Adventurous hiking in Belgium. Am I kidding you? There are no “real” mountains to conquer and no white water rivers to cross in Belgium. The highest point in the Ardennes is only 694 meters high and Jacques Brel brilliantly described Belgium as “Le Plat pays”.
I even dare say that Belgium is a country without a hiking culture. Take for example the word “hiking”. We have no decent Dutch word for hiking. “Wandelen” is the only word we have, which means walking. But walking doesn’t even come remotely close to hiking. We also tend to associate “wandelen” with elderly retired people – in shorts and white colored socks that reflect too much sun -who gather in walking clubs for afternoon strolls.
So as much as biking in Belgium is cool, hiking is not.
And yet hiking can become a lot of fun if you go looking for some adventure to spike it up a bit.
In 1995 Lannoo published the book “avontuurlijk wandelen in de Ardennen” – adventurous walking in the Ardennes – by Ludo van Lint which contained several difficult trails over 10 km. The book was however taken out of publication a few years later for unclear reasons and it became a cult book amongst hikers. Sadly enough the trails became unattained and degenerated into plain dangerous paths.
Recently a new initiative was started by Gert Sonck. This young family man, inspired by the cult book, invested a couple of years into looking for new and alternative adventurous trails. He created his own book “avontuurlijk wandelen in de Belgische Ardennen” which can only be bought on his website.
My friends and I have tested 3 of the hikes in the book.
– 1 Boninne: to the rocks in Marche-les-Dames 11 km
– 10 Yvoir: the old railway of the Bocq 14 km
– 13 Hotton: rocks, caves and a stone quarry 14km
So what can you expect from these adventurous hikes?
A little Climbing.
The rock formations in Belgium don’t look that impressive from a distance but boy was I glad there were 4 of us to hoist and help each other up along the small and slippery rock paths. We encountered an army parracommando camp along the way and stood at the place where king Albert I fell to his death. At some points ropes were put in place to help us decent from the steep paths.
Climbing made the adrenaline race my veins and clear my mind. The more I pushed myself to my limits the more relaxed I actually became.
Abandoned places. In Yvoir we walked across a forgotten old railway and had to walk through a 1km long train tunnel in complete darkness. The darkness evoked anxiety and it’s an experience in which my sense of distance was completely taken from me.
Deep forrest experiences.
A lot of the trails lead you deep into the woods where paths become overgrown and fallen trees seem to block you from trespassing into the wild. Climbing up and under obstacles is a lot of fun and brought back a childishness pleasure. We even saw deers hopping a few feet from us on two occasions.
We only crossed small rivers so far but I’m looking forward to summer temperatures so I can test the hikes where you have to cross actual chest high rivers.
Do It Yourself
If you are eager to start adventurous hiking you can buy the flemish guidebook on the website www.originelewandelingen.be for €15,99.
Have fun !