Podge’s Belgian Beer Tours

Beer & Battlefields Tour 2024

Wednesday 04 September – Sunday 08 September 2024

Our unique Beer & Battlfields Tour is based at the comfortable (with great breakfasts!) Novotel In Flanders Fields, right in the heart of immortal Ypres. This pretty town was at the centre of the salient and the four Battles of Ypres 1919-1918. It was completely rebuilt from piles of rubble, on its original pattern and is today home to loads of brilliant beer bars for an evening beverage! Have a look at Podge's Ypres Bar Guide for up to date intel on the best spots for a beer.

Podge WW1 2014 299

Siobhan in 2014 talking about the Zeebrugge Raid, 1918 at the memorial in Zeebrugge, with Podge peeking out behind her!

This Tour will centre on battlefields and breweries in the Ypres Salient in Flanders and will, as usual, include visits to well known and some less well known sites, but all Tours have a different itinerary. We will have the services of Siobhan McGinn as our guide to Flanders Fields and she will be giving us the benefit of her studies during the MA in British First World War Studies which she completed in 2014. In addition, her ongoing research into British Army Courts Martial Statistics for the military crime of drunkenness, of which there were some 33,000 in the First World War. We will also look at battle sites, follow the brilliant story of the Zeebrugge Raid 1918, British and German concrete blockhouses, museums, the exploits of Fray Bentos Mark IV Tank and we'll see a special private replica rebuild of a First World war tank, constructed by a remarkable young man, which currently rests, fascines-and-all in a barn in Flanders.

Please let Siobhan know if you have a relative in any of the hundreds of CWGC in the Ypres Salient which you would like to visit, and we'll try to fit it into our itinerary.

No battlefield tours are quite like these! Join us.

Nice head on a Hommel Bier

A tasty Hommelbier, but what were the British Expeditionary Force drinking to cause so many courts martials?

We are based in Chelmsford in Essex and we use a UK hired coach to travel. We try to use Le Shuttle (Eurotunnel) from Folkestone to get to and from Belgium, but if not available we go by ferry from Dover to Calais. Most of our Travellers join the Tour at our main pick up point outside The Woolpack Pub, 23 Mildmay Road, Chelmsford CM2 0DN and most come from other parts of the UK, and some from further afield, especially USA. Lots of our Travellers stay the night before a Tour (and often the night of our return) at Chelmsford Travelodge only a few minutes walk from The Woolpack or at the Premier Inn near the Railway Station, about a 10 minute walk to the pick up point at The Woolpack. We all usually pop in to The Woolpack the night before departure for a meet, greet and a few beers with Siobhan who is your Tour Manager, Tour Guide and drinking pal for the duration.

Our Galloways luxury coach (49 seater coach with toilet) starts from Suffolk and on the way to Folkestone (or Dover if we go by ferry) and picks up at several points, as agreed with Siobhan, as below:

Ipswich, Bus Stop, Tesco Store, Pinewood, Ipswich IP8 3TS.

Colchester, McDonald's, Tollgate West, Stanway, Colchester C03 8RG

Chelmsford, The Woolpack, 23 Mildmay Road, CM2 0DN.

Dartford, BP Garage (formerly Esso) 474 Princes Road, DA1 1YT. On the return leg we drop off at Dartford Railway Station DA1 1DR

Swanley, Unit 4, Moreton Industrial Estate, London Road, BR8 8DE.

Ashford, pull in Outside Dobbies Garden Centre, Opposite Premier Inn, Ashford Eureka Leisure Park, Rutherford Road, Ashford, Kent, TN25 4BN.

Folkestone, Shell Garage, Stop 24 Services, J11, M20, Kent, CT21 4BL.

We are booked in on the ferry crossing departing Dover at 10.05hrs outbound and 19.00hr on the return leg from Calais.

This Tour is currently being built and the detailed timings are set out below. Some visits are still under construction, so keep an eye on this web page or subscribe to our monthly email newsletter for updates - there is a form to do this at the foot of this page. The final detailed and timed itinerary will be posted here at least four weeks prior to departure. If you would like to join us please send Siobhan an email or call on +44 (0) 7722 724 558 for details on how to secure a place and pay the £160pp deposit for this Tour, or if you have any questions about this Tour. Should your plans change, we are happy to return your deposit to you in full provided the date of the return request is more than six weeks before the departure date of the Tour.

Day 1 - Wednesday 04 September 2024

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

07.30hr Coach pick up at the pull in outside Dobbies Garden Centre, Opp. Premier Inn Ashford Eureka Leisure Park, Rutherford Road, Ashford, Kent, TN25 4BN.

08.00hr Coach pick up at Shell Garage, Stop 24 Services, J11, M20, Kent, CT21 4BL.

08.15hr Arrive Folkestone Le Shuttle.

09.50hr Le Shuttle Train crossing from Folkestone.

11.45hr Arrive/Disembark Calais.

14.15hr Arrive at our first stop, the new Goeste Restaurant in Poperinge, a town always just behind the Allied lines in the First World War. This is a welcome addition to Poperinge’s main square and is a modern, airy cafe which specialises in selling food and drink from this locality, the Westhoek. In Belgium they call this offering of local produce 'short chain'. They offer around 30 local beers, some I have not heard of! The house beer on draft is Smoeter, brewed by Plukker Brouwerij just outside town. We’ll have our first Belgian beer and a meal here.

16.15hr Arrive at our first Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery (CWGC), close to the front line, between Poperinge and Ypres. We are visiting Brandhoek New Military Cemetery to see probably the most visited grave in the Salient, that of Captain Noel Chavasse VC and Bar, a doctor in the Royal Army Medical Corps attached to the Liverpool Scottish regiment. Chavasse won two VC’s, the highest military decoration for bravery in the face of the enemy. In Commonwealth cemeteries the VC is the only medal or decoration which is allowed to appear on the headstone. There are only two other double VC winners, but this is the only headstone in the world to have two engraved on it. We are also here to see Chavasse’s Batman’s grave and the 28 German graves of men who were wounded and brought to the British medical facilities here.

17.15hr Leave Brandhoek New Military Cemetery for the short drive towards the front line which, for most of the war, was just east of Ypres.

17.30hr Arrive at the Ypres Reservoir Cemetery (CWGC) to see a number of interesting graves here, including Private Gavin Gavin, Private James Harman and two Lieutenant Colonels. There are also two so-called “shot at dawns” here, though there is nothing on the gravestones to indicate this. Siobhan’s specialised subject in the First World War is army discipline and Courts Martials.

18.30hr Arrive at Novotel In Flanders Fields Hotel in Ypres with the evening free to explore this immortal city armed with a copy of Podge’s Ypres Bar Guide and map*. 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 Ypres salient up to 16 August 1917. There was not enough room on this monumnetal gate to record all the names of the missing so the names of those who died after that date appear on the back wall panels at Tyne Cot CWGC, a further 34,991. Opened in 1927 this site was chosen partly because thousands of men passed through this ancient gateway 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. From early 2023 the Menin Gate has been undergoing major renovations for its 100-year celebrations, and parts may be under wraps during our Tour, but the 20.00hrs ceremony will take place as usual there every night. Cafe Trappisten, Westmalle

Westmalle Dubbel beer.

Day 2 - Thursday 05 September 2024

10.00hr After a leisurely buffet breakfast* we leave the hotel by coach for a day exploring.

10.15hr Arrive at Captain Clement Robertson’s Bridge, our first tank-related visit. We’ll hear about how the British Army Tank Corps won their first VC here, with the amazing action of Robertson VC leading his tanks on foot on 4 October 1917 during the Battle of Passchendaele. The bridge here was named after Robertson in 2017.

10.45hr Leave Captain Robertson’s Bridge

10.50hr Arrive at Black Watch Corner on the edge of Polygon Wood. This area has been called this for years, but in 2014 a kilted Black Watch soldier memorial, made in Scotland, was unveiled to commemorate the action here by the Black Watch Regiment in the First Battle of Ypres in 1914.

