After all the “excitement” of the previous evening, my second day of my walking weekend in the Ardennes started out well, with a copious and tasty breakfast at B&B Les Gabelous, after which Ben, my host, gave me a lift into Nismes to pick up my abandoned car.
Knowing I had an early start and a full day ahead of me, I had already selected an interesting 30 km walk starting from the village of Virelles near Chimay, circling the Lake of Virelles, going into Bois Robert, and dropping into the village of Lompret.
There was one problem though …
Rain, and the forecast of more!
As I drove to my starting point, the rain gradually increased in intensity from a light drizzle to a steady downpour. I parked and switched off the windscreen wipers, and soon I couldn’t see anything out of the window.
What to do? I wasn’t sure I really fancied walking 30 km in this weather. But what were the alternatives?
Shopping? No way. For me, the ideal shopping experience is choosing something online and having it delivered to the house.
Museums? I’m not a lover of museums. There’s something about the air in museums combined with long and boring descriptions of whatever is on display that sends me to sleep on the third exhibit.
Internet café? I’m here to get away from the computer, not spend a day on it.
No, there was no alternative!
So I got my waterproofs out and put them on in the car, which meant doing more gymnastics in ten minutes than I’ve done in my whole life. I zipped and buttoned everything up that could possibly be zipped and buttoned up, and stepped out of the car.
Within seconds, the thought of a nice warm internet café or a museum shop suddenly seemed extremely attractive.
But, knowing that my Discovering Belgium readers would think I was a real coward for chickening out, I set off.
If you’ve come here expecting some beautiful photos of the Virelles landscape, you’re going to be disappointed. Generally I kept my camera hidden away in a dry pocket, but I did get it out a few times to give you a sense of the joy I was experiencing.
However, I did see something spectacular!
While deep in Bois Robert, I came across a clearing in the forest where the grass looked like it had been churned up by a tractor and plough.
Going closer, I could see little piggy footprints and little piggy snout marks.
I have never seen wild boar, although I know they are found in the forests of the Ardennes. I also know that during the day they generally hide up in the undergrowth and avoid people. However, I wondered, on a day like today, when the whole of Bois Forest is totally human-free (apart from idiot me), would they feel it was safe to come out and have a little forage?
In the photo you can probably make out a bench. As it was lunchtime I sat down on it and quietly ate my packed (and very quickly soggy) lunch, while keeping an eye open for any boar who could have been attracted by the smell of my cheese and tomato sandwiches.
No such luck, but about half an hour later, to my immense surprise and pleasure, an adult wild boar and two juveniles suddenly appeared from the bracken to my left. The adult saw me, gave a grunt and disappeared back into the bracken, quickly followed by the two little boarlets.
I edged along the path, stopped where they had disappeared, and stared into the thick bracken, camera at the ready.
From the depths of the undergrowth, a very loud and low grunt resounded!
I became very aware of three things:
(a) Wild boar are generally harmless unless they feel their young are threatened, when they can charge. Yikes!
(b) I had just seen an adult with two young. Double yikes!
(c) I was very alone in the middle of a deserted forest, and the only thing between me and a potentially charging wild boar was a Panasonic compact camera.
A bit later, I came up with a haiku to explain “what happened next”:
For the rest of the day, the rain continued to fall, the sun never appeared once, and I ended up cutting a few kms off my route. But the sight of those three wild boar made it a day I would never forget.
Overnight in an “eco cabin”
Some of you might be looking at this and thinking that your garden shed is bigger. It probably is. This was the eco-cabin that I had booked for the night. It has electricity, but no WiFi. It has a dry toilet. It has no running cold or hot water, but a tap a few meters away for drinking water. It has no sink or washbasin, but around the back is a “shower” which involves filling up a watering can from the (cold) tap, standing on a step, and lodging the watering can on a frame above your head, from whence the water apparently trickles down to give you a shower. (Having spent all day getting wet, this contraption didn’t really appeal to me).
Why had I chosen this overnight accommodation?
I wanted to see the stars! I wanted to be out in the countryside, far from city and streetlights for once, and gaze up at the myriads of stars on a clear summer’s night!
Unfortunately … yes, you’ve guessed right. Although the rain stopped, the clouds remained. There was not a single star to be seen.
The hostess Michele who runs the farm on which the cabin stands, was very friendly and hospitable, providing a warm evening meal, with the promise of a breakfast and packed lunch for the morrow, which surely can’t be as wet as today. Can it?
This is the original route on RouteYou that I used (thanks to Roadhunter), but as I say, I didn’t complete it all, but shortened it by about 5 km.