GR-12 Belgian track Bruxelles-Rocroi 2005/6

Below my personal account on walking down GR-12 from Brussels (Belgian Capital Region) to Montcornet (past Rocroi) in the French Ardennes split over 2 holidays: Brussels-Charleroi in 2005 and Charleroi-Montcornet in 2006.

Day 1.1 – Monday 2nd May 2005

35 km – Uccle to les 8 Drèves (Bois du Chaptire)

Absolutely strange to start an expedition from your own home-town. My wife Shanshan dropped me off by car near the Terkameren park, so I walked down Brussel’s classy Uccle-district – passing the KMI observatory (headquarters of Belgian’s meteorological institute) – to railway stop Calevoet where I joined the GR12.

The first part of the journey leads you along the Zenne in between the Zoniën-forest and is actually rather spectacular right from the beginning, with a lot of variation going through forests, nice neighborhoods, agricultural areas and even people’s private backyards (due to “right of passage” they are not allowed to block this age-old path). Beersel castle looked impressive, and is definitely one of the grandest of all castles to follow on the Belgian trail, I should really once spend ½ day or so in future to pay it a thorough visit, and eat in its attractive restaurant. Somehow I managed to get lost near Huizingen, but luckily I recovered the track in Dworp, suppose I got completely lost on my first day already !!! Going straight through some more private properties near "Ermite", I penetrated Hallerbos, which in this time of the year turned blue with carpet of little flowers. Once past Hallerbos I met an elderly men in front of Moulin "Le Hain" in Brain-Le-Chateau, who presented himself as on of the authentic painters of the GR-signs in the region. Turned out I was one of the early travelers this year, anyhow we had a nice chat for about an hour, meeting people of all sorts is always the greatest fun during trekking. Going through the Bois de Chapitre I actually already experience a rough time, with the muddy road, heady backpack and so on, and I guess because I know this area, I underestimated the distances, as everything still looked familiar. Further down I camped quietly in the open field, funnily enough I often used to come here during the weekends to walk (but then I drive here by car).

Gare "Calevoet" in Uccle

Brussels cows?

Day 1.2 – Tuesday 3rd May 2005

23 km – In the shadow “de la tour du plan incliné"

Horror, rain-pain-mud, I don’t know somehow things didn’t turn out that pleasantly. Keanu – my dog who keeps my company – kept heavily pulling his lead, tipping me over several times, carrying a backpack over 20 kilograms. Other than that sites as still great & spectacular, especially the Bois De Houssière is colossal and relatively unknown. Along the way I had a nice chat with an 80-year old lady, on the road I experienced 2 heavy showers, at one point even sheltering under a “parasol” in someone’s backyard. Tired but satisfied I landed in some weird hole in the shadow of Ronquière, a concrete square surrounded by barbed wire and curious horses. But it wasn’t too bad, anyhow it kept raining, and in the plain open, I had to find a place to shelter. Ronquière itself was interesting too, some kind of elevator to lift boats on the canal Brussels-Chareloi up for 68 meters. Near the tent there was some huge valve displaying V17, hopefully this area wasn’t destined to be flooded or something, but I was too tired to care. Compared to previous trips, this time I took lots of things for varied cooking – this evening tuna with Tabasco and tagliatelli, and really, if you eat well during and after walking, it makes the holiday even more pleasant. So anyone choosing to be on soldier-rations instead, you can have it …

Day 1.3 – Wednesday 4th May 2005

19 km – there goes my idea of walking 35 km/day

Drizzle kept us in tent until 10:30, during this time my dog Keanu got scared to death by 2 geese who casually walked in. Then we got finally going, you keep following the Samme, passing Arquennes, Seneffe, and it’s really green-green-green. You’ll also find small “écluses” (water-gates) which apparently have been build during Napoleonic times, and each “écluse” has a house next to it, with people still living in it. One sign read “eaux” and indeed the inhabitants were so kind to fill my bottle, but actually it was from times long gone when ships were still passing the canal (now they go via the new waterway). A bit further I greeted a old cap with a Setca cap who kept on talked about “Germans in castle” during WOII as if it was yesterday. In Seneffe I had to keep halt to buy some compresses and Hibidil to disinfect my wounded heels who were going to torture me the entire trip, I don’t know what I did wrong, but I just bought new walking shoes and it was everywhere extremely wet. Later on the 2nd part of the trip I used the Scarpa-shoes, and that time they served me excellently. After Seneffe I went south-east and near “Le Plan Vert” I navigated through some continental jungle to end up on top of a hill, looking down on the canal and Godarville. There I decided to halt for the day, with a great view on the canal below. During the evening a badger walked by, and later I even spotted a fox, so this small green patch turned out to be full with animal life, I even heard some weird trumpeting bird. While consuming some delicious Uncle Ben’s Mediterranean sauce & rice, we looked down to kayaks and riverboats, which silently passed by.

