Stoat along the GR 571
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GR 571 Stage 4: Trois-Ponts to Vielsalm

Stage 4 of the GR 571, and the first signs of spring along the River Salm. I see the season’s first butterflies, come face to face with a stoat, find some badger footprints, and discover that my overnight lodging is an ice-box.

The weather forecast for April 2-3 was fair and dry, so early on Saturday morning I was off again. Up early too. Hope the train driver can see in the dark.

GR 571-begin

Even the square in front of Leuven station was dark and deserted, although quite pretty.

GR 571-begin-Leuven

After the recent terrorism in Belgium, I felt a bit nervous walking past the railway security guards with a rucksac on my back, but I guess a deserted railway station at 7 a.m. isn’t the obvious target for a terrorist.

Have I introduced you to my rucksac yet? No? How remiss of me.

Readers, meet Rucksac.

GR571-rucksac

Liz says it should be featured on the BBC’s “Antiques Roadshow”. You can imagine the expert’s view: “Oh look at this treasure. An original Karrimor Tote’em Senior, made in Accrington, England, and dating back to the early 1970s. Aluminium frame! You don’t see that these days. Lightweight but extremely rugged. Made to last.”

And it certainly has lasted. I bought it new in 1972, after saving up my money earned doing some weekend gardening jobs. It’s been on my back all over the UK, to Switzerland and Austria, and is still doing fine service in the Ardennes. Not bad for something over 40 years old.

I travelled to where I had finished stage 3: Trois-Ponts, which thanks to my early start I reached at 9 a.m. As with every stage, the footpath started from the railway station with a steep climb up into the hills, although this time it was more like a narrow and rather precarious sheep track along the side of a steep hill.

GR571-Trois-Ponts

Having carefully and rather anxiously negotiated that, the path broadened out and passed through the forests, although at one stage the route couldn’t decide whether it was a footpath or a stream.

GR571-stream

As always, the views from the top were splendid.

GR571-view2GR571-view3

The GR 571 then proceeded to descend into the river valley. Not the Amblève, but the Salm:

 

and pass through the villages of La Neuville, Rochelinval, Petit-Halleux and Grand-Halleux.

Nearby Wanne is obviously the place to be:

GR571-Wanne

As with previous stages, there were plenty of reminders that this area was the scene of heavy fighting during the Battle of the Bulge in the Second World War.

Spring has Sprung!

What a difference a couple of weeks makes. Two weeks ago it was still winter in the Ardennes with snow on the ground. Now it was the beginnings of spring, with all the signs evident:

GR571-blossom

GR571-brimstone
Brimstone butterfly (and a spider – can you see it?)
GR571-celandine
Lesser celandine
GR571-coltsfoot
Coltsfoot
GR571-tree
Flower of the larch tree

And look at this lovely little fellow I was studying for a while! Or was he/she studying me?

GR571-stoat
Stoat

GR571-stoat2

I also came across these: the characteristic broad 5-toed footprint of a badger.

GR571-badger

A bit later this board confirmed that badgers (le blaireau) do indeed inhabit the area:

GR571-board

Actually I always think that these boards, while being educational, lead to overly high expectations. Yes, all these six animals probably do live in this particular forest, but that doesn’t mean you can expect to see them. Most wild animals keep themselves to themselves, or are even nocturnal.

The river certainly seems to be well populated with all sorts of fish too:

GR571-fish

Oops! And Oops Again!

Towards the end of the day I had two unfortunate experiences within an hour of each other; one worse than the other. Firstly the strap broke on my binoculars so I couldn’t hang them around my neck, which wasn’t a big problem although slightly annoying.

Secondly, my camera belt bag broke. This was much worse as it spilt my camera onto the ground, which happened to be hard rock. The screen smashed! For the rest of the weekend I was taking photos with no idea if the camera was working still or whether the lens had been damaged, and no idea if I was framing the photo correctly.

Cold as Ice

I arrived at my destination at 5 p.m.: Vielsalm, where I had booked an overnight stay in a caravan at Camping de la Zalm.

GR571-caravan
The Ice Box

I have to say this was probably the coldest, most uncomfortable night I have ever spent for a long time.

The caravan had clearly not been used or opened for a long time. It took the camp site owner half an hour and three attempts to find the right key to open it. So everything about it was cold, as well as damp and musty. I had my sleeping bag but as the temperature dropped overnight (and it was a freezing cold, cloudless night) it was insufficient, but there were no extra blankets or anything. I ended up wearing all my clothes, including my hat, in bed, but that didn’t stop me shivering through a night where I didn’t get much rest at all. Eventually at 5.45 I got up, put my 1-euro jeton in the shower in the main building, and just stood under the hot water for as long as the jeton lasted for.

