Day 3 - May 16th - Zeebrugge to Ronse - 60 miles
Nothing seemed to go right today. The boat was late docking in Zeebrugge and it was turned 9.30am before we jumped on the bikes. I say we because I and my new found friend, Jimmy from Halifax, agreed that, as we were both heading South in the direction of France, we may as well join up for the day.
We tried to find the cycle route along the canal from Zeebrugge to Bruges, but we immediately ran into the first of many road works that were to dog us for the next few days and we got quite lost. A good start! An attempt at conversation with a couple of cyclists who were travelling East along the coast proved to be unfruitful as they were that very rare species Dutch people who did not speak English.
As a last resort we took the cycle path alongside the main road to Bruges, turning off on the outskirts of the town into a maze of tiny cobbled streets and finally into the main square, by the famous clock tower and amongst the infamous throngs of tourists. After a pleasant short stop, whilst we partook of a beer in the now hot sunshine, Jimmy insisted on finding a phone box ( no mobiles, please note) in order to call his sister, who, it would seem, had spent a long week-end in Bruges earlier that year.
Heading South after Bruges, initially along the N50, the Kortrijk road, and then into some quiet and very flat rural lanes as we found the weather becoming increasingly hot. Our next place of any size was Tielt, which I knew well from my business trips to Belgium. Wilting in the intense heat, we dived for some shade outside a bar and consumed a couple of large non-alcoholic drinks to stave of dehydration.
South of Tielt we were in the area where many of the Belgian early season classics were held. Reaching Waregem we again ran into the dreaded road works and found that the whole of the centre was dug up (they dont do things by half over there) and we had to figure out the many diversion signs.
We had decided to make on overnight stop in Ronse, a small town about 20 miles north of the French border. The name Ronse was well known to me although I had never visited the place. It was the scene of one of Beryl Burtons impressive World Championship Road Race victories in the 1960s.
The bulk of the journey from Waregem to Ronse was through the very unappealing semi industrial South Flanders region, with busy roads and badly maintained cycle paths. However, as we neared Ronse it improved, becoming more rolling and wooded and more rural. I later learnt that we were in a westerly extension of the Ardennes, as I saw a sign stating "Vlanderen Ardennen".
With the exception of the old town hall and a very fine church, Ronse turned out to be a quite nondescript town, all the more so as a heavy storm broke as we arrived and started to look for somewhere to stay, me a hotel and Jimmy a camp site.
In torrential rain, I dived into the first hotel I could spot. Not a good choice, but, any port in a storm, as they say! It turned out to be a typical grotty Belgian bar/hotel, which reeked of stale chip frying oil. But this was luxury compared to Jimmys lot, as he had to pedal a further 10 km in pouring rain with the prospect of setting up camp when he arrived.
Total miles to date 183
Chapter 1 - Chapter 3