Time: 5hrs 9 minutes
Average speed : 17.5 km/h
Total distance: 417.58km
vertiginous ascent — into Holland — back to Belgium — wait, we’re in Holland now, aren’t we? — no, I’m sure this is Belgium — lovely Thorn
Today was the sort of day you dream about on these trips. Admittedly, writing the blog after a couple of beers on the sun-kissed terrace of our very fine hotel here in Thorn may have imparted a rosy glow to all proceedings, but it was still a brilliant day!
We enjoyed our night in Liege. We expected cultural differences over the border into Wallonia, but it was more French than France! Everything changed at the border – language; demeanour; style; food – it is quite remarkable that these two such disparate regions form a nation. Still, who were we to complain when we could sample the best of French cuisine for an evening. So sample it we did, in “Maison Leblanc”, an excellent restaurant in the heart of the old town. As usual after the exertions of the day we flagged somewhat after eating, but made it back to the hotel for a restful night.
The hotel staff , by the way, didn’t so much as blink an eyelid when we wheeled our filthy, mud-caked tandem into their “left luggage” room for the night!
It was still overcast when we awoke, but the chances of rain seemed to have receded, and after a hearty breakfast we wheeled our disreputable-looking tandem back out of the hotel onto the cobbled streets of Liege. The traffic was light compared to the rush-hour horrors of the previous evening, and we were soon onto the long steady climb out of town. This was easier than we had feared – steep-ish but mostly uncobbled, and soon accomplished. In three quarters of an hour we were out of the city and back onto the Fietsroute network.
On our French “End to End” trip (see blogs passim!) we were really impressed with the French “Voie Vertes” – the green routes through parts of France designed for cyclists and pedestrians. Well the Fietsroute network is similar, but on a massive scale. Imagine the difficulties one might encounter in proposing a bill in Parliament to introduce an intricate network of (usually metalled) tracks for cyclists covering the whole of the country, funded by taxes. Well the Belgians have done it, and it is fantastic. Of the 417.58 kilometres we have cycled so far (yes, I checked!) about 90% has been on dedicated cycle tracks. A further 5% has been on quiet roads shared with other traffic, leaving the other, er, 5% on regular roads. So we have been able to cycle along untroubled by cars, and they in turn haven’t had to share their roads with us.
Anyway, back to today! On rejoining the node network near Juprelle we started a steady descent towards the valley of the Meuse, crossing the Albert Canal to reach the side of the river itself, which flowed in swirling angry-looking currents between the Belgian and the Dutch banks. We were clearly still in Wallonia, as all the signs were in French, and the cycling was idyllic – largely flat, and with striking views over the river. At some point (it wasn’t really clear) we entered the Netherlands, and approached the outskirts of Maastricht.
Neither of us had really noticed when planning the route that we were passing through the historic centre of Maastricht, but we were glad to do so – it is a strikingly beautiful town centre and the cycle paths took us straight through the middle. If it hadn’t been too early we would definitely have stopped there for lunch – there were some very tempting looking riverside cafės. Resisting, we cycled on in the improving weather, by the side of the Meuse (or Maas, if you prefer) until we crossed over into the Belgian town of Maasmechelen for a spot of lunch. We found a cafe called t’Hoekske with a sunny terrace. All the cafės nearby seemed to be called t’Something, it was just like being back in Yorkshire! Anyway, the slow but friendly service (and some fantastic dark bread) allowed for some recuperation before setting off again.
We got some serious speed up after lunch. Well it was speedy if you take into account the heavy tandem and the heavy panniers. We may have overtaken some senior citizens. More idyllic river-side tracks took us steadily northward, remaining on the Belgian side of the border until a few kilometres from our destination.
We duly arrived at Thorn, just inside the Netherlands, a lovely town of cobbled streets and white buildings surrounding a church. The proprietor of the Logis Hotel Crasborn took one look at our scruffy tandem and offered the use of his hosepipe! In fact he wielded it himself with great enthusiasm, while the Captain wiped the tandem clear of the Flanders mud from two days ago. We decided to thank him by drinking his beer on the terrace outside the hotel, in the bright sunshine that arrived by the end of the afternoon.
Tomorrow we head west. Our destination is the town of Turnhout.
Here’s today’s track: