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Eeklo is a small Belgian town midway between Gent and Bruges which most people have never heard of. But then, many people have never heard of Belgium! ("Belgium- where the f--k's that" - from the film "In Bruges").
We were booked in to the Flandria Yacht Club in Bruges but then Peter Harris managed to secure a permanent mooring here for Ebenhaezer and also to get another for us. We join the Yacht Club Nieuwendorpe for a small fee then as members we have a permanent mooring here for a fee of €800 per annum. At Bruges and Gent winter moorings cost us about €160 a month but on 1st April every year you have to leave or pay about €25 a night and the weather is often cold and wet at that time of the year and not conducive to cruising. Now we can come back on board in April and stay put until the weather gets warmer or we feel like leaving. The moorings are patrolled daily by Gerard, the harbour master, who will have a spare key to check on board that the boat is warm if the temperature drops below freezing. He lives on a boat himself and knew us when we had a winter mooring in Kerkhoven where he also kept his boat.
We are renting a house in Bristol for the winter from 1st November and will spend October exploring this area in Belgium and Holland plus the inevitable painting of Harmonie to ensure she is well protected for the winter months. We don't winterise her, preferring to leave the central heating on the frost stat as we have radiators in every compartment including both machinery spaces.
Back to Eeklo and I quizzed the yacht club president, Robert, on the name and the towns origins. In Flemish "Eek" means Oak and "Lo" means wood so literally Eeklo is Oakwood in English.
Eeklo grew large as a furniture making town then for some reason it became known as a town of bakers, however, they did not bake ordinary loaves but bread in the shape of a hat? In the centre of town is a sculpture of a lady baker and a cat on top of a column. The lady has a long pole, perhaps to feed an oven, at the end of which might be a hat?! We will get to the bottom of this strange custom before we leave. There is a woodland park we mean to explore nearby which is maybe what's left of the oak wood as furniture making has now died out.
We are moored on a branch canal which terminates in the centre of town, about a 10 minute cycle ride away, very rural and as Jan says "you can hear the cows breathe"! We did not expect such an attractive and thriving little town and it has all the major store outlets including a large Delhaize supermarket, fashion shops and even a branch of the Euro Shop where we purchased a new iron after ours caught fire! On Thursday we visited the weekly bustling market and bought fresh fish, veg and a cooked roast chicken. On Friday Mr Decock arrived and filled us up with red diesel for the winter heating. Provided the new windows arrive on time from the factory, Michel de Rooij should be here in a few weeks from Gouda to replace the broken wheelhouse window and ten others along each side forward that have lost their vacuum. He has a web site called www.beglazingbedriijfderooij.nl. A domain name to die for!
There is a frequent train service to Gent which is 20km away and the bus to Bruges takes just under an hour but you can drive it in under half an hour. The mooring is not a place where we would choose to spend a winter on board as we prefer to be in a town, but there are a couple of nice pub/restaurants within easy walking or cycling distance which are recommended. In the next village of Adegem there is a large commonwealth war cemetery together with a Canadian museum close by as they were in the firing line around here during WW2.
We tried out one of the local pub/restaurants one Saturday night which was packed out. Spicy Ribs, a huge bowl of chips that would have fed six which we could not eat and a bottle of French Merlot set us back €37, excellent value but I did complain that they were a bit mean with the chips! Not sure they understood the joke!
We visited the Canadian War cemetery. After the Normandy invasion in 1944, the Canadian army fought their way up the Western seaboard, through France and Belgium into Holland until they were halted at the Westerschelde where the German army were defending the northern shore. The battles in this area were fierce and many on both sides lost their lives. We met a Belgian couple who put flowers on one of the graves of a Canadian who was wounded but died later in a Belgian hospital. The Belgian man told us that his mother was a nurse at the hospital and the soldier had asked her to be his godmother when he was baptised as a Catholic before his death. Here was her son still remembering the death of his mothers godson almost 70 years later.
