Western Flanders - Polders

Gent - Brugge Canal: Gent ring - Brugge ring (41 km)
Schipdonk Canal (Leie Bypass): Deinze to the North Sea (55.5 km)
Leopold Canal (40 km)
Brugge ring (11.5 km)
Brugge - Damme - Sluis (NL) Canal (15 km)
Boudewijn Canal: Brugge - Zeebrugge (15 km)
Brugge - Oostende Canal (23 km)
Plassendale - Nieuwpoort Canal (22 km)

The coastal area of Belgium is very flat, and much of it lies below sea level. The coastline has varied greatly, particularly in the last 1,000 years. And it is only in that period that the area has been really populated, as drainage systems were developed. Much of the earlier drainage work was done by monks. With the disappearance of the Zwin, the only remaining river of significance is the IJzer - and it is hardly a natural river any more. The other waterways are all basically human creations.

Gent - Brugge Canal: Gent ring - Brugge ring (41 km)

Near the top, Assebroek is the correct spelling

Note August 2002: Marjet Vandenbrande informs that there have been substantial improvements on this route, including signing as part of the LF cycling network. The route is marked LF 5.

As a result of the closing of the Schelde to shipping from the Spanish (later Austrian) Netherlands by the United Provinces (independent Netherlands)in the 16th century, the major trading cities of Brugge, Gent and Antwerp were devastated. Some way of getting goods to and from the sea was urgently required. The Schelde already connected Gent and Antwerp. From 1613 to 1623 a new canal to link Gent and Brugge was dug, while other projects were underway to link Brugge with the North Sea. The original capacity was probably 150 tons, but that has now been expanded to 2,000 tons between the Gent ring and the Schipdonk junction. Expansion to that capacity (from 1,000 and 1,350) from the Schipdonk to and around Brugge is planned, with dredging now (Aug 1998) taking place north of Sint-Joris. There are no locks until you reach the Brugge ring.

Most of this route is fine riding through heavily settled farmland, but some sections of the towpaths are unpaved and in places just ruts or worse. Your option in those areas is to ride roads. (Several sections of very new paved towpath suggest that there is a plan to correct this situation, but the final network will probably take years.) As in much of the Flemish region, most bridges across the waterways have name signs, easing navigation.

Gent ring - Schipdonk (7 km)

It is possible to ride either side, but the north is mostly either on roads or next to busy roads. The south is service road - quite pleasant. Along the way you see several "chateaux" built by 19th century industrialists. Most now sit in lovely parks.

Start at the Speybrug (bridge) across the Gent ring. It is the middle of the three bridges across the ring near Vinderhoute. At the west end of the bridge turn left and loop down to the towpath along the ring. Go north. The service road curves left at the canal junction to join the Brugge-Gent canal. Ride west to the Durmenbrug. Just past that bridge is the intersection with the Schipdonk canal.

Here you have your choice of three directions. If you plan to continue west to Brugge, or turn south on the Schipdonk canal, go straight. To go north on the Schipdonk, cross the Durmenbrug to the north bank. There are stairs with bike ramps on both ends of the bridge.

About 100 m past the Durmenbrug on the south bank there is a road to the left (south). 200 m down that road is de Oude Smisse pub. (May 1998)

Schipdonk canal - Brugge ring (34 km)

This section is mostly through fine countryside, but unfortunately some riding on roads and/or rough unpaved towpath is required.

From the Durmenbrug, either bank is fine for about 5.5 km to the Bellembrug. The north bank includes some new (9/97) sections of paving, and hopefully the missing links will eventually be filled.

1,100 m west of the Bellembrug on the north bank the pavement ends. If you follow the embankment the riding is reasonable on hard earth ruts for 1,200 m until you are on pavement again. Another 2.5 km brings you to the Aalterbrug, and the town of Aalter. Another km and the pavement ends. You can follow farm roads as they zig-zag north and west for 2.4 km before joining the canal again. 800 m further is the Knesselarebrug. 200 m past that bridge the pavement ends. You are better off on the south bank. Cross the bridge and carefully ride the narrow road the 1.5 km to Sint-Joris.

Taking the south bank from Durmenbrug: follow the south bank to the canal junction and around the corner to the bridge. For the Schipdonk canal, continue straight on the service road to the south. To continue west to Brugge, cross the bridge (steps up) and follow the road on the other side. It quickly joins the canal heading west, and then you are on a paved towpath. A little less than 3 km of paved towpath brings up you to the Hansebekebrug, from which you are on a service road for 2.3 km to the Bellembrug. After that bridge you are again on paved towpath for 2 km, and then 2.5 km of access road for some industries to the bridge at Aalter.

