Close to where I live there is just one cross country cycle leisure route that mimics the best farmland routes that I found on my recent tour in Flanders.
From the Ottignies suburb of Mousty there is a former farm track that has now been covered by a perfectly smooth surface to make a car free cycle route, signposted to our town of Lasne, seven kilometres away.
It runs up across the open farmland with wide open views that I thoroughly enjoy, especially on these late summer evenings when the sun is low and yellow.
After winding through a few cottages we come to a small valley.
For some unimaginable reason the planners decided to go straight down, so steeply that they then had to insert barriers which theoretically might stop unsuspecting cyclists shooting out without warning onto a Route Nationale (main road) at the bottom.
However as there is no indication that the RN is there, why would you stop? Assuming that you can ride down at all. I will just about ride down it on a day when the path is clear and dry. Which isn’t very often, because it is tree lined and usually covered in leaves or damp, so I have to walk.
From the bottom looking up it is just possible to believe that the barriers are there to aid pedestrians in fixing their climbing ropes before tackling the ascent. It certainly isn’t rideable except for the most competent of mountain bikers.
So at some point, somewhere, somebody thought it was a good idea to make a cycle route from a slippery descent with tricky chicanes and a blind entrance onto a main road. Even when they had an alternative which could take about an additional kilometre and connect to the rest of their network, actually bypassing the valley completely.
Given that the commune of Ottignies Louvain-la-Neuve is actually one of the more cycle friendly municipalities round here I say it again “what were they thinking?”
Oh my. Can I say again – I am so over snow.
Woke up this morning to almost the worst possible scenario for a road ride – snow and sleet beginning to lie on the fields. The road outside looks clear of ice, but it is soaking wet.
I am not free again on Sunday again for several weeks and after all the psyching up of yesterday there is no way I was going to back down from my first Belgian club ride unless it was truly unrideable so I put on my thickest winter layers including the neoprene overshoes and set off.
Unfortunately the prospect of a soggy cold day had a much bigger deterrent effect of the rest of the club because there were a grand total of two other riders out. I was assured that I was “unlucky” because there are usually up to twenty riders per group.
However no-nonsense Philippe was waiting for nobody and set off bang on 9.30. I was told this was planned to be a ride of around 55kmph at a speed of around 25kmph. Amazingly despite the conditions and the newcomer he delivered me back to the start point at exactly that time, just by riding at a well paced and constant effort throughout the whole ride, regardless of which of the other two of us was riding beside him.
What should I say? By all normal standards it should have been horrible. The sleet never stopped, stinging our faces on the downhills. The roads were awash and the minor roads were covered in mud and grit. From following Philippe’s wheel a few times I am afraid I will be getting the grit out of my teeth and eyes for the rest of the week. The bike looked like a mountain bike when I got back.
But inevitably I loved it. The roads were almost car free, a combination of the foul weather and the fact that there is almost no Sunday shopping in Belgium (yippee!). It made a great cycling route with the knowledge of a local guide and every road was new. We stayed away from the steep sided valleys nearer where I live so it was all rolling farmland which made the pace about right for me, no need to worry about saving something for climbing. In fact with the open fields, strong cold easterly wind and lack of hedgerows it could almost have been my native East Anglia except that the architecture of the farms and small towns and villages was unmistakably Wallon Brabant. The villages themselves just about managed to look attractive and well kept under the grey skies although I cannot say that for the road surfaces which were potholed and badly broken.
For the record: From Ottignies to Saint-Géry, Chastre, Walhain, Tourinnes St. Lambert, Nil St Martin and Corry Le Grand, my first Belgian club run.
I haven’t done that for nearly nine months. Boy I missed it.
Thank you Club Cyclotouriste D’Ottignies. I’ll be back.