We have always seemed to use more electricity than other barges of our size. Partly this is due to us using electricity to heat our domestic water but the inverter is a very inefficient way to provide alternating current and was running 24 hours a day for domestic appliances. The appliances were all plugged in to shore power sockets but the only supply to the Kabola central heating boiler was from the inverter. I scoured the local shops for a three way switch so the supply could be switched to shore power and none sold them. I finally found one in a specialist electrical shop just around the corner. It was huge and cost €40 but it did the job and turning off the inverter has cut our electricity consumption by a third.
We had been told that the little town of Sluis just over the Dutch border was worth a visit so, the painting I intended to do this year having been finished and it being a sparkling Autumn day we decided to visit. We told Robert where we were going and he laughed and said we were going to "sex city"! I thought it was just one of his jokes until we arrived and noticed two sex shops in the first few metres!
Sluis sits at the confluence of two rivers, one of them the Zwin which used to be navigated by seagoing ships up to Bruges until it silted up in the nineteenth century. So Sluis was an important town from the 12th to the 18th centuries and became fortified as early as 1382. A canal links Sluis with Bruges, dug by Spanish prisoners of war between 1812 and 1814 on the instigation of Napoleon who wanted an overland route for his war materials. Work on the canal stopped on Napoleons defeat but was finally opened in 1854 and the quays of the old port are lined with restaurants where we sat in the sunshine for lunch.
The whole town was destroyed during WW2 in October 1944 so has been rebuilt, including the impressive town hall and belfrey which dates from 1375. In 1424 a local artist made a sculpture of the bell-ringer "Jantje van Sluis" which was placed in the belfry and mechanised so that he rings the bell every half hour. I asked the lady in the tourist office what it was that attracted so many sex shops in what seemed an up market and attractive town. She said that there used to be about 25 sex shops but now there were only four or five; a massive decline in trade and loss of employment which she was at a loss to explain! Well, I can now reveal that Sluis used to provide for randy Belgians who could not obtain erotic material in their home country. The Belgian laws have since been liberalised and, what with the internet, has meant the Sluis sex shops have been hit hard as the Belgians no longer need their services!
Sluis is still a popular haunt for Belgians and we noticed a lot of German cars there as well. We found a magnificent fish shop which sold virtually any fish or crustacean prepared in every way invented by man. Not content with selling the fish they also sold a range of grocery items that accompanied fishy things and at the back of the shop and in the basement they sold pot plants; not sure why but the place was booming and doing great business! I couldn't resist a pack of kippers and some egg tagliatelle while Sue picked up a tub of bouillabaisse. You could buy whole crabs for €3 each and crab claws for €7 a kilo and they even had king crab at admittedly ten times that price but what a selection. We will return!
The Eeklo cows, or to be correct, bullocks, across the canal present a problem as they attract an abundance of flies. These Belgian flies are not like Australian flies who try to invade every orifice, so they don't tend to pitch on you at all, but on a hot day they congregate on our decks, particularly those painted white, and proceed to defecate which then bakes hard and is the very devil to clean off. Font of all knowledge, yacht club president Robert, says that most club members use a cleaning agent called "ship cleaner" which is only sold in Holland and costs €30 a litre but you delete it with water, spread it over the infected area, leave for five minutes and then wash it off and, as if by magic, your deck is crystal clean. We will drive into Holland to acquire this magic potion and report back.
The next day dawned bright and beautiful so we decided to head for Holland once again, pick up the miracle cleaning agent in Middelburg and do a bit of sightseeing. We travelled under the Westerschelde through the 6.6km tunnel and Daphne Satnav guided us eventually to the chandlery of Jos Boone where we discovered the product was called "Ship Clean" and it was only €16 for a litre. We then asked Daphne to take us to a car park in the centre of Middelburg and experienced the classic problems you get with lady satnavs and used to get with real lady navigators. She took us into dead end streets, told us to turn up non-existent roads or pedestrianised streets and directed us the wrong way up one way streets. Then, when we finally found the car park, it was closed as they were digging up Holland with EU money as usual!
