Thorn to Turnhout

Distance: 86.13km
Time: 4hrs 9 minutes
Average speed : 20.7 km/h
Total distance: 503.71km

grimacing and wincing — alpaca and a kangaroo — is it straight on? — hairy caterpillars

Thorn was a lovely village, known as ‘the white village’ because of all the white houses. It was really buzzing when we arrived, lots of people sitting in the sunshine enjoying a coffee or a beer. After we’d enjoyed a long relaxing bath, we headed down to the hotel’s restaurant and enjoyed some specialities of this Limburg region, and a bottle of locally-produced Dornfelder red wine.

It was quite overcast when we got up this morning, which was no bad thing, we’d both caught the sun a bit yesterday during the afternoon. After breakfast we loaded up, took some pictures of the town, and then prepared to set off. We were both feeling a bit saddle-sore after yesterday’s many kilometres on the flat, so it was with a fair amount of grimacing and wincing that we left the village, down a cobbled road, of course (ouch!).

We were soon up to warp speed, though, and stopped after an hour for a drink to find we’d already covered 20km. It was perfect cycling weather, cool enough, with very little discernible wind. We were mostly cycling through crops, including some weird frondy dark green stuff we eventually realised was asparagus – it must be in its ‘growing’ phase now, although there were a few spears visible still.

We also cycled past a field with a sign saying ‘Alpaca and Kangeroos’. It was full of alpaca, and even one lonely-looking kangaroo, very surreal in the Belgian countryside!

We joined the canal, and started what must have been 40km of canal-side riding for the day. It made the navigating very easy:

Clare: Node 201 is in 100 metres, and the next node will be 220…
Jonathan: No, don’t tell me, let me guess, is it straight on?

We were keeping up a great pace, with our average for the day creeping up nicely. We’ve done loads of turbo-training in the last eighteen months, on solo bikes attached to a sort of rolling system so you can cycle statically in the house without going anywhere. It was really to try to maintain fitness over the winter months when the weather is horrid, but it’s turned out to be great training for flat kilometres next to canals.

After 60km we stopped for lunch in Postel, and the Captain ordered the very local beer (see ‘Halle to Tienen’, not going to make that mistake again!), and pronounced it very good indeed. After a lunch of Croque Monsieur for the Captain and a Belgian Waffle with strawberries and cream for the rear motive unit, it was back to the canal-side with a bit more grimacing and wincing at the restart. This was actually a different canal, calling itself the Turnhout Dessel canal, which was encouraging as Turnhout was our destination. It was lovely, very wide and still, and lined with tall trees, looked like oak or some relation.

We stopped with 16km to go, which probably sounds strangely random, but if you convert it to miles, you’ll see that it’s the psychologically important ’10 miles to go’ mark. There was a sign next to the bench we were sitting on, with pictures of huge numbers of hairy caterpillars swarming up a tree trunk, and the nasty skin irritation you could expect if you went near them. As we cycled on, we saw a few small nests of caterpillars on the trunks of the canal-side trees. Having looked them up later, the sign was referring to the caterpillars of the oak processionary moth, which are terrible destructive to oak trees. Apparently the infestation in Belgium was so bad that the Belgian army were brought in to deal with it! It looked like they had it all well under control now, though.

We finally left the canal side for Turnhout, and entered the town next to the castle. It was very impressive, it even had a moat with various interesting modern sculptures in it. We stopped to take some pictures, and got into conversation with a Belgian couple out for a day ride. They had a little card of the node numbers for their route, just like ours, and told us they also had a tandem.

So we’re comfortably settled in at Turnhout now, after an initial kerfuffle about where to store the tandem. It was awarded its own room in the end – if we check out tomorrow to find it’s been ordering expensive drinks on room service, there’ll be trouble…

Here’s today’s track:

Thorn to Turnhout