On the 3rd of March 2023 a friend and I set out from where we were staying in Bruges to see the The Atlantic Wall.
It was a fairly short journey by train that took around 30 minutes.
There are many areas in which there are remains of the coastal defences erected by the Axis forces during World War 2 but, as we were already staying nearby, we chose to visit here.
It was a bright, sunny but quite chilly morning when we arrived at Ostend station and followed Google maps to where we were being directed.
We walked past the docks and looked at the ships, then followed the coastline along the beach.
There wasn’t many people around at that time of day but it was freezing cold and the wind coming off the sea didn’t help.
I’d set the end location into maps on my phone as The Atlantic Wall museum even though I knew it was closed for the winter season.
Annoyingly the winter season was just one week away from ending but I wanted to see what I could from the street outside and the surrounding areas which turned out to be quite a bit.
The Atlantic Wall was built by German forces in 1942 in order to stop invading forces coming from England.
These fortifications were built along the Dutch, Belgian, and French coasts facing the English Channel.
Some of the bunkers were designed by Hitler himself though, it’s said, these were not structurally sound but nobody wanted to argue and they were built as designed.
The reason that I wanted to see this particular part of the Atlantic wall was because, unlike some of the other fortifications built in the Second World War, these are some of the best preserved. At the end of the war many of the bunkers were dismantled or destroyed.
The reason the fortifications at Ostend survive so intact is because they were built on land belonging to Prince Charles, Count of Flanders. He decided that they should not be destroyed after the war, like many were, but be kept as a national monument.
We followed the signs for the museum knowing that it would be closed and found that we had been walking for quite a while and were nowhere near it.
It was at that point that I decided we should hire a couple of those E-Scooters that were all around us and we shot up the coastline on those instead. I say shot, the top speed is around 20 mph but it was still quicker than walking.
In the distance we could see a large anti-aircraft gun looming towards us.
Trouble was, we’d run out of pavement not covered in sand and the E-Scooters couldn’t get through it. After heading back to park the scooters in the proper place we trudged on through the sand toward the large gun in the distance.
There was a sign for the museum that we followed just on the off chance that there was somebody around that might let us have a look at the museum as we had come all the way from Sheffield.
We did find ourselves in a country lane with fields around us.
Then we noticed a large structure in a field next to us partially obscured by trees.
This turned out to be concrete bunker.
The entrances had been bricked up but those bricks had been pushed by someone in to get access to the bunker.
We both looked in excitedly inside but neither of us was brave enough to climb inside the bunker. It seemed kind of wrong.
Besides, if one of us got injured inside we didn’t fancy explaining what we were doing trespassing on someone’s field and climbing around in an old bunker.
Also, neither of us spoke Belgian.
I just stuck to getting some photos by sticking my phone camera inside.
From the inside it’s easy to see how these bunkers were built quickly and cheaply using concrete.
A wooden frame would have been erected and into that the concrete would be poured in. If you look at the photo of the interior of the bunker above you can see the moulded shapes of the planks that held it all together.
We followed the trail around the open air museum and found ourselves back on the street facing the beach.
Ostend beach is probably one of the most beautiful beaches I have ever seen. Soft sandy beaches, free from litter, and well maintained.
I was curious at what was on the other side of the English channel from where we were standing and was surprised to find out that if we were to swim in a straight line we would end up in Great Yarmouth, Norfolk. If we’d veer a little to the left we’d be in Broadstairs in Kent.
I’d never really though about it before but England is really closer than I’d thought to Europe.
We walked along the coastline and we could see the bunkers and gun emplacements that were left over from the Second World War some eighty years ago.
While we couldn’t get in to the museum to see them inside and up close it was still incredible to see them from the roadside.
Even though we didn’t get to visit the museum itself we could still see the artillery and the bunkers without going inside.
I will be returning here next year as I’m told that there are over 60 bunkers and emplacements that can be visited inside along with galleries and displays and over two miles of trenches to follow.
I’ll be going back in the early summer so I can be sure that it will be open.
It might be an idea to take some time to enjoy that wonderful beach too, it’s probably so much better when the weather is warmer.
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