A summer evening walk past the First World War battlefields, memorials and cemeteries near Ypres

Sanctuary Wood in the evening sun

Having the liberty to spend three weeks walking and cycling in Europe; I realised that my first stop must be to pay my respects to the soldiers that fell in the First World War. Without them, my freedoms may never have happened? Who knows how the twisted and cruel traits of human history could be different now? All I knew is that many men lost their lives far too young. For that; we must always remember.

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Being able to walk

Walking a small part of the Western Front Way. A 1,000km walking or cycle route to pay respect to those great men who died in the Great War. Find out more here: https://thewesternfrontway.com/

After a long drive from England; I was given a warm welcome into my campsite at: https://thofbellewaerde.be/. I had eaten dinner on the way; so decided to make the most of the setting sun and my first day of holiday by walking into the local countryside.

Hooghe Crater

I walked back down the quiet country lane that led to the campsite and arrived to the Hooghe Crater museum, near the main road. This museum is a worthy of a visit; to find out more, see here: https://www.hoogecrater.com/en/. This area was the centre of intense fighting for many years of the war. With the churned up ground changing hands many times. To try and break the German line in the July of 1915; the British tunnelled under fortified enemy lines and exploded a 1600kg bomb. The resulting crater was six metres deep by 40 metres wide. It was all in vain, for less than two weeks later; the Germans had retaken all the ground once more. In the end, the crater served as a ready made grave for hundreds of men.

Standing stunned; trying to comprehend the scenes. I realised I must press on because the light was fading fast. Taking care crossing the main road; I walked towards Sanctuary Wood. A name given by British soldiers in 1914; as a place of sanctuary early in the war.

The setting sun dyed the cornfields with a golden hue and the great wood every colour of green as I arrived in its shade. The birds were singing their evening song, squirrels ran away as I walked and the balmy evening breeze gave a dreamy feel to the scene.

Waling towards Sanctuary Wood from the Ypres-Menin Road at the Hooghe Crater

Mount Sorrel, Hill 62 and Sanctuary Wood Cemetery

The inscription on the 13 tonne block of Quebec granite, reads:


The sanctuary of the woods soon came to an end and I arrived back to civilisation at a farm. Then reaching a road, I turned right and walked along its verge for approximately 500 metres. I realised afterwards that I could have taken a smaller road to the south after leaving the wood and then crossed fields to avoid this road. This time however, I walked facing oncoming traffic and stood well into the verge whenever a car approached me. Soon enough, a private lane, except for bicycles and pedestrians appeared on my right. Reaching a house, I turned left along a narrow path and arrived at Mount Sorrel or Hill 62.

Named Hill 62 for the simple reason that it stands 62 metres above sea level. This hill gave an advantageous viewpoint over the city of Ypres. So when a somewhat inexperienced division of Canadian troops were stationed here, the Germans launched a brutal attack. Some Canadians were simply obliterated by shell fire and mines, some were buried alive and others had little chance as they were overran by German infantry. A week later, their compadres managed to avenge their deaths by launching a counterattack in the middle of the night.

Sanctuary Wood Cemetery

Sanctuary Wood Cemetery

Again, trying to comprehend the losses, I stumbled on. I saw a young couple having their photos taken professionally with the trees and golden fields as a backdrop. Another couple watched the sunset as they lazed in the long grass after a picnic. It me happy to think that peace, love and hope were now the guiding forces over this land.

I then started to follow the access road back north towards my campsite. However passing a closed café and museum; I soon arrived at Sanctuary Wood Cemetery. First started in 1914; the cemetery was obliterated by the fierce fighting for Mount Sorrel in 1916. Yet, towards the end of the war and afterwards; the cemetery was reinstated as the only token of respect to the fallen men. To date, the cemetery contains: 1,989 men; of which, a staggering 1,353 are unidentified.

As, I was leaving the cemetery; a small plaque detailing the timeline of the war made my skin run cold. It stated that only after three and a half years of this brutal trench warfare; could the allied forces start pushing the Germans back east and surrender. In the end, almost 750,000 Commonwealth soldiers, sailors and airmen lost their lives. With over 300,000 having no known grave.

To the Hooghe Crater Cemetery

A peaceful present day summer evening; the scene of brutal fighting in the First World War

A sadder but wiser man; I walked on again. The sun was not far from the horizon now and the trees reached over the quiet road like natural vaults in a church. I thought of all the men that had passed this way and hoped they laid in some kind of peace.

After a short distance; I turned off the quiet road and on to a footpath. This path forms part of the long distance: ‘Western Front Way’. A long distance route that runs for a 1,000km from the Belgium coast to Switzerland; following the front lines of the war. Look out for the small signposts shown above and find out more here: https://thewesternfrontway.com/

Headstones at Hooghe Crater Cemetery, each containing up to eight unidentified men

Walking across the fields in the evening light; all around me nature was at peace. The birds sang their evening song that was carried by a gentle breeze. Yet ahead of me, in the distance, I saw the Hooghe Crater Cemetery laid out in front of me. With sadly too many pale stone headstones arranged in perfect symmetry; it seemed out of place in the natural landscape. Yet this memory to these men should always part of this landscape forever more. Walking between the rows; I saw headstones with numbers instead of names. ‘Two soldiers of the Great War’; ‘Three soldiers of the Great War; all the way up to: ‘Eight soldiers of the Great War’.

In total, 5,924 men lie here; with 3,578 being unidentifiable.

Hooghe Crater Cemetery

Railway Wood

The frontlines in the Great War were sometimes less than 100 metres apart.

Taking care to cross the main road from Ypres to Menin once more. I walked back down the lane towards my campsite. As I drew near; a large wood appeared on my left once more, called Railway Wood. Just before it; I took a farm track to the left, that led around its edge. Reaching the far corner; I looked back to the lane from which I had come. Here the trenches of the front line ran within a 100 metres of each other. Seen in the photo above, where I stood was line of the Allied trenches. With the telegraph poles by the lane showing where the German line ran. It was said that on a calm night; you could even hear the enemy whispering in their trenches.

The Liverpool Scottish Memorial
The grave and memorial to twelve men of the Royal Engineers

Within the wood, you can see craters of various sizes; visual reminders of the numerous tunnels and mines that were used by both sides. In addition, in the campsite there is a sign forbidding any campfires of ground level barbecues. This is because so much ordinance still lies in the ground; any heat may still set them off over a hundred years later.

At the far corner of the wood; I arrived at two memorials. The first one being a memorial to the Liverpool Scottish Unit of the British Army. Which lost almost 200 men advancing on German lines on the 16th June 1915. The second memorial was to the Royal Engineers that tunnelled under enemy lines in the hope of making a lasting breakthrough. Whilst tunnelling here; 12 men were trapped underground and their bodies have remained there ever since.

Long may they all rest in peace.

Their name liveth for evermore

Their name liveth for evermore.

I write this blog as a hobby; as a way of remembering my adventures in this current digital age. If other people read this and it helps inspire them to exercise, contemplate and relax then that is a bonus too. We can travel and do so much these days; without out sometimes giving any thought of the struggles of yesterday.

Yet coming to these First World War battlefields and cemeteries around Ypres; has reminded me once again of the huge sacrifice that our forefathers gave.

I will never take life for granted and try and enjoy every passing second. I will make the effort to be positive, thoughtful and relaxed in my view. For we must never forget them; their name liveth for evermore.

Check out my other routes in the local area: Ypres Peace Route

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