I don’t think I will be returning to that place again.

Despite ending up with a broken camera and a broken night, the day was wonderful.

I walked 20 km and you can follow the route here on RouteYou.

28 comments on “GR 571 Stage 4: Trois-Ponts to Vielsalm

  1. What a person sees of nature and the world depends upon how they travel – plane, train, auto, bike, or by foot. You experience amazing adventures just by putting one foot in front of another. I applaud your adventuresome spirit. Hope your camera survived the downward flight it took.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Extremely well written Denzil, I admire your writing skils.
    You were very lucky to find a brimstone butterfly that wanted to pose, most of the time they are very active.
    And you were also able to take a picture from a wild mammal, the stoat – it doesn’t happen often to find them and have the time to take a shot.
    Sorry for what happened with your camera, I hope it wasn’t a new Hasselblad.

    Like

  3. Crack of dawn start deserved a better ending, Denzil, but the stoat was a nice surprise. 🙂 Signs os Spring definitely on the increase. It’s been lovely here today. I’m walking this Monday but not the following one. Thanks for sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. What a lovely day you had, Denzil. I’m enjoying these walks so much. Now I’ve seen a stoat, which is new for me.
    Shame about your camera, but a good excuse to get a new one. I read your conversation with Jacques. My camera is a Lumix TZ-60, about two years old now and I love it. It has a fantastic zoom function. I’m assuming the 70 is the new model, so it would be great.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. When we come back from Spa , we offen drink coffee in Trois -Points near the bridge on the corner ..very good coffee….nice picture from the stoat !

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’ll look out for that coffee shop next time Leen. Yes it was lovely to see the stoat, and I was delighted that it stood still for so long to have its picture taken!

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Oh Denzil! Just when I think the hike is looking up in terms of weather, all the catastrophes! What in the world was that caravan owner thinking, letting you spend the night there? Well, now you can look forward to a newer camera. And of course this will be one of the highlights of your hike, that you certainly will remember! Carry on, at least the backpack has proven to be Exceptional!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. A memorable day out for more than one reason. One to thrill the grandkids with tall tales for years to come. Hope you had your thermals for the overnight caravan stay. On the camera scene I have a Lumix DMC – FZ200 and love it – fantastic.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ha, yes, telling the grandkids … I wonder what media will be available when they are my age. Will something have superceded blogging? No I didn’t have my thermals; they were tucked up at home, unfortunately. Thanks for your camera tip. It looks a nice camera but is twice the weight of Carol’s. I try and carry as little weight as possible on my walks. I’m obviously not as strong as you! 🙂

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      • I’ve the same camera FZ200 and I love it also.
        For me it’s light enough. I take it along when I don’t feel to carry the heavy gear.
        But for you with 588 g, that means still more than double as yours.

        Liked by 1 person

        • When I was looking for a new camera, my main priority was that it not be too heavy. Glen’s does take fantastic photos but it would be too heavy for me. I put my camera around my neck and “wear” it all day. Hey, maybe you could buy both cameras Denzil – one for hiking and the other for times when you don’t have to carry it all day!

          Liked by 2 people

  8. Great blog entry, Denzil; love the pictures and the story – next time I’ll have to react sooner; most things I wanted to say, have already been said 😉 Looking forward to the following stage 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  9. lucmajella

    I know that campsite in Vielsalm! I fully agree with you that it’s not a place to recommend if you plan on staying overnight in one of their caravans. They all look crappy and derelict. I can only hope you got it cheap.
    I stayed there twice, but fortunately I had my own tent.
    Keep on walking. Following a GR route is seeing the region change at a slow pace. It’s the best way to empty your head, to get new ideas and to appreciate life and the beauty of it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, I had one of the crappy and derelict caravans! It wasn’t particularly cheap: 30 EUR. Yes I agree with your comment about walking, emptying your head, relaxing etc. I enjoy reading your website too: http://www.lumaj.be Full of lovely photos and great info!

      Like

  10. Pingback: GR 571 Stage 5: Vielsalm to Gouvy – Discovering Belgium

  11. Hi, Denzil, we walked this stage last Friday, the first warm spring day of 2017 and found it wonderful. Great to see the similarities between our pictures 🙂 I will refer to your account in mine. Regards!

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Pingback: GR 571 Trois-Ponts – Vielsalm | guidowke's wandelblog

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