Podge’s Belgian Beer Tours

Tour 98 / Beer & Battlefields - In Flanders (Hop) Fields Tour

Friday 27 September – Tuesday 1 October 2019

A great new four-night, five-day Tour staying at the Oude Abdij Hotel in Lo. We will explore the beers and hops of West Flanders at the end of the hop picking season. Your guide Siobhan McGinn has been researching British Expeditionary Force (BEF) Soldiers and alcohol, morale and discipline in the First World War. In particular she is interested in what British soldiers were drinking in Flanders which caused so many courts martials for drunkenness, making it one of the top ‘crimes’ in the British Army.

A Trappist beer at Sint Sixtus Monastery Brewery, Westvleteren.

The detailed timed itinerary for this Tour is set out below. If you want to join us on this Tour please send Siobhan an email or call on +44 (0)1245 354677 for details on how to pay and joining details.

Bar Bernard, the new brewery tap at Sint Bernardus brewery, Watou.

Day 1 - Friday 27 September

06.15hr Coach pick up at The Woolpack, Mildmay Road, Chelmsford, Essex CM2 0DN.

09.20hr Eurotunnel Train Crossing from Folkestone.

11.00hr Arrive Calais. We make our way across northern France into Flanders Fields.

12.00hr Our first stop is at the new Bar Bernard beer cafe restaurant at the Sint Bernardus Brewery in Watou which opened in 2018. It has an underground car park, a shop on the ground floor and a lift to the brewery tap on the third floor. We’ll have a meal here and slake our thirst with our first fresh Belgian beer. The bar has 360 degree views over Flanders fields. St Bernardus brewery started in 1934 when the monks at the monastery here moved to France and sold the land to Evarist Deconinck who was awarded the contract to brew the Sint Sixtus Westvleteren beers from 1945 to 1992. The brew master from Sint Sixtus became a partner in the brewery and brought with him know-how, abbey recipes and importantly the Sint Sixtus yeast strain. When the contract ended in 1992 St Bernardus continued to brew 'Sint Sixtus style' beers under their own name. Despite the branding with smiling monks the St Bernardus range are not designated 'erkend' abbey beers, yet this range is seriously good, out-punching pretty much all actual certified abbey. St Bernardus brew eight beers of real quality and consistency and you can try them fresh here. On draught they have the Extra 4, Pater 6, Prior 8, Abt 12, the Tripel, the Watou Tripel (made for the French market) and the wheat beer. They also offer the Christmas Ale but this may be seasonal. The cafe stocks the linked project Kazematten beers Grotten Sante (previously known as Grotten beer), Wipers Times 14, 16 and the new season beer Saison Tremist. Also on draught are some German beers from Bavarian State brewery Weihenstephan. This may be because this German town has a Benedictine Abbey which claims to be the oldest still-operating brewery in the world. All beers are also offered in bottles with some specials such as Magnums. Interestingly they offer a 15cl tasting glass of Abt 12 from the 'magnum of the day'.

14.00hr Leave Bar Bernard, Watou.

14.15hr We visit Dozinghem Commonwealth War Graves Cemetary (CWGC), one of the trio of cemeteries (the others being Mendinghem and Bandaghem) which were sited on the sites of wartime Casualty Clearing Stations. There are over 3000 buried here and we will be focusing on a forgotten group of soldiers in the Great War, the NCOs or Non-Commissioned officers. The three cemeteries were given satirical names by Allied soldiers to sound medical, yet ‘Belgian’. Three Casualty Clearing Stations were posted at Dozinghem in summer 1917 in preparation for the forthcoming offensive – now known as the Third Battle of Ypres (Passchenedaele).

14.55hr Leave Dozinghem CWGC.

On our way to our next visit at a hop farm we will have a look at some remarkable relics from the Great War in the form of chalked army billet numbers which are still visible on some of the houses in the village of Proven in which the BEF were lodged during the war and which were chalked up by billeting officers for soldiers behind the lines to know where they were sleeping.

15.00hr Arrive at the Hoppecruyt Hop Farm in the village of Proven. This farm has been run by the Desmyter family since 1893. Here we will have a tour* by the owners of the farm towards the end of its busiest season – hop picking, plus a beer tasting* in their tasting room. They have three Single Hop beers brewed at Proef brewery from hops grown on this farm being Saphir, Spalter Select and Perle.

16.30hr Leave Hoppecruyt Hop Farm, Proven.

17.00hr Arrive at a classic Flemish cafe in the back areas in the First World War for rest and recuperation.

18.45hr Leave for our hotel.

19.00hr Arrive at Hotel Oude Abdij in Lo, our base for the next four nights. This was the site of an abbey and later home of the once the thriving St Louis Brewery which closed in the 1960s. There is a beautiful stained-glass window above a doorway near the bar incorporating the brewery’s name and a huge dove cot in the hotel grounds, a relic from the old monastery. We have the rest of the evening at leisure in the hotel’s well-stocked bar, or there are a couple of little bars in the village if you are still thirsty.

Hoppecruyt Hop Farm, Proven.

Day 2 - Saturday 28 September

10.00hr After a leisurely buffet breakfast* we leave the hotel by coach for a day exploring hops and the Belgian front in the First World War in Flanders Fields.

10.15hr Call in at the preserved Belgian Army trenches and museum at Dixmuide known in the war and now as the Dodengang or Trenches of Death. Here the Belgian army defended a small part of Belgium from the German army in these trenches surrounded by the flooded Ijzer River and coastal plain. There is a good visitor centre and you can walk through the trenches to the famous ‘Mousetrap’ redoubt. Those who need a sit down and some refreshment can walk the short distance to the Bistro Dodengang, a cafe bar near the Trenches of Death. They have a reasonable list of beers include a house beer from Van Eecke and beers from Plukker & St Bernardus.

12.45hr Leave the Dodengang Museum/Bistro Dodengang.

13.00hr Arrive Villa Marietta on the River Ijzer where Siobhan will tell us about Madame Tack. When the war started, 78-year-old Madame Tack lived with her dog, parrot and donkey in this house close to the River IJzer which was soon in the front line, but she refused to leave. Instead, she began providing soup and coffee to the soldiers serving in the trenches. She was often to be seen with her donkey very close to the firing line and quickly became known as the 'Soldiers' Mother'.

13.30hr Leave Villa Marietta.

14.00hr Arrive at Mendinghem CWGC. Mendinghem, like Dozinghem and Bandaghem were the popular names given by the troops to groups of casualty clearing stations posted to this area during the First World War. In July 1916, the 46th (1st/1st Wessex) Casualty Clearing Station was opened at Proven and this site was chosen for its cemetery. Here there are 2,391 Commonwealth burials and 52 German war graves.

15.00hr Leave Mendinghem CWGC.

15.15hr Arrive at the famous Struise Brouwers brewery in Oostvleteren. Possibly the greatest brewer in the world. They only open on Saturday afternoon for a little while and we'll be there! Here we can try some of their exceptional beers with around 25 beers on tap and bottles to take away. Black Damnation. Nuff said.

17.00hr Leave Struise Brouwers and walk across the road to the best café in West Flanders, the beautiful ‘t Molenhof in Oostvleteren. The café has an impressive beer card of over 120 including a dozen or so on tap. They offer a huge range of beers from De Struise Brouwers with some real rarities. We will have a group meal here.

19.00hrish Leave ‘t Molenhof in Oostvleteren and return to our hotel in Lo, possibly with a bar stop on the way. Rest of the evening free if anyone is still awake!

19.15rish Arrive back at the Oude Abdij Hotel in Lo.

The Menin Gate, Ypres and those ..."intolerably nameless names".

Day 3 - Sunday 29 September

10.00hr After a leisurely buffet breakfast* we leave the hotel by coach for a day in Poperinge and Ypres.

10.30hr Our first stop is Poperinge New Military CWGC where Siobhan will tell us about BEF military discipline, Courts Martials and punishment in the Poperinge area in WW1, her research subject. This cemetery has the largest concentration of soldiers who were ‘shot at dawn’ and we will find out why.

11.30hr Pay a visit to Belgium’s National Hop Museum in Poperinge which is the centre of the traditional Flemish hop-growing district. This town was always behind allied lines in the First World War and always packed with thousands of soldiers going up and down the line and back home on leave from the train station here. We will have a tour around the National Hop Museum* and after the tour we can relax with a Poperings Hommelbier* in their tasting café which is brewed by Leroy Brewery in Boesinghe (formerly known as Van Eecke Brewery). This beer was conceived in 1981 for the three year Poperinge Hop Festival and made with local hops. In those days this was considered a very hoppy beer, but now with the advent of a plethora of Belgian, and especially American IPAs it is not so noticeable!

13.30hr After our visit Siobhan will walk us across the town square to the so called ‘Shot at dawn cells’ in the town hall at Poperinge and the object known as the execution post. She will tell us about the death penalty in the First World War and why it is still such a feature of Great War writing and of enduring interest. Then we can have some free time in Poperinge to get something to eat armed with a copy of Podge’s Poperinge Bar Guide and map* which will be distributed on Tour, or a visit to the famous Talbot House if desired.