We parked right under Lange Jan (Tall John) which is an ornate 91m high tower dating from the 14th century and part of the Nieuwe Kerk in the adjoining abbey complex. The abbey itself dates from 1100 and was inhabited by monks from Antwerp who William of Orange kicked out in 1574. It is now a museum which is devoted to the history of the province from the Romans to the present day.
The centre of Middelburg is a series of circular streets around the abbey which are mostly pedestrianised and perhaps explains Daphnes confusion! We wandered out into Lange Delft which seemed to be the main shopping street much to Sues delight but we soon found ourselves in the market place and to even more delight it was market day!
Dominating the square is the 15th century town hall completely destroyed by fire during bombing in 1940 and now rebuilt. It is a masterpiece.
Middelburg was a major trading port of the Dutch East India company and its many quays are named after places in the world which were trading with Holland in the 17th century.
The city suffered heavy German bombing in 1940 so that much of what you see today dates from the end of the war or has been rebuilt. Most of the houses have been rebuilt in a traditional style and with the tree planting has made it quite a pretty place. The St-Jorisdoelen which is the guardsmen guild building is an example as it was originally built in 1582 but destroyed in 1940 then the facade rebuilt in 1969.
After purchasing nuts and dried fruit at the market to fortify us for the journey, we set off again travelling North.
I described a little on the previous page of the civil engineering works that were carried out in the 60's, 70's and 80's to prevent a reoccurrence of the disastrous floods of 31st January 1953 when a combination of spring tides and storms, washed away the dykes and drowned over 1800 people. The Oosterschelderkering, the Delta plan, was one of those giant undertakings where three storm surge barriers were built across the Oosterschelde. The barriers were finally commissioned in 1986 and had taken 13 years and 3.6 billion Euros to complete with 62 sluis gates, rarely closed and only then during a combination of high tides and heavy storms. It seems to have worked so far.
This whole area is now a national park, the largest in the Netherlands. It is a bird sanctuary and supports much mussel and oyster farming in addition to sub aqua activities. An artificial island was dredged up as part of the barrier and the concrete piers for the dams assembled on the island before being moved into position on special barges. The island is now used for recreation and has a theme park with a dolphin enclosure.
We travelled over the dams to what was once the island of Schouwen but, thanks to all the dams, bridges and tunnels, all the Zeeland islands are now connected to the mainland. We eventually found ourselves at the delightful town of Zierikzee which has to be our favourite Zeeland town. We first parked in a car park on the edge of town but a notice, in English, told us we risked a fine of €91 if we were not council employees so we quickly moved to a free park a little further on!
It was a fair hike into the town and the first place you come to of note is the huge square 130m high Dikke Toren, an enormous ugly tower which dominates the skyline as you drive towards the town, started in 1454 and still unfinished. It used to be the tower of the equally huge St-Lievenskerk which burnt down in 1832, thank goodness, and I reckon they should set fire to what's left!
You are then confronted with the Gothic Gravensteen where the Count of Holland used to live, a glorious confection of turrets, spires and domes that defies description and as graceful as the Dikke Toren was not. What was in the mind of the architect who designed this fantastic tower I do not know but in 1524 he must have been on something a bit strong! The building now houses a maritime museum.
We sat in a quiet square in the sunshine for a coffee before wandering into the market square and, yes, you guessed, it was market day! A large 16th century covered fish market is set to one side of the square which eventually becomes an elegant street with mansions, probably of wealthy merchants, either side ending in the harbour which has a number of historic ships.
You finally arrive at two medieval city gates and the tidal inlet spanned by old wooden lifting bridges. The only problem then is that you have to walk back though the market and there was a liquorice stall so I had to renew my stock. In Holland they have two distinct types of liquorice, one sweet and one salty which the Dutch prefer so if you are buying, remember to ask which ones are which.
We now had nearly 100km to drive back to Eeklo and that took us over the Oosterschelde on the Zeelandbrug which must be about 8km long as it seemed to go on forever. As we arrived back at Harmonie it began to rain. Perfect!
