TRAVEL PRELUDES: The Talbot House in Poperinge, where the ghosts congregate.


Every three years, Poperinge’s hop festival concludes on a Sunday afternoon during harvest season with an inspirational, and thankfully only faintly commercialized, parade through the center.

The history of the hop serves as pretext, but what the parade really reinforces is Poperinge’s ongoing viability and local identity. Probably every family in town is involved in one way or another, and to me, it’s like a heritage weekend.

I’ve written about the parade on several occasions, most recently here: 2014 Euro Reunion Tour, Day 12.5: The story of hops in parade format.

Any 2017 updates I might have will be found here, in time.

Poperinge is a pleasant place to visit year-round, hop fest or none. It is an excellent base for bicycling, with fine food and drink as well as ample history. I believe it was 2008 when I finally got around to visiting the Talbot House — or, Every Man’s Club.

During the Great War, Poperinge was part of unoccupied Belgium. Away from the turmoil of battle in the Ypres Salient, the town became the nerve centre of the British sector. In the heart of this bustling town, the Army chaplains Neville Talbot and Philip “Tubby” Clayton opened a club. From December 1915 onwards, and for more than three years, the House provided rest and recreation to all soldiers coming in, regardless of their rank. Today, as real as then, the place offers a welcoming and friendly stop in Flanders fields.

I found it very moving, indeed.

Poperinge narrowly escaped the fate of so many other cities and towns during World War I, such as nearby Ieper (Ypres), which was reduced to a lunar landscape by more than three years of combat. I’m not the supernatural sort, but in and around Poperinge the now peaceful landscape is populated with ghosts, and it takes very few Poperings Hommelbiers to feel their presence.

In 2018, it will have been a century since the war’s conclusion, or one hundred years to learn one very big lesson, which I doubt we have … or will.