Here are three walks in the Mollendaal Forest. Two start and end in Bierbeek; the other is totally within the forest. Ideal for a weekend afternoon family walk. Children may like the play areas and the tree sculptures.
I’ve been out of serious walking action for a few weeks with an injured back. I did it by lifting wooden pallets to make a bee hotel in the garden. Try explaining that in Flemish to the doctor!
The first walk starts and ends in the rural village of Bierbeek, south of Leuven. There’s a good bus connection (De Lijn no.8) from Leuven to Bierbeek every 30 minutes. If you arrive by car you can park by the church, from where the walk starts.
Arriving at the church, you might be expecting to see red noses on the gargoyles, jokes on the noticeboard, and whoopee cushions on the pews. After all, this is the church of St. Hilarius!
But despite his name, St. Hilarius is not the patron saint of humour. He was actually a native of Sardinia and Pope of Rome from 461 to 468. And as his papacy was characterised by disputes, hilarity was definitely far from his thoughts.
A well-signposted circular 8 km walk that starts from the church is called the Schavaaipad. Tourism Flemish-Brabant have made a nice map which you can download here. I first completed the walk last autumn, and was immediately waylaid by a splendid walnut tree that overhung the footpath and which provided an early snack, and a bag of tasty walnuts to take home.
THROUGH THE FIELDS
The first half takes you through fertile fields full of sugar beet, maize, wheat and barley.
A local farmer proved unusually talkative. Normally I find farmers to be the most uncommunicative of country dwellers. His main concern was to make me aware of the presence of the Flemish-French language border that dissects the walk. From what he was saying, I think he would have preferred the route to stay within the bounds of Flanders rather than extending into “foreign” fields.
The normal farmland birds are present, with good numbers of partridge and yellowhammers. Listen out for the “song” of the corn bunting, which has been described as the rattle of a bunch of keys!
INTO THE MOLLENDAAL FOREST
After briefly crossing into Wallonia and back, the walk takes you into Mollendaal Forest.
It’s a good place to take the children; there are two children’s play areas, interesting wooden sculptures to marvel at, and quite a few picnic benches.
Given a sunny day, the walk is a particularly good one for brushing up your knowledge of butterflies. Orange tips, brimstones and peacocks might be easy to identify, but what is that brown butterfly? A meadow brown, a gatekeeper, a wall brown, a ringlet or a fritillary? Now might be the time to take a photo and look it up on the internet!
COOL FOR KIDS
The walk through the Mollendaal Forest is used by local horse riders. Be brave and take a closer look at the ground where the horses have left their dung. You might see dozens of big, round shiny black beetles, called dung beetles.
Watch them as they carve up the horse dung into spherical balls and roll them away. No, they are not playing marbles; they are burying them as food stores. The dung beetle enjoyed sacred status in ancient Egypt as the scarab beetle, which appears in hieroglyphic images in tombs.
Altogether, this walk in the Mollendaal Forest is a very pleasant walk for a weekend afternoon.
TWO TIPS FOR FOREST WALKS DURING A HEATWAVE
Currently (August 2020) we are in the middle of a heatwave. To maximize your time in the cool and shade of the forest, you could cut out the southernmost section and go straight from node 78 to 73. and then from 72 you could walk further into the forest.
Another option is to start and finish in the forest. If you are arriving by car, head to this junction where you can turn off the Naamsesteenweg into St.-Jorisweertstraat where there is a small car park. If you are travelling by bus, De Lijn bus no. 18 from Leuven rides along Naamsesteenweg. Get off at the junction I mention above, at the Haasrode Weerten Dreef. Both the car park and the bus stop are close to node 113 on the map below. You can then follow the route, which you can download here.
The total length of this one indicated is 9 km. However, you can see that the forest is criss-crossed with paths so it’s easy enough to make a few shortcuts. The advantage of this walk is that it’s 100% under the trees, so is ideal for a walk during a heatwave.
I hope you enjoy one of these walks in the Mollendaal Forest. Let me know how you get on or if you have any questions. You can comment below, use the contact form, or send me a message via What’sApp:
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Addendum: as further inspiration, Dieter The Photographer has made a lovely video intro to this walk:
Bierbeek – what a great name! Good to see you back, hope the insects are grateful!
Early days yet Richard! I’ll let you know when they’ve found it!
Good to know the back is recovering, Denzil. If you hadn’t mentioned St. Hilarius I’m sure I wouldn’t have laughed at the way it occurred 🙁 Glad you’re out walking again. 🙂
Thanks Jo. Once you’ve slipped a disc, as I did about 20 years ago, you always have to be careful. Unfortunately sometimes I forget and get carried away. Or over-confident in my ability to lift heavy weights!
Wonderful route but I’d really like to see the insect hotel. 🙂
Photos and a floor-by-floor guide will be provided Judy after the hotel is complete, the builders have moved out and the glossy brochure has been printed. Then when the guests move in, I am hoping that one of them writes a good review on Trip Advisor.
I hope the insects appreciate your efforts Denzil. It sounds like St Hilarius didn’t have much of a sense of humour but he does have a nice church. I like all the carvings in the trees. It would be lovely to walk with a group of children as they discovered each one. Take care of that back.
Yes I’d love to find out who did these tree carvings and how long it took them. And what effect it has on the tree. Or maybe they choose a dying or dead one? Good topic for a whole new post there! Thanks for your best wishes Carol.
I wondered if they used trees that were already dead. That would be a lovely idea.
I had noticed you were missing – welcome back. Oops, don’t mention “back” 😉
Pretty walk – apart from that beetle!
It looks much bigger in the photo than in reality. And they move very slowly (so you have plenty of time to run in the opposite direction if you don’t like beetles Anabel!)
I sure hope your back will be fully recovered, soon. Yes, we need photos of the insect hotel, please. Will they be able to have room service?
Guests will be responsible for cleaning and tidying their own rooms Yvonne. However, the hotel manager intends to keep the minibars stocked up. Currently the builders are looking at various roofing options to ensure guests are kept warm and dry in the winter.
And I did miss your sense of humour and your lovely reports; glad you’re back (oops again). I passed Bierbeek on Streek-GR Hageland but I remember there’s an 8-shaped circular walk (Dagstapper Vlaams-Brabant) which has been on my to-do list for a long time. Regards, Guido.
Thanks Guido for your encouragement, and your inspiration.
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You discover the nicest walks in Vlaanderen, Denzil. They make me want to do them on my next visit to Belgium. I have never heard of an insect hotel, so, looking forward to the details and the photos. I assume not too much heavy lifting is required to transport the guests…
The mystery of an insect hotel will be shortly revealed in an upcoming post Liesbet! No transportation of guests is foreseen! They have to make their own way to the hotel. I just need to advertise is a bit better …
We visited Belgium in 2013. We didn’t get to spend much time there and we could only cover Brussels and Antwerp. Your blog is a fantastic resource on life in Belgium. We love walks and trails like these. There’s never knowing what you will come across. Beautiful captures! Thanks for sharing this!
Thanks for your positive comments Cheryl. Maybe you will be returning to Belgium one day (or longer!). Best wishes for a great 2017.
Hi Denzil. This sounds like an interesting walk which I’d like to do. The link to the map is broken, though! Any chance of pointing me in the right direction?
Hi Will, many apologies for this error, and for not getting back to you earlier. I have now fixed it. Best wishes. Denzil
Thanks so much! I look forward to doing the walk on one of the weekends to come.
Great. Hope you enjoy it.
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This line made me laugh: “St. Hilarius is not the patron saint of humour”. What a good name gone to waste, eh?
Belgium is just packed with surprises, it seems.
Yes indeed Yvonne.
hi, we did the St Hilarius walk this past week. It was our first time walking through the fields here in Belgium and were amazed at the the quietness and sense of calm. Thanks for this website, I’m using it a lot to plan activities. Amy
Super! Thanks for your positive comment Amy. Delighted you are using these suggestions to discover Belgium.