The new cleaning agent was the wrong one! It is called "Ship Clean" comes in 10 litre containers, is a blue liquid made by Americol and does cost €30 so at some time it is back to Middelburg for the correct product.
We awoke one morning to the usual torrential rain but, the old saying; "rain before seven, fine before eleven" proved correct so we once again headed into Holland and this time bought the correct cleaning agent from the Middelburg yacht chandler. It is magic stuff and very economical as you dilute it 20 to 1, spray it on the painted surface or window and you can literally watch it dissolve the fly and spider shite in a few seconds.
We then drove about 20 minutes to Goes. This is Sues sort of town as it is full of interesting shops, particularly fashion shops, and of course it was market day with the Grote Markt full of the usual stalls and the town really buzzing. Goes does have a bit of a reputation as a lively place and we noted that a blues festival was about to start. The town is compact with little streets full of interesting shops with the inevitable canals and old houses adding visual interest.
In the Grote Markt there stands the Raadhuis which dates from 1463 and behind that towers the Maria-Magdalenakerk built in the 15th and 16th centuries which presents a stark Protestant interior but one that is very light as there is little stained glass. It has two distinctly different interiors, presumably representing different building periods, the roof inside having a vaulted ceiling at one end and a simple wooden ceiling at the other while outside one end uses brick in its construction whilst the other end is stone. The Raadhuis also looks as if its tower does not belong to the main building, the view of it rather spoilt by the OTT steel girders round the market place whose only function seemed to be for street lights? Maybe they intend to cover the market eventually which will obscure the view completely?
We even managed to find a Daily Telegraph amongst the English dailies outside a "Bruna" shop, the first time this year we have found one as they seem to have become a rare commodity? Then we discovered one of those shops that you often see in the Benelux countries which can't decide what it is that they want to sell from odd food to hardware! One example is "Xenos" and even chains like "Blokker" often seem to have an identity crisis but this shop was called "Action" which had many branded goods at exceptionally low prices, even lower than Aldi or Lidl. We bought a stainless steel thermos flask, wet wipes, kitchen cleaner, a pack of several colours of insulation tape and two branded bottles of shampoo, all for under €10!
Michel de Rooij arrived one day from Gouda with our new double glazed windows which he replaced in a day with the help of his two young sons. The old glass had a 4mm air gap and the new has a 9mm gap so it will provide better insulation and is now a pleasure to be able to see clearly what is happening outside. The wheelhouse window that was removed by thieves in Gouda was also replaced but when inspecting the other wheelhouse windows I discovered that two of the wooden frames showed signs of rotting at the bottom.
The good weather continued for most of the month so I was able to get most of the ship painted apart from around the new windows where the putty has to set first but Harmonie was looking spic and span as we left her for the UK and our new winter residence.
After a quick visit to Worthing to collect our mail we headed up to Bristol on November 1st where we have rented a property for the winter from fellow bargee and "top man" (according to a local heating engineer), Peter Harris at Bradley Stoke. This is a relatively new northern suburb of Bristol and shortly after the first houses were constructed there was a big economic recession which left many of the new house owners with negative equity; they owed more than their property was worth. The place was given the name "Sadly Broke" but we were told by our friend Jan, a local resident, that we must not use this name now that we are living here!
There is a big shopping centre nearby which is known as "Tesco Town" due to the huge Tesco supermarket there where we have already spent up large. Also nearby is Bradley Stoke Leisure Centre which Sue has joined and signed up for the weekly Pilates class. She also has the use of a Gym, 25m swimming pool, a library with DVD and Music hire. There is also a physiotherapist, hairdresser, nail and beauty salon on the premises so I am expecting her to become even more TTT (Trim, Taut and Terrific) in the future!
We visited a Cornish Food Fair held in Brunels Old Station at Temple Meads with Pete and Jan and grazed on Tiddy Oggies (Cornish Pasties) and Doombar Bitter which was "girt lush" to use a Brissle expression.
