Turning left at Oostende from the Kanal Gent-Oostende onto the River Ijzer we left the large commercial barges behind (some of which are 100m long 9m wide and around 2000 tonnes in weight), to ply there trade in northern Belgium and the Netherlands.
As we passed through pretty villages and towns heading towards Diksmuide we occasionally met other pleasure cruisers, and, more regularly, small commercial barges from the river Authorities moving sand and other aggregate along the river. Amazingly, one of these small barges (only around 1800 tonnes) was fully automatic. There was no skipper! No engineer! No one, except a youth presumably acting as a safety lookout, sitting at the bows. However when we spotted him he seemed to be looking for threat and danger on his iPhone! We came across the skipper-less barge on a few occasions and it was fascinating to watch as you could almost see its computerised brain working out the images from its plethora of cameras, radar, and sensors to work out its speed and course and avoid denting us on the way past.
From a few miles away, across the flat landscape of this part of Belgium we could see a huge tower which seemed to be near our destination.
The Yser tower which is also know as the Peace Tower dominates Diksmuide. It is monument containing a 27 floor museum! Amazing. Fascinating. Eye-opening. The tower and the contents of the museum are a monument to the victims and soldiers of WWI designed to remind all that peace should prevail over conflict. After taking the lift to the top of the tower and taking a few snapshots of the amazing views I started the decent down spiralling stairs through the many floors of exhibits. The first few floors explore national identity and nationalism – both at the core of the reasons for the outbreak of the Great War, as you defend through the floors the exhibits change theme subtly to pictures and artefacts of the local population and military around the start of the war, eventually quite literally decending into a mock-up of a trench complex and a field hospital complete with sound and lighting effects, discarded munitions and very realistic dummies. The whole thing is immensely moving, hugely interesting, and truly a lighthouse for peace.
A short walk outside the town is the “Trench of Death” a preserved complex of fighting trenches along the banks of the Ijzer where many allied soldiers met their deaths. The complex acts as a site of remembrance to the Battle of Yser, and was the first such memorial in Belgium.
These monuments are certainly a poignant reminder of our end goal on this trip, a visit to Iepers and the Menin Gate. For now though we are staying in Diksmuide for a couple of days to see the more retail and leisure attractions of the city.