There are some surprises in store for you as you walk around the Silsombos in Kortenberg.
In the Silsombos in Kortenberg you will find it easy to forget that Brussels is only 10 km down the road. And that Brussels Airport is a mere stone’s throw away (if you have a strong arm and a favourable wind). Despite the closeness of urbanization, here you are deep in central Brabant. The traffic zooms along the busy N2 from Brussels to Leuven, but not too far away are sleepy villages with glorious names like Erps-Kwerps, Nederokkerzeel and Steenokkerzeel.
The Silsombos is a fairly sizeable deciduous forest (by Flemish standards) of around 100 hectares. Recently it was made part of what is called the Green Valley, linking it with other woods in nearby Kampenhout and Herent. The area is now protected as part of Natura 2000. In 2016, the Green Valley visitor centre was established on the western edge of the Silsombos. At the same time the forest was opened up for public access, which is good news. Before then it was a maze of muddy paths that were largely impenetrable. I should know. Liz and I used to live in Kortenberg. I often visited the Silsombos. I’d return with muddied boots, bleeding scratches from brambles, and the wheals of encounters with stinging nettles. Now though, it’s easily accessible and a lovely area for an afternoon family-friendly walk.
HOW TO REACH THE SILSOMBOS
If you live in Brussels and fancy some time away from the city, the Silsombos is easy to reach. The Green Valley Visitor Centre is located at Lelieboomgaardenstraat 60, 3070 Erps-Kwerps. There is a small parking area outside the centre. However, on sunny summer weekends it’s likely to be full. So you might like to take the train. The railway station at Erps-Kwerps is 2.8 km away or a 30 minute brisk walk. The De Lijn buses also run through Erps-Kwerps village. Another possibility is by bike. The F3 Brussels-Leuven cycle path goes right by Erps-Kwerps railway station so again only a short deviation is necessary.
THE GREEN VALLEY VISITOR CENTRE
As you can see from the icons on the welcome board, the visitor centre offers a lot:
WHERE TO WALK IN THE SILSOMBOS
The Flemish Brabant tourist agency produces a clear, informative and attractive brochure with pull-out maps of walks in the province. It includes the Silsombos walk. You can order the brochure here (it’s free but you pay the postage). Or you can go straight to their download page and get a PDF copy of the map. You can pick up the gpx track from my page at RouteYou. Or you can simply follow the walking junctions 86 – 108 – 109 – 87 – 88 – 89 – 85 – 86. The total circle is 5.3 km so will take you around one a half hours.
As well as being well-signed, at strategic places (where it’s likely to be very wet and muddy in the winter), there are boardwalks or stepping stones (embedded slices of tree trunk). They certainly make the whole walking experience much easier than I described earlier!
Finally, exactly halfway around the 5.3 km route there is a lovely picnic table overlooking a meadow. They certainly do know how to look after their visitors here!
WHAT TO SEE IN THE SILSOMBOS
The Silsombos is a pleasant mix of deciduous woodland and damp meadows. At this time of the year it’s full of birdsong. Liz and I had fun identifying the various birds: blackcap warbler, chiffchaff, song thrush, whitethroat, wren. Bluethroats breed here but we didn’t see or hear one. If you’re lucky you may see the local roe deer. When we lived nearby I visited the Silsombos frequently at dawn and dusk to watch them. I remember one freezing cold morning I got up before the dawn with my youngest son Sam. We settled ourselves in a deer shooting platform while the dawn broke around us. We waited patiently with the cries of tawny owls and the yelps of foxes echoing through the mist. Eventually, as the sun’s rays penetrated through the leaves, we held our breath as not just one but five roe deer appeared. They ambled about in the forest, completely unaware of two humans shivering five metres above them.
The crown jewels of the Silsombos are undoubtedly the wild orchids that bloom in the marshy grasslands. As regular readers will know, these are my favourite wild flowers. So Liz and I will be returning towards the end of May / early June to see this wonderful spectacle again. They include the broad-leaved marsh orchid (Dactylorhiza majalis), the fragrant orchid (Gymnadenia conopsea), greater butterfly orchid (Platanthera chlorantha), the broad-leaved helleborine (Epipactis helleborine), and the twayblade (Neottia ovata).
The 5k walk through the Silsombos in Kortenberg is a great family-friendly walk, especially in early summer when the wild orchids are blooming.Tweet
THE BLACK MADAM OF THE SILSOMBOS
Between junctions 87 and 88 you’ll come face to face with an old lady! This will undoubtedly surprise you as it’s a most unusual location for a statue of the Madonna. It was established here by the Witman family, owners of the Balkemolen castle, to keep watch over this meander of the Molenbeek. And for good reason. According to a legend, a local woman drowned herself here in the Molenbeek after being rejected by a soldier. But long afterwards, her ghost (the Black Madam!) would still roam the neighbourhood and lure unsuspecting travellers into the waters. So beware!
So there you have it. All the information for a pleasant family-friendly walk for a morning or afternoon. Or longer if you take a picnic. Enjoy your walk in the woods. Let me know if you want to share any photos of the wild orchids or any other interesting wild flowers you come across. I’ll be happy to include them in the post.
The Flemish nature organization Natuurpunt has done an excellent job in the Silsombos. They have opened up this wood to the public and made nature easily accessible. At the same time they have kept visitors to defined pathways, leaving the rest of the wood undisturbed.
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