The towpath past Aalter is blocked by a cement works. You are stuck with following a narrow road, with some traffic, for 5 km to Sint-Joris. Alternately, you can follow the towpath for about 1 km past the cement works, but it is mountain bike territory. It is best to cross the bridge to the north bank and follow the LF 5 signs.

safety lock
safety lock
source: Tim Freh
West of St-Joris bridge you again have your choice of evils. Following the north bank you ride the road (narrow, but not much traffic) for nearly 4 km to Beernembrug. (Note the glider airport across the canal 2 km north of the St-Jorisbrug.) Continuing north from Beernembrug you are on service road with your view of the canal cut off by piles of waste from the widening project. After 2 km of that you are on a section which is finished, and then reach a safety lock. Just north of the dam, turn off on a paved farm road. (If you go straight on the embankment the pavement ends in less than one km and you are faced with overgrown path.) Follow the farm road 900 m to the first junction with another paved road, and turn left. 2.5 km on that road brings you to another junction with a paved road, with bike lanes to the right. Turn left and in 700 m you are at Moerbrugge church (1932). Turn left through the village and across the canal. Continuing west on the east bank means mostly riding some moderately busy roads.

Taking the south bank from St-Joris bridge: 200 m north of the bridge is a pub, to the right (canal side) of which is a service road. Follow that road about 500 m until you reach some signs. Turn left on the hard packed road, then right after a few meters on a hard packed path. This follows the south bank of the old channel of the canal, the east end of which has been filled. The peninsula so formed is now in part nature preserve, part dumping ground for waste from the canal widening project, and part an airfield for gliders.

Following the towpath west, you are off and on in the Miseriebochtt nature preserve, and alternate between hard packed towpath and road. In 1.5 km you reach the junction with the main channel, and a yacht harbor. 2.2 km further, again alternating between hard dirt and paved road, you reach Beernembrug.

source: Tim Freh
North of Beernembrug you ride a road for half a km, and then have generally fine paved towpath. You soon reach another section of old canal channel, again filled at the east end. It appears that the new, wider channel was built to the north to avoid disturbing a village. Past that branch you are again off and on in nature preserve, with occasional bunkers. These bunkers are unusual - they face south and west, with the canal at their back. Canal-side bunkers are usually behind the canal, utilizing it as a moat. These bunkers were built by the Germans in WWII, and at least one is now used as a bat house. There are various signs along the way, explaining the life in the preserve.

Moerbruggebrug is slight less than 5 km west of Beernembrug. At the south end of the bridge is a monument to 52 Canadian soldiers who died in the battle to cross the canal here in September 1944, and to the 12 local people who died during the occupation. The memorial is an interesting bit of modern art, apparently composed of tank parts. On the west side it says "beating (or forging) war into eternal peace." Sort of like "beating swords into plowshares."

source: Tim Freh
West and north of Moerbruggebrug you must use the southwest side, unless you want to spend most of your time on roads and away from the canal. There is a fine paved towpath for 3 km to the next bridge, a bascule at Steenbrugge. This is your entrance into Brugge. (Aug - Sep 1998)

Cross the canal on this bridge and continue north on a new (2000) bike path along the east side of the canal. (Be careful - the bridge carries a lot of traffic.) In a half km on the other (west) side of the canal is a sizable industrial complex. This is a Bombadier assembly plant for rail cars (apparently including for the Channel Shuttle). If you wish to look more closely at the Bombadier plant, use the pedestrian bridge across the canal.

The canal then splits. The right (east) branch which you follow carries the barge traffic into the east side of the Brugge ring. The left branch forms a yacht harbor, with a service road on the west side. About 500 m past the split you reach the Brugge ring road ring canal by Katelijnebrug. Cross the bridge to connect to the Brugge ring route. (Mark Vandenbraembussche August 2002)

To reach the rail station (which also has the parking garage I used on the rare occasions when I drove to Brugge) turn west along the ring canal. The paths on the north (city) side are much more pleasant than the ring road on the south side.

Access: For Beernem, take the E40 towards the coast and exit 10 towards Beernem. The first bridge is over the rail line from Gent to Brugge and the coast. Go over it. You soon approach another bridge. Turn right just before the bridge approach, and park by the canal. (Aug - Sep 1998) (Reviewed and updated by Dirk Vande Putte 10 October 2004)

Schipdonk Canal (Leie Bypass): Deinze to the North Sea (56 km)

A very pleasant ride through polders to the beach. This canal was originally built for flood control purposes, to divert high water (and pollution) in the Leie away from Gent, and secondarily for shipping. The pollution was reportedly quite serious in the 19th century, particularly due to the flax industry. Flax was a major crop in the Leie river valley. The plant stalks are placed in water to "rot" (retting) so that the fibres can be extracted and woven into linen.

The canal was completed in 1871. (Or built 1846 - 63: West) Along the route you encounter three other waterways: the Brugge-Gent canal, the Leopold (or Zelzate) canal and the Brugge-Sluis (or Napoleon, or Damme) canal.

Deinze - Gent-Brugge canal (14 km)

Lower Leie Bypass - Schipdonk Canal
source: route66
Pleasant country riding, with plum orchards. The town of Deinze provides ample sources of refreshment. The Church of Our Lady (Onze-Lieve-Vrouwekerk) dates to the 9th century. The earliest parts now visible are the transept of the 12th century church. Reconstruction and expansion through the following centuries, most recently from 1896 to 1906, resulted in a very pleasant building well worth visiting. To the left of the entrance is a plan showing the age of the various parts.

The GeoCart map shows a bike path along the west (left) bank of the canal north from Deinze. This is only true for the northern end (3 km). From Deinze to Nevele you ride on a narrow highway, and then there is a stretch that is not paved or even packed. Ride the right (east) bank.

In the peninsula formed by the junction of the Leie and the Leie Bypass just south of Deinze town center there is a large sports and recreation center. One km north of the junction is the Vaartbrug, part of a bypass that takes through traffic around the town center. Continuing north on the east bank, a traffic circle marks the end of the main street of the town. Turn right for the market and church. Stay along the bypass and you soon reach the Krommebrug. The next 2 km is on road through a commercial area, but there is little traffic. Then you are on a service road that provides fine riding for the 11.5 km to the junction with the Gent-Brugge canal by Schipdonk. Just before the E40 bridge you pass a sewage treatment plant. 1.5 km further is bridge for the Gent-Brugge railway. In December 1998, a canal dredging project provided 200 m of somewhat muddy road. (Dec 1998)

As originally built, there was a lock and siphon on the Bypass at the Gent-Brugge. The lock was to keep the pollution out of the Gent-Brugge. A siphon carried the excess water in the Schipdonk under the Gent-Brugge to the continuation of the Schipdonk on the north side. After the flax (linen) industry disappeared because of synthetic fibres (complete by the 1950s) the lock was removed. The siphon still functions.

Gent-Brugge canal - N410 (20 km)

Leie Bypass - Schipdonk Canal middle section
source: route66

Pleasant country riding, including several pubs. Near Durmen the Schipdonk intersects the Gent-Brugge (or Gent-Oostende) canal. North of the intersection the Schipdonk has a much lower capacity than to the south, and apparently never had much commercial service. Freight barges now all turn left or right towards Brugge or Gent. Pleasure boats do use the canal for 10 km to the Eeklo canal and a marina, or slightly further north to Balgerhoeke (13 km), where a lock has been turned into a weir.

When you reach the intersection of the canals, follow the towpath to the right to the Durmenbrug (less than 1 km). Cross that bridge (stairs on both sides) to the north bank and turn west. You shortly reach and cross a lock over the Schipdonk. The east bank of the canal is not paved for several km to the north of this lock - you want the west bank. Continue about 200 m past the lock and over another bridge to a paved path and turn right. You are now on the west bank of the northern section of the Schipdonk. Your route is on a service road (occasional farm vehicles) through pleasant, flat countryside. The pavement is generally excellent.

A little over 5 km north of the Gent - Brugge you reach the Stoktevijverbrug and the junction with the Lieve canal. Another 4 km brings you to the Veldekensbrug, and 700 m later a canal junction. The branch to the east is the Eeklo canal, which is less than 2 km long. It originally served some industry, but now the only activity is a yacht harbor. At the harbor is a pub - if you are thirsty, turn east over the Veldekemsbrug and follow the road about 1.5 km to the end of the canal. Then loop around and into the harbor area. (May 1998)

Continuing north, 900 m north of the junction with the Eeklo is the Koetshoeve Tavern. Their sign says they support cycling, and there are in fact bike trails marked by the tavern that start at this point. They are from 19 - 35 km long.

2.3 km further, after passing the the Raverschootbrug and another restaurant, you research the first of three bridges at Eeklo. The first is a road bridge you go under, the second is a rail lift bridge, the third Balgerhoeke lock (now decommissioned) bridge. If you cross the bridge you will find a Sherman tank. It was used by the Canadian South Albert Regiment during fighting in this area in August and September 1944. The Canadians liberated the nearby town of Eelko on 15 September 1944.

In another 2.6 km you reach a Dutch-style bascule bridge. You can continue on new paving along the west/south bank to the N410 bridge. You must go up and down short flights of steps that have bike channels. (May 2001)

But for a fun detour, cross the lever bridge and take a break at de Roos pub. Note the watchtower. After stopping for a drink, and turn left (north) along the east dike. In a km the service road on the dike ends. Follow the roadway down to the fields and north for 700 m (passing a road that goes left) to a crossroad. Turn right for 300 m, and then left just after you pass a barn. Another 700 m brings you to the Leopold canal. Cross the Bailey bridge and stop to read the sign. The bridge is a memorial to the men of the Canadian 4th Armored Division who forced the canal in this area on 6 October 1944 after the towns to the south of the canal had been liberated.

Turn left (west) along the Leopold canal. In 2 km you find another war momento - a pillbox. A further 500 m brings you to the N410. (May 1998) (whole segment reviewed by André Maes August 2003)

If you are interested in steam trains, an interesting detour at this point is the Meldegem Steam Center. Standard gage steam and diesel and narrow gage steam are operated on weekends from the beginning of May through the first weekend in October. There is a steam festival, usually the first weekend in May, which often features visiting locomotives. The Center is about 2 km south of the canal, on the N410.

N410 - North Sea (Heist) (22 km)

Leie Bypass - Schipdonk Canal north section
source: route66

Except for the final 2 km in Heist, you cycle through a lovely arcade of mature trees, through the countryside. From the N410 you can travel west either on the north dike of the Leopold or on the south bank of the parallel Schipdonk. (Note 17 November 2005: It has been announced that work has started on removing some 770 mature poplar trees along the canals, from Oostkere bridge (about 2 km west of the junction with the Damme canal) to the Dudezele bridge about 2 1/2 km further west. The trees, planted in 1950, are now liable to breaking off. Many more trees will be replaced in coming years. article sent by Jan Steyaert) The former is also a narrow highway in places, with some high speed traffic. There is also a 1 km cobblestone stretch. The south bank route is maybe 2 kilometers longer and requires two detours away from the canal on country lanes, but it is much more enjoyable.

Parallel Canals: Leopold and Schipdonk
source: Jan Steyaert April 2006
Go south across the bridges: the Leopold and then Schipdonk canals. At the south end of the second, take the steps on the right down to the towpath and head west. After 2.5 km you pass a mostly-buried military pillbox. In another kilometer you reach a bridge. Dismount and follow the narrow path and footbridge under the bridge. From this point the dike has been fenced off for about 1.5 km, so turn left. At the first intersection (150 m) turn right. Go straight 1.6 km to the first crossroad (large greenhouse ahead on the left) and turn right 900 m to the canal where the paved towpath continues west. (May 1998)

Oostkerkebrug is a little over 1 km NW of the Damme canal crossing
source: Tim Freh May 2006
After nearly 6 km of very pleasant riding you reach the junction with the Damme canal - a unique formation where two parallel canals are (or rather were) crossed by a third. 2.6 km later the paved towpath comes to an end. Follow the pavement down from the dike 100 m to a road and turn right. About 1.5 km brings you to the N376. Turn right and cross the bridges - from here on the west bank of the Schipdonk is blocked by the activities of the modern port. Turn back north on the east side of the Leopold, on the towpath. 4.1 k brings you to the place where the towpath ends where the railway was built across the canal. On this stretch you have the Palingpot restaurant, a good watering hole.

The canal dike is not accessible the final 1 1/2 km to the sea. Where the towpath ends you follow the pavement to the right and down to a road to the N300 highway (700 m). Turn left on the bike lane along the highway (. t Huuzje pub). In less than 1 km you reach the railway overpass. From this point is there is a bike lane on both sides. Cross over and continue north. The final 200 m to the coastal highway (with the coastal tram line) has no bike lane. At the tram line turn right, then left at the first street. You are now at Vissershulde Plein, and the North Sea beach. (April 1998) (whole canal checked by Joe Rine September 2000) (whole segment reviewed by André Maes August 2003) (Reviewed by Dirk Vande Putte May 2004)

A possible future: There is a steadily increasing demand for freight movement between the Gent area and the port of Zeebrugge. A 2003 study of possible capacity increases concluded that the best answer would be the construction of a "north canal" following the line of the Schipdonk from the sea to the Brugge-Gent canal. Where the Leopold and Schipdonk run together they would be combined. (For more on this subject, in Dutch, see Eric Dewilde's page. Eric operates boat trips in the Gent area, including overnight trips for groups of four. (22 Apr 2006)

Leopold Canal (40 km)

Eastern Leopold Canal
source: Route 66
The Leopold canal was authorized by Leopold I in 1850, to join the coast with the Terneuzen canal at Zelzate. (Zelzate was the name used for the canal on some of the bridges when they were rebuilt after the Second World War.) Work stopped several km short near Boekhoute, at a place appropriately called haven. For some reason, the Leopold and Schipdonk did not merge where they meet just west of the N410 but run parallel to the sea. The Leopold is not used by any boats, except possibly canoes.

