Europe

On the hunt for winter scenery in Hainaut, Belgium

For the past seven years, ever since I started working, February has been my travel month. In February, I just have to go somewhere, anywhere! It’s one of those things that gradually happened, but now after all those years, it has become a tradition. Until now.

It’s February 2021, and I’m being held hostage in my own country, thanks to that nasty, f*cking corona virus. The Belgian government has imposed a travel ban for the entire month. No crossing borders and no leisure trips abroad allowed. Of course I know and reluctantly accept the reason why we’re taking such drastic measures. But it still feels a bit harsh. All I want to do is go relax and hike in nature, as far away from other people. Seems pretty corona-proof, no?

I could rant an entire, lengthy post on how frustrated I feel, but that won’t get us anywhere. Literally. Instead of focusing what I couldn’t do, I focused on what I was still allowed to go; roam around in my own country!

A few days ago, we got quite a bit of snow in Belgium. Add a series of icy cold days after that, and you get the scenery for a lovely winter walk. Fresh, crisp air and a lovely, warm sun; it doesn’t take a lot of my mood to improve significantly. Staying indoors on a day like that would be the biggest punishment. So I set out to wander.

According to the snow maps, there was a little region in Hainaut where there was a little bit more snow than around where I live. Destination decided. Hainaut is one of those regions that’s often overlooked when traveling around in Belgium. I’m guilty of that as well. We either stay in Flanders, or when we do go south to Wallonia, we often just drive a little bit further to “the real Ardennes”. But this time around, with the ice cold wind, I didn’t want to go too far from home.

I ended up in a village called Écaussinnes. This place seemed to be the center of an area with more snow, so that was the main reason for picking that place. I had already found many hikes around that town, so I figured it must at least hold some appeal. Starting from the castle, through the ‘Lover’s Tunnel’ (Perfect timing with it being Valentine’s Weekend, I guess) and then a lucky guess, which made me stumble across a hiking sign that said ‘Val de la Sennette‘. Why not follow that one, right?

And that was the right decision! A small trail led me through the tiny but beautiful valley. Of course there weren’t huge heaps of snow, but it was still lovely. Exactly what I had had in mind when I imagined my day.

Unfortunately, there was some ongoing construction at one of the bridges at the turning point, which made me have to take a detour. Once again saved by my favorite Maps.me app, I easily found another walking path. In the distance, I could see the tower from the Ronquière Inclined Slope, something I quickly added to my itinerary as my next visit. Walking all the way over there would have been too much, so I found another road which led me back along the valley to the car.

A beautiful 9,5 kilometer walk (including some amateur ice skating) through some gorgeous snowy landscapes; check! Now it was time to warm up a bit – with temperatures of -4 degrees Celsius, it was nice to have car to have some shelter – and have a bit to eat. Considering all restaurants are unfortunately still closed and it isn’t exactly picnicking weather just yet, I opted to just bring a flask of soup and some granola bars. Perfect, quick lunch!

On to the next – spontaneously added – destination of the Ronquière Inclided Slope. This lock on the canal Brussels-Charleroi compensates a wopping 70 meter drop. I’d already heard quite a lot about it, but had yet to see it for myself. Because of Corona, the visitor center with the viewing platform was of course closed, so I just walked along the lock trying to get an image of its grandeur. Sadly with no ship in sight, you can’t really get the full experience, but it’s still quite spectacular to see and mostly impressive when you think about what weights this construction can move.

Seeing as I didn’t leave as early as I would on a normal day trip – because of the cold weather – it was already well into the afternoon when I made it back to my car. But I still had one more sight I wanted to see. A little bit closer to my home, one can find the Marais d’Harchies. A nature reserve in the Vallee de la Haine, between Mons and Tournai. With its 550 hectares, it’s quite a big place, so plenty of space to walk around.

There are two walking routes, marked with green and red arrows, which lead you around the water and along the many bird watching houses through the swamp. But even if you’re not interested in birds, the views are spectacular.

I arrived at the site around 4:30pm, and with the sun due to set around 6pm, it was absolutely perfect to enjoy the golden hour in this lovely, peaceful environment. It’s not very well known by tourists, so there were only a few other people – mostly bird watchers with binoculars and heavy camera equipment – wandering around. Absolute bliss!

From one of the watch houses, I marveled at the gorgeous sunset and felt at peace for that brief moment.

And then it was already time to head home again. A short day trip away, but enough to recharge my battery just a little bit. Sure, it’s no trip abroad and it’s not as fancy as traveling to the other side of the world, but beggars can’t be choosers. Most importantly I got to experience the exciting feeling of traveling, even if it was just a little bit and only for a day.

♡ Ellen

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