16.00hr Leave Poperinge.

16.30hr Arrive in the immortal city of Ypres, defended by the allied forces and which gave its name to the Ypres Salient (bulge) in the line between the opposing forces for four years. We have the afternoon and evening free in Ypres armed with a copy of Podge’s Ypres Bar Guide and map* which will be distributed on Tour. You can wander around the famous square, get in some chocolate shopping, find a beer or something to eat, or if you wish pay a visit to the In Flanders Fields Museum which is open until 18.00hr, last tickets 17.00hr. Travellers can also take in the moving last post ceremony at the Menin Gate. This is an imposing memorial gateway inscribed with the names of more than 54,896 men whose have no known grave and who died in the salient up to 16 August 1917. There was not enough room on this gate to record all of the names of the missing so the names of those who were known to have died after that date appear on the panels at Tyne Cot CWGC, a further 35,000. Opened in 1927 this site was chosen because of the thousands of men who passed through this spot on their way to the battlefields. It is most famous for the last post ceremony that takes place every evening at 20.00hr which is performed by the Belgian Fire Service on bugles.

21.00hr Leave Ypres from Vandenpeereboomplein near St. Martin’s Cathedral which will be marked on your maps.

21.30hr Arrive back at Hotel Oude Abdij in Lo.

Australian Sergeants Mess Christmas Dinner, Siobhan's research reveals strains on Sergeants as the war progressed (Image AWM).

Day 4 - Monday 30 September

10.00hr After a leisurely buffet breakfast* we leave the hotel by coach for a day on the infamous Pilkem Ridge, just north of Ypres and fulcrum of the Third Battle of Ypres (1917) more commonly known as The Battle of Passchendaele.

10.30hr First, we visit a drinks warehouse in order to buy some beer to take home to savour. We will visit Dranken Vandewoude in Pervijse who have plenty of bottles to choose from. Pervijse was a frontline village on the part of the Western Front held by the Belgian army, stuck for the duration of the war behind the River Ijzer, with the Germans in front and the deliberately flooded area behind. Pervijse is where two British women set up a first aid post in a cellar to help wounded Belgian troops because they were forbidden to do so on the British Front. Elsie Knocker and Mairi Chisholm were known as “The Madonnas of Pervijse” and were very famous during the war. Both survived the dangerous jobs they undertook taking wounded Belgian soldiers to their cellar and driving an ambulance back and forward to the larger hospital at Veurne.

11.45hr Leave Dranken Vandewoude in Pervijse.

12.15hr Visit an area associated with the Irish poet Francis Ledwidge and have a look at the memorial erected where he died whilst drinking tea on 31 July 1917. We also visit his grave in nearby Artillery Wood CWGC which also contains the grave of the Welsh poet Hedd Wyn, killed the same day as Ledwidge. We’ll have a look at a new memorial to Hedd Wynn and explore the explosion in Celtic fringe memorials in this area culminating with the new Welsh Dragon Memorial Park complete with bronze dragon on top of a cromlech and twin to the one at Mametz Wood on the Somme. This memorial stands on the ridge south west of Langemark, where in the summer of 1917 the Battle of Pilckem Ridge (31 July – 2 August 1917) was fought, the opening attack of the wider Third Battle of Ypres (31 July – 10 November 1917). Nearby we will call in at another significant site on this important strategic ridge, the ‘Carrefour de la Rose’ crossroads and the Breton Dolmen Memorial and calvary erected to commemorate the soldiers of the French 45th (Algerian) Division and 87th Territorial Division who died here during the first gas attack on the salient on 22 April 1915. These territorials were older men and after the war their bodies were repatriated to France, and this memorial was built here as a focus for the annual pilgrimage by their families from Brittany.

14.15hr Leave Pilkem Ridge.

15.00hr Arrive at a cafe and meal stop to be firmed up!

16.45hr Leave Café/Snack stop.

17.00hr Call in for a brewery visit and tour* at Seizoensbrouwerij Vandewalle in Reninge. This is owned and run by Chris Vandewalle who is the archival historian for the nearby town of Dixmuide. Chris started this brewery a few years ago fired by his love for brewery history in West Flanders. We’ll have a taste* of his quality beers in this little brewery. (To be confirmed).

18.30hr Leave Seizoensbrouwerij Vandewalle, Reninge. We may stop for some refreshment on the way back to our hotel in Lo!

The Welsh Dragon Memorial at Pilkem, Ypres.

Day 5 - Tuesday 1 October

10.00hr After breakfast* check out of hotel. Coach leaves for our last day.