Oosthoek Baily Bridge
source: Jan Steyaert 14 April 2006
For a description of the section west of the N410, see Schipdonk canal above. East of the N410, a 7 km section of the north bank of the Leopold canal has recently been improved as a cycle route. You ride through pleasant countryside. 3.5 km east of the N410 (1 km east of the Bailey Bridge) there is a pub on your left. 1.4 km later you reach a bridge at Sint-Laureins. The canal at this point is virtually on the border with the Netherlands. Another 700 m brings you to the end of the pavement, at a weir and bridge. Across the way is Fred's Cafe. The canal runs another 10.9 km to the east (according to the KM), but the embankments should be attempted only by mountainbikers, and then with some difficulty. (May 1998) (updated by Jan Steyaert July 2004)

The Bailey Bridge (which is marked Oosthoekbrug Sint-Laureins) was rehabilitated in 2005. It is a national monument, marking the point where on the night of 6 - 7 October 1944 Canadian forces (the 3rd Infantry Division and 7th Infantry Brigade) crossed the canal to begin the liberation of the area to the north. The Canadian offensive, called Operation Switchback, is described by a sign at the bridge. (April 2006)

Leopold Canal: past end of towpath
source: Jan Steyaert 14 April 2006

Brugge ring (11.5 km)

Click here for a map on the Brugge tourist board site.

A gracht (moat) to defend Brugge was dug 1297 - 1300, circling an area of 431 hectares (about 1.7 square miles). Inside the gracht an earth wall was built, and there were 9 gates with bridges. The area within the gracht is an oval, about 30% longer north-south than east-west. The gracht was about 10 km long. Part of the original defense line has been filled or converted to other uses, but 8 km with 4 bridges remain, and is now a park.

In later centuries the eastern half of the gracht was made a navigable waterway, part of the Gent - Brugge - Oostende canal. And at some point a canal was dug from the west side NW to the Brugge - Oostende canal. Combining most of the remaining gracht with two newer canal sections allows you to make a loop of about 11.5 km around Brugge.

A convenient place to park, and start, is the large parking garage by the rail station. From the garage, cross the station forecourt on the bike path along the road, and then cross the road at the traffic light. Going straight from the crosswalk you cross a bridge over the gracht. Turn right just past the bridge into the park. Follow the hard-packed bike path. You soon cross a bridge over the Minnewater, a very scenic section which presumably was the way used by barges to enter the city when the first canal to Gent was built. (August 1998)

Shortly after that you reach a bridge across the gracht at St-Katelijnspoort. To reach the Gent - Brugge canal, cross the bridge and turn right on the bike path.

Continuing around the ring, in a half km you reach a tower and then the Gentpoort (Gent gate) and another bridge across the ring. 300 m past that gate there is a canal (the Coupure) leading into the city. Since April 2002 you have been able to cross this canal on a new bridge designed by Jürg Conzett. (Info from Mark Vandenbraembussche, Aug 2002.)

800 m brings you to another newish new bridge, and then the Kruispoort. Past that gate you find 4 windmills in the km to the next bridge at Dampoort. This is an interesting complex with a modern lock, an old canal leading into the city, and across the ring road the canal to Damme and Sluis.

The inside of the gracht is closed off north of Dampoort - cross the bridge over the canal leading into the center, and follow the road to the left and then right past an industrial establishment. A bit over 500 m brings to a major road and another bridge across the gracht. The main road to your left was built on a section of the gracht that was filled. Cross it and continue along the current canal. In 200 m on the opposite bank is the Verbindingsluis that connects to the Boudwijn canal. Another 100 m brings you to the revolving Krakelebrug. 200 m past that bridge you reach a newly paved section through an old harbor area. (Hendrik Debusschere 14 July 2004). 700 m of that brings you to the Scheepsdalebrug. Past that bridge you follow a road along the canal for 600 m to a canal junction. Don't cross the bridge at the junction - turn left on a rough road. 700 m brings you to Canada Bridge, and 300 more to another section of park with hard dirt bike path and then a junction with the original gracht on the west side.

