Belgium is a home of cycling, and its flat terrain, beautiful scenery and picturesque villages are a paradise for cycling enthusiasts.
A number of cycling routes traverse the remembrance trails in Flanders Fields and they all start in the charming medieval town of Ypres.
The “Peace Route” is a popular 45 kilometre ride and provides an ideal introduction to the Ypres Salient – the term used to describe the arch shaped front line which enclosed Ypres at the height of the First World War.
Departing from the Grote Markt (town square) of Ypres, the route first heads to Hill 60 and “Caterpillar Crater”. Here Australian tunnellers dug a 500 metre long tunnel to plant explosives under German lines, eventually detonating them in June 1917 as part of the Battle of Messines.
The undulating lunar moonscape that exists today at Hill 60 was created as a result of the huge mine explosions; a reminder 100 years later of the unprecedented devastation. The blasts were the largest in history prior to the atomic bombs of the Second World War.
After Hill 60 the cycle route heads through peaceful rural landscape; dairy farms and fields filled with crops of maize, leeks and hops. However riders are regularly reminded that this is no ordinary rural scene. Cemeteries, crater holes and the remains of bunkers are dotted across the landscape.
The next stop on the Peace Route is Tyne Cot Cemetery, the largest Commonwealth War Grave Cemetery in the World with 11,953 headstones of which 8,369 are unnamed. The area around Tyne Cot was captured by the 3rd Australian Division in 1917 as part of the Battle of Passchendaele.
Following Tyne Cot the route heads north to Langemark German Military Cemetery. Here more than 44,000 men are buried, a stark reminder of the losses suffered by both sides.
The final stop before arriving back into Ypres is Essex Farm Cemetery. This is also the site of a former hospital clearing station where Canadian doctor John McCrae wrote the famous poem “In Flanders Fields, the poppies blow…”
Cycling in Flanders Fields, on the Australian Remembrance Trail, enables cyclists to form a deep connection with the history of the region.
There are numerous bike rental companies operating in Flanders Fields who will deliver and pick up bikes for visitors. Guides are also available for the day. Maps of the cycling routes are available from the visitor information desk located in Cloth Hall, Ypres.