De Kusttram: the Belgian coastal tramway

There is one country in the world in which you can travel almost all the way along the coast in a single tram journey. It’s Belgium.

This is made possible by the fact that the Belgian coastline isn’t actually very long. If you were to think of Belgium as a cartoonish stegosaurus with its head facing north-west and its spines interlocking with the Netherlands and Germany and its tail slipping under Luxembourg, only the smooth top of its saurian skull would be up against the sea. You can travel from one end to another in a couple of hours. It doesn’t go quite all the way to the frontier at either end; you could, if you were feeling particularly pedantic, walk the extra bits. We weren’t, so we didn’t.

We were staying in Bruges (Brugge, to the locals): a city built for trade and now operating almost entirely for the benefit of the tourists. The Kusttram is, if anything, the opposite. While its website makes some attempt to sell it as a tourist experience, the material on the ground and, above all, the clientele, make it clear that it’s now used pretty much exclusively by the locals.

We started in Knokke, at the Dutch end of the line, bought day passes from a machine, and got onto a waiting tram just as it started to rain. Result. It swung around a turning circle (the middle planted with sunflowers and cosmos) and I caught a sight of some of the older trams hibernating in a shed. I believe they come out sometimes for heritage days. After a brief glimpse into back gardens, we joined the main road along the coast.

A green space with pink cosmos and yellow sunflowers, seen through rain-speckled glass

We ran behind the docks at Zeebrugge, seeing various interesting looking cranes and boring lorries. Then we got into sand dunes. For a long way, the dunes were between us and the sea and mostly blocked the view of it; every now and again there were footpaths with signposts pointing to the strand. The exceptions were the towns: a wide open square at one end of Blankenberge; a marina at the other.

Tony was falling asleep as we approached Oostende, so we got off and found a health food café where we bought a distinctly unhealthy coffee (me) and Diet Coke (him). There was also a market of the sort that sells cheap socks and garish T-shirts, clustered around a bandstand decorated with the names of illustrious composers of bygone centuries. We glanced at this briefly, then, finding that there was quite a wait until the next tram, looked into a sportswear shop.

West of Oostende we finally got to see some beach. The road and the tramway ran on the north side of the dunes here, and there were campsites and wartime fortifications to look at too.

After that there were a lot of high-rise seaside flats, mostly between us and the sea. These were a running theme all the way along. I can’t say I thought much of them. They blocked the view when we were on the tram, and when we got off they made textbook urban canyons and sent the sea breeze hurtling along the streets. Towards the end of the line the flats shrank down to detached houses, and then the buildings gave out altogether and we were into trees.

A crooked photo of a deliberately crooked art nouveau building with sign 'Plopsa Hotel'

The penultimate stop was Plopsaland, which is a name to conjure with. It’s a theme park. From the tram we could see an artfully crooked house and various roller coastery things. It looked quite fun, as theme parks go. And the car park was full, so it’s obviously popular.

A tram waits under a three-arched canopy with bright yellow poles

The way back was an opportunity to stop at all the places that had looked interesting on the way through. Also to get some lunch in central De Panne, which hadn’t looked particularly interesting, but which had looked as if it might sell food. It did. We found various options on the seafront and ended up eating omelette and chips in, whenever the door was opened, a stiff breeze. I realised too late for it to be of much use that we were back in French-speaking Belgium. Our waiter was called Guillaume; it said so on the bill.

A tram runs down the middle of a street lined with boxy blocks of flats

Then we got back on the tram. Niewpoort had looked interesting. The trams stopped under a big glass roof and there were a couple of restaurants I’d noted as possibilities for lunch. We were no longer in need of something to eat, but we wandered a few blocks inland and found that it was a very pleasant little town, mostly built in the 1920s for, one supposes, the obvious reason. There wasn’t much going on at that time of day, though as we approached the main square the bells were ringing cheerfully. Tony went into Carrefour and came away with a commemorative notebook. I never found out what the occasion was. Meanwhile, I ate an apple and tested myself on the flags of EU nations that were flying alongside the tramway.

