On the way to Wipers! A battlefield tour before you get there

This page assumes that you are travelling by car or motorcycle from the Calais or Dunkirk direction.

Into the area from the coast

  • Take the A25 (E42) motorway from the coast and exist at Junction 13 (signposted Steenvoorde, Poperinge and Ieper).
  • Turn left onto the D948 (direction Poperinge and Ieper). Take care: this may be the first time since arriving in France that you have entered a non-motorway road. Be careful to drive on the right, and at this busy junction this means crossing to the far side of the road.
  • Pass through the old Franco-Belgian border point at Calicanes.
  • Shortly afterwards you will cross the national border into Belgium. The road now becomes the N38 and the signposts are now in Flemish.

“Make your own tour” approach

This guide makes suggestions for a number of possible stops on your way to Ypres.

If you make no stops it will take you about 30 minutes from the A25 Exit 13 junction to Ypres.

If you stop at all the suggested locations  you may need half a day or more, even if you only take a quick look at Poperinge.

Stop at just the highlights and you’ll need perhaps two hours.

En route

With thanks to ViaMichelin.co.uk, this map illustrates the Steenvoorde - Poperinge - Ypres route

With thanks to ViaMichelin.co.uk, this map illustrates the A25 Exit 13 (Steenvoorde) to Poperinge leg of our route to Ypres

The D948/N38 road on which you are travelling was a vital and very busy supply route for the British force holding the Ypres sector. It was always crammed with traffic moving in both directions, with vast quantities of supplies and numbers of guns and men moving eastwards. The German attack of April 1918 (Operation “Georgette”, the Battle of the Lys) was a determined but ultimately failed attempt to reach and cut the road from the south (your right).

Throughout the journey until the last mile or so before Ypres, the fields on either side and the villages through which you will pass were used for camps, stores, horse and wagon lines, and artillery positions.

Pass by Abeele, a village just off the road to your left. This was the location of a Royal Flying Corps aerodrome. A small military cemetery which you may spot as you pass took its name from the aerodrome and was begun by French troops in April 1918.

Highlight 1: Lijssenthoek Military Cemetery and Visitor Centre

After passing Abeele you begin to approach Poperinge by a good, straight part of the N38 called “Frans-Vlaanderenweg”. You will eventually see through trees on your right a large area of white: the 10,000+ headstones of Lijssenthoek Military Cemetery.

Commonwealth War Graves Commission cemeteries are signposted in green. Thanks to Google Maps for this image.

Commonwealth War Graves Commission cemeteries are signposted in green. Thanks to Google Maps for this image.

To approach the cemetery, follow the road until you see the green CWGC sign shown above. Turn right (onto Boescheepseweg) and after a short distance (with the Cafe-Restaurant “In de Leene” on your left) turn right again. It is all signposted.

After a few hundred metres, pull into the car park of the relatively new Visitor Centre adjacent to the cemetery. This has toilets for weary travellers. The Visitor Centre gives a good presentation of how the cemetery developed.

A 1918 map showing the cemetery. Note that the N38 road did not exist at the time: it has been laid over the line of a railway that brought casualties to Lijssenthoek from Ypres. Note too that "In de Leene"

A 1918 map showing the Lijssenthoek area. Note that the N38 road did not exist at the time: it has been laid over the line of a railway that brought casualties to Lijssenthoek from Ypres. Note too that “In de Leene”, at which you just turned, is shown. The red rectangles are the timber huts, wards and other buildings of the Casualty Clearing Stations that were established here, alongside Remy Farm. This location was not often referred to as Lijssenthoek at the time: Remy Farm or Remy Siding were in more common use. Note too that the map shows the location of the cemetery. Your turning into the car park is along the track to Corfu Farm. The railway line also transported casualties away to base hospitals – but more than 10,000 men who succumbed here lie in the cemetery.

When you have finished in the Visitor Centre, avoid the temptation to climb the grass bank and enter the cemetery by the side gate. Instead, walk around the road side to the original main entrance: you will walk along a modern memorial, which illustrates the sad daily death toll here.

The cemetery today. Author's photo.

The cemetery today. Author’s photo.

Highlight 2: Poperinge

As the N38 approaches the town you will come to a t-junction. If you wish to by-pass Poperinge completely, turn right and follow the ring road. To go into town, turn left and then first right into the N333 Casselstraat.

After passing the large Onze-Lieve-Vrouwekerk (Our Lady’s) on your right and then going straight on at a small roundabout, the road changes name to Gasthuisstraat.

Pass on your left at number 57 an ornate building that was used as “Skindles”. This was used a club for British officers, housed in a fine 18th century house that had been the home of the Renynghe Voxvrie family. The club is said to have been named after an hotel of the same name in Maidenhead. It is now a bed and breakfast accommodation. “Skindles” was originally located in “A la Bourse du Houblon” (the Hop Exchange) at number 16, closer to the town centre.

Skindles is on the left of this screen shot from Google Maps. Directly head and also on the left is Talbot House.

A few metres further on at number 43 is the white rendered “Talbot House”. Unlike “Skindles”, this operated operated an open door policy for all ranks. It is (to my mind) a great pity that visitors no longer enter by the old front door, but come into the house via a museum at the rear. If you have time on your visit to the Ypres area, this is absolutely unmissable.

Continue on Gasthuistraat and into the refurbished town square (Grote Markt). There is enough of Great War interest for a whole day in this town (see my guide to Pop) but it is also a convenient place for a short stop for refreshment before you carry on to Ypres.

Continue through the Grote Mark and exit on the N333 (initially Guido Gezellestraat and soon Bruggestraat). On reaching the ring road, turn right.

En route

You now you have a choice of routes depending on time.

The first left turn on the ring road puts you onto the N308 (Ieperseweg), the old road to Ypres that existed during the Great War. There are useful Lidl and Delhaize supermarkets and a petrol station soon after you join the road.

There are many Great War sites along this road, increasing in number as you approach Ypres. This area became crammed with camps, stores, dumps and artillery batteries. It was also an area in which medical units operated. Look out particularly for the tiny Red Farm Cemetery and the old hop store (with a cemetery behind it), both on your left before you pass through the sizeable village of Vlamertinghe (where there are two cemeteries).

The alternative, faster, parallel N38 road is the second turn off the Poperinge ring road.

In both cases, if you still have time, turn right as you begin to enter Vlamertinghe and follow signposts for the group of cemeteries at the hamlet of Brandhoek. If you are on the N308 old road, the turn is immediately after the “Herberg de Gouden Brander” cafe-bar (which at time of writing has a small petrol station attached to it). Go across the N38 dual carriageway: beware it is a busy and fast road.

Highlight 3: the cemeteries at Brandhoek and a unique grave

Although it was frequently attacked from the air and during certain periods came within range of heavy German artillery, Brandhoek was used by several Field Ambulances as a site for dressing stations and during the Third Battle in 1917 it was also used by Casualty Clearing Stations. Inevitably it also became a site of cemeteries and there are now three of them within a very short distance of each other. All are worth seeing. But one of them (Brandhoek New Military Cemetery, tucked down a path between houses)  is among the most visited spots in the Ypres area during to the presence of the grave of Captain Noel Chavasse, VC and Bar, MC, one of only three men who have won the Victoria Cross twice and the only man to do so twice during the Great War.

Links

The Long, Long Trail guide to Ypres

The Long, Long Trail guide to Poperinge

“On the road from Pop. to Ypres”

Gazetteer of the Western Front: Brandhoek

Talbot House