My route passed through typical Ardennes landscapes with forests, fields and meadows with cows playing around. In the early morning I ran into a volunteer from the GR trails who was doing his morning walk. I thanked him for all the clear GR signage.
The hike was much longer than expected because I had to leave the GR trail. The Osmand GPS map indicated a sandy path, which turned out not to exist. Therefore I had to walk a few kilometers more.
After the Yser, Leie, Scheldt and Sambre I now walked a great deal along the bank of the Maas. In the little French town of Givet I had lunch and bought some food.
Above the city stands the imposing Charlemont Fort, which was built in 1555 commissioned by Emperor Charles V.
The fort has, among other things, an 800 meter long corridor system, 3 kilometers of trenches and an abandoned village with 48 buildings.
Today I used Komoot‘s GPS for the first time, a more user-friendly navigation app than Osmand, which sometimes makes the most crazy route proposals with huge detours or along non-existent paths.
The path that I had first mapped out on Osmand but along which I was not given a route, was spontaneously picked up by Komoot when I gave up my final destination and entered ‘walking’ as an activity. If you download the world map (paid), you also get spoken navigation instructions, even on small forest paths. In case of doubtful junctions, you should occasionally check whether you are still on the right route, because if you deviate, Komoot will not give a warning, whereas Osmand does warn you.
First I walked about two kilometers on the towpath next to the Maas. Just before Chooz I turned left into a steep mountain path that led to the top of the hill, with beautiful panoramic views over Chooz.
On the plateau there was a seismic monitoring station. After that my trail was a long descent to the French village of Landrichamps. During that section, I stopped near a hunting lodge to eat something. Barely seated, it started thundering very seriously over the hill from the Meuse valley. The cabin had a small roof sticking out under which I could shelter if the rain would really start pouring down. I went to have a look, and it turned out that the bolt on the door wasn’t even locked. There were tables, chairs and even a real seat inside! In the end the thunderstorm didn’t hit the hill, but I couldn’t resist resting in that seat. Thanks for the welcoming open door, hunters!
After Landrichamps there was a difficult section which was probably rarely or never walked on: repeatedly there were fallen trees over the pathe under or over which it was difficult to pass with a backpack, moreover the path was poorly, had a difficult surface, high grass …
It went slowly, but I worked my way through.
When I reached the edge of the forest, right on the French-Belgian border, a wide field opened up again with a nice and accessible path. Yesterday I walked parallel to the border for a long time, and then it was also clearly visible that the French side is much wooded than the Belgian side.
After that descent I reached Felenne, where there is still a museum customs post from the pre-Schengen period.
Tonight I stay in the garden of Sébastien, his three children and two dogs. He lives in a 19th century terraced house which he is slowly renovating.
More about this creative family on the Sponsors Blog page: Sébastien’s Garden
I was on the road again around 9 am. The nature and hiking trails in the area of Felenne are stunning: varied, translucent forest, wide grassy areas (firebreaks) and absolute silence. I didn’t hear a single car until I reached the village of Vencimont. I think there are only a very few places like that in Belgium.
The Komoot GPS app did a good job except for one ‘mountain path to the left’. There I only saw a large area of ferns, not ideal to make your way through because they are full of ticks. According to Komoot and Osmand I could get back to my route by going around a meadow, but there was no path there either. Then I just went through the forest around the ferns, crossed the river at a fordable point and climbed back up on the other side until I came back to a passable path. There I was back on my route that a little later turned into beautiful wide grassy paths. A bliss to walk on …
A few kilometers further I reached the GR126. It followed the course of a little river and would therefore be quite flat. Komoot suggested a shorter route over the mountain, but to save my strength and avoid untraceable ‘mountain paths’ I wisely followed the GR route.
According to the map, there would three eateries in Vencimont, a bakery and a butcher. Resto 1 only opened at 5pm. The bakery would not open until an hour later (lunch break). The butcher was closed without a posted schedule. Resto 2 permanently closed. Resto / hotel 3 Wednesday closing day.
So I turned my ‘lunch appetite button’ off and just had a few chunks of bread with non-perishable ‘Goudkuipje’ processed cheese for lunch.
The GR to Gedinne went along the river, fairly easy with few differences in height, but a bit more crowded, which is good for Street Nurses vzw fundraising, because I handed out flyers along the way and some people seemed really interested.
Before arriving in Gedinne, I had the company of Christophe for a while. He just returned from a long walk with his dog. He told me that there was a good campsite in Gedinne with an open tavern. Christophe works as a waiter in a small hotel owned by the same owner. That was great news, because the campsite was not displayed on Google Maps.
When I checked in at Camping de la Croix-Scaille for two nights, the super friendly campsite manager gave them for free for my Street Nurses project. I am very happy to transfer this donation to Street Nurses vzw.
Tomorrow (Thursday 20/8) I will take a rest day and Patricia Schellekens will come along with another load of flyers and my tablet. With the tablet I will try to upload the maps on my Garmin cycling and walking GPS. I have been dragging that fairly heavy thing since Ypres without being able to use it. I hope it works with the maps, otherwise Patricia will take it back home and it will be something for my next long (bicycle) expedition.
Pierre-Yves, the manager of Camping de la Croix-Scaille, gave me two nights for free for the Straatverplegers vzw walking tour around Belgium.
