Hiking in Belgium

Wild boar in Nassogne

The picturesque village of Nassogne in the Ardennes is located 15 kilometres directly south of the larger and better known town of Marche-en-Famenne. The tourist office in Marche will sell you the Nassogne walking map for 7 EUR, which displays over a dozen walks between four and 14 kilometres. I chose the 12 kilometre Promenade des Combes.

After a false start, which involved me setting off in completely the wrong direction (yes, even seasoned walkers can make silly mistakes), I came across what must surely be the best decorated water tower in Belgium, having been painted with various delightful water scenes. It was alongside an old fashioned village pond too, complete with ducks. Surprisingly, there was only one duckling on it. Or maybe not surprisingly; a fat cat was sunning itself on the bank.

The walk takes you through deciduous and coniferous forests, with plenty to spot along the way. Wood ant hills (actually small mountains) teem with busyness and life. Jays silently sweep over the path and then ruin their secrecy with loud screeches. Roe deer leap over obstacles like ballerinas. Wrens become distressed as I approach too close to their nest; their alarm calls sounding like marbles clinking together. In a clearing I come across a handful of nest boxes on trees – but without entrance holes! Instead, each has a thin slit underneath; just big enough for bats.

Wild boar prints

Then, on muddy ground, I make an interesting discovery; scores of unusual footprints. They are a bit like deer tracks, but at the base of each hoof are extra indentations. They have been made by wild boar; the extra indentations being their dew claws. I follow the tracks into the forest, and come across signs of their activity; rooting. This is when the wild boar thrust their snouts into the ground to search for bulbs and grubs. If you’re thinking this is destructive, it’s not. Rooted ground leads to fresh colonisations of wild flowers, and bluebells have been found to grow more abundantly in ground that has been turned over by wild boar. Local gardeners and golf greenkeepers might not feel so positively, of course!

Exactly halfway round, it’s time to eat my lunch – there are plenty of picnic benches on the route – and as I gaze down a forest ride, a fox appears from the forest and sits in the middle of the track, staring at me. I have a wonderful view of its bright russet coat and white-tipped tail. It sniffs the air, and disappears. I guess cheese and peanut butter sandwiches are not quite to its taste.

Especially for the kids – Should you be lucky enough to see deer on this walk, they will probably be far in the distance. If you are interested in getting up close to deer, you will enjoy a trip to the Inzofalle red deer farm in Nassogne. Here you will be able to feed stags, hinds and fawns, and see other animals such as tiny Dahomey cattle and the strikingly horned Heidschnucke sheep from Germany, as well as peacocks and turkeys.

(First published in The Bulletin, March 2007)

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