One of the ancient “écluse”

Where's that path gone ???

Atop “Le Plan Vert”

Day 1.4 – Thursday 5th May 2005

All over Chareroi-West

An important reason I made this trip, was to discover Charleroi's prettier side – I once met a French-speaking friend who always kept on claiming that Charleroi was strongly underrated – but unfortunately my prejudice jus got confirmed: It must be the ugliest place on earth. In addition the whole trail was messed up by some scoundrels, who destroyed all GR-markings, even mimicking the signs, to lead hikers on dangerous road or dead-ends. Instead walking trough forests & fields – which I thoroughly enjoy – I ended up tramping in the shadow of desolate terrils, which are leftovers when coal was still mined in this province. Bit weird, but lot of youngsters driving along in tuned cards, with girl dressed as if they were going to a party, this in sharp contrast with their shabby housing. Near the Château de la Marche we stopped, pity they wouldn’t let us camp near the castle – elsewhere were there are not so many hikers this is almost never a problem – but to me it’s symptomatic for the unfriendliness I feel from most people here. But as always we found a spot in a bush, I’d say if go the GR-12, expect this part to be bit of a disappointment. Then again some people might be interested in industrial archeology, there are a lot of factory-ruins around. Another surprise today was my dog biting through the carrier belt of my backpack. Instead of guarding my equipment while I was cooking along the way, he decided to sharpen his teeth. Luckily my 15-year old Lowe backpack is of supreme quality, and the 1/3 of the belt which was not cut, kept for the rest of the trip After the first part of the trip I got it repaired in “de Kampeerder” in Antwerp – where I bought this backpack originally – and now it’s as good as new again.

Château de la Marche

Day 1.5 – Friday 6th May 2005

Last day walking ...

... I did a lot of walking in the past – Scotland, Pyrenees, Alpes, France, etc … - but this short 5-day trip was not all that easy, probably I am well over thirty now, and I used to long-hike until I finished university. With a recent winter-trip through the Hautes-Fagnes (Vielsalm-Aachen) and now the GR12 I am taking up an old hobby again. On the road I spotted an peculiar boar in an old backyard, having sexual intercourse with an barrel, must be pretty lonely I though so. In Leerne my dog Keanu decided to sing-along with the church-bells, which greatly amused the priest on duty. I terminated walk-taking with another GR-fanatic, who insisted on buying me a beer in café la Terasse in Landelies. Great luxury my wife drove from Brussels, picking me up at the bridge, were I read my book in the sun, which decided to come out in the end after all. Once boarding the vehicle, I cast a look on the Sambre-river, which would be my starting point in Spring 2006.

Day 2.1 – Saturday 13th May 2006

18 km – Landelies (South-of-Charleroi) to Berzée

This year Shanshan was so kind to deposit me in Landelies, this time real walking weather, whereas I invested a lot of study bringing the weight of my backpack down to a comfortable 18 kilos. Also my dog carried his own backpack this time – which I bought a couple of months ago in REI’s outdoor store when visiting Seattle – so he took care of his own 5 kilos in food and his sleeping blanket. The rest of the trip really avoids major cities, this day I started at 12 o’clock, so I couldn’t walk that awfully far. Still I passed the Abbaye d’Aulne, Gozée, Trieu du Boix, le Bois de Marbaix and Ruisseau de la Forêt, Ham-sur-Heure next to the river “Eau d’Heure”. North of Berzée I camped in between some Christmas-trees to-be, normally I always find great camping sites – even in the wild – but on the first day I didn’t bother too much.

Gate near Abbaye d’Aulne

Castles galore

Berzée château & ferme

Day 2.2 – Sunday 14th May 2006

24 km – Berzée to Froidmont

Okay I consider 25 km/day fully packed and allowing some sight-seeing is a good walking average for this type of terrain. We left at 9 o’clock, and passed Pry, which seemed to be preparing for the battle of Waterloo, with all guys and kids wearing a Napoleon outfits and shooting ancient canons and riffles. Seems to be tradition of this region, anyhow the marching music – which you can hear miles around – makes you double your speed. Once past Walcourt – with is recognizable basilique – I accidentally ended up on the GR-125 heading South-West, which looked nice as well, but not exactly the road as planned, rather than walking back, I found some shortcuts to join the GR-12 again in Daussois. All these navigational exercises are a great fun part of following these trails, and loosing your way once-in-a-while is no shame, but part of the game. In Yves-Gomezee the sunshine decided coming through, ending a generally cloudy day, this town is really pretty with cute gardens and friendly people. This time I fell upon a great camping site past Froidmont in a sea of green and a spectacular view on Ferme de Froidmont. When camping “wild” water-supplies can be a real problem, as you can’t afford to carry more then 2 to 3 liters, but this time I got all bottles filled up, so I was completely self-sufficient. In places like Canada, this is the normal way to camp, but in Europe people sometimes believe you can’t do without hotels or camping-sites. Don’t let me laugh, with a trained eye you will always find yourself a place to call home for 1 night, but one of my most important principles, is never to leave any litter behind.

