After finishing the Pilgrim’s route through the Netherlands, I switched to the GR57, a long distance hiking trail through the Ardennes in Belgium. The Wallonian part of Belgium to be more precise. I had been in the Ardennes before. Many many times. And I even hiked several parts of this particular trail, but that doesn’t make the Ardennes boring. Not at all.
It’s much wilder than the Netherlands. With its green hills and rocky rivers it’s a real outdoor paradise. For all sorts of outdoor stuff. This time I actually connected all the places I had been before on foot. I passed by my favourite climbing area (Hotton), crossed the spectacular forests near Houffalize, walked across Liege, followed the Ourthe and found the place where I had my first survival experience, during high school. A whole lot of memories and a whole lot of new impressions. In 10 days I crossed the second country on my trip. Belgium.
From Liege the route took me into the forest. I had to face it, I had to camp under the trees. Between the trees. The first two nights I found a house in the middle of the woods. Those people gave me permission to put up my tent somewhere on their terrain, but the further I got in the Ardennes, the fewer people I met. So I searched for other semi comfortable camping spots. Picknickareas are my favorite. The little comfort of a bench and a table, gives me great pleasure. But it is unfortunately against the rules… Well, what shall I say… Fingers crossed and pretend not to understand the French sign for “No Camping”. Or joke that I thought the campsite was named “Interdit”…
Near Houffalize I found a official bivouac area, “Les Blancs Bois” or the White Forest. This is an awesome place with a small wooden hut and a great fireplace. During the weekends is very very popular place to hang out. Crowded almost. But still much better than the campsites. Although wild camping on a real campsite is a great luxery, I prefer to sleep in the woods. The good thing of being ahead of the season, is that campsites are often abandoned. Not officially open yet. Two nights in a row I could stay for free, because I was the only guest (how that made sense, I don’t know, but hey, I won’t complain!)
The downside of hiking early in the season, are the temperatures. Every single morning I woke up in a frozen, white, crispy tent. Beautiful, but yeah, very cold. It slowed me down. The weather decides my pace, the length of my lunch breaks and the length of the nights. Or, the time I had to spend in my warm sleeping bags, instead of hanging, laying, relaxing in front of my tent. All I could do, was surrender. And honestly, I loved it. Sleep read, sleep, write. Using my energy to keep myself warm. Not thinking or worrying about much more. Nature tells me what I can and cannot do.
In ten days I hiked about 250 kilometers, slept 1 night in a stranger’s house (who offered me a bed), met a wonderful family in Xhignesse who invited me for dinner ánd breakfast. I had one no-hiking-day which I spend watching mountainbikers racing a marathon, 1 friend from The Netherlands joined me for 24 hours. 1 Time I lost my balance on a wet slippery rock and landed pretty charming on my butt. There were 3 super sunny days and 5 super wet, grey rainy days, but I managed to get sunburned despite the cloudy skies, almost every day. Saw 1 dead wild pig, a few deers and I had no spiders in my tent. I showered twice and ate one ice-cream. That was a gift from the bartender.
The Ardennes, the Ourthe, the GR57 they are something special. Wallonia a characteristic, interesting region. It’s often said that it is poor and less developed than Flanders, the other part of Belgium. That the people are stubborn, but I don’t see or experienced it that way. I see an authentic culture, a more traditional way of living. Some say they’re behind, but I think it’s exactly what we should go back to a bit more. Grow your own vegetables, have chickens, perhaps cows… So, that way, Wallonia is the future. It goes slower, less mass production and less fake, shiny façades. More connectedness.
Wallonia, it’s a different world, compared to the Netherlands. It really is and yet, only a 3-4 hour drive from Amsterdam.
Thank you wonderful Wallonia, it was a great great Walk!!