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3 walks on Mechelse Heide

Three walks through the Belgian National Park. Choose any one, or mix and match

In my last post, I described the five Gateways to the Hoge Kempen National Park, and I said I would explain some specific walks you can do, that start from a couple of the Gateways.

Today I bring you three walks that I have done starting from Gateway Mechelse Heide.

Walk 1: 5.5 km

2 hours – Follow the Yellow signs

This circular walk starts and ends at the Mechelse Heide car park. As with all these three walks, it’s well signposted. Just follow the yellow markers and you won’t get lost. Unless you’re colour blind, of course.

The first part is through mixed woodland of ash, silver birch and oak. This is a pleasant walk at any time of the year, but due to the mixed woodland it’s excellent in spring, when it’s particularly noisy. Not with yelling cyclists but with the songs of blackcaps, chiffchaffs, nuthatches, treecreeepers and numerous variety of tit (great, blue, coal, crested, long-tailed, willow) serenading you.

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Then you step out from the woods into heathland, and even if you were blindfolded you’d notice the difference immediately. Gone are the woodland birds, and in their place are the songs and calls of the birds of the open country: skylarks, linnets, whitethroats and stonechats.

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At this time of the year though (November) it’s great to experience the colours of autumn, in the leaves from the trees (now mostly on the ground after the weekend storm) and on the fronds of bracken on the heathland.

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Here’s the walk on RouteYou for you to download or print.

Walk 2 – 5.3 km

2 hours – Follow the Blue signs

If you have the energy and time, then you could do walk 1 in the morning and walk 2 in the afternoon. In between, for lunch, if you haven’t packed your jam butties, then at the Mechelse Heide car park you can pay a visit to the Salamanderke café, where you can get a wide variety of snacks, drinks and even full meals if you’re happy walking with a full stomach. They have a pleasant terrace to sit out on in dry weather, and a small playground area for young children.

The attraction of the blue walk is that you have a bit of a climb! It will take you to the dizzy height of 104 metres above sea-level! Not very high at all, of course, but it’s actually the highest natural point in the Hoge Kempen. And it’s high enough to give you some wonderful views. On a clear day you can see as far as Luik, Maastricht, and even into Germany.

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When I was last here, and taking it easy after the climb, I was delighted to hear one of my favourite birds – the grasshopper warbler. I didn’t see it. In fact I’ve never seen a grasshopper warbler. This doesn’t point to my lack of skills as a birdwatcher. It’s just because it’s a tiny bird and it’s so reclusive. It loves nothing better than to skulk at the bottom of gorse bushes, keeping its head down. However, you can hear its “song” up to a kilometre away. I say “song” instead of song, because it sings a most unusual, continuous “song,” with no melody, tune, rhythm or anything remotely musical. It’s been been likened to the rewinding of a fishing reel. Once heard; never forgotten. Here it is so you know what to listen out for next spring and summer.

Here’s the walk on RouteYou for you to download or print.

Walk 3 –  12 km

3-4 hours – Follow Green, then Brown and then Blue signs

If you had an early and quick lunch after doing walk 1 or 2, you could probably fit this one in too. But you may like to take your time and just do this one. There’s plenty of nice places to sit down and just enjoy the lovely countryside, so you could easily take most of the day on this walk.

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Basically you head directly south, first along the green path and then the brown connecting path which will take you under the E314 to the marshy Kikbeekbron area. Here, in the spring, squadrons of dragonflies zoom over the ponds, dropping their egg-bombs into the water.

The route then circles a large and scenic expanse of water; the remains of an old gravel-digging industry.

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In the spring, watch out for sand martins, which nest in the steep sides of the quarry. And on your way back, check out the oak woods around the camping site for pied flycatchers and redstarts.hoge-kempen-15

Here’s the route on RouteYou for you to download or print.

So there you are. Three for the price of one! Actually, as there’s no cost involved to visit the Hoge Kempen National Park, it’s three for free!

I hope you can find time to visit this lovely area for walking and cycling. I still have one more post to write on this place: a 25 km day’s hike that I recently did, starting from Gateway Station As. See you again soon.

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21 replies »

  1. Lovely report. Wow, I have never actually been there (all around but never in); your knowledge of birds and their songs is amazing; ever followed a course? You should teach me one day 😉 Kind regards, Guido.

    • It’s rare that I have been somewhere in Belgium that you haven’t, Guido! It’s usually me that’s stalking you. No, I never followed a course. I had two LPs as a young boy: Bird Sounds in Close-Up Volumes 1 and 2, and used to listen to them endlessly so I could identify their calls and songs firstly in the garden and in the nearby woods and fields. Thankfully they have stuck in my memory … while many other things are steadily leaking out!

  2. Three lovely walks Denzil, all accompanied by birdsong, what could be better? I had a listen to your grasshopper warbler and if I didn’t know it was a bird then I would have assumed it to be some kind of insect like a cricket. I wonder if we get them here in England? Your first two walks are reminiscent of the Surrey / West Sussex downs where I used to love to walk when I lived close by. http://wp.me/pL5Ms-11o

    • Looking at your post Jude, there definitely is a similarity with the Downs. Yes, grasshopper warblers occur throughout England in the right kind of habitat (scrub, heath, open parkland … yes, maybe even the Surrey/Sussex Downs! So next time you hear a loud insect, it just might not be cricket!

  3. Gorgeous walks. I do love the bird call. That would be a good one to play and lie down and have a nap in the shade. The birds here in Australia are calling back. 🙂

  4. Tremendously helpful post, thank you. Our family is planning a trip to Belgium next year in late spring/early summer, so I will surely try to see if we can identify this most curious grasshopper warbler. While the video was playing, my dog’s ears were moving like “radars” because of the unusual sound!

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