A pleasant detour at this point is to turn left along the outer (west) side of the gracht, the final part of which is actually a lake. The end is Ezelpoort - donkey gate - the nicest of the remaining gates. Make a U-turn through Ezelpoort and head back south on the bike path between the road and the gracht. 700 m of that brings you to a main road. After you cross that you are again in the park along the old defenses. The next gate is Smedenpoort. 500 m south of that gate, take an underpass under a cross road (Boeveriepoort). 100 m or so after you come up from the underpass is your starting point - the crosswalk in front of the rail station.

While you are in Brugge, spend some time exploring the rest of the canal network within the gracht. There are over 10 km of major canals, and more on various branches. Remember that the Market was originally a harbor. Note that the embankment streets are usually called "rei," presumably after the river Reie on which the city was established. (August 1998)

Brugge - Damme - Sluis (NL) Canal (15 km)

Brugge-Damme-Sluis Canal
source: route66

A delightful ride through polder farmland, on a canal connecting three walled cities. Along the way you may enjoy several windmills. Each of the cities exhibits nearly complete 15th century earth town walls, with the defense system best preserved and presented in Sluis.

In the 10th century Brugge was a seaport on a branch of the North Sea, the Zwin. As the waters were silted in, the Reie river was used for small boats to Damme, which was itself a major seaport on the Zwin. Before 1501 a canal was built to Damme, replacing the Reie for navigation. A flash lock connected the canal to the Zwin. But the land continued advancing, and a canal was dug on from Brugge to Damme to Sluis in 1546. Soon thereafter Sluis and the area to the north became a part of the United Provinces and the canal was closed to traffic. Silting continued, and by 1718 the canal had disappeared entirely.

Napoleon ordered the construction of a new waterway from Brugge to the west Schelde. Work began in 1813 but stopped in 1818 when only Sluis had been reached. That town remains the northern end of the canal. Today the canal has been decommissioned, blocked (except for drainage facilities) just north of the Brugge ring and on both sides of the Oostkerke junction with the Leie Bypass and Leopold Kanaal. A tourist boat runs from Brugge to Damme.

From the Brugge ring to Hoeke (just before the N49) the east side offers a paved bicycle path (not shown on GeoCart) that parallels a minor highway. The west side is mostly service road with traffic limited to fishermen - a more pleasant ride.

Damme canal looking south at Damme, with tourist boat
source: Tim Freh June 2006
One km brings you to the edge of the Brugge urban area and 4 km of pleasant riding through farmland under an arcade of trees to Damme. On the west side of the canal is a windmill on the town wall. Damme was once an important port but little now remains. The church was even reduced in length. The remains of the town wall encircle an area much larger than the present village. The primary industry is now tourism - there are numerous fine pubs and restaurants, and art and book shops. (Damme is in fact advertised as one of the new-style booktowns.) If you have time explore the town a bit, and visit the town hall (on the square) if it is open.

Less than 2 km north of Damme is an unusual feature: the junction of three canals. The Damme canal crosses the parallel Leopold and Schipdonk canals. The Damme canal is blocked on both sides. You cross the two canals on bridges just to the east of the Damme canal. On the north bank of the Leopold Kanaal is a formal (judging by the dress of the staff) country inn.

From here north there are some interesting land features on the east side of the canal. I have found no information on them, but some appear to be earthworks from the 80 Years War when this area was a major zone of conflict between the United Provinces and Spain (as in Spanish Netherlands). Some may related to the 1587 campaign by Parma that resulted in the conquest of Sluis by Spain.

To the west you see a massive tower - the church (Sint Kwintenskerk) at Oostkerke (east church). There was a church on the site as early as 1100, and the tower dates from the 13th century. The tower was blown up by retreating German troops in 1944, and rebuilt after the war. The rest of the church is mostly 17th century, a reconstruction after destruction during the Wars of Religion in the 16th century. Across the street from the church is a nice pub.

Just past KM 10.6 (the posts are on the east bank most of the length of the canal) are two bridges: a low bridge and then a high bridge. You are at Hoeke, and must continue on the west/north bank. By the bridge is a pub.

In about 3 km you cross the border into the Netherlands. There is no indication of the exact location of the border. Another half km brings you to a pedestrian bridge. You can cross it to enter Sluis, or continue on the north/west bank for 500 m. The canal then makes a sharp turn to the right and there is a square on the north side - originally the town's port on the Zwin. The town tourist office is just north of the square, on the highway leading north and in a large carpark.

