We had decided to organise a trip to Ypres (Ieper) in 2016 while driving some of the lanes just outside the city. We had been to the IMM in Belgium and suffered some very cold camping. On the last night, we had decided to book into a B&B and wanted something close to the border, Ypres had jumped out at us. On the Sunday evening, we had eaten a lovely meal in the square with some very strong ale and made a decision to bring the club over at some point.
In 2017 we were thinking of another venture into Europe with a road run and had read about the 100 year anniversary of the end of the First World War, Mini Wipers was born. Wipers was the name given to Ypres by the Tommy’s who struggled to pronounce the name. Our plan was to take 35 cars over to drive some of the better lanes and roads of North Eastern France and then over into Belgium with an overnight stay in Ypres including traditional Belgium fair.
We had discussed our idea with Peter Moss while on the 2016 Minis to Monte and he had promised a loan of some Ypres rally route books from his entrance with his brother on a previous classic event, we had also discussed the rather uninteresting roads of the Calais Nord region. Annmarie and I had run an event a couple of year pervious to Le Touquet and on the way back to Calais had discovered some interesting roads through the Opal Marsh National Park. We had decided to take this in again on a future run. We had an idea of an event and some of the roads to take us to Ypres so we sat at the PC, scoured the roads on Google and contacted a restaurant. The Novatel seemed ideal for a stay being central and having secure parking. We then researched some of the WW1 attractions in the Ypres area.
After advertising in Cooperworld the spaces were sold out very quickly, we had spoken to a few people in Belgium to help set the budget so were off and running. One of the issues we have found with northern Europe is the speed they can change roads at very short notice so we had decided to leave it fairly late to run the recce. I lost my passport after returning from Morocco in March and with other commitments, it ended up 3 weeks before we decided to finalise the route and check it. We travelled over on the Euro Tunnel to give us a couple of extra hours, however after a power failure we lost this and more time before setting off on our route. We were fairly late to Belgium after several closed villages to as what can only be described as people selling their old rubbish outside their houses to their neighbours. We had also found the rally stages very tricky as some of the roads were very different and some of the stages on private land. This aside the roads had been smooth, pot hole free and with some breath taking scenery. A day 1 route was in the bag.
We felt much better after a good meal (the menu we were having on the event) and a couple of beers, we had asked for a weak one and after a mouthful decided to google its strength. Our instant grins after only a few gulps on at the time empty stomachs were soon explained, as the weaker beer was in fact 8.5 percent. With full tummy’s, the night cap beer and a very comfortable bed a good night’s sleep followed.
Up bright and early we ran the in and out of Ypres a few times and then set off towards the attraction (which we didn’t go into so as not to spoil it for the event) and then home finding a different route across the border than planned. We had booked the train home a similar time to the planned ferry. This gave plenty of time to rerun a couple of stages again difficult to follow with 25-year-old route books. We had enjoyed the roads home and grabbed a quick ice cream at the end point. We set off and arrived at the Tunnel on time for a, this time seamless crossing. Once home it was time to type up the route, and locate the rally plates and entrants gifts we had stored since earlier in the year. We had a couple of prizes already, Mini Sport had kindly also offered to sponsor the event providing the route master prize and goody bags for entrants. We thank Chris, Cara and the team for their help with this.
Day 0 – Friday 6th July.
Early start for me as we had to stuff the 38 packs and I had two cars to clean for the event. Thanks to Mum and Dad for their help in pack collation and the working lunch. We had planned a meal for those staying in and around Dover and it was lovely to see everyone and hand out a few of the packs early. Our cars already loaded with rally packs, prizes and our weekend bags.
Day 1 – Saturday 7th July.
We had been advised to get to the port early so had allowed 1 full hour before the crossing time, twice the usual advised arrival time, at the meet point it was obvious this was not quite long enough, we quickly gave out the remaining packs and advised everyone to get in the queue for the ferry asap. Glad to say we were all on board the same ship for the crossing and after a quick brief in the family lounge, everyone headed off to find bacon and coffee. Great to see so many members in their Wipers Polo’s something very close to us currently with our recent new business venture. It had been supplying these to the Kent Region and for other events which had inspired us on our recent journey hopefully to full self employment. Each Polo of course adding a donation to club funds also.
The route did not start until a 15 minute drive on the A16 via a map instruction. We needed to go along the coast the wrong way to meet up with the start of the route book and the interesting roads we had set out. About 50 miles of roads took the teams to St Omer for lunch. Some had eaten very quickly and set off, England were playing Sweden in the World Cup in the quarter final and a beer at the hotel bar was calling. Those that stuck to task did get to take in some interesting roads once into Belgium and sorry to say a mistake in the route book of a mile missing between two points. Glad to say all noticed this and found their way in good time to Ypres to find us greeting them with their room keys to fantastic accommodation at the Novatel and a truly comfortable bed.
At 8pm we met at the Menin gate for a truly memorable ceremony to pay our respects to the fallen soldiers on the commonwealth during WW1. We have the deepest respect to the people of Belgium for performing this every day of the year, the sceptic may say it’s in the name of tourism but to me it comes over as a thankful nation to the 5.5 million people of the commonwealth who died in the name of peace all those years ago. A reminder to us all of the sacrifice of several generations of men and women to enable us to live peacefully today. Lest we Forget we often hear, simple translation is ‘careful not to forget’, so very true and hits home after the service and our experience the following day at Hill 62.
Dinner followed at a delightful banquet hall close to the hotel and on the square. Croquets followed by Flemish Beef stew and finished off with Belgium ice-cream and strawberries. Annie & I would like to thank everyone for the unnecessary kindness at dinner but its lovely to know that our efforts were appreciated, organising a trip like this is a labour we enjoy. After a beer or two and a few laughs, it was off to bed.
Day 2 – Sunday 8th July.
Any early rise for breakfast, load the car and a quick dip of the oil of the Mk2 (not a drop used). The cars then all meeting in the square for a photo opportunity followed by a drive out leaving the city under the Menin gate to Hill 62 at Sanctuary Wood. A place in WW1 where the wounded were taken to the shelter of the trees for treatment while fighting in the area. The museum holds one of the largest First World War photo collections. Some of the photos on slide in a ‘what the butler saw’ type set up. Mick Tully and I commented they are certainly not like the ones you used to find in Brighton. Some of the photos hitting home just how much damage to human life and the infrastructure of the area 100 years ago was sustained between 1914 and 1918. The trenches although not all original give an insight of life for the Tommy and after viewing the photos it really hits home on how tough life would have been. Very moving and very emotional but a worthwhile experience.
The rest of the route home was a pleasure (or would have been if I had known my left from right) however we did experience two villages shut off (inc the end point) for the day so with use of traditional maps and phone we managed to all get to the end.
Winners of the Mini Sport Routemaster Award – Jack and Danielle Ward
Spirit of the Event (the laid back his and hers beach towels) – Graham & Jane Robinson
Furthest Travelled Hugh & Jan Wylie
We would like to thank the Sussex gang for what we thought was a box of Belgium chocolates, after storing them in the fridge in the hotel, putting them by the air con in the Countryman and then in the fridge at home until a week later attempting to enjoy them with a coffee. The Belgian chocolates turned out to be a Mini Cooper computer mouse which now has pride of place on my desk, thanks again for your kind gift which is much better than chocolate and quite robust it seems.
Blog courtesy of Justin Ridyard – Mini Cooper Register
Photos by: Justin Ridyard, Adam Bellman, David Arthur, Wesley Berloo and Phil Bateman