1920s brick building with stepped Dutch gable, and circular devices in the window frames
Through a tram window are seen tram rails with sand blown up across them, a sign saying 'Dumain Riversijde', and a woman with three dogs walking next the sea

We stopped again in Oostende, this time getting off at few stops before the city began in earnest so that we could walk a little way along the beach. A tall ship was darting about a little way offshore. The beach was a generous sweep of pale sand, scattered with seashells. I thought about paddling, but decided against it. The sea was quite a way out, and the wind was cold.

We hopped back on the next tram and then off again closer to the city centre, walking up toward the casino and through the streets, often coinciding with a couple of women trundling enormous suitcases. It was a pleasant wander through Oostende, looking at fantastic twiddly art nouveau buildings, and ending up at the railway station, where we got back on a tram.

Imposing railway station building with two square towers, one each side of a gently arched central hall, all seen from across a stretch of water with yachts moored.

Our next stop was De Haan, and it was magnificent. We got off at the main stop – which preserves some beautiful cast-iron signs and a fantastic little hut – and walked seawards. The 1930s had gone to town here. The 1930s had built a town here.Stockbroker’s Tudor, but by the beach. Kingston-upon-Sea. My only regret was that it was getting late and so it didn’t make sense to stop for an ice cream.

An improbably gabled station building with 'Coq sur Mer' written on the roof. A tram is pulling up.
A large mock half-timbered building against clear blue sky in evening light

I looked with envious eyes upon someone who had brought a pizza box on the tram with them, and the rest of the journey was taken up with thoughts of dinner. Night was falling when we reached the end of the line. It took longer than we’d expected to find somewhere to eat in Knokke, if only because I wasn’t in the mood for giant lumps of meat. We did in fact end up at somewhere that called itself a grill, but they served me a huge dish of seafood pasta, and very nice it was too.

And that, apart from the train back to Bruges, was the end of the day.

Why do this? Well, obviously the main reason to do this is because you can. ‘The only reason’, my neighbour said when I told him where we’d been, but I think that’s a little unfair. There are other coastlines traversable by public transport with far better views (the bus around Land’s End, for example). But why not? It’s a cheap day out, you get a unique snapshot of a nation in a few hours, and it makes a change from the boat trips around the Bruges canals. (To be clear, we also took a boat trip around the Bruges canals.) You could even paddle.

Week-end: the higher the brow the harder they fall

A stone sill a great height over a city has arrows and town names and distances carved into the it; one of those is '230 - Londen'

The good

The Kickstarter for Bicycles and Broomsticks is live and is nearly half-way funded only a few days in. I have written a story! My story will be published! People will read my story! In a year when I have more writing-imposter syndrome than usual, this is a good feeling.

We had a lovely time in Belgium, with a further two and a half days in Brugge, an hour people-watching in Brussels, and the comparative glamour of Standard Premier class on the Eurostar home.

Today, by contrast (but equally good), I’ve cycled ten minutes up the hill and slightly less down again (eating croissants and discussing questions of theology in the middle), and walked 5km in one hour, and watched Filippo Ganna cycling 57km in one hour, and pottered in the garden, and generally had a nice quiet day.

The mixed

Home trains. We got off the Eurostar to find that nothing was running to Ely, so we got on a slow train to Cambridge, then discovered that the next train to Ely was in fact running. And on Tuesday I miscalculated my tickets and had to buy a single to go with my super off-peak which I’d left it too late to use. Plus the fact that as things turned out I didn’t really need to go to London on Tuesday after all, except by the time I knew that I’d booked tickets to something I actually did rather want to go and see, so…

But! The Ely-King’s Lynn line is finally fixed, and the timetable restored, so I can get a train straight through to work in the morning, and I have two through trains per hour in the evening. Which is all marvellous.

The difficult and perplexing

My RSS reader came up with an error for Cate’s Cates this week. Catherine was a joyous, kind, witty, and eclectic internet presence; she died very unexpectedly earlier this year; and now a little more of what was left is gone.

Being eaten alive by mosquitoes in our room at Brugge. The bites are fading now, but at one point I had three on my right cheekbone. Fortunately the place also had a very flattering mirror and I could pretend it was a tripartite beauty spot, a mark of distinction, rather than untimely acne. The ones on my arms and feet were really itchy, though.

