I’ve been out of serous walking action for a few weeks with an injured back, which is why you haven’t heard from me for a while. By the way, I injured it lifting wooden pallets to make an insect hotel in the garden. Try explaining that in Flemish to the doctor!
This walk starts and ends in the rural village of Bierbeek, south of Leuven. There’s a good bus connection (De Lijn no.8) from Leuven to Bierbeek every 30 minutes. If you arrive by car you can park by the church, from where the walk starts.
Arriving at the church, I was half expecting red noses on the gargoyles, jokes on the noticeboard, and whoopee cushions on the pews.
After all, this is the church of St. Hilarius!
But despite his name, St. Hilarius is not the patron saint of humour. He was actually a native of Sardinia and Pope of Rome from 461 to 468. And as his papacy was characterised by disputes, hilarity was definitely far from his thoughts.
The well-signposted circular 8 km walk that starts from the church is called the Schavaaipad. I first completed the walk last autumn, and was immediately waylaid by a splendid walnut tree that overhung the footpath and which provided an early snack, and a bag of tasty walnuts to take home.
Through the fields
The first half takes you through fertile fields full of sugar beet, maize, wheat and barley.
A local farmer proved unusually talkative; normally I find farmers to be the most uncommunicative of country dwellers. His main concern was to make me aware of the presence of the Flemish-French language border that dissects the walk. From what he was saying, I think he would have preferred the route to stay within the bounds of Flanders rather than extending into “foreign” fields.
The normal farmland birds are present, with good numbers of partridge and yellowhammers. Listen out for the “song” of the corn bunting, which has been described as the rattle of a bunch of keys!
Into the forest
After briefly crossing into Wallonia and back, the walk takes you into Mollendaal Forest.
It’s a good place to take the children; there are two children’s play areas, interesting wooden sculptures to marvel at, and quite a few picnic benches.
Given a sunny day, the walk is a particularly good one for brushing up your knowledge of butterflies. Orange tips, brimstones and peacocks might be easy to identify, but what is that brown butterfly? A meadow brown, a gatekeeper, a wall brown, a ringlet or a fritillary? Now might be the time to take a photo and look it up on the internet!
Cool for Kids
The walk through the Mollendaal Forest is used by local horse riders. Be brave and take a closer look at the ground where the horses have left their dung. You might see dozens of big, round shiny black beetles, called dung beetles.
Watch them as they carve up the horse dung into spherical balls and roll them away. No, they are not playing marbles; they are burying them as food stores. The dung beetle enjoyed sacred status in ancient Egypt as the scarab beetle, which appears in hieroglyphic images in tombs.
It’s a very pleasant walk for a weekend afternoon. Here is the map of the route on RouteYou.