This post on the Yorkshire Trench is part of a series on the Great War sites of France and Belgium.
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The story of Yorkshire Trench
Yorkshire Trench lies up a slope from the road. There is on-street parking for at least two cars on either side but no pavements so take care. Also, for those who have sensitivities in the olfactory area, I should note the location. It is near a very stinky factory! It is a quiet area and we were alone at the site.
The factories are indirectly responsible for the rediscovery of Yorkshire Trench. When work was being done on the canal while the industrial area was being built, in 1992, the large trench system was discovered. Belgian archaeologists excavated the system in a series of excavations between 1998 and 2000. The BBC programme Meet the Ancestors followed their work. They discovered at least 155 sets of human remains. These most likely belonged to the 49th West Riding Division, who dug the trench in 1915. It was part of the British front line for more than two years.
The trench complex was far more extensive, but this short section has been fully preserved. Reconstructed A-frames are up at ground level so you can see how the trenches were constructed. It is remarkable to see the original trenches, complete with sandbags and duckboards. There are entrances to tunnels and a dugout, and even from above (if you can walk on the grass) you can see how flooded they are.
If you approach along the canal, as we did, this provides a vivid illustration of the problem of waterlogged trenches. Less than one hundred metres away, one can imagine how digging into the ground would result in trenches filling up. Standing water was a constant problem – in the Passchendale 1917 Museum you can see an example of the hand-powered pumping system. Soldiers manned this around the clock to keep the trenches free of deep water.
Practicalities at Yorkshire Trench
There are some road signs but it’s not a major site, so the best bet is to put “Bargiestraat, 8904, Ieper” into your GPS. Otherwise, take the N369 from Ypres to the village of Boezinge, cross the canal, then turn second right down Langemarkseweg. The fourth right turn will be Bargiestraat, and Yorkshire Trench is on the right-hand side of the road. The advantage of this route is that you can also visit the Essex Farm Cemetery off the N369, and several other cemeteries are in the area.
There are no steps up to the trench from the road. From this level, you will stand above the trench. There are steps down into the trench (pictured above), but you can get a good view from above. There is some gravel around the site.
On the ground level, there are pale coloured paths showing the old trench lines. This provides an additional benefit in that these are smooth surfaces for walking or rolling.
The trenches are narrower than you will see elsewhere, but not atypical. It’s an interesting and well-preserved glimpse of trench life in the Ypres Salient.
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Further Resources for visiting Yorkshire Trench
The best single volume overview in my opinion – clear, lively, with helpful maps and a mix of overview and firsthand accounts – is The Great War Explained by Philip Stevens.
Respected historian Ian Kershaw’s To Hell and Back: Europe 1914-1949 covers the period from the outbreak of the first war to the recovery from the second.
Additionally, if you are seeking a specific grave or want to make sure you haven’t missed anything, I recommend checking out the Commonwealth War Graves Commission and other sites.
There are very respectable overviews in both The Rough Guide to Belgium and Luxembourg (Rough Guides) and Lonely Planet Belgium and Luxembourg (Travel Guide). The Bradt Guide World War I Battlefields: A Travel Guide to the Western Front: Sites, Museums, Memorials (Bradt Travel Guides) is a great compromise between those and the intense detail of specialist battlefield guides – and the price has come down since I first encountered it!
If you are looking for comprehensive coverage, you can’t do better than Major & Mrs Holt’s Battlefield Guide to Ypres Salient (Major and Mrs Holt’s Battlefield Guides). A special version that covers the whole of the Belgian front and the Somme is Major & Mrs Holt’s Concise Illustrated Battlefield Guide – Western Front – North.
You can find some great deals on flights, hotels and packages with ebookers,
For those coming from the southern parts of the UK, it’s easy (and often cheaper) to take the ferry to Northern France or Belgium. Of course, if you have an adapted car it also makes the whole trip easier. I love travelling with DFDS and have gone to Scandanavia and Amsterdam with them several times. Click here to visit their site. For other routes and operators, go to AFerry (click here) to search all the options.
Car travel is the best way to get around the Ypres Salient, though you can enjoy the town without transport if you have a wheelchair or walking stamina and stay centrally. If you are hiring locally, you can do what we did and rent a car directly from Europcar (click here), who has a handy base at the train station in Lille as well as several around the region. Alternatively, the two companies I use regularly are Argus Car Hire (click here) and HolidayAutos (click here), both of which offer a range of providers and great value damage refund insurance at competitive prices.
If independent car travel isn’t an option for you, there are many touring options around the Ypres Salient – the leader amongst them being Shearings Holidays (click here). What you lose in independence you gain in knowledgeable and experienced guides. Often the tours are timed to coincide with particular commemorations. Alfa Tours (click here) also runs occasional tours to the Somme and Flanders.
Hotels and Attractions
My number one recommendation is to use TripAdvisor. It can also be hard to get good information on accessibility. Turning to crowdsourcing can be the most useful option, especially when considering hotels.
I get my travel money from the Post Office. Their rates are competitive and I love their buy-back policies.
If you’re a planner, you can get tickets online to lock in your must-dos. You can book attraction tickets and packages via www.tours4fun.com, from open-top bus tours to day trips. Tiqets has pretty much everything you could possibly want for many destinations!
Always make sure you have appropriate travel insurance – and insurance that covers any specific medical conditions. Travel Insurance 4 Medical treats medical conditions as a normal part of life and are worth checking out. Alpha Travel Insurance is also great for flexible needs.