10.30hr Arrive at Langemark German Military Cemetery where Siobhan will give us a brief tour, explain why it looks so different to Commonwealth War Graves cemeteries and show some points of interest including the memorial to German Flying Ace and friend of the Red Baron, Verner Voss, killed in 1917. We will also have a look at the remaining concrete blockhouses in the cemetery and also the large blockhouse and incorporated Memorial to the Royal Engineers and Royal Artillery of the 34th Division at the rear of the German cemetery. This blockhouse was captured in September 1918 by the BEF and used as a dressing station under command of Robert Lawrence, brother of T.E. Lawrence (of Arabia). In 1917 this area would have been a sea of mud with no discernible trenches, and duckboards from shellhole to shellhole.

11.30hr Leave Langemark German War Cemetery.

12.00hrArrive at what was considered one of the most dangerous spots on the salient, Hooge. First we will visit Hooge Crater CWGC. Hooge Chateau (destroyed but there is now a hotel on the site) and its stables were the scene of fierce back and forth fighting throughout the war. In 1915 the BEF defended the remains of the chateau against German attacks and in July a huge crater was formed by the detonation of a British mine. Fighting over possession of the crater was fierce and flamethrowers were used here for the first time by the German army. Hooge Crater Cemetery was begun in October 1917 and originally contained 76 graves but was increased after the Armistice when graves were brought in from surrounding battlefields. There are now 5,916 Commonwealth servicemen of the First World War buried or commemorated in this cemetery with 3,570 of the burials unidentified. The cemetery was designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens who incorporated a circular feature in Portland limestone which marks the approximate extent of the crater blown by the large mine here in 1915.

12.30hr We will walk the short distance to the excellent Hooge Crater Museum. This is a superb little private museum and we’ll have a look round* and a chance to have a drink afterwards in their little museum café.

15.00hr Leave Hooge.

15.30hr Arrive at Sint Sixtus Abbey at Westvleteren where the monks still brew in the monastery. Sadly this cannot be visited and is kept behind high walls. However we can call in at In de Vrede (Peace) café attached to the monastery where we can spend some time at our last stop and sample their world famous beers and have the chance of a snack meal before we return to Blighty.

17.45hr Leave In de Vrede.

18.50hr Arrive Calais.

19.50hr Leave Calais on Eurotunnel train crossing.

19.45hr Arrive Folkestone.

21.00hr Coach drop Dartford Railway Station DA1 1BP.

21.45hr Coach drop at Travelodge, 128-136 Parkway, Chelmsford CM2 7GY.

21.45hr Coach drop off The Woolpack, Mildmay Road, Chelmsford CM2 0DN.

22.00hr Coach drop off at Premier Inn Victoria Road, Chelmsford CM1 1NY.

23.00hr Coach drop off Tesco, Copdock Interchange, Ipswich IP8 3TS.

Hooge Crater Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery, nr Ypres.

Tour Price is £750 per person sharing a twin or double room

Single Supplement: £185

We regret that we need to charge a single supplement for travellers who would like their own room. This is because increasingly there is no such thing as a single room price in hotels and room prices for a single person or two person occupancy are either the same or with very little difference. If you are travelling alone and want to share a room with another traveller please contact Siobhan as we are regularly able to pair up travellers in twin rooms to avoid the need for payment of the Single Supplement.

Included in the cost of this Tour are:

Hotel accommodation and breakfasts;

Hotel city taxes;

Luxury coach travel on a 49 seater coach with toilet;

All brewery visits, tours and brewery beer tastings;

Entrance fees to attractions, museums and historical sites;

All items marked with an asterisk above and on the individual detailed tour itinerary when issued;

Copies of Podge’s City Bar Guides and Maps for the town where we stay or spend some time;

Still and sparkling water on the coach;

Pick up from Ipswich (at bus shelter outside Crown House, Crown Street, Ipswich, Suffolk, IP1 3HS (opposite NCP Car Park), Colchester (Southway Chapel St South Layby) or Chelmsford (The Woolpack, Mildmay Road). Arrangements can be made for different joining points on the way to Folkestone or even on the other side of the channel.

Travellers are responsible for the costs of all food and drink apart from items marked with an asterisk on the detailed itinerary plus all passport and insurance costs.

All itinerary times are local and approximate.

Personal insurance is not included in the Tour price but is strongly advised, as is carrying the European Health Insurance Card available online, by phone or via the Post Office.

If you have any questions or would like to join us please send Siobhan an email or call on +44 (0)1245 354677.

All Tours are subject to our Terms and Conditions.

book this tour

British and Australian Soldiers enjoying a coffee. But was it always just coffee? (Image AWM).