To Nieuwpoort, to the mouth of the Yser river, to celebrate two birthdays. There was not a breath of wind and the sea and the river were calm. A long walk inland treated us to sightings of all sorts of waders and seabirds. Later, at the dinner table, I learned two interesting historical/nautical snippets. The first concerned the characteristic sets of piles that mark the river channel and act both as mooring stations and buffers to prevent ships hitting the sides. The Flemish (and the Dutch) call these ‘Dücdalven‘ (‘duc d’Albe‘ or, in English, Duke of Alva). By all accounts, Fernando Alvarez de Toldeo, the third Duke of Alva, a Spanish General and Governor of the Spanish Netherlands 1567-1573, aka ‘the Iron Duke’, had an unfortunate habit of executing his opponents and generally massacring communities. His infamous ‘Council of Troubles’ had at least 1,000 people executed and in Brussels in June 1568 he was responsible for the simultaneous decapitation of twenty-two noblemen; the execution of the Counts of Egmond and Hoorne followed a few days later. Sailors gave the gallows-like piles his name, imagining that every time they threw their mooring ropes at the piles they were hanging the Duke. It’s so nice to be remembered. The other snippet dated from the last war when, in 1943, the coastal regions were threatened with famine. A vast shoal of herring miraculously swam up the Channel and hovered off the Belgian coast for long enough for the fishing boats to bring back rich hauls that staved off hunger. After a quick surf I found a folk memory of the event at this blog site (p. 25). Perhaps other readers can provide better references. In any case, the locals still have vivid memories of this biblical intervention. The region seems so prosperous now but not so very long ago local people lived only off of what providence sent swimming into their nets.