Mollekensberg: Sunken lanes, talking gobbledygook, and a useful tattoo

The official translation of a ‘holle weg’ is a sunken lane, and Gemeente Herent has produced an attractive little leaflet called ‘Holle wegen wandeling’ which takes you on a 7-km walk along the sunken lanes of Herent and Wilsele.

It wasn’t a particularly pleasant morning – cloudy, windy, and cold – but I was in need of some fresh air after a hard working week, so decided to go sunken lane walking. I’d done half of the walk in the summer, hence some of the photos give a rather different impression to current reality. If you are planning to do this walk soon, wear rubber boots: it’s very muddy in parts!

It’s a circular walk so you can start anywhere, but I chose the Molenweg bus stop on Rijweg (choose your bus below) …

1…where I parked my bike…2…and set off:

P1040063So this is what a sunken lane looks like, in the summer:

P1040061and rather less pretty in the winter:

P1040536Basically they are ancient field paths that over the years have become deepened by rainwater, animal tracks, and later by tractors. They lie below the level of the surrounding fields and are characterized by steep banks, often full of vegetation. They are great areas for wildlife, thanks to all the nooks and crannies, roots and trunks of trees.

The first stop of interest is the Mollekensberg, a public park, with plenty of space for kids to run around and even make a camp fire. When I was there in the summer a modern-day shepherd appeared with three well-trained sheepdogs and a flock of mixed sheep.

P1040067 P1040068Maybe the shepherd was from the Bereklauw, which the walk passes through. It’s an alternative lifestyle community that promotes some great ideas on their website and Facebook page.

P1040079 P1040082Then the path leads back into civilization and Wilsele village with the pastorie, dating from 1661 but restored in the 1960s…

P1040541and the church of Maria the Ascension, which dates from the 13th century although has been restored on multiple occasions since.

P1040542By this time I was feeling peckish, so instead of wasting time searching for the village baker’s, I decided to ask the first person I came across. Unfortunately it turned into one of those times that make me despair about ever integrating into Belgium. I came across a man walking his dog. In my best Dutch I asked him where I could find the local baker (‘bakker’).

“Wat?” he replied rather bluntly, as if he was talking to a complete imbecile.

“Ik ben op zoek naar de bakker,” I repeated.

“Wat? Nee, sorry,” he said, and began to edge away.

“De bakker!” I repeated, wondering how on earth I could say such a simple word and be completely un-understood. I thought I would help him out. “De bakker, om brood te kopen. Brood!” (To buy bread. Bread!)

The penny dropped, or at least the euro cent. “Ah de BAKKER!”, he exclaimed, pronouncing it EXACTLY as I’d been pronouncing it. And proceeded to give me directions to the nearest baker’s:

P1040544Adequately fortified, I left the small village of Wilsele, but not before coming across an interesting village shop. Not a butcher’s or newsagents chemist’s but…

P1040545I resisted the temptation to go inside. On second thoughts, maybe I could have “Discovering” tattooed down one arm, and “Belgium” down the other?

Or even more useful, “Ik ben op zoek naar de bakker!”

* * * * * * *

Finally, a word of thanks to Arie Van der Beek for bringing my attention to this walk and passing me this leaflet. In return, Arie, you get a bit of free publicity. Arie conducts the youth orchestra KL!NK, whose next concert is 16th May 2015 in De Wildeman, Herent. Here they are in action.

Alpenconcert006 Alpenconcert025

Finding a traditional Christmas Carol Service in Belgium

The traditional Christmas Carol Service of Nine Lessons and Carols is one of England’s most distinctive and successful religious exports. The service from King’s College Cambridge is listened to by millions of people all over the world.

It was first introduced in 1918 by the Dean of King’s College, Eric Milner-White, in 1918. His experience as an army chaplain during the war had convinced him that the Church of England needed to introduce more imaginative worship. The Nine Lessons and Carols format is now one of the best loved services in the whole year and enjoyed by people of many different nationalities.

