Here is a really lovely 7-km walk, ideal for a weekend afternoon, and suitable for children, although not for buggies. It’s not well signposted, so you need this map of the route, and a compass might come in handy too unless you are high-tech and use a GPS. It starts (as do so many of these walks I describe) at the Archennes village church, Saint Pierre. There’s place to park your car outside the church, and Archennes is also accessible by train.
I don’t think there is any great spiritual reason why so many walks start from the local church; I guess it’s simply that a church is the largest (by far) and most easily recognizable building in a village. However, it does point to the historical significance of the church in the local community, when it would have been the focal point for many social events: births, deaths, baptisms, weddings, religious festivals, summer fetes, harvest festivals, war remembrances etc. Evidence of this is seen in the building directly opposite the church:
It doesn’t look like it’s still used as cafÃ©, but this would presumably have been where the whole congregation would have gathered after a service for a coffee, glass of wine or pintje. Talking of pintjes, I see that on August 22-23 2015 there is a Beer Festival in Archennes.
By the way, if you are wondering how all these huge village churches in Belgium look so well-maintained and in good state (whereas their equivalent buildings in English villages are falling into a state of disrepair and are constantly asking for money from their congregations and the general public to repair them), the answer is simple. Church buildings here are maintained by the State, not the Church.
Anyway, from Saint Pierre you follow the road to the left of the church in the direction of “Les Monts”, following these signposts:
The first part borders the grounds of the chÃ¢teau d’Archennes, although it’s difficult to see much of it from the road, and it’s private property which can not be visited. Apparently it boasts a lovely garden laid out in English style. The rhododendrons were looking good.
Excitement ahead! The path crosses the railway, with an indication to beware of steam trains. Unfortunately, reality was a little less exciting:
The path continues along the side of the railway, and the hedgerows were packed with comfrey in full flower, which was very popular with the bees.
and then crosses a wide stream (or a narrow river) called the Traig. While resting on the bridge I heard the call of a kingfisher (a short, sharp whistle) and then was delighted to see it as it flashed downstream and under the bridge. I love seeing these gorgeous birds, which even on the dullest day bring a touch of glamour with their bright blue and orange plumage. If you have no idea what I’m talking about, here’s a photo of one (courtesy Andreas Trepte).
The path then climbs up through a heavily wooded area, where I was happy to see buzzards, a sparrowhawk, green and great spotted woodpeckers, and various species of butterfly.
As befits a wooded area, forestry seems to be a big industry here, with wood piles of various sizes:
Finally I reached the top of the hill to find … fields and fields of potatoes, stretching into the distance!
Frites are big business in Belgium. Apparently there are 5,000 frites vendors in Belgium, and every Belgian consumes an average of 75 kg of frites per year. That’s nearly 1.5 kg per week! So obviously that’s a lot of potatoes. In Archennes I seemed to have stumbled across the great source of at least some of these potatoes.
Two final points of interest. Amidst the potato fields, a small well-manicured patch of grass made me initially think it was a 1-hole golf course for bored potato farmers. But the sign explained it was an area specially set aside for model aircraft hobbyists.
The path then meanders back to the church, which you can see peeking out from the woods.
Finally, for those of you who speak Dutch and want to explore this area more fully, I can recommend my blogging/hiking friend Guido who maintains an excellent blog and who has described two longer walks in this area here and here.