I have enjoyed walking along many river valleys in the Belgian Ardennes, but I have to admit that the Valley of the Hoëgne is the prettiest I have found so far.
I know that we’re simply talking about a load of rainwater falling onto the High Fens at 660 metres above altitude, finding its way into the River Hoëgne, and then dropping 280 metres in height over a distance of a few kilometres. But this is a river with a difference!
So what makes it so interesting?
In the way are some obstacles. Thousands of them.
Big ones, little ones. Vertical ones, horizontal ones. Formed up in parallel, arranged in series. Put there as if by some giant who was determined to stop the river in its tracks.
But you know what’s going to win when water faces rock. The Hoëgne has no intention of being stopped. It goes over the boulders and under them. It bores holes through them. It neatly sidesteps them, leaving them dry and untouched. And has the audacity to laugh out loud as it heads downstream.
All of this creates a lot of something else.
This is no silent valley. You won’t hear the high-pitched squeals of shrews in the undergrowth. This is not the place to listen to the dainty melody of the willow warbler, or the sweet-nothings of your partner.
You hear it from a distance, it pulls you towards it like a magnet, and then it assails you on all sides and won’t let you go. The noise of litres and litres of water falling, splashing, plopping, splattering, spraying, sploshing and gurgling.
There’s something else that makes this valley so magical.
Everywhere you look, there’s lots of green: moss, lichens, ferns, grass, flowers …
At some points, the leaves of the trees are bending and touching the water.
In other places, the trees seem to be growing out of the river itself.
All of this creates a green and verdant valley; the Garden of Eden in Wallonia.
And there’s still more.
The human touch
Thankfully, the Valley of the Hoëgne has been well tended over the years. Léonard Legras, who lived at Sart, was one of the first promoters of the trail through the valley in the early 19th century. Look carefully and you’ll find a plaque in his memory.
Amazingly, the human touch adds to the beauty of the place. A dozen or so delightful and aesthetically pleasing wooden bridges criss-cross the river.
Wooden footpaths help you keep your footing on the slippy bits.
Handrails, smoothly sanded by the hands of millions of visitors, keep you and your children safe. A picnic area with a shelter and benches is provided about two-thirds along the route.
So what are you waiting for?
Cancel that trip to Paris. Postpone that shopping excursion. Turn a blind eye to those garden weeds. Put that clear-out of the attic on hold.
Go to the Valley of the Hoëgne. Go there. Now. Today. Next week. Next month.
But go there!
It’s not accessible by public transport. Enter “Roquez 49, 4845 Jalhay-Sart” into your car’s GPS. The starting point is Pont de Belleheid. You’ll have to park your car in the car park that’s reached by driving over the river. Yes, you literally drive through it – fording it, not passing over a bridge. When I was there it was very shallow, so hopefully it will be when you visit. The route starts at the far end of the car park:
You can’t get lost. Simply follow the abundant blue cross markers upstream.
At the end of the trail you will come out into an open expanse (another good picnic area!) and see the Bridge of Centenaire, which was built in 1930 to mark Belgium’s 100th birthday:
It’s then time to go back, but you don’t simply retrace your steps. You turn left on a wooden path, and follow the blue cross signs which will take you up the side of the valley, looking down onto the river below. There is a small lookout point with a shelter, from where you can get splendid views of the valley.
Finally, the path meanders down the valley and back to the river, and you retrace your steps to the car park. Altogether it’s 10 km.
Thanks to the handrails and the moderate distance, I recommend it for older children (e.g. 7+).
To download the route, go to my RouteYou space.
For you Pinteresting folk, here’s a pin: