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2013 - Gapers Historic Tour - 28th Apr

This was to be the fifth time that Dippy and crew were to cross the Channel for the Gapers Tour, organised by the excellent team of the Kemmel Historic Comite, guided by Vincent and Dirk. The start for the event was once again the very suitable hotel of De Hollemeersch, situated close to the famous Kemmelberg closed road hillclimb course. The hotel sits high on the hill, giving wonderful views across the border to France, the valley having seen much action during the First World War.

After the usual signing-on formalities and with the rally plate safely fixed to the car, there was time to enjoy a superb buffet breakfast whilst taking in the views. A unique part of this event is that the faster, more powerful cars leave the start first and the slower ones - like us - follow on later. This year’s tour had attracted an entry of over 150 cars, covering a wide spectrum of makes and ages. We left the start control at 09.30 hours and were soon into the tight, twisty roads that this area has to offer. There was a maze of roads and very little distance between each tulip direction, which kept both crew members fully occupied.

As in previous years, the road book was fantastic, with distances given in both miles and kilometres - and this year had been measured with a Terra Tripmaster (new toy for Dirk), another added bonus to this tour. We altered our Brantz to run kilometres and the organisers’ hundredths were spot on with our meter. Another addition to this already first-class road book was a number of places on the route showing a GPS location

and photograph to identify the spot if an entrant has broken down and needed recovery. To make sure the cars stay on the correct route, some tulips have a small black box drawn at the side of one the roads. Here, the first three letters of the road name must be recorded on the time card - keen eyes are required to spot the ones just around a corner!

A short run across a golf course - on the black stuff of course - brought the route to one of Belgium’s autoroutes. Here again, clever use of the roads either side of the autoroute made for some questions like, “Are we on the right road?”, as cars could be seen on the other side of the autoroute. No problems for the Dippy crew though - all going to plan so far!

Passing through St. Juilien and a large deer farm, brought the crews to Merkem for the first rest halt of the day. Refreshments were taken in a very nice modern hall, with a display of vintage tractors outside to add another angle on transport of yesteryear. The 89 tulips to here had covered 63.41 kms. Break over, it was soon back to the short sections of road - some only 110 metres before making another turn. The route now passed alongside some of the beautiful canals that abound in Belgium and a lake area with deep dykes to catch anyone making a mistake. Comments from the left seat included, “Do not cut!” She has been watching too much YouTube footage!

Continuing on past Oost Kerke, we were now seeing beautiful parts of Belgium that can only be found by entering a tour like this. The area may be flat, but the intricacies of the roads do make up for the lack of hills. Next came Steenkerke, taking us to the pretty town of Veurne for the lunch break. The cars were parked by the canal marina, which formed a wonderful backdrop for these old cars and great interest amongst the local people. Another 35.54 kms had now been added to the day’s total. In an hour and a half, the Restaurant Retorika served a first-class 2-course meal to the 300+ competitors and organisers with military precision - and it was one of the best rally meals we have had.

In order to keep the event compact, the organisers did not issue Road Book 2 until 14.00 hours, so there was time to walk by the waterside and view the boats and cars. We were very honoured that KHC had chosen to use an action shot of Dippy - taken on a previous Gapers Tour - as the cover for both roadbooks.

Veurne lies almost on the north coast of Belgium, so it was time to head south for Legs 3 and 4. The roads were now a little more open and we had sightings of windmills as we headed past Demoeren, Houtem, Wulber Ingem, Vinkem and back to Houtem. Once again, full use had been made of the wonderful small

roads in this part of the country. The villages of Leisele, Stavele, Oostvletren and Boezinge had now been passed, bringing us to a large industrial area on the edge of the town for the last rest stop of the day. The premises of Firma Rudi Dekimpe were used to serve very welcome drinks to the crews, this leg having added another 55.85 kms to the total.

The last leg of the day was to be the shortest, with just 25.32 kms to be driven. Leaving the industrial area behind, we were soon out into the countryside and heading for the outskirts of Iper, passing the large houseboats moored on the canal. Having left Iper, we were now back in the more hilly area, passing through Klijte on our way to the De Hollemeersch for the end of the tour.

Congratulations to the KHC for arranging perfect weather, a superb tour and first-class food! We considered that this was by far the best of the five Gapers that we have entered so far. It was great to see another six UK crews on the tour - we hope they enjoyed the event as much as we did and will spread the word about the tours in Belgium. They really are fantastic value - for a cost of €60 per car, one gets the tour, excellent roadbook, rally plate, breakfast, 2 drink stops and a 2-course meal with drinks - what more could one ask for? And when one considers the start is only just over an hour from Dover or Folkestone, these tours could be entered in a long day if time is short. KHC run a number of events during the year and

details in English can be found on the club website: www.kemmelhistoric.be. Other information on tours in the UK and Europe can be found by visiting www.classictourdiary.co.uk. A final vote of thanks to navigator Hilary, who only hesitated at just two junctions during the whole day.

Our sincere thanks to Peter Fieldhouse for all his help in editing our report. 

And autojunior www.autojunior.be for the photograph of Dippy.

Hilary and Mike Stratton plus Dippy.