When we went to the Ardennes for the weekend I seriously considered not taking our bikes. The forecast was wet and windy, the landscape promised excellent walking, the old dog doesn’t keep up with the bikes any more.……….
But somehow I just threw the bikes onto the rack – you know, just in case. Just in case it was further than we thought to the boulangerie for bread and croissants. Maybe we would want to go to a restaurant a bit further away and we certainly didn’t want to be driving around once we got there.
But when we went out for our very first walk I found a bike route sign just 50 metres from the front door which in turn seemed to link up with a wider network in the valley of the Warche and around the Chateau Reinhardstein. I had only brought the multi-purpose bike that I primarily use for cycling to work but its fat tyres cope perfectly well with all the forest and farm tracks where we live so it looked as if it would cope with these tracks which were mostly wide and well made, if a bit muddy.
So with the few items of cycling gear that just mysteriously just seemed to have made their way into my bag for this non cycling weekend (how does that happen?) I concluded that it would be rude to ignore the efforts of the local community and not give their trails a test ride.
It was absolutely cracking riding. No narrow singletrack at any stage although one descent was rocky and steep enough that I decided to walk a section because I didn’t have quite the right bike setup and no helmet, but otherwise it was broad walking tracks with the occasional ford or narrow bridge thrown in. I am sure in summer the fords would be a mostly a quick splash, but after the recent rains the rocky stream beds looked a bit treacherous so I tended to go round most of them.
However there was considerable evidence that there were other groups around who weren’t taking the chicken run, the wheel tracks headed right into the water.
Lots of up and down, the tracks didn’t stick to either hill top or valley floor so there was plenty of climbing but all the bits I tried were rideable (just) and I soon clocked up 500 metres of ascent even in a short ride.
I had no idea these routes were there despite clicking on all the cycling activity buttons on the various tourist web sites for the area before we left. Even when I tried to look up the links to these trails I found it seemed almost impossible, they seem to be created and supported by the local Commune and don’t appear to be linked to anything else despite this being an important holiday area. And of course each commune uses its own map, design and signs.
That’s the frustration and the joy of Belgium, especially Wallonia. Wonderful terrain on every doorstep for cyclists and walkers. Great enjoyment on a route when or if you find it. But to hope that in some way it could be strategically marketed and made available to anybody not in the know seems a distant pipe dream.
So we wait to see what is just round the corner. And if it throws up lemons, we will make lemonade.