Grand Fawe near Oneux
Hiking in Belgium Long-distance Footpaths

GR 571 Stage 1: Comblain-au-Pont to Aywaille

I set off on the first stage of the GR 571 long-distance path in the Belgian Ardennes. I quickly get confused as to which path to take, but the diversion gave me great views. Oh, the temperature was below zero! Brrr!

To prove that my intentions stated in my last blog post were not a wild dream that I would never get round to achieving, last Saturday evening I packed up my rucksac and early on Sunday morning I set off on the first leg of the GR 571 long-distance path. No weekend trip yet; just a day’s hike to ease into it.

Here’s how I got to my starting point.

I got off the train at Rivage station. The first challenge was to work out how to get from the far platform to the station exit. Eventually I realised that I had to simply walk across the track!

From the station to the start of the GR 571 in Comblain-au-Pont is about a 1 km walk. Basically head down to the river and turn left until you come to the bridge, which leads you into Comblain-au-Pont itself.

Comblain-au-Pont
The Pont in Comblain-au-Pont
GR571-Comblain-au-Pont-bridge-view
View from one Pont in Comblain-au-Pont to another Pont in Comblain-au-Pont!

There’s a conveniently located baker’s along the way if you want to stock up with something to eat for lunch.

GR571-Comblain-au-Pont-bakers

The start of the GR 571 is not broadcast with a giant signboard or anything, but quietly and simply begins along this little road: Rue de la Gare, Comblain-au-Pont.

GR571-Comblain-au-Pont-start
Note the red-and-white marker

It was good to see the first red-and-white markings which I hoped would accompany me for the next 16.9 km (little did I know! But we’ll come to that later).

GR571-Comblain-au-Pont-start-marker
The stickers look very neat and tidy

And so I set off on my little adventure – and ten minutes later I was gasping for breath! The path had climbed almost vertically (slight exaggeration) through the woods, and at the top I had to rest and let my heart rate slow. But the view from the top was magnificent.

GR571-Comblain-au-Pont-view

Ah yes, this is the life. A great day ahead of me, blue sky, green fields, superb views … what could possibly go wrong?

Oh No in Oneux

The first village on the route was a lovely little Ardennes’ village called Oneux.

It was so small that I slipped through it almost without noticing, and saw on my map that the route continued South. But wait a minute: the red-and-white marker indicated I was to go East. Strange.

I checked my compass and the map in the official GR 571 Topo-Guide, and I definitely had to go South. Had the route been changed since the Topo-Guide had been printed, I wondered? I went onto the website of GRSentiers.org (the organisation in charge of the long-distance paths in Wallonia, and from where I had purchased the Topo-Guide), and did a search for GR 571. Nothing there about any route change that I could see. So should I stick with the map, or follow the sign?

I turned East, following the sign, and walked about 600 metres, but there were no other signs indicating that this was the route. So I returned to the crossroads and went South, as indicated on the map.

For the next 6.5 km I followed the route in the printed map, and never saw a single red-and-white sign, which was slightly discomforting. What was also unnerving was that for most of these 6.5 km I shared the path with about two hundred mountain bikers.

But what a walk it was – and what views from the top of the Grand Fawe.

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Mind you, it was cold! Actually it was more than cold, it was absolutely freezing up there. The temperature was low already, at 1 degree Centigrade, but the chill factor of the strong easterly wind made it feel like minus 20. It left me wondering if I had wandered beyond the Arctic Circle. I was sure the wind’s last touchdown was in Murmansk. At times I reckoned I could smell the whiff of an Eskimo’s camp fire on the wind, and expected to see a polar bear lumbering around the corner.

Here’s the evidence of my walk in sub-zero temperatures.


But then the path descended into Septroux, where I enjoyed some welcome shelter – and the return of the red-and-white markers! Yes, I was back on the official GR 571! (I’ll explain what happened later).

Next stop was the village of Martinrive where I crossed the Amblève and made my way through the nature reserve of Les Coteaux de Martinrive with its pretty streams and hillside woodland.

Quelle surprise!

Goodness, I wasn’t expecting this!

Rounding a corner I came across an old framed photograph attached to a tree.

GR571-Chateau-Ambleve-1

Not only was I surprised that the photograph was there, and hadn’t been vandalised, covered in graffiti or stolen (but how would I have known that it had been stolen?) but I was surprised at what was behind it. The Ruines de Neufchastel, otherwise known as the Château d’Amblève or Amblève Castle.

Dating back to 1049, its peak of power came in 1577 when it was occupied by a garrison of William of Orange who supported the Protestants and organised the rising of the United Provinces against Spain. The following year, the Spaniards attacked the castle and demolished it.

The ruins are a super place to explore. There are plenty of interesting things to see that if I was a historian would be able to describe. But I’m not so I’ll just show you the pictures.

After the path had meandered downhill to the valley, there were great views up to the castle. You can see why it held such a strategic position.

GR571-Chateau-Ambleve-close2GR571-Chateau-Ambleve-close1
By now the GR 571 had levelled out along the Amblève river valley. Finally my end destination was in sight: the small but bustling town of Aywaille.

GR571-Aywaille1

Even on a Sunday afternoon many of the shops and cafés were open. There was time to wander around the town a bit and enjoy some fruit in the park, before catching the train from Aywaille railway station and returning through Liège and Leuven to home.

So what happened in Oneux?

