Glory of Green
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Stories from the Great Outdoors

 

Who knew I would see my stoic husband run for his life in fear of a pack of rabid imaginary dogs, guarding an abandoned castle in renovation? That’s what the mystique of Wallonia can do to you. I discovered his jumpy side – and could take the role of the level headed for once. To his defence – we were trespassing, the fence was high, and I could clearly imagine an angry lord striding over the fields, shotgun in hand. Best hike in Belgium so far. 

For the times, they are changing

The area along the Maas river (or Meuse in French), was formerly part of the industrial and economic back bone of Belgium. Judging by the number of castles tossed about – from Medieval times and onward, Wallonia was already at the centre of things long before industrialization came along.

Today industry is not what it once was, knights are few, GDP per capita is low and unemployment is frequent. Many of the castles are still standing though (in varying states of decay), and there are charming villages and natural gems to discover – the recipe for a vibrant tourist economy if you play it right (and clean up those rivers). We made a week-end of it, biking from Namur to Dinant on Saturday and hiking in the rough area between the Crupet castle and the Maas river on Sunday. As the hike turned out to be the highlight of our life of natural discoveries in Belgium so far, I have jumped directly to the hike, saving the bike for a later post.

On the delightfully gloomy side...

Fields, forests, hills, mud, river and rocks

Yes – the very long heading is absolutely intended. After seeing the north of Belgium, calling this area of Europe “the Netherlands” sounds very unimaginative, or you can see it as an undisputable description of the landscape at hand. Which probably was wise enough back in the days when everything seems to have been a good reason for waging a war or two. The northern parts of Belgium are flat.

The southern parts are not exactly mountainous either, but there are hills – and steep cliffs, and rock formations and views. The forests we hiked through this rainy day in January were a lot more varied – even in the botanical semi-sleep of Belgian “winter”, and in between we found strange installations starting off a competition of “who’s got the best explanation” and deteriorating farmhouses, left but for a donkey and a goat.


The plan is – there is no plan

We armed ourselves with the map below and drove to Crupet (I strongly recommend using this link to get a better map that can be zoomed in and out and that doesn’t contain my scribblings). The stone houses in the village of Crupet transports you back in time, but the castle was under renovation and we decided to drive a bit further down the valley. 

Parking is not as easy here as elsewhere in Belgium, but we ended up placing the car as noted on the map. We had no intention of trying to hike the round trip marked on the map, but as there seemed to be a myriad of paths, the plan was just to start walking and see what would happen. Best plan ever actually, but be sure to download or print the map before you go. Down in the river valley the reception just isn’t there, at all.

Going for one view and receiving many

I don’t know what you expect from a walk in the woods, but for us, this hike had everything. We decided to go look at the Maas river from above. As ¾ of the family had biked past the view point the day before, we thought it would be a sufficiently motivating target. The landscape was so varied however, we found there was little need for extra encouragement. 

The girls found strange, and not so strange, plants to investigate, we had a chat with a gang of two donkeys and a horse waiting for summer to happen, looked at houses with trees growing on them and a garden with a strangely arranged heap of furniture (plus a pair of crocs and a garden-gnome Buddha next to a pond). 

Somewhere in the middle of all this we suddenly stood looking out on the mighty flood of the Maas. The river has carved steep walls, and although we weren’t on a tricky mountain hike, the slippery January mud and wet trees and roots made us very aware that it’s not at all necessary to fall 600 metres to hit yourself terminally on the head. A 100 metres will do just fine. 


Giving some practical love

Tree foam anyone?

After surviving the steep and slippery ups and downs of the amazing area of rocks and mud, we entered yet another type of landscape, old moss and green bushes all around – and a strange phenomenon of white foam coming out of trees. We’re 90 percent sure it was not left there by frogs. Feel free to explain!

Becoming part of the vegetation

Mummy, the nerd, entered the premises though and started explaining other relevant aspects of life as a tree – such as the ability to store memories and act upon them. Feel free to read “Cabaret of Plants: Forty Thousand Years Of Plant Life and the Human Imagination”, by British author Richard Mabey if you’re interested.

Stayin alive

And here comes the part where we didn’t encounter a pack of blood thirsty guardian dogs. But we still survived – or at least we got the feeling of it. What more can you ask of living life?

It all started with our happy-go-lucky wandering leading us astray – us trying to silently pass through the outskirts of a very private property of castleish proportions. Everything going smoothly – horses perfectly arranged on a beautiful field ready to be photographed – when Audun (soon 41 years old) heard dogs barking and yelled “That’s probably guardian dogs – and I’m sure they’re coming for us!” – and then ran down the field like a proper sprinter (except for the backpack) – panicky children doing their best to follow.

As I felt like we had all entered a Ramseyan game of thrones, thinking that my family must all be mad to think that an abandoned castle in renovation would keep dogs unleashed to roam the forest for hikers to eat, I initially didn’t manage to muster up the required scare for running after them. But when both kids realised their precious mum was lagging behind, soon to be eaten, they all started screaming, and I thought it best to follow their lead. We were trying to get by unnoticed after all…

Erla (13) later declared the following wisdom, coming out of the imaginary trauma:

1)     In the case of danger her father will run for his life, yelling for everybody else to take cover.

2)     Her mother will stay behind and take photos for her blog.

My dear husband finally came to his senses when earlier mentioned horses started running after us and came up to their fence for a cuddle. Animals are so calming on shattered nerves.

Candy in the car

The rest of our trip continued through beautiful, and sometime a little haunted, landscapes. We got a bit lost for a moment, but met a nice old Belgian guy whom we could communicate with in an eminent French-Spanish-English (probably owned the land we were on – and he had a nice little dog who wanted to play, no shotgun in sight). 

We reached our car exactly when it started to darken – and realised we had been too busy to eat some candy that Audun had carried around all day. What a grave hiking offence! It was corrected instantly.