Menen, 19 augustus Brussel, 1 & 2 september Turnhout, 8 & 9 september Zutendaal, 15 en 16 september Herzele, 25 & 26 augustus

Tuesday, 04 September 2012 22:47


First we encountered a ghost from the trenches. Hugh recognised him as his grandfather, but a young man now, perhaps twenty, in his khaki uniform. He told us how he'd been gassed at Zonnebekke 'Sunny Stream'. Hugh remembered how he could never eat mustard, how it triggered night-mares. He gestured to the graveyards with their un-named graves 'A Soldier of the Great War. Known unto God'... "These were my friends and comrades... forgotten now". We invited him to join us.

We passed Barakken 'The Barracks' and Triez-Caillon 'Sorting Cobblestones'. An old smuggler took us to where the Cabaret des Pres 'The Cabaret of the Fields' had stood. It was the weedy corner of a maize field now on the Belgian/French border. He told us how, when he was alive in the 1780s he would drink a toast to his smuggling successes. He told us how, even today, his great great great grandsons were bringing drugs over the border, queering the smell with crates of foxes so the police dogs couldn't follow. He showed us the schandpaal 'pole of shame', the stocks where he'd had buckets of piss poured on his head for being caught stealing a hen. He fell in beside the soldier and joined us on our journey.

We passed Dronkaert 'Drunken Man' and Paradise. In front of us stood, suddenly Marcel.

Was he a ghost? He had a pony tail and a yellow nicotine-stained moustache.

"What is this?" He looked at the wagon, "Is it for children? Where are you going?" All the time he was speaking he was tugging at the black stitches from an operation scar on his belly. We didn't invite him to join us

At last we arrived in Moeskren, at La Prairie. Our horse Lotus had finished his first 12 km. He deserved his rest.

The next day we travelled along La Barberie 'The Barbarian', where behind a big fortified farm, we met the ghost of a Roman General. He was dressed in bronze armour and had a purple cloak over his shoulders. He was limping from a terrible festering wound in his thigh, the handiwork of a Gaulish axe. He told us he had been buried under a hill behind the farm. He told us that many centuries ago a castle had been built over his grave, but that too had returned to dust. Then he reached into his chest and pulled out a couple of bullets. "Damn Germans, I'm as full of holes as a gorgonzola cheese. The farm was full of them during the First World War, they set their targets on my hill and half their bullets went into me. Please can I journey with you?" We nodded and he joined our company... and only just in time, from across the fields came the sound of Hurleux 'Shouters', they were running towards the farm with pistols and knives. An attack! On we went, and fast!


We passed La Croix Rouge 'The Red Cross' and Ljeren Bareel 'The Iron Barrier'. At a crossroads there were workmen erecting the sculpture of a huge revolving red hand. Why? We'd find out later. Then it was Hellenhoek 'Hell's Corner'. "Quick!" then Noir Mouton 'Black Sheep'. At Orroir we saw a memorial to men of the Resistance who had been shot by the Nazis for blowing up a railway line. "Look!" Our soldier shouted, "30 years after my war and the same story all over again... why did so many of us have to die here?" Silence.

We passed La Fraternite 'The Brotherhood' and Les Marais 'The Swamps' and at last we reached the little village of Russignies after 30 km. Lotus was exhausted and soaked with sweat. So were we.

Next morning we passed Triburie Mill. A voice came: "I have been murdered". We searched but couldn't see him. "Find my murderer so that I can find peace". But it was all too long ago... we couldn't help him. Maybe he needed the intervention of a saint.

We journeyed from Kruisberg 'The mountain of the Cross' to Hemelberg 'The Mountain of Heaven'. Then we saw a figure by the side of the road, dressed in the thick fur cloak of a Medieval merchant. "Friends, can I join you. Once I was crazy and happy. Now I have been cured and everything is dull. But as I watch you, one tethered to another, one with canvas tied to his feet, one swapping one thing for another, one married to a donkey, I feel the urge to join you." He told us how a madman's children could not inherit their father's wealth. So he'd been brought by his sons to the shrine of St Hermes in Ronse. He'd been put on a set of scales and his weight in food had been paid to the monks. Then he'd undergone the 'bath mass' in icy water before the relic of the saint (his hand... aha, we remembered the roundabout). After the Mass he'd been manacled to a wall in the crypt until the demons that possessed him had, one by one, deserted him. His sons had been given a certificate guaranteeing his sanity and had gone home content... but he missed his old crazy ways. We said "Join us by all means."

From Kraffhoek 'Chaff Corner' the road took us over the Flemish Ardennes. We passed a wooden cross. The Christ lifted his head and looked at us... he didn't ask to join. We passed Molenberg 'Mill Mountain' and reached Kastelvan Lillares 'Castle of Lillare'. In it lived seven nuns... it was the castle of the Seven Nuns. Two came out to have a look at us. One told us about her life, she'd been a nun for forty years... but we felt she had a dark secret. Why only seven of them, with a castle to themselves. Hugh went to explore and found a sword half covered with white blood. Our Roman General became excited: "The white blood of a virgin sacrifice, they have killed a pure soul whose blood was white as the driven snow." Could it have been the eighth nun? No ghost appeared, we never found out.

Then it was our last day. We travelled from Luiveld 'Lazyfield' to Venhuize 'Winehouse' (not Amy) to Arpia. Beside the road there was a hollow willow tree. From inside we could hear the sighing and cursing of a man in great danger. Then a face appeared in a crack of the bark. It was John the Light, the captain of a gang of murderers and thieves. This was his last hiding place on the day of his capture. His ghost has never left it. We didn't take him on board, we were scared that the rest of his gang might jump on board too... but we felt sorry for him, knowing the death he'd suffered, his arms and legs broken with an iron bar, and then finished with a last blow to the chest.

And so we arrived at our last destination. Our Roman General jumped from the wagon and plunged into the Fluvius Arpia... after two thousand years one needs a good bath. With all his holes he looked more like a fountain than a man. The other ghosts followed him into the water: the smuggler, the merchant (happily chattering to himself like a sparrow), the soldier. We joined them too. So did Lotus, splashing in the water.

We had made it, no accidents, journeying to the rhythm of a horse's hooves, along little lanes and quiet roads, sunshine from morning to night. What else can a man wish for... living or dead?

Safe travelling and best wishes to our ongoing friends.

Hugh & Jo

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