Saturday 4 May 2019
High winds and hail kept me in the van until midday but, as sunny intervals increased, I decided to walk to Belgium, as you do. Anyone with any sense would not have bothered, but…
Layered up, I hit the beach and turned right. The invisible Belgian border is about 3km up the coast and the town of De Panne the same distance beyond.
It was ‘four seasons in one day’. High winds whipped up cappuccino foam along the whole coast.
I was periodically pelted by hail and driving rain, then dried out by the wind and sun. I don’t know why, but I was the only person walking along the beach! There were kite surfers expertly skipping over the waves and making me feel inadequate – one more thing I won’t do in this life.
I got close to De Panne and, arse-whipped by hail, turned inland for shelter, navigating to Leopold I Esplanade.
One of the things about making random travel decisions is I discover stuff I feel I should know but don’t. Visiting De Panne, a place I’d never heard of, was a case in point.
In 1830, after riots and insurrection, Belgium became an independent country having gained independence from Dutch rule.
In 1831, it declared there should be a King. After considering several other candidates, Leopold Joris Christiaan Frederik von Saksen-Coburg, (a good royal name – he was part of the family that provided Europe with most of its royalty) was asked if he would be the first king of the new state. That’s how things were done! Leopold was born in Germany but, after fighting Napoleon, settled in England, married Princess Charlotte of Wales and had British nationality. Leopold accepted.
The new King arrived by ship in France on July 17, 1831. From Calais he was taken to De Panne by coach. At the place where he first touched Belgian soil this monument was raised.
This is not the town’s only royal connection. De Panne is the most westerly part of Belgium and the Belgian royal family lived there during the First World War because it was located in the tiny fraction of their country that was not conquered by the Germans.
I ate my lunch at the foot of the statue. Because there is not much else to see in the town, as it has been rebuilt as a resort, I walked back. The wind and sun were at my back as I danced through the foam, arriving back at the van wet-footed and satisfied. May the fourth be with you.