was heading up towards us in the same direction as we were travelling. Good News! The canal around Bruges suffers from a large number of bridges and pleasure craft can sometimes wait hours for the controllers to disrupt traffic for the convenience of mere tourists. Commercials are a different matter and take priority over cars and bicycles.
So we followed along and had an uneventful passage through the large Dammepoortsluis – this was now our third cruise along this canal. After passing the impressively engineered Scheepsdalebrug, we motored on to towards our next destination – Veurne. The cruise was pleasant as always and not particularly busy and soon we were at the Stalhille lifting bridge where there is a popular mooring, where some stay for a few hours or overnight to take advantage of the local restaurant. Today there were several barges moored up. One hailed us and asked us where we were going. “Veurne” we said. They called back with the news that there was a problem with the gates of the tidal lock at Nieuwpoort (the Veurnesluis) that we would pass through to travel to Veurne. A trifle inconvenient, as we were meeting our next guests there in two days. Still, familiar with the territory, we decided we would divert towards Diksmuide, stay the night there and take an early run around the back way into Veurne using the Lo Canal.
This would be a bit of a long trip, but – forewarned is forearmed and with a workable plan, we thanked our informants and continued on in a sanguine mood.
Just before Ostende we turned to port/south and headed towards the narrow but pretty Plassendale-Nieuwpoort canal towards Nieuwpoort. Just before the turn into the Passendale lock that starts this canal, we struck something submerged, travelling at reasonable speed. Catharina Elisabeth lifted slightly out of the water and there was a frighteningly loud set of noises. We passed over whatever it was (perhaps a car body?) and all seemed well. It was, however, pretty unnerving and Lisette was hard put to even handle the mooring up in the lock. Waiting for the lock to fill gave us time to regain our composure.
This canal used to operate on a convoy system last year, but this season, they were allowing free traffic in both directions. We met a couple of cruisers, but again, this was not a problem and the Zen of cruising took over as we watched the countryside pass by.
Instead of continuing towards the broken lock, we continued to the Sint-Joris lock and turned port/westward up the Iser river and a couple of hours later were back in Diksmuide. We had stayed here for a few days last year and were due to return in just over a week’s time as this was to be our winter mooring for this year. It had been a long day, nine hours and 57 kilometres – our longest cruise for the season. We chatted to the havenmaster, reminded him we would be back in a few days for our winter mooring, booked a bridge opening for the morning, made the beds for the next guests and made (Lisette) and ate (Ian and Lisette) dinner. A sort of routine with which we were becoming familiar – but that we enjoy tremendously.
Back to Veurne
Our daughter Laura and her partner Silvia were due in at Veurne in the afternoon of the next day. We wanted to get to Veurne and do some winterising chores before they arrived. So we left and headed towards the charmingly-named Knokkebrug and set off for our second cruise along the Ieper river and the Lo Canal.
It was a Sunday and we met a crowd of about eight cruisers in one group coming past us at one point, on a fairly narrow canal. Seven of them made it past easily, one took their time in pulling over and just missed us, or so it seemed to us. A little further on we had to navigate through a throng of canoeists, much more stressful. While they are manoeuvrable, they are also really fragile – and several were being crewed by enthusiastic but inexperienced teenagers. But again, it was just an event to keep us alert and interested.
We cruised up to Fintele, a spot we had picked out for a stay in a couple of day’s time on the way back towards Ipres (Ypres), and clearly, Sunday would not be a good day to try and get a mooring – the two quays were chock a block and doubled up with Sunday cruisers. We passed through the charming sloping lock and headed down the narrow, pretty Lo Canal and in a couple of hours, turned the hairpin bend to pass through the Neiupoort lock into Veurne, in plenty of time to start some tasks.
We started some packing organisation and Ian changed the oil in the engine and cleaned the oil and air filters. We also started collecting strong magnets from the local, huge hardware store – we planned to use these to hold plastic sheeting over the windows to reduce the winter stress on the outside woodwork.
Next morning we did some more chores, a big shop at the large Colruyt supermarket nearby and headed off to pick up our seventh set of guests for the season from the station. Our daughter Laura and her partner Silvia had extended a trip they were making to Spain by starting off with us as the first of our family to cruise with us. As it was late in the afternoon, we settled them in their bedroom in the vooronder and mixed conversation with food and beverages until late.
Our plan for the next few days was to take a short trip up to Fintele and stay overnight, to then cruise on to Ypres for a couple of nights and then back to our winter mooring. As it was a short trip to Fintele, we took them for a short visit into Veurne, which gave us the chance to get out our two spare two bicycles.
Although this was essentially our third trip to Veurne, there was at least one church we hadn’t explored.
Sint Niklaaskerk was fairly spare inside but had a nice sculpture of Saint Nicholas (Father Christmas fame) ministering to two small children.
As with most towns in Flanders, Veurne has a UNESCO nominated belfry. It is apparently not in good enough condition to enter but it is a striking feature of the town square.
We also took the girls into Sint Walburga, which we had explored ourselves earlier in the season.
Then we reversed off our mooring and set off back up the Lo canal towards Fintele for Laura and Silvia’s first cruising experience.
We planned to stop off at Alveringem about half way up the canal as we had been told that the best frites in Belgium were to be found in town. It was a bit of a hike into town and when we arrived at the brasserie that purportedly served the frites it was closed. It was supposed to open in about 45 min so we mooched around, came back but it still remained stubbornly closed.
We gave up, returned to Catharina and cruised on, through the lock at Fintele and moored up with no other vessels at either pontoon – in stark contrast to Sunday. We had a walk around and decided we would treat ourselves to a meal at one of the two restaurants nearby. One was away on holidays, the other was closed. Not our day for eating out!
We enjoyed a marvellous sunset in a picturesque and quiet location, perfectly happy in our own company with good food and drink, and with nothing to complain about, mused on a memorable first day’s cruising for Laura and Silvia.
Our next day would be a modest cruise to the Ypres, the site of terrible suffering during WWI.