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:
Normal opening hours are Wednesday, Thursday and Friday 10:00 – 18:00, Saturday and Sunday 14:00 – 18:00. But in these coronavirus times you’re best to check in advance on their Facebook page.
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.
Buy me a coffee?
I am determined to keep blog posts free from intrusive advertising. I don’t know about you, but I get very frustrated when I’m reading an article but have to navigate multiple ads along the way. I much prefer a smooth reading experience. Unfortunately this means that I’m missing out on income from ads; and running a self-hosted blog costs money! If you find this blog useful and enjoy downloading and using the maps, would you consider buying me a cup of (virtual) coffee to support the blog? Thanks a zillion. Denzil
Another lovely walk in Belgium. You found a lovely country to live in. What brought you to Belgium in the first place?
Good question Pat! Full answer here: https://www.discoveringbelgium.com/so-how-did-you-end-up-in-belgium/
Did this walk today. Warning ? => a tad muddy at the moment but still lots of fun in the first sunshine. Definitely going back in a few months. Loving this blog!
That’s great to hear Luke. Thanks for commenting.
It all looks very pleasant. And the boardwalks and embedded log-steps look good, too – – it’s been very mushy walking in the woods were, a lot of trails are just miles of muck right now. But no spooky madams luring wayfarers into the water!
It’s incredibly dry over here Robert and with talk of hose pipe bans already. Hope you are keeping well over there and avoiding bleach!
This week should be sunny and dry, in New York, but this past weekend, there were three or 4 inches of mud on some stretches of trail. They’re having serious flooding in Illinois and Michigan.
Yes, I’ve resisted the urge to drink bleach so far!
Yes I have just seen the news about a dam bursting, or overflowing.
Thanks – I don’t live that far away, but didn’t know about this place, so definitely on my list now. Thank you!
Enjoy your visit! Gorgeous weather at the moment for a country walk!
This is a lovely walk, Denzil, wild orchids are my fave too.
Thanks, they are so photogenic too!
Denzil, during these times of the coronavirus pandemic, it appears that you have more freedom of movement in Belgium that we do here in California.
We are just reducing lockdown and can go for local walks and cycle rides Rosaliene. Thankfully new infections are continuing to drop.
That’s promising news.
It does look quite beautiful in this area Denzil, and much nicer than you describe from your time living there. I’m looking forward to your return trip and am hoping you’ll share your photos of the wild orchids.
Will do Carol!
It looks like a lovely and interesting place to walk Denzil.
Glad the nettle paths have gone, although hope they kept some nettles somewhere for the butterflies!
Plenty of nettles still Becky! A question: have you ever found caterpillars on nettles? I am always looking, yet have never seen any.
hmmm good point . . . not sure I have. The nettles in my garden certainly have nothing on!
Yes I have looked at thousands of nettle beds over the years and am still to find caterpillars. Guess they must be there somewhere!
Excellent management of public lands in Belgium. This area is really pretty, I especially like that long boardwalk through the woods.
Yes it makes a huge difference in the winter.
Saturday I went for this walk. It is part of an area I never go. I enjoyed it a lot and will certainly do other walks you propose if not more than 6 km. No orchids to be seen. Have to try again
Glad you enjoyed the walk Lucioles and I hope you find others to enjoy too. I have not had the opportunity to return to see if the orchids are there yet. If I do I will let you know where to look!