11.10hr Leave Black Watch Corner.

11.15hr Arrive at Buttes New British CWGC further into Polygon Wood to have a look at the New Zealand Memorial to the missing in Polygon Wood (they are not listed on the Menin Gate memorial). Nearby we’ll have a look at - Siobhan’s favourite - WW1 concrete - Scott Post (a German construction, the largest in the wood) and some unusual so-called ‘baby elephant’ structures built by the New Zealanders here.

12.00hr Leave Polygon Wood.

12.15hr Arrive at Tyne Cot CWGC the largest Commonwealth War Graves Commission cemetery in the world with 11,961 British and Commonwealth men buried here. The panels at the back of the cemetery form the memorial to the missing 34,991 men who died in the Ypres Salient after 16 August 1917 and whose graves are not known. They couldn’t fit them mall on the Menin Gate when it was built in 1927. This is a battlefield cemetery on the hill at Passchendaele where fighting took place intensively in October-November 1917. It was standing at the bottom of the slope, looking upwards at the thousands of white headstones which made Siobhan want to study this conflict, and is an astounding sight, no matter how many times it is visited.

13.00hr Leave Tyne Cot CWGC.

13.15hr Arrive at the Koklikoo Café in the grounds of the Memorial Museum Passchendaele 1917 in Zonnebeke, a new visit for our Tours. We’ll have a meal here. Of course they have beers, would I take you to anywhere which does not? There are 25 choices on the card, including three house beers, called ‘Obuz’ or ‘Shell’. We’ll rest here for a bit then, shall we?

14.15hr Leave the Koklikoo Cafe and walk across the gardens to the Memorial Museum Passchendaele 1917 in Zonnebeke*. This is a fairly new museum devoted specially to the Battle of Passchendaele 1917, located in the Zonnebeke Chateau and opened in 2004. The museum contains what is considered the biggest public collection of First World War objects in West Flanders. There is also a replica dugout which you can enter and outside in the grounds an impressive replica network of trenches, which you can also explore.

15.45hr Leave the Memorial Museum Passchendaele 1917.

16.15hr Arrive at the historic and picturesque Rodenbach Brewery in Roeselare. Founded by the four Rodenbach brothers in 1821, this is a business which is still going strong, and is older than Belgium itself (state created in 1831). In 1878 one of the family decided to travel to Britain in order to learn how to mature beer in oak barrels and then mix old and young beer. We were rather good at this style of blending beer at that time and it’s what Rodenbach became famous for. During the First World War the Germans used the brewery to clean and sterilise the soldiers clothing against lice. Rodenbach have just unveiled their revamped brewery tap called 'Het Foederhuis', a foeder being the huge wooden vats in which the beer matures.

We can enjoy a classic Flemish Red Brown beer in this exceptional setting, amongst the oak wood vats. All Rodenbach beers are served here fresh from the barrel, even the Rodenbach Alexander, which is only available in bottles elsewhere. Siobhan will get everyone a draft beer here.*

Here are their offerings:

• Rodenbach Classic (5.2%abv) blended from 25% aged and 75% young ale.

• Rodenbach Grand Cru (6%abv) is a sharper blend of 67% aged and 33% young ale.

• Rodenbach Vintage (7%abv) aged beer from the best casks.

• Caractère Rouge (7%abv) aged beer further aged on cherries, raspberries, and cranberries.

• Alexander (5.6%abv) their cherry beer.

• Rodenbach Red Tripel (8.2%abv) a new beer blending Rodenbach red brown beer with a young Tripel beer.

18.00hr Leave Brouwerij Rodenbach Brewery Tap in Roeselare.

18.30hr Drop outside Hotel Novotel in Ypres.

Post WW1 Beer poster Ypres

Post WW1 beer poster Ypres Vermeulen Brewery

Day 3 - Friday 06 September 2024

10.00hr After a leisurely buffet breakfast* we leave the hotel by coach for a day of exploring.

11.00hr Arrive at the St Georges Day Memorial in Zeebrugge. At this excellent, unusual pictorial-style monument, Siobhan will tell us about the little known Zeebrugge and Ostend Raids of 1918. At the infamous Mole (sea wall) we follow the story of the Zeebrugge Raid, the role of Mersey Steamers Iris & Daffodil, the exploding of Submarine C3 and the limited success of the block ships. This raid was a British attempt to block the canal leading to the sea from Bruges which served as a German submarine headquarters. We hear about the amazing men involved such as Frank Brock who was last seen on the Mole fighting Germans with his fists. Siobhan will explain why this mission was undertaken and the effect it had on the course of the war.

11.45hr Leave the Zeebrugge Mole.

11.50hr Arrive Zeebrugge Churchyard CWGC. Here are buried those British sailors and marines who in a collection of monitors, destroyers, motorboats, launches, old cruisers, old submarines and Mersey ferry-boats attacked the mole at Zeebrugge. There are 30 servicemen of the First World War buried or commemorated in this little churchyard of whom 17 are unidentified. There are also a number of German Navy personnel who were stationed on the Mole at the time of the attack. Within the churchyard is the Zeebrugge Memorial to the missing (the smallest 'missing' memorial) which commemorates three officers and one mechanic of the Royal Navy who died on the mole at Zeebrugge and have no known grave, one of which is the famous and brilliant Frank Brock.

12.15hr Leave Zeebrugge Churchyard CWGC.

12.30hr Arrive just a short way down the coast at the pretty seaside resort of Blankenberge, to see a little memorial to another brave individual involved in the Zeebrugge Raid, Lieutenant Commander George Nicholson Bradford VC. He gave his life deliberately trying to secure the ship Iris II to the mole for the landing parties to disembark. He fell into the sea, died and was awarded the VC posthumously. The memorial to him is in front of the beautiful pier, a first visit for us.

13.45hr Lunch at Belgium Pier in Blankenberge which is a lovely restaurant at the end of the 1933 pier, with 360 degree view of the sea. We’ll rest up here for a bit, and they have a decent beer list, of course!

15.30hr Leave Belgium Pier in Blankenberge.

16.00hr Make our way down the coast road to Oostende to visit the Monument H.M.S. Vindictive which is here because of the second action at the Belgian coast, this time at Oostende. We’ll hear what happened here on 10 May 1918 and what finally happened to H.M.S. Vindictive and her crew. The ship went down here and commander Alfred Godsal perished on board. The wreck was raised on 16 August 1920 and subsequently broken up. The bow section has been preserved in Ostend harbour as a memorial. One of Vindictive's 7.5-inch howitzers was acquired and preserved by the Imperial War Museum.

17.00hr Leave Oostende and the Monument to H.M.S. Vindictive.

17.45hr Arrive De Dubbele Arend, Hooglede. This is our first visit to a special WW1 survivor, which Siobhan has wanted to go to for some time. It was a beer café in the First World War on the German side of the line and amazingly it still exists as a café. During the First World War it was a popular gathering place for German soldiers when they occupied the little village of Hooglede and was an officers mess or ‘Offiziercasino’. It was known unofficially by German soldiers as the 'seven sisters' because it was run by the seven Saelens sisters, but more informally as 'The Fourteen Buttocks". Every afternoon soldiers played music on the Marketplace outside the café, including selections from Strauss’s 'Die Fledermaus'. This was one of the only buildings left in the village by the end of the war. So, we'll have a beer here then. Nobody is to mention buttocks.

19.00hr Leave De Dubbele Arend, Hooglede.

19.30hr Drop outside Hotel Novotel in Ypres.

Day 4 - Saturday 07 September 2024

10.00hr After a leisurely buffet breakfast* we leave the hotel by coach for a day exploring beer and battlefields.

