Glory of Green
Stories from the Great Outdoors
The return of the Vikings
The area south of Leuven continues to deliver magical outdoors experiences. Earlier this June – before central Europe confirmed global warming and sent everybody fighting for the few swimmable puddles around Brussels (while I headed for bed with a virus that made body and world compete for temperature records) – we biked along the Dijle. And it was marvellous and deeply green, skies dramatic and heavy with the threat of thunder – and it felt like summer in the north. With blood-red poppies in the fields of Flandern.
How Leuven got it's name
With 86 kilometres in length, there are quite a few stretches to choose from along the Dijle. It runs through several cities in both Wallonia and Flanders, but after some research we decided to bike a part south of Leuven, where we would pass through the beautiful nature reserve of Doode Bemde.
Leuven is a quiet Flandern city – with a majestic cathedral and a history dating back to the Vikings. A great battle – the battle of the Dijle – was fought here in 891 between Vikings and Carolingian Francia, as a reaction to Vikings establishing a camp and using it to raid the Frankish kingdom.
After the battle, the tales tell of Viking bodies damming up the river and putting its flow to a halt. I’m so glad to live in the modern version of Europe! Still – I'm Norwegian - I love stories about the Vikings sneaking up the rivers in their dragon ships, surprising the poor villagers with destruction.
As the Vikings in this particular case lost the battle against the Francs, the tale of huge losses of Viking lives might be a case of early image building on behalf of the French king Arnulf. Fake news were actually huge back then. Or it might be due to the fact that these were Danish Vikings, not Norwegian hard cores.
Anyway, the peace was short lived, as Vikings continued to raid Frankia until 911, when an agreement was made. And that is how the part of France neighbouring Belgium and the North Sea ended up as Normandie: the land of the men from the North. But to get back to where I started: King Arnulf built a fortress in the river Dijle, called Luvanium - and that's how Leuven started out. From the Vinkings conquering the rivers of Belgium, now peacefully returning to bike and eat ice cream.
Along the Dijle
We parked in Heeverlee and biked south along the slow flowing Dilje. In this area the river meanders back and forth, while the bike and hike path is laid out pretty straight - through wetlands, fields and forests. The river came and went, and we crossed it some times.
A mountain bike would have been the correct vehicle, but it was possible to navigate the trails with a hybrid as well. We passed a bike rental - you don't have to bring your own, and so this is probably a perfect getaway from a vacation in Brussels. After all, Leuven is only about 30 minutes away.
Next to what used to be a castle - now turned housing project, there's a small chapel, and half way we stopped at Brouwhuis De Kroon - an interesting old taverna. Otherwise the architecture is not the highlight of this trip (Neerijse has a decent church though). Here, the greenery is the uncontested star - both the man-made and the rougher parts.
I absolutely love red poppies in a field of ears. We decided to make it a round trip, turning back over the softly hilled farmscapes while a few drops fell from the dark skies. Poppies were everywhere.
No wonder they have a long mythical history, strongly associated with important crops and believed to give nourishment. The Assyrians called them "daughter of the fields", and they where the sacred symbols of many a Greek God. More recently they became a symbol of remembrance, in memory of those who gave their lives in World War I. So much drama uncovered in a single bike ride!
The people of the antiquity were wrong though - poppies do not give any nourishment - they compete with the crops. But then I'm no farmer, and therefore free to marvel in them as much as I want.
Not much to add. Look at the map and feel free to do your own interpretation. Make it longer or shorter as you wish. Bring water and don't expect to be blown away by the ice cream at Brouwhuis De Kroon. Really - it was the worst Dame Blanche ever. I'm glad to say that nature saved the day!
Questions? Wanting to share? Duke of Edinburgh or plain Jane? Feel free to contact me.