And I continue to be a zombie outside daylight hours.

What’s working

Well, not doing things outside daylight hours, but that gets increasingly difficult. I’m not even doing terribly well during the daylight hours, though Radio 3 is helping.

Promising myself I’d do an hour of admin and then stop (and setting a Forest Focus tree to enforce both).

Snag tights (the only snag, ha, is that all my other tights are infuriatingly ill-fitting by comparison). I was particularly pleased by the white-fishnets-over-black-opaques combination.


Very intellectual this week. I had put The Master and Margarita on my e-reader some time ago, and began that on the Eurostar home; I’m about a quarter of the page count and two decapitations in. Then I finished Art and Lies yesterday. Very good, impressionistic, visual, disquieting. (Note: all the content notes.) I couldn’t quite face going back to The Master and Margarita and more potential decapitations, so I started Sisters of the Vast Black (Lina Rather) which is delightful so far. (Nuns! IN SPAAACE!) Last night I was feeling too exhausted for anything new at all, so put on my pyjamas and lounged on the sofa with The Fellowship of the Ring (and the cat on my lap). I’m pretty sure I fell asleep like that.


I got five badges (see Acquisitions, below) onto my camp blanket despite the best efforts of the cat.


Today, Filippo Ganna’s Hour Record, the end of the Lombardia, and highlights from the Singapore Grand Prix. At other points in the week, the keyboard finals of the BBC Young Musician of the Year, Star Trek: Lower Decks, and quite a lot of quiz shows from BBC iPlayer.

Looking at

Art in the Groeningen Museum in Brugge. I will never now be able to unsee The Judgement of Cambyses. There was some Bosch in there too, about which all I can say is ‘it was smaller than I expected’. But there were also things that I remember and enjoyed looking at: St Luke Drawing The Virgin Mary, for example, where the poor Madonna is trying to feed the baby Jesus, who is distracted by St Luke in the way that babies are. And a couple of really striking late nineteenth-century landscapes.

Then on Tuesday I went to see the Fashioning Masculinities exhibition at the V and A. A few of my friends had been to this and enthused. And it’s closing soon, and I can’t get to the V and A and back in a lunchtime (I’ve tried), so I thought that since I had to go to London to pick up my laptop, I might as well make an afternoon of it. And a fascinating afternoon it was. Although in some ways it was just as interesting looking at the other exhibition-goers; some of them were dressed very strikingly indeed.


Caldo verde, sort of, and an attempted Black Forest sponge pudding from the remains of a chocolate tray bake and the end of a jar of cherry jam. I think I might have done better to bash the cake up more and mix in a little milk. But it was perfectly edible.


The most delectable waffle I have ever tasted. It was most beautifully light and it came with cream, ice cream, and kirsch-soaked cherries. I ordered a pot of coffee alongside it and that came with a macaron and a hard almond biscuit. This was at a café in Brugge called Carpe Diem.

We also ate some mussels and shrimp croquettes, and I had a thing called Croque Boum Boum for lunch on our last day (it’s a toasted cheese and ham sandwich with bolognese sauce on the top), but it’s that waffle that I’ll remember.


Beer. I am a bit thrown by the way Belgian menus don’t tend to include the alcohol percentage, and tended to stick with known quantities for that reason. I did, however, risk a Tripel Karmeliet knowing that it was going to be pretty deadly.

And a lot of coffee.


I climbed the belfry at Brugge. Over three hundred steps. On the whole I prefer the one at Ghent, which has dragons, but I’m glad to have done it. I ended up at the top when the carillon was going for the hour, which was quite a thing. Couldn’t help but think of The Nine Tailors


Golden sunlight and long shadows, and the sharpness of the demarcation. A tiny two-spotted ladybird landing on my hand. The stars, when I went out to pick some rosemary last night.

In the garden

Apples, loads of them. Pears, quite a few of them. Today I pruned one of the apple trees and cut a load of wisteria and the vine back.


The fluffiness of the cat. The honesty and curiosity of the Way of Breakfast group. A weekend in which I don’t have to do anything much.


I was very pleased to find cloth badges for Oostende, Wenduine, De Haan, and Littoral Belge at a flea market stall in Brugge. Then, in a souvenir shop, I found a Brugge badge that I preferred to the one that I’d already got, so I bought that one. Anybody want a Brugge badge?

