You have a spare few hours; the weather forecast looks reasonable; and you fancy going on a bike ride or a hike in Flanders. But you’re tired of your usual route, and last time you tried a new one you got hopelessly lost.
Don’t despair, the solution is at hand; the Cycling Route Network (fietsknooppuntnetwork) or the Walking Route Network (wandelknooppuntnetwerk)
In my opinion they are one of Belgium’s most useful inventions!
The system originated in the Limburg mining industry. Underground junctions were numbered, and arrows indicated the tunnels leading to the next numbered junctions. Mining engineer and cycling enthusiast Hugo Bollen brought the idea above ground. It was first transferred to cycle routes and then expanded to walking routes. The concept has gradually spread throughout many areas of Flanders and has also been extended to many areas of the Netherlands. Importantly, the networks integrate perfectly between regions and countries.
The crux of the system is that it allows you to cycle/walk from one numbered junction to the next one. At each junction a signpost points you in the direction of the two or three next junctions.
This leads to a much more flexible way of cycling/walking around the countryside than by following stipulated routes. Now you can mix and match to create your own cycling/hiking route.
Obviously before you set out, a little preparation is necessary. Both cycling and walking network maps are available from tourist offices, town halls and bookshops. Or you can go online at Fietsnet or Wandelknooppunt.be .
You decide on your starting point and simply write down or enter the numbers of the junctions that you want to pass through on your route. On the map or online, the distances between each junction are helpfully indicated. And as you add more junctions to your route, the cumulative total is summed up. So you can easily see if the total is manageable and adjust your route accordingly.
You can then print off the route numbers or the map, download a GPX file to your GPS, or download the map to your smartphone. And off you go!
It sounds easy enough in theory, but what about in practice? Well, it really does work a treat. I’ve been using both of them for years and I love them.
All the interchanges are excellently signed in both directions.
For the cycle routes, there are even signposts that give you warning that you are about to approach a numbered junction.
And obviously a great deal of care has been taken to ensure that the cycling and walking paths are good ones. Generally they are excellent, consisting of country lanes, farm tracks, car-free cycle paths, footpaths through woods, fields and villages.
In addition, “cycle-cafÃ©s” are also shown on the maps. These are cafÃ©s which include:
- Bike racks for at least 20 bikes
- Toilet area with facilities and space to freshen up
- First aid kit
- Cycle maps
- Tourist information
- Cycle repair kit
- Address of nearest cycle repair shop
Finally, if you come across a signpost that is missing, vandalised or damaged, you can enter the details on a form on one of the websites above, and the problem will hopefully be fixed as soon as possible.
So what are you waiting for?
A great hiking gear review site
If you’re looking for some in-depth reviews of hiking gear, I recommend Globo Surf. As the name suggests, it focuses heavily on equipment for water-based sports such as kayaking, surfing, snorkeling, scuba diving etc. However, it also has comprehensive sections devoted to backpacking and hiking equipment.
I was particularly interested in their reviews of hiking hats and hiking sandals, because my eldest son is in currently three-quarters of the way through hiking two Caminos de Santiago – one after the other! If he had known about these reviews before he set off, it would have saved him considerable time checking lots of different websites. With Globo Surf he could have just got recommendations from a single site.
With winter approaching though, many of you keen hikers will be thinking of going somewhere snowy and icy for a winter holiday. If that’s the case, Globo Surf has a useful article on hiking crampons and microspikes.
If you’re thinking of purchasing some outdoor equipment, a visit to Globo Surf is definitely worth your time.