The good infrastructure of the campsite, with a tavern and a good WiFi connection, was very convenient because today Patricia Schellekens would come by with flyers and my laptop to download navigation maps on the GPS I had bought during this hiking tour.
Downloading the map of Europe took 3.5 hours. It’s really a pity I couldn’t handle my computer tasks faster, because then I could have let my body and limb relax in the pool for a while, but there wasn’t enough time for that anymore.
Pierre-Yves was busy in the kitchen and didn’t have time to pose for the photo. He let his young bartender Hugo do it together with Patricia, board member of Reach Out for a Cause, who drove all the way from Antwerp to help me out with flyers and the GPS maps.
This morning I left in a light rain shower, but after half an hour it cleared up again.
I partially followed GR126. At a point where the GR split off to make a big detour, I decided to follow the shorter route (17 km) suggested by Komoot. For 8 km I followed a beautiful forest path where I was all alone. And again that wonderful silence, except for an occasional plane.
Thus it went smoothly until the last 5 km to Bohan (according to signposts). Things went wrong there. To avoid tarmac roads, Komoot first sent me on a forest path, which turned into a signposted hairpin path going down very steeply to the bed of a dry river. Not so simple with a heavy backpack, because you can easily slide down on dry leaves and small pebbles.
I kept following the signposted path, which was strewn with natural obstacles, but a long way further I saw that it ended up on the wrong side of the Semois. To get to Bohan I would have to make a detour to the next bridge in Membre, a village past Bohan. According to Komoot, I had to follow the difficult path, on which I advanced very slowly, for another 2 km. Fortunately, after 500 meters, it turned into a wide footpath next to the banks of the Semois. As soon as I got out of the forest, I saw the campsite Camping Le Jardinet where I am now. Bohan was already behind me.
When I pitched my tent, there was only one other big green tent. When I got back from the village, the whole Semois bank was full of tents. In the meantime, a large group of Latinos from Brussels had settled here. They were having a party with latino music and fortunately it wasn’t too loud.
Camping on the bank of a river: I took the opportunity to give my tired feet a cool water massage. The numerous little fish were very interested in my toes and also gently nibbled on them.
It wasn’t a quiet night at Camping Le Jardinet with the Latinos partying next to my tent. As the wine poured in, the noise of voices increased. Fortunately, I always have earplugs with me and I could sleep reasonably well. They turned off the music a bit earlier, but the last babblers didn’t go to their tents until 5:30 am. Then there was only snoring ….
Because it was only quiet at the time I normally get up, I decided to sleep a little longer to compensate for the noisy night. This allowed me to dry pack my tent, which had become very wet with condensation during the night.
Today’s tour consists of 4 climbs, each time from the Semois valley uphill into the woods, descending to the next village, and then up again. I was able to cut two of those loops because there were alternative paths or quiet laps at a lower level. As a result, I only had to climb twice, still good for 540 altimeters. If I hadn’t taken those shortcuts, I would have walked 20km again, while the distance Membre-Alle for cars is only 9 km.
This region is very touristy, which makes it easy for me to find food. There is something in every village. In Alle there is even a mini-supermarket, so that I can have yogurt for breakfast tomorrow. The campsites are a bit too busy here, but at least they don’t throw me out like in France. This will probably be better next week, when the summer holidays are over.
This Sunday was not a day of rest. I had to walk for more than 20 km and 600 altimeters between Alle and Epine. As the GR-trail nicely followed the river, I thought the hike to Frahan wouldn’t be too difficult along the bank of the Semois, but that turned out to be wishful thinking. Immediately after the last canoe rental place, the path went up steeply.
As for the canoe rental: the boats lay unused along the banks. Due to the drought, the water level was too low and all Ardennes rivers have been closed to canoeing since mid-June. This in the middle of the high season, and for the fourth year in a row. What a blow for people who earn their living with this. The consequences of climate change …
After the climb from Alle followed a long descent to Frahan on a ledge path where you would end up about 50 meters lower if you slipped. That path was also indicated as a mountain bike route. I take off my cap and bow deeply for those who dare / can take this path by bicycle. In some areas the drivable part was barely a wheel width wide, with rocks at pedal or handlebar height to make it even more difficult. I wouldn’t dare to ride a bicycle there for anything in the world, I already found it difficult enough on foot.
After that descent I saw a sweater hanging over a signpost. When I took a closer look, I noticed a beautiful “Jan Fabre beetle” on it. It was the first time I saw a Jewel Beetle (from the Buprestidae famila) alive and in a natural environment.
The last 2 km to Frahan I walked along an easy pasture path instead of the GR16, which again went straight over a hill.
After the passerelle bridge of Frahan, followed a long but slow climb to Rochehaut, a beautiful and very touristic village with a splendid panorama over the Semois winding around Frahan. Bison and buffalo-like cattle stood in meadows just outside the village.
The rest of the route was less arduous, with the panorama over the Tombeau du Géant near Botassart as a reward for a final climb. A piece of natural heritage and the most photographed place in Wallonia.
This evening I sleep in Ruben’s garden in Epine, a hamlet of a few houses 4 km outside Bouillon. But not in my tent. More about this special place on the Sponsors Blog page: Ruben & Fietje