Picked up Susan Sontag’s Notes On Camp from the V and A.


More Snag tights. And I am still thinking about jeans. (Both my pairs of jeggings have worn through, too.)

Line of the week

I said last week that it ought to be Art and Lies. This week it is, although it was hard to find a single best line; so much of it is short, bright, fragments that don’t look like so much on their own, but cumulatively are utterly dazzling. However:

The crescent curve of the train mows the houses as it passes, the houses disappear behind the moon metal blade of the silver train.

This coming week

I have finally got all the ducks lined up in a row for a work project that’s needed doing for a long time. On Monday I’m beginning another writing stint. Saturday we’re going to see friends. I want to have the energy to enjoy all those things in their different ways.

Anything you’d like to share from this week? Any hopes for next week? Share them here!

Week-end: don’t Knokke it

A tram showing destination 'Knokke' passes a station built with a steep roof and text 'Coq Sur Mer'

The good

I have fulfilled a reasonably long-held ambition and travelled almost the entire length of the Belgian coastline by tram. (Belgium is as far as I am aware the only country where this is possible). This is part of a most welcome long weekend away. I’ll write more about it when I’m back.

The mixed

I really do like tutoring, and I had the opportunity to do some this week. But my goodness, it doesn’t half take it out of me, and I spent the evening swaying gently to and fro and conversing in monosyllables.

The difficult and perplexing

Tired. Tired all the time. Really feeling it at the moment, particularly when I encounter too many people and too much noise, and had an embarrassing tearful delayed introvert meltdown in the high street on Sunday.

Plus, of course, The News.

What’s working

A warm bath. With a bright green jasmine-scented bath room. Also the WordPress app is a great improvement on trying to do this in the mobile browser.


Art and Lies by Jeanette Winterson. Not sure what’s going on but I’m enjoying it.


I started darning a sock but didn’t get very far.


I forgot to mention Dune last week. I didn’t fall asleep, which is an improvement on all my previous experiences watching any adaptation of Dune (Tony’s university tendency to start showing it at eleven at night after a bottle of wine really didn’t help here) but it’s still somewhat slow. This week, I managed to watch the end of the women’s world championship road race (really cheered me up on my miserable Sunday afternoon) and the beginning of the men’s.

Looking at

The Gold exhibition at the British Library. Some beautiful manuscripts there. I was charmed by a beetle in a gold margin, and spent some time looking at golden cross-hatching on a picture of Our Lady.

Plus bits of Brugge from a boat, and bits of the North Sea from a tram.


I’ve just had some excellent spaghetti with seafood. Yesterday I had Flemish beef stew. No waffles yet; this feels like an omission. And on Thursday night we went for sushi in London. Very tasty. I’m not sure I’d ever tried green tea ice cream or sesame ice cream or indeed chestnut ice cream before now.


Some gorgeous Art Deco and Art Nouveau architecture (in among some dismal high-rise seaside flats). A lot of dogs.


Our attic bedroom across the road from Brugge cathedral. Continental coffee. I like being able to order plain ‘coffee’ (or koffie, café, Kaffee, etc) and receiving something really nice, no further questions.

Public transport. I travelled from one end of a country to another in two hours for €7.50.


I got a Brugge badge for my camp blanket. Spent far too much money on books in Ely cathedral shop on Sunday. (One was something I’d intended to buy in August, but still…) And ordered and received some new underwear from Molke.


As I notice a hole at the edge of the last patch but one on my black jeans, I once again consider acquiring a pair without elastane, and possibly with an expensive brand name…

Line of the week

Ought to be from Art and Lies, but I didn’t bring it with me. Have a line from Cyclist magazine instead:

I could stand here all morning, lost in a sea of beauty, the mountains tugging at the very fibres of my soul. But yet I am man, I have simple needs, and it doesn’t take too much talk of coffee and cake at the bottom of this descent to lure me from my reverie.

This coming week

I return home, go to London both more and less than in an ideal world I would, and probably do some laundry.

Anything you’d like to share from this week? Any hopes for next week? Share them here!