The coronavirus has shut down schools in Belgium. Many parents will therefore be taking time off work in the next few weeks to look after their children. But although the country is under lockdown; the countryside is not. At least for the time being. Here are 15 child-friendly walks in Belgium.
Coronavirus and outdoor playgrounds
Currently, in Belgium, we have not been banned or dissuaded from visiting outdoor children’s playgrounds and play areas. However, I can fully understand concerns that parents have. You have no idea who’s been using them minutes or hours previously. It’s not possible to clean every surface that a child is likely to touch before they start playing on a swing or slide. Nor to clean their hands every time they come off a particular activity. Other options include wearing gloves that can then be disposed of or washed. But avoidance of playgrounds is understandably going to be seen to be a safer strategy for many parents.
At the same time, exercise for children is vital. It helps improve the immune system, for one thing. Keeping children indoors all day and every day can also lead to its own physical and emotional challenges – for parents too! So there’s a balance here, which will come down to every parent’s individual discretion.
For those parents (and grandchildren) looking for somewhere to take their children and grandchildren to a hopefully safe outdoors environment, I therefore list 15 child-friendly country walks in Belgium. Some of them include children’s play areas in woods and forests. These are all pretty remote and little used, but you will have to decide for yourself whether to use or avoid these.
First, a few general tips on walking with children in the countryside …
Introduce a goal
Children are not always keen just to “go a walk in the countryside.” They might think it sounds boring. One way around this is to introduce a goal or an objective. Walk to a waterfall and back. Stroll to the next village and buy an ice-cream. Go into the woods to have a picnic. Walk to their friends’ house (instead of taking the car).
Include an activity
In a previous post I describe 12 ways to make a country walk fun for children. Many of these involve an activity. For example:
- Collect leaves to take home and make a collage.
- How many different types of farm animal can you see on the walk?
- Collect nuts and fir cones and paint them at home.
- Take photos of as many different types of agricultural machinery you can see.
- Collect some interesting stones, wash and display them on a table.
Shorter is often better than longer
Don’t be too ambitious. It’s better if they complain that the walk was too short than too long. Put the bar low. Aim for quality over quantity.
“Are we there yet?” requires an answer, but “No! Still a long way to go!” is probably not the most motivating answer. Keep them informed. Let them track the distance on their phones, for example. It’s always good that they know they are a quarter of the way there, or halfway.
Take plenty of breaks
Depending on the age of the children, you could agree to a break every 20 or 30 minutes. This will give them something to look forward to, will break up the day, and give everyone an opportunity to …
Enjoy a drink and a snack
A hungry, thirsty child is not a good idea! Every stop, make sure they are well hydrated. So take plenty of water. A healthy snack, fruit, nuts, a bar of chocolate can all help to rejuvenate flagging energy levels and spirits.
Take the right gear
Depending on the distance and weather, make sure the child is wearing the right clothes, coat, shoes, hat, gloves, suntan lotion etc. A child who feels too hot or cold will not be a happy child.
So, with these useful tips under the belt, where to go in Belgium for a walk with the kids? Here are some ideas. During the current coronavirus scare, I have not listed walks in towns or cities, or in other areas that are likely to be busy.
The first few are for younger children. Many of these are suitable for buggies and strollers. Towards the end of the list the walks are more for older children.
Also known as ‘De Plas van Rotselaar’ (the lake of Rotselaar), walking around the lake will take about an hour. There are plenty of picnic benches on the way.
Child- and buggy-friendly walk through the woods.
Het Vinne is Flanders’ largest natural lake. You can walk right around it. Children can explore the area on footpaths, and watch the birds from the observation huts.
5 km. Ideal for buggies. Lots of hills to explore.
A short 2 km walk with some great views over the Meuse river. Can be extended for older children.
A 6 km walk through the fields and forests in which you come face to face with all sorts of mythical creatures!
This is a great area for a forest walk and a picnic. There are numerous places you can start from, and a whole network of paths through the forest. This one might appeal to older children.
Once you are away from the towns (recommended in these coronavirus weeks) then walking through the dunes and along the beaches of the Belgian coast can be most exhilarating and fun. Moreover, thanks to the coastal tram, you don’t have to walk back the way you came. You can simply walk for as far as you want to and then catch the tram back to your starting point.
This quiet fishing village on the Schelde is actually in the Netherlands, not Belgium. You can park in the centre and walk along the coastal path to the lighthouse.
Plenty of walks, wooden sculptures for children to identify, and some areas are set aside as forest play areas for children.
Loads of walks, many of them suitable for buggies.
A 4 km circular walk starting from the centre of the village of Lubbeek. Includes a nice woodland play area with ropes, tunnels, climbing frames and picnic benches. And some curly-headed black sheep!
There are five entry points and a whole network of footpaths, so you have a high chance of walking away from any crowds.
More suitable for older children, the East Cantons of Belgium are ideal for a full day out in the wilds. A good place to start could be on the footpaths of the Fagne de la Poûleur
The Valley of the Ninglinspo is classified as an exceptional area of natural heritage. It’s well worth exploring with children who will probably see it as quite an adventure as they climb up the river valley.
Obviously these are just a personal choice. There are many more all over the country. Another valuable resource is AllTrails. If you would like a suggestion of a child-friendly walk in a particular area, just drop me a line and I will try to find one.
During this challenging days and weeks ahead, when schools are shut, I wish all parents great wisdom in working out what’s best for your children. As parents of four ourselves – and now grandparents of two – Liz and I know all too well that parenting isn’t easy in the best of times. And March 2020, wherever you are in the world, is not the best of times.