To explore the town center, follow the canal to the right and it's end. To ride the town wall you can go through the city center to the south gate (by the windmill) and then climb to the wall. The longest route on the wall is counter-clockwise. About 3 km brings you back to the square at the former harbor. Sluis is a tourist town, with many restaurants and pubs. (July 1999, reviewed by Jan Steyaert July 2004)

Boudewijn Canal: Brugge - Zeebrugge (15 km)

Looking at a map, you see that much of the land between the north side of Brugge and the North Sea is industrial. How could a canal running through this area be pleasant? If you pick the wrong route, much is in fact through industrial areas on high-speed roads. But there is one route that is both safe and pleasant.

The Boudewijn Canal was built early in this century, at the same time that the development of the Zeebrugge docks began. The canal was opened in 1907. It is a sea canal, able to take fairly large ships to the docks on the north side of Brugge. However, most ships now stop at the ever-expanding inland dock complex at Zeebrugge. A good percentage of the cargo is transshipped to barges which use the Boudewijn to connect with the canals from Brugge to Gent or Oostende.

From the north side of the Brugge gracht (ring canal), cross the Warandebrug to the north bank. Cross the ring road and turn left (west) along the bike lane. Follow the lane over the bridge over the end of the Boudewijn Canal, and turn right at the second street - St-Pietersgroenestraat. In a short distance you reach a traffic circle. Follow the bike lane to the second street around the circle and turn right on the bike path. You should have a drainage canal on your right.

(Alternately, if you don't want to climb the bridge over the Boudewijn, stay to the right at the bridge approach. Turn right at the lock, left across the bridge, right at the first intersection, left at the first street, then left after crossing the railway to get to the circle.)

This bike path, with fine pavement (but not shown on the Geocart map) takes you a little over 6 km to the road to the Dudzel. Most of the time you are out of sight of the Boudewijn Canal, below the level of the road and 200 to 300 m from the canal. Most of that land is occupied with industries. About 3 km from the circle across the road there is a modern structure that looks like it could be an enormous boiler. The facility is called Herdersbrug, apparently after a bridge that used to cross the canal here. The old bridge is preserved next to the factory.

Pleasant section of the Boudewijn Canal
source: Tim Freh May 2006
At the Dudzel road is a T junction. Turn right. In 400 m you are at the canal and the Dudzelbrug. Cross the road and continue north on the fine paved towpath on the west bank. In 500 m there is a rail bridge, the passenger line to Knokke-Heist and the freight line serving the larger part of the Zeebrugge docks. From this bridge north to the sea the land on the west bank belongs to the port of Zeebrugge, but along the canal you have nearly 4 km of nature preserve on both banks. (The east bank is a dead end, and apparently not paved.) On your side there are substantial patches of blackberries.

2,200 m past the rail bridge you pass a road leading in to Lissewege, with its large (50 m) church tower. The church dates to 1275. It was seriously damaged in 1586 during the religious wars, and much was rebuild in the early 17th century. A half km south of the town are the remains of the Abbey of Ter Doest, with an enormous barn dating to 1275. One of the buildings is now a restaurant.

The coast tram
A km north of the Lissewege road you pass some old fortifications, probably former ammunition storage. Just past the last of these is, across the canal, the broad entrance into the Zeebrugge inland docks. Just past that you come to an area of (mostly) derelict port buildings and join a road. Follow the road (little traffic) north and then to the left as it curves around the older docks on the west side of the canal. There is a road junction in one km - go straight. The coastal highway is almost 2 km further. To your right is a lock suitable for fairly large barges. The big sea lock for ships is further east.

Both these locks have bridges at both ends, complete with track and overhead for the coast tram. This arrangement means that traffic never has to wait if there is a ship or barge movement - at least one bridge is always open for cars and trams. However, in September 1998 the north (main) bridge over the Boudewijn Canal appeared to be out of use.

To get to the beach, cross the coast highway and turn left along the bike path. After crossing an old bridge across a highway, turn right to the boardwalk. An option is to go the other direction to the fishermen's port and its excellent restaurants. Cross the canal and continue north on the road on the east bank to the entrance to the fishers' harbor. There are several pubs and restaurants. Mon Manège à Toi is outstanding, worth a trip for a meal. It is about in the middle on the north side of the harbor. At the east end of the harbor is a sea museum with a couple of boats (including a submarine) on display. On the seaside of the peninsula that forms the north side of the harbor is a Belgian navy base.
Zeebrugge seafront

Zeebrugge sand castle 2000
If you follow the coast road east from the east end of the fishers' harbor, in 600 m you reach the large sea lock. 900 m past the bridge over that lock, and just after passing under a bridge, jog to the left (north) onto a bike path and then road to the boardwalk at Knokke-Heist. (Sep 1998) (Reviewed by Dirk Vande Putte May 2004)

Brugge - Oostende Canal (23 km)

Source: Route 66

Completed 1665 (Gids voor Vlaanderen).

