Trying out an area close to Leuven - the Hageland Hills, we found the beautiful Kasteel van Horst – historically connected to one of the most influential families in late medieval Flanders. It also turned out to be a very good vantagepoint for hiking and biking in 2019. Our first experience in the area was a varied 10 km circular wandering south of the castle, passing over fields, stopping by a small, mysterious chapel, having wonderful cake and ice-cream in an old mill and heading back through green forests. Lots of good trees for climbing, according to Alma (9). Not a bad review.

Kasteel van Horst - still standing

The Horst Castle, where we parked our car, dates to medieval times. A castellum Rode is mentioned in the 1100s, but it’s unclear whether the later Horst Castle originates in the former Rode Castle. The name Horst appears in late 13th century, but the sources differs tremendously as to when and by whom it was built. Since the blurry beginning, it’s clear that it has been added on, consumed by fire, rebuilt, and just barely kept standing. 

The castle you see today is Renaissance style. Nothing big has happened since 1658. It looks like a ruin in the making – huge cracks cutting cartoonishly trough the entire structure from base to tower. I found an estimation from 2010, stating that total restauration would cost 10 million euros. It was closed when we were there in March, but you can visit the castle from April and throughout October. It might be safe to enter, but personally I was happy delighting in it from the outside – after all, a fairy tale castle mirrored in its own pond is a pretty sight in its own.

Murder and vice 

The people of the nearby village of Sint-Pieters-Rode proves to be imaginative fellas, as the castle comes with a juicy ghost story. The soul of a 15th century lord of Rode is unable to find rest as he has murdered a priest. He is said to have turned to murder either due to the priest starting a mass at the castle before his arrival or due to the priest having an affair with the lord’s beautiful wife. 

Personally, I believe the priest had an affair with the lady in question and then started mass early – giving the lord an excuse to revenge himself without compromising himself as unable to control that unchaste wife of his. In any case, the lord now haunts the castle at midnight – in a carriage pulled by six wild horses. As evidence I point out that there are lots of horses on the nearby fields. However, we could only find tame, friendly horses that wanted to be cuddled. I guess they get all red eyed and grow fangs in the dark.

The Red Knight of the Horst Castle

The ghost story is probably a good case for the 20th century comic book character The Red Knight (De Rode Ridder). The Red Knight is born into the Lords of Rode dynasty, lives in the Horst Castle, is a member of King Arthur’s Round Table and described as a skilled swordsman, rider and fighter.

The Red Knight goes around medieval Flanders, investigating supernatural things and events with the aim of disguising the tricks used to mislead people. 20th century rationalism taking a closer look at medieval superstition, that is. However, the comic book character itself ads a modern mythological dimension to the castle, as well as making a relatively recent addition to the cultural value of the site. 

Cake for lunch

We fed horses with grass from the other side of the fence and looked at the Saint Joseph’s Chapel that stands under a linden tree in the middle of a field, dating from the 19th century. An easy trail led us to the charming De Gempemolen for lunch – a mill built in 1759, now acting as a nice brasserie. 

The very charming mill "De Gempemolen"

As I’m vegetarian, intolerant to gluten and very fond of sweets, the possibility of having a gluten free cake with ice cream is never to be declined. We had ice-creams and cakes all around. A bit expensive, but oh so good! The stuffed animals on the walls were not a favourite amongst the kids though – especially not the one decorated with shotgun cartridges functioning as a necklace… We all do enjoy animals better when they’re alive.

Taking a vegetarian look at stuffed animals...

Next to the mill there's a moist forest with green ivyes clothing the still wintery trees

Discovering a bivakzone

The hike back started out following the waterway leading from the mill through a green, lush and wet leaf forest. Later we entered the Troostemberg forest – a darker forest of both leaf trees and pines where we found majestic trees for climbing. Before heading over the fields towards the castle, we came upon a bivakzone. I’d heard about the bivakzones before, but never encountered one. We’ll definitely go back for a night under open sky!

Practical stuff

You can very well ride a bike to the Horst Castel, or to the Gempemolen mill, starting in Leuven. The castle has a restaurant, and the opening hours are more generous than the entrance to the castle itself.

To do the exact hike described here, parking a car at the castle is a good option. We followed the map – lots of marked routes exists in the area, going in every direction, but as there are so many points of interest, navigating wasn’t difficult. I’ll be back with more hikes starting out at the Horst Castle later – we’ve already managed to take a hike to De Blauwmolen – a mill to the west.

Put on sensible shoes – the trail might be muddy. 


Questions? Wanting to share? Duke of Edinburgh or plain Jane? Feel free to contact me.


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