10.15hr Arrive at Zillebeke Demarcation Stone. After the war in 1922 the Touring Club of Belgium and France wanted to mark the extent of the German occupation in the First World War. So 96 special stones were erected in France and 22 in Belgium, 19 of which still exist. This is one of them, made in pink Alsace granite, and is peculiarly decorated. We usually speed past one of these at Hellfire Corner, where we can't stop, so for this visit we can park up, get out and have a proper look at these odd memorials, including the carved words which the Germans to exception to on their invasion here in the Second World War.

10.30hr Leave Zillebeke Demarcation Stone.

10.40hr Arrive at the small Hedge Row Trench CWGC. This cemetery was in use from 1915 to 1917, but it suffered severely from shell fire, and after the Armistice the positions of the individual graves could not be found or reconstructed so the headstones were arranged in a circle around the Cross of Sacrifice. We are here to see the see an unusual memorial in the form of three army haversacks and a tin of Fray Bentos.

11.00hr Leave Hedge Row Trench CWGC.

11.15hr Arrive at an original First World War mine crater at St Eloi. During the war at St Eloi there was an awkward salient which poked into British positions, with the Germans on slightly higher ground, which gave them excellent observation over British trenches and roads. Thus this area was the scene of almost continuous mine warfare by both sides from 1915 onwards. The crater is now water filled and there is also a British concrete construction here which we'll have a look at, to see how well it was built! The British Brodie Helmet or tin hat was first used in battle here in April 1916 at the Battle of St Elooi.

11.45hr Leave St Elooi Mine Crater.

12.00hr Call in at Vanuxeem Beer Warehouse in Ploegsteert. This is a big place with loads of bottled beer at good prices, so we’ll pay a visit for an opportunity to take some of your favourite beers home.

13.00hr Leave Vanuxeem Beer Warehouse in Ploegsteert.

13.15hr Arrive at the Frelinghien 1914 Christmas Truce Memorial, just over the border into France. Before the war there was a large beer brewery here on the site of this park. When the Germans invaded in 1914, the front line settled here with the German army in possession of the brewery. It was here that a well-documented Christmas Truce happened in 1914, between parts of the BEF and the German army. Truces did happen in Belgian and French sectors but as their countries had been invaded, they were not friendly towards the Germans. The British held this sector at Christmas 1914. Stern orders were issued by the commander of the BEF, Sir John French against fraternization, but many officers took a relaxed view of the situation, as did many Germans. We’ll hear what happened here, including singing, rations thrown to each other, meetings in no-man's land and exhanging 'gifts'. Siobhan will tell us about the Germans (Saxons) opposite rolling barrels of beer from the brewery towards the British lines, shouting, "Don't shoot. We don't want to fight today. We will send you some beer." The memorial here was unveiled in 2008 to commemorate the Christmas Truce between "A" Company of 2/Royal Welch Fusiliers, the MG Company of Jäger-Battalion Nr 6 and a detachment of Infanterie-Regiment Nr.134, with relatives of the original participants in attendance.

13.30hr Leave Frelinghien 1914 Christmas Truce Memorial.

14.00hr Arrive at Eetcafé Basseville in Wulvergem (Heuvelland). This is an attractive café where we’ll have a meal and a beer or two from their considerable beer menu. The beer card includes four local beers only available here including local beer Wulvergemse Tripel.

15.30hr Leave Eetcafé Basseville in Wulvergem (Heuvelland).

15.45hr Arrive at the excellent Café Boutique in the picturesque village of Kemmel. This area is popular with cyclists because of the hills and the café is popular with cyclists because of the beer. Like many cafes near the border it offers homemade picon - an interesting reddish non-beer drink. They have 50 beers with some unusual (good) choices including Anosteke, Plukker, De Dolle & Klootzakske (Meester) beers with the rude labels. They stock the cyclists' favourite beers Kwaremont and Vélo. Lovely rear terrace garden. The owner Pieter is a cyclist and racing fan and TV screen show all the races. Cycling memorabilia on the walls and bike caps on the ceiling. We will have a beer here. I'm thirsty.

17.00hr Leave Café Boutique in Kemmel.

