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A trip to Flanders pt 7: Dunkirk Spirit

Updated: Dec 9, 2020

On the seventh day there was still no rest for the wicked, and I was quickly missing my trusty companion, Ordnance Survey .........

Day 7

I feel sorry for people that don’t run. When they get up in the morning that is the best their legs will feel all day! (There’s a beer for the first person to identify who I’ve plagiarised that from, so long as you’re in Torhout this Friday night).

Every morning on this little adventure I’ve had a nervous moment, just as I’ve swung my legs out of bed and got vertical for the first time. How are my legs going to feel? Are they still working? Will they get me through my day’s ‘work’? And every morning I’ve thought (probably out loud) ‘AARRRRGGH’ or a (not allowed before the watershed) word to that effect.

But one of the remarkable things about the human body is how using it can make it feel better. It can go from ‘tired and stiff’ to ‘ready to go’ in a very short space of time. Although, to be fair, my definition of ‘short space of time’ has evolved in the past week.

So, at 9:41 precisely (yeah I know, late at the office again – but I have the UK/mainland Europe time difference to blame) I ‘sprinted’ off along the Rue Royale at a pace which would have got me to about 24m by the time Usain normally finishes 100m.

I had mixed feelings about the day ahead. Part of me was looking forward to the novelty of running through France, part of me was worried about navigating without the aid Ordnance Survey, and the rest of me dreaded spending 8 or so hours plodding along my least favourite terrain – flat, straight roads. But whatever, I had to get on with it and make the most.

Passing some of the makeshift immigrant camps on the edge of town made me feel sad and, if I’m honest, a little anxious. But within half an hour Calais was a just a memory and I was getting into my ‘towpath pace’ groove as I headed east into a land of crop fields.

12 miles in I was looking forward to reaching the small town of Gravelines, which I’d planned to make my first pit stop. I checked the map and was pleased to see I was only a mile away.

However, half a mile later I discover that the river bridge I’d plotted my route across was a swing bride which had been opened in favour of boats – about 30 years previously by the look of it. (What was I saying about Ordnance Survey?!?). Fortunately I could see another bridge a few 100 metres to the south, so not too much bonus distance.

After Gravelines I was heading for Dunkirk, about another 13 miles east. This section involved some sections of a busy road with no pavement, which was the least fun I’d had since Russia scored against England last Saturday night. After enduring it for a couple of miles, I studied the map for alternatives but found there were few that didn’t add many miles to my route.

I managed to escape the traffic for a while by diverting through the intriguingly named village of Loon-Plage though, and when I emerged at the other end was delighted to discover a newly constructed cycle path alongside the highway. Even better, according to the sign posts it went all the way to Dunkirk. RESULT!

The sun was high and the heat was rising from the Tarmac as I approached Dunkirk so my SECOND lunch stop of the day was VERY welcome. A bit indulgent I know, but I had to make up for yesterday.

As I set out east again after lunch 2, I was tempted to stop off at a Euro 2016 fan zone I came across which was showing Russia getting beat by Slovakia. It looked too crowded to get a good view though, so I opted to press on.

The back road to Belgium that I’d found made for quite pleasant, if not particularly interesting, running. So I just tried to get back into the groove and grind out the last third of my day.

The edited highlights are that I crossed the border into Belgium with about 3 miles of my day’s running left. The long version: as above but I stopped to take a picture of the sign. I kinda felt I had to.

Within another half an hour I was done with stage 7 of my run. After checking into my room and taking a welcome shower, I finished the day with a wander around this pleasant seaside town of De Panne to find sustenance…. Oh and Belgium beer

Just one more stage to go now as I head for Torhout tomorrow. And then the small matter of the Marathon on Friday.


Miles covered 38.28 (61.59km – I am in Europe now!)

Accumulative mileage 271.49 (436.83km).

Time elapsed: 8:17:37

Time moving: 7:02:43

Elevation gain: 54ft (I told you those roads were flat. I think half of that was one flyover and the rest was stepping on and off curbs at junctions!)

Average pace: 11:02/mile

Consumption during the run:

– 1 Apple

– 1 ham and cheese sandwich

– 1 tuna salad 6 inch ‘Subway’ sandwich, with cheese, not toasted.

– 2 litres of Tailwind mix

– 1.5 litres of plain water

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