A pleasant ride through polder farmland, disturbed a bit towards the west by the noise of the nearby A10 and railway. Either bank can be ridden, but the north bank includes over 3 km of narrow road with heavy trucks to/from a cement fabrication plant. The south bank is the way to go. Few if any freight barges use this canal - it is now mostly for pleasure craft.

Note 11 July 2004: Jan Steyaert reports that the north towpath is blocked at the University Hospital Sint Jan. There was no indication how long that condition wuold continue.

From Scheepsdalebrug on the Brugge ring you have 600 m of brick road to the diversion canal (Afsleidingsvaart). Continue straight across that canal and under a road and rail bridge. You are then on a service road to a rowing club and then paved towpath through an arcade of trees.

You pass under a few bridges but none provide a reasonable way to cross the canal. The first that is easy to use is 6.2 km from the Scheepsdalebrug, the Nieuwegebrug swing bridge. On the north bank is a pub. A half km latter you see on the south two "ghost" bridges, built at some time in the past for a highway project that has not come to be. (This project, a new freeway to the coast, may actually materialize at some time in the future.) Less than 2 km further you pass under the Stalhillebrug, and 700 m later the site of a pedestrian bridge. (August 2004 from André Maes: The pedestrian bridge is being replaced. In the interim there is a cable ferry.) There is a pub on the south bank. About 5 km later the towpath on the north bank is blocked by a construction project. (Hendrik Debusschere 14 July 2004) Plassendale junction is 6 km further. There you cross over the lock at the east end of the canal to Nieuwpoort, and then reach a canal across the Brugge - Oostende canal. (Dec 1998)

From Plassendale junction the nature of the canal changes to industrial. On the north bank you encounter a harbor and a small ship yard before a dead end. On the south bank the 8 km to the sea is all on roads, albeit mostly with bicycle lanes. The first 4 km (to the next bridge) are along the canal, on a road with moderate traffic. Along the way you pass a large saltpeter plant. The bike lane then ends. Cross the bridge and continue along the road to the next bridge and intersection (200 m) with the N9. Turn left along the bike lane. In 100 m is a sea lock - the last lock on the Brugge - Oostende canal. Another half km brings you to another intersection, with the coast highway and tram line. Turn left and follow the bike lane. The road curves left to a bridge over the railway and a harbor entrance, and then right again. Less than one km after the bridge you reach a traffic light at the main yacht harbor. Central Oostende is across the harbor to the north. Turn right and then left towards the train station.

Cross one of the bridges opposite the station and turn right. This is Visserskaai (fishermen's quay), which has probably the highest concentration of good seafood restaurants in the country. Riding north on the kaai, to the left you see now and then the towers of the Church of Saints Peter and Paul. This Gothic structure is actually less than 100 years old. It is one of the grand monuments to himself that were built by King Leopold II. This one is also a sort of boundary marker - a twin church was built in Arlon, the two churches to mark the longest axis of the kingdom. Towards the end of the kaai is a fine open-air seafood market. If you are hungry but don't want to stop in a restaurant, buy some cooked shrimp at the market. On the next channel to the east is the ferry terminal, now used by an occasional fast ferry to Dover.

Visserskaai is about 1 km long. It and this cycle route end at the sea and the monument to the seapeople (yes, people not men - even though the figures are all male) of Oostende. To your left is the promenade along the North Sea.

An optional, shorter (6 km) and more pleasant route to the sea is through Bredene. Cross the Plassendale bridge to the north side of the canal. Across the road is the end of a new bicycle path - more of a nice road - that runs nearly 2 km to the N9 at Blauwe Sluis. At both ends are maps of the route, pointing out highlights such as a tank ditch. Near the N9 you pass the de Trojaen pub, which has a small zoo of farm animals. (Check out the black pig.)

At the N9 follow the signs for Bredene - right 50 m on the bike path, then across the highway and north on the bike lane along a side road. In a little over 1 km the bike lane ends as you enter Bredene. Continue along the road (little traffic) past the water tower and on towards Bredene-aan-zee. At central Bredene-aan-zee there is a no-entry sign at the main business street. Ignore the sign and continue (carefully) up the street. You then reach the coastal highway and tram, and then the sea. (Dec 1998) (verified by Jan Steyaert June 2003)

(entire page verified by Karel Roose July 2003)
Last updated 27 July 2006

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