Good question. I wrote to GR Sentiers Wallonia about the confusion I experienced in Oneux. They replied and said that the GR 571 had been amended in July 2015 and the revised section of the route was described on the website.

After some searching, I did eventually find the change. It’s hidden away, and you need to:

  • Search for GR 571
  • Open the page for the GR 571 Topo-Guide
  • Click on En Savoir Plus (More information)
  • Click on Mises à Jour (Updates)
  • Scroll right down to the bottom of the page

And there nestling right at the bottom is this:

GR 517 Oneux new route
A map of the new route! You can see the new blue route going east from no.2, whereas I stuck to the original one going south and then along the Grand Fawe.

For details of my route I have put it on my Route You site. Note that this shows the route I took; not the new one above.

I also noticed two other changes to the GR 517 route further on, which will be useful later.

I suggested to GRSentiers.org that it might be a good idea to include a photocopy of the amendments in the Topo-Guides that they dispatch from their office, or at least a multi-lingual note explaining how to find the amendments on their website, but they didn’t reply to that suggestion.

Anyway, notwithstanding this slight hiccup, which I now know how to avoid in the future, my first stage of the GR 571 was highly enjoyable. The walk went through some gorgeous countryside, and I am looking forward to the next stage.

Hopefully the weather will be a bit warmer!

26 comments on “GR 571 Stage 1: Comblain-au-Pont to Aywaille

  1. Typical bureaucracy! But you might have missed some grand views if you’d done the new route.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I applaud your stamina and enjoyed the travel commentary and photos. I would have had to have called your equivalent of our emergency 911 to come and find me because I would have never made it with the lack of signs. Love how you can hop on and off the train. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Well there are so many small villages in the Ardennes Judy that it’s difficult to get completely lost. But it could have been confusing and possibly unsafe for a youth club or some younger people.

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  3. I do like a happy ending, Denzil! 🙂 My favourite bit was through the valley looking up at those lovely cliffs. Many thanks for joining me again.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Hi Denzil, you certainly started sooner than I had expected. And brought home some lovely pictures! As for your experience with the update… I could have told you of course where to find the updates (had I known). Usually it’s safest to follow the signs. However, always check beforehand (or in the topoguide if it’s recent) if your GR isn’t crossed by another GR and you start following the wrong signs… It happened to me once on my way from Brussels to Liège. By the way, have you tracked (recorded) your walk? Regards, Guido

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Guido, and that’s good advice to take care of crossing GR paths! Oh thanks for the reminder to track my route! I forgot that. I’ll get onto it today. Thanks also for your blogs on the GR walks you have done; you were my inspiration!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I’am glad that in the end everthing worked out for you !

    Liked by 1 person

  6. David Porras

    Thank you Denzil. The encounter with the castle was a remarkable surprise. Great start!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks David. Yes it was, and in sets the bar high for my anticipation of further “surprises around the corner”!

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  7. Great walk and photos. Any reason given as to why the route was changed?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Do you know, that’s a really good question Glen! I don’t know and I didn’t ask. I suspect it’s because the original section of that route has now been converted into a mountain bike route, and to avoid fisticuffs between hikers and bikers, the authorities made separate routes.

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      • lucmajella

        Hi Denzil,
        Routes can be changed for many reasons. A path may be blocked or have become unusable. A new path may provide a more attractive alternative for an asphalted road. Important road works may necessitate a temporary deviation, etc… That’s why it’s always advisable to check the organisations website before starting a hike on one of their routes. Good that you figured out where to find the information.
        If you notice changes or situations that aren’t mentioned on the organisations website, send them an e-mail. Maybe they’re not yet aware of the change.
        Anyway, interesting report. I enjoy reading and watching the pictures. I walked this GR route and it’s always good to see how other hikers experience it.

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        • Thanks for your comment Luc/Maj. Yes it was my fault for not checking – or not knowing where to check – for changes to the route. Since then I must say I am greatly impressed by the GR signage. They have really done a great job.

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  8. Lucky you stuck with your instincts and followed the original route. What a pretty area to explore. You got some great photos.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. That’s such a nice area, though maybe I’m biased as that’s where my husband grew up! I will never not find it amazing to come across ruins in the woods. I’m missing Belgium already! Thanks for the photos.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for your comment. What was equally amazing was that there were no fences or “keep-off” signs, but everything was just left there to look at. Hope my photos don’t make you too Belgium-sick and that you are settling well into life in Columbus.

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  10. What a wonderful route – even the slight deviation from it😊. Hiking the Bruce we once missed a revised trail and ended up slipping and sliding all over icy rocks – now we check their website before we start. Looks like a couple of places you might want to return to once the hike is over – like that great castle ruin?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, the deviation certainly gave me better views. Your deviation sounds rather dangerous! Now I know where to look for updates, I’ll certainly keep an eye on it. And if I return to the ruins, I think I’ll take someone who knows what they are looking at!

      Liked by 1 person

  11. Pingback: Jo’s Monday walk : Springtime in Shincliffe | restlessjo

  12. We walked this stage yesterday; it was a beautiful golden autumn Sunday and we highly enjoyed the scenery. As I don’t have the topoguide I have opened your page to fill me in on names and details 🙂 Kind regards!

    Liked by 1 person

  13. You certainly seemed to get the best weather in Belgium! Just 100 kms to the west and it was dull and misty the whole day! So glad you had a good hike; yes it’s a lovely area isn’t it.

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