I scribbled out of my head the name I was trying to remember, but the word would start trailing away that I couldn’t say it anymore. Since I now live in another country that speaks a different language with mine, any newcomer like me would get tongue-tied. So, pardon my Dutch.
As the Easter holiday was drawing near, everyone’s been asking about each other’s plans. I eventually kept my reply rather quick and simple, “We’re heading to the Belgian coast!” Then I’d cross my fingers, hoping they wouldn’t ask me more, as to where exactly we’re going to stay.
The Beachside of Belgium
Fifteen resorts in total in a 70-kilometer long stretch, that’s what the sandy Belgian coastline has in store for its visitors like us. Apparently, our stay in Oostduinkerke-Koksijde means that I was just getting a slice of this vast beachside in Belgium.
Amongst the popular ones, there is De Panne, known as the widest beach in the coast that makes it ideal for sand-yachting; Oostende, the city at the sea; De Haan for its enchantingly beautiful cottages and Belle Epoque villas in Anglo-Norman style; Zeebrugge, the fish capital; and Knokke-Heist for its sophisticated beach, shopping streets and cultural activities.
The Kusttram (Coast Tram) is an impressive public transport that connects such cities and towns nestling along the entire Flanders coast, from De Panne to Knokke-Heist and back. It is also considered as the longest tramline in the world, as well as one of the few interurban tramways that remains operational. Taking this tram seems to make the visit a lot easier then.
When translated in English, Oostduinkerke is East Dunkirk, which is a shared name with the French city, sans the “East.” It is situated in the dune area on the coastline, which is now a protected nature reserve. The highest dune on the Flemish coast, Hoge Blekker (at 33 meters high), can be found here. Oostduinkerke is best for those who want to wander endlessly in the unspoiled 300-hectare nature reserves. Also, it is only in Oostduinkerke you will ever see shrimpfishing on horseback. I’ll tell more about it as we go along.
The house is named Laagland, which is lowland in English. Felix Timmermans, a well-known Belgian writer, stayed in this house at summertime every year from 1933 to 1939. From here, Timmermans finished his popular novel, Boerenpsalm.
Horseback Shrimp Fishing
This 500-year old tradition is once a common sight along the shores of Belgium, the Netherlands, north-eastern France and eastern England. Believe it or not, Oostduinkerke is now the only place in Europe where you will still be able to see these shrimpers on horseback.
We woke up a bit earlier so we can go to the boardwalk and see the arrival of Oostduinkerke paardenvissers, the shrimp fishermen and their horses.
Known for their enormous strength and powerful resistance, Brabant draft horses are very fit for this task. Breast-deep underwater, these horses advance at a steady pace, or at side-by-side, dragging the nets which scoop up the shrimps, as well as other creatures from the bottom.
With shrimp fishermen on their bright yellow slickers and tall boots, sou’westers seated in their wooden saddles and tied on the back of the horse for it to drag the nets, and baskets to fill up with Belgian gray shrimps, everybody’s ready to go.
With a gentle slope and no underwater obstacles, Oostduinkerke is apparently an ideal beach to keep continuing the folklore. Shrimp fishing takes place at low tide, both in summer and winter, for about two hours.
In December 2013 UNESCO declared shrimpfishing on horseback as intangible cultural heritage. Thanks to the people of Oostduinkerke who showed appreciation on this tradition, this ancient way of fishing lives on.
Watch this YouTube video below for you to know more about shrimpfishing on horseback in Oostduinkerke. It’s in French but don’t fret, it also goes with English subtitles.
For more information on Oostduinkerke shrimping and the schedule of fishing times, visit Koksijde tourism website.