The other food highlight of note so far was lunch at a local pub; a choice of about six different meals and if you bought two meals the price was only £8 for the two, not gourmet but we chose Ham steak, egg and chips and could not fault it, washed down with a fine pint of Somerset Butcombe Bitter. It seems that most of the pubs round here are making similar two for one offers and it is certainly good to get back to pints of good English beer, tasty pies, sausages with flavour and proper Cheddar. We even found my favourite Irish Clonakilty Black Pudding in Tesco! The only black cloud was Bath Rugby getting beaten by the bottom team in the premiership, London Welsh? How did that happen?
Another outing was to see the latest Bond film, Skyfall. Nicely casted with a twist at the end but the final Scottish bloodthirsty battle sequence was a bit too drawn out for my taste.
England managed to beat Fiji in the first of the Autumn internationals and we found a pub just a short distance away in which to watch it which served a nice pint of Speckled Hen. In the other games Wales lost to the Pumas, Ireland lost to the Springboks and Scotland lost to the All Blacks so not a very auspicious start for the other home nations.
On a nice crisp autumn Remembrance Sunday we parked the car up on Clifton Downs and walked over to the gorge. The beech trees on the way were an absolute picture, as you can see from the picture above, as was the view over to Dundry Hill in Somerset with Brunels masterpiece in the foreground. We wandered down into Clifton Village for a coffee before walking back to the car, about a two hour round trip, giving us a good appetite for the roast goat leg we had purchased from the Cornish Food Fair.
The Cotswold Way is a long distance footpath which generally follows the edge of the escarpment 164km from the city of Bath to the town of Chipping Campden, north west of Cheltenham. At Bradley Stoke we are only about 10 miles from where it crosses the M4 so have resolved to explore the Southernmost sections of the path in easy stages whenever we get the odd nice sunny day.
On a cold and frosty morning in late November we headed out along the M4 then North along the ancient Roman road known as the Fosseway before turning off at Dunkirk and wending our way around the narrow lanes to the little hamlet of Kilcott, parked the car and walked up a valley to Hawkesbury Upton where we joined the Cotswold Way at the Somerset monument just outside the village.
The monument was erected in 1846 in remembrance of Lord Edward Somerset who died in 1842, a son of the 5th duke of Beaufort whose Badminton estate is nearby, the elder brother of Lord Raglan (Fitzroy Somerset)
We were now high up at the edge of the escarpment with views across the Severn valley to the Welsh hills and North to Wotton-under Edge. The path eventually lead us back down into the valley at Kilcott and a short walk up the paved road to where we had left the car.
The weather has been exceptionally wet here and the flooding severe so we seize on every dry day to get out and about. The problem is that the ground is so saturated that walking is muddy and difficult and some country roads impassable. Bradley Stoke is suburbia at its worst but its redeeming feature is its closeness to the good walking country of the Cotswolds, Wales and the Wye valley.
This was one of those dry days when we drove to Easter Compton and walked along the Community Forest Path to the top of the hill. We decided to return by a different route but found that the footpath was overgrown and difficult to locate. When we finally made the road we discovered it was flooded so detoured through a field, a very muddy orchard and over some barbed wire to avoid the flood, arriving back at the car, scratched and with mud up to our ocksters!
The Autumn Rugby Union internationals continued to disappoint with England losing by a point to the Boks, Wales as expected losing to the AB's but at least Ireland triumphed over the Pumas. Scotland had a disastrous defeat losing to little old Tonga with the resulting resignation of their coach, Andy Robinson (ex Barf man). Bath Rugby managed to beat the Quins at the Rec, thanks to some fine goal kicking from Kiwi stand-off Steven Donald whilst our wonderful Cricket team thrashed India by 10 wickets to level the series! If they had picked the superlative Monty Panasar for the first game who took eleven wickets, we might have been two up?
We have decided now to live aboard Harmonie during the summer months and to rent UK property during the winter with the idea of researching where we would like to live permanently once Harmonie is sold. We are now in the course of investigating exactly where we want to live and the next page will describe our search for our next home and lifestyle.