17.20hr Arrive at a new visit for Podge Tours, Café Paradijs in Menen, a little roadside cafe with a surprising 116 beers on the card. Who knew?

18.45hr Leave Café Paradijs in Menen.

19.00hr Drop outside Novotel Ypres.

Day 5 - Sunday 08 September 2024

10.00hr After breakfast* check out of Novotel, Ypres and the coach leaves for our last day.

Today we are looking at Tanks at Passchendaele in 1917, and one in particular, the infamous Fray Bentos, F41 and its crew of eight. It was their first time fighting in a tank and the tank's maiden voyage. 22 August 1917. Siobhan will tell us the story of Fray Bentos movements from dawn, towards Pond Farm, one of our visits today. For its action in this area the tank became a legend and its crew were awarded a V.C., two Military Crosses, several DCM's and Military Medals.

11.00hr We are having a special visit to the private WW1 Museum* at a present-day farm in the Ypres Salient. This farm, near St. Julien, was known as Pond Farm on British Army trench maps and Kazerne Häseler on German military maps. After the Second Battle of Ypres in 1915 the farm was occupied by the Germans. By 1917 Pond Farm was one of many concrete reinforced strongpoints in one of the German Army's defensive line. Three large block-houses, tunnels and cellars formed the fortifications here. Much of the battle of Third Ypres (Passchenedaele 31 July – 10 November 1917) raged around this farm and the surrounding area. The farm was completely destroyed (apart from the German concrete) and after the war the farm was rebuilt by the family who owned it. They are still there. The owners son, Stijn is passionate about his family farm and its part in history, and he delights in finding ordnance and everyday items from the First World War on the family farmland and has a little museum on the farm. We will have a look at Stijn’s new finds including some pieces of a First War tank - a rare find indeed as most of these were salvaged from the battlefields. Stijn has also built a full size replica WW1 tank, which is amazing. We'll have a look at that too.

12.30hr Leave Pond Farm.

13.30hr Arrive at the Estaminet de la Fontaine Kerelshof in the beautiful hilltop village of Cassel. Cassel served as the headquarters of head of the French Army Marshal Ferdinand Foch during the early part of the First World War, between October 1914 and May 1915. From 1916 to 1918, Cassel was the headquarters for the British Second Army under Sir Herbert Plumer. Here we’ll have a meal and a beer from the excellent local beer menu at this pretty French Flemish café restaurant on the beautiful main square at the top of the hill.

16.15hr Leave Cassel.

17.20hr Arrive Calais Le Shuttle.

19.20hr Leave Calais on Le Shuttle train.

18.55hr Arrive Folkestone.

19.05hr Coach drop at Shell Garage, Stop 24 Services, J11, M20, Kent, CT21 4BL.

19.25hr Coach drop at the pull in outside Dobbies Garden Centre, Opp. Premier Inn Ashford Eureka Leisure Park, Rutherford Road, Ashford, Kent, TN25 4BN.

21.00hr Coach drop Junction of Lady Lane & Mildmay Road, Chelmsford CM2 0EA.

21.15hr Coach drop Travelodge Hotel, 128-136 Parkway, Chelmsford CM2 7GY.

21.30hr Coach drop Premier Inn Victoria Road, Chelmsford CM1 1NY.

Tour Price is £955 per person sharing a twin or double room

Single Supplement: £285

We regret that we need to charge a single supplement for travellers who would like their own hotel room. This is because increasingly hotel room prices are quoted with very little difference between single person or two person occupancy.

Deposit payable to secure a place on this Tour is £160 per person.

Send Siobhan an email to find out how to pay the deposit

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 one of our agreed joining points on the way to Folkestone or even on the other side of the channel.

Courier Services from Siobhan McGinn, your Tour Guide.

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 required to be taken out by Travellers on Podge's Belgian Beer Tours, as is carrying the free UK Global Health Insurance Card (GHIC) which is the 2021 replacement for the old EHIC. You can still use your EHIC card so long as it is in date, then you need to apply for the GHIC replacement online.

All Tours are subject to our Terms and Conditions.