So if you are living in Belgium, where can you find a traditional Christmas Carol Service?

Here’s a short list of carol services taking place in December. Click on the name of the church to go to their website for their address.

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Nieuwrode. Combo pastry, and potatoes in the night

Starting point for this walk – as with so many others – is a church. This time it’s the church in Nieuwrode, a small Flemish village a few kms south of Aarschot. And like virtually all Flemish churches, it’s ridiculously large for the size of village, although presumably in the olden days it used to be packed full of villagers for the traditional Saturday evening Catholic service.

P1040368Then it’s time to head east with some glorious views from the Kriesberg over the surrounding fields. Thanks also to another sunny November Saturday!

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Patrick Damiaens – Master Wood Carver

A visit to Patrick Damiaens’ workshop in his home in Maaseik is a reassuring reminder that even in these days of mass-manufactured furniture, there is still a demand for the traditional skills of a master craftsman. Patrick is the only full-time ornamental wood carver and sculptor in Flanders, a unique position of which he is immensely proud. There are apparently a few part-timers and hobbyists, but no-one earns his living doing what Patrick does.

Patrick Damiaens wood carver studioWhat he does is certainly impressive. His specialty is carving the decorations on Liège-style furniture. This is a style that arose in the 17th century. It’s characterised by delicately carved intricate decoration and drew Europe’s top carvers and cabinet makers to the Belgian city.

Patrick Damiaens chairPatrick himself was educated at the Don Bosco Institute in Liège, where he studied ornamental wood carving for three years. That followed six years studying furniture making at the Sint-Jansberg College in Maaseik, Limburg province, which included a one-year wood carving course.

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St. Martha and Mary’s Church, Leuven

St. Martha and Mary’s is a small but vibrant Anglican church in the centre of Leuven. It doesn’t have its own building, but meets in the Roman Catholic Chapel of the Justus Lipsius College in Minderbroedersstraat 15, Leuven on Sunday evenings at 18:30.

The service is a mixture of ancient and new liturgy; the music incorporates old hymns and new songs led by a small choir; and there is a weekly, simple Holy Communion/Eucharist. The church is led by its chaplain, the warm and friendly Jack McDonald, and trainee chaplain Jane McBride. What I particularly enjoy about the service is the sense of peace as we come together in worship, the thoughtful and practical teaching, and the spirit of inclusion that the church offers.

Why I am blogging about St. Martha and Mary’s now is that this Sunday (Nov 23rd) I will be speaking in the service. I hesitate to say “preaching” because I am no theologian, so prefer to describe it as a “talk”. My subject will be one close to my heart: the Christian approach to environmental protection.

So if you are in the neighbourhood of Leuven on Sunday evening and want to join us, you would be very welcome. If you are coming by car, you are advised to park on St. Jacobsplein and walk the five minutes to the church.

Listen to the band!

Here’s a different kind of article. It’s nothing to do with country walks, but still falls within the objectives of “Discovering Belgium” as it deals with discovering an important aspect of Belgium: the community band!

5In cities, towns and villages the length and breadth of Belgium, the sounds of their rehearsals emanate from cafés, cultural centres and sports halls. Their concerts are frequently sold out well in advance, and they compete at – and frequently win – European and global competitions. They will strike up We are the Champions when their local football team wins the league, and Chopin’s Funeral March when one of their members enters his or her final resting place. They will hold up traffic as they march past, and cause little children to gaze with awe at their gleaming instruments and neatly pressed uniforms. They are the Belgian amateur community music bands.

7So popular are they that there is scarcely a municipality in Belgium that does not have at least one – and maybe even two or three. This is proved by the statistics. Take just Flanders, for example, which contains 308 municipalities in Flanders, yet the Flemish Association of Music Bands and Musicians (Vlamo) has a membership of 1180 community bands.

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An Armistice Day thought

I am indebted to my fellow blogger The Bruges Vegan for this highly interesting and relevant post on an additional and often forgotten consequence of the First World War – the millions of animals who suffered and died during those tragic four years.

The statistics are horrendous. Over 8 million horses and donkeys, and over 1 million dogs, died on the front line. The article I refer to above also brings our attention to the animals used for experimental reasons during warfare, and the destruction of the local fauna on the Western Front.

Picture 3035Of course, animals have always been used in warfare, from the massed ranks of the war elephants in various Indian wars, the machine-gun carrying camels of Persia, to the pigeons fitted with cameras during the Second World War. There was nothing innovative about the use of horses and dogs to carry weapons, ammunition, men etc.

But it’s the fact that these animals were obviously not kept or worked in humane conditions (not that the humans involved were in humane conditions either!). Another aspect is the huge scale of the deaths that are mind-boggling. 8 million horses died. Let’s try and put that into context. Imagine collecting all the horses within the European Union today and transporting them to Belgium and northern France. You would still only have delivered 5 million animals. So you add all the horses in Russia, but that’s only another 1.3 million.

Actually, between 1914 and 1918, the US sent almost 1 million horses overseas. Only 200 returned to the US.

It’s just another sad page in the horrific story of World War One.


Nethen. Butterflies in November, and a virtual butcher

I got the idea of walking around Nethen from my fellow hiker/blogger Guido, who on his blog Guidowke’s Wandelblog, wrote recently of his walk through Nethen, “a village that time has forgot.” Intrigued, and realizing that this was a part of Brabant Wallon that I had not yet explored, I got the relevant map (Grez-Doiceau: Carte des promenades) and settled for the 6 km “Promenade des murs”.

Immediately after parking the car, my first sight was of five red admirals and a peacock butterfly sunning themselves on a wall!

P1040319Nothing remarkable about that, except that it’s the first of November! What is happening to our climate? Of course it’s lovely to walk in the warm sunshine instead of a cold, rainy, cloudy November day. And it’s great to see butterflies and dragonflies in November, but this exceptional heat is worrying at the same time, with all its implications of climate change. In Belgium it has been the warmest October for years, and later this evening I read that it was the warmest 1st November for over 100 years, with temperatures climbing to 21 degrees Centrigrade. Today’s launch of the latest report into climate change by The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change at least has some strongly worded recommendations about finally moving to renewable energy sources before it’s too late.

But back to the walk, which starts at the little church in Nethen.

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St Peter’s Church Leuven. Reaching for the sky, and a crowing cockerel

A monumental presence on the Grote Markt (market square) of Leuven is St Peter’s Church.

St Peter's Church LeuvenThe first church on the site was made of wood and dated back to 986, but was burnt down in 1176. It was replaced by a Romanesque stone church, of which only the crypt remains. Construction of the present church began in 1425, and took over 50 years to complete, despite a fire in 1458 which delayed matter somewhat.

Amazingly, in 1505 plans were put in place to construct three colossal towers and a spire that would have made St Peter’s the world’s tallest structure! (How did they know that, I wonder?).

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Averbode. Bread, cheese, beer, Mary and Joseph

Well I was wrong. In my last post (Rosdel) I suggested that October 4 was going to be the last warm day of the year. I was two weeks too early with my prediction. This weekend Belgium is enjoying an extremely unseasonable heatwave, with temperatures already up to 23C by noon. So there was no excuse but to head off somewhere for a Saturday morning hike, and I chose Averbode Bos & Heide (Woods and Heathland).

Averbode is mostly known for its Abbey, which dates back to 1134, and by the 17th century had grown to incorporate farms, fields, woodland, mills, heath, and local chapels.

P1040225The abbey housed a bakery, cheese dairy and brewery for many centuries, and these have been recently revived with the launch of the Averbode brands of bread, cheese and beer. I didn’t come across any stalls selling the stuff though, which is a pity because I could have taken an Averbode bread and cheese sandwich and bottle of beer for my elevenses.

P1040222The attractive inner court (above) won a prize recently, the Belgian Public Space Award, with the jury declaring the Abbey Square as “distinguished example of exquisite minimalism.” Which I guess means nice and simple.

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