Intelligent gaze of Keanu & cows

Walcourt sky-line

Erotic garden ... must be some philosphy behind all this ...

Day 2.3 – Monday 15th May 2006

23 km – Philippeville – Samart – Sautour – Roly - Fagnolles

Wow exceptional walking weather, but the blue skies are often torn apart by F16 fighter jets somewhere stationed nearby. After Philippeville, you really stand at the gate of some great forests, but first I passed Sautour, Roly and Fagnolle (where you can find a really fresh water-well in the center of the village, I skipped the small fortress which you can visit there). Bit strange, but after Fagnolles, the GR ceased to be trail, rather you have find your way from sign to sign through fields full of highly-grown barley. Completely cut of the real world, I discovered a neat place to raise the tent not too far from the Royal Meteorological Institute in Dourbes. In the middle of the fields, someone put up a great wooden watch-tower, so you can have a great view on all the animal live in the evening.


Going somewhere ...

Day 2.4 – Tuesday 16th May 2006

20 km – Dourbes – Olloy Sur Viroi – Olignies-en-Thierarche – Moulin-Manteau (France)

In Olloy-sur-Viroin a bunch of crazy school-kids got into a fight of who could fill up my canisters with water. That was needed, because today it was a whole day trekking through fairy-tale-like forest, hardly meeting a living soul. The border-crossing at Moulin-Manteau turned out to be a complete non-event, all you noticed, were the car’s license plates tuning from white/red to yellow. I must say, people were exceptionally friendly, because unlike in Belgium, they were pointing me the way as soon as they noticed me looking around. Since I got through the forest in 1 single day, I decided to turn around and get back deep into the Bois Communaux, where I found an idyllic river to camp nearby. To get fresh I decided to jump into this river, boy was that water really cold !!! Overnight thunderstorms which might scare a lot of people, but really once you’ve grown used to, with a good tent on the right spot really nothing can happen, but in the forest you got to take additional care of wiggly trees and flying branches.

Dourbe's artificial Lourdes

Beautiful forest needing no comment ...

Day 2.5 – Wednesday 17th May 2006

22 km – Moutin-Manteau to Montcornet

The storm settled, and we were greeted with bright sunshine in the morning. Back on track we passed Bourg-Fidèle, but part of the road through Bois d’Harcy were made extremely difficult to walk by large forest-vehicles harvesting threes. When rounding the Lac des Vieilles Forges, it even felt bit like Canada, that rough, however the artificial beach at the north-side made you aware Europeans got to build something everywhere. Strange but so far we did not meet a single fellow hiker yet during the whole trip, maybe a combination of the season and the weather, plus this might perhaps not be a run-over part of the GR. At some point we meet 2 lady gendarmes harassing drivers on a forest road, and were obviously extremely amused to see my dog Keanu wearing his own backpack. After some forced marching I finally reached “Montcornet”, the destination of our voyage around 7 o’clock in the evening. A lady was so friendly to offer dog-cookies to Keanu (he finished all his rations the day before when I was not looking, that naughty boy), sympathy guaranteed when traveling with a dog (even though there are as many people hating animals with a vengeance). She also pointed me to a nice location next to one of those antique “lavoir” where in pre-washing-machine days French women used to do all their laundry. Since it was abandoned but still fully functioning – it has a higher small part with clean water for fine linen – and a larger lower basin for your ordinary washing – I could not resist trying to wash my clothes myself: I must say after a while your knees and your back really start aching. Chapeau to all women, who must have washed tons of clothes this way in old days gone by.

Church of Bourg-Fidèle

Day 2.6 – Thurday 18th May 2006

Montcornet – Charleville-Mézières (home by train)

Today heavy rain could not prevent us awaking fresh, but over the phone my wife talked me out of to 2 more days of hiking under similar conditions. Easiest and shortest way was getting into Charleville-Mézières, luckily a nice chap picked me up at Tournes and drove me into town. Being in France, all ways go via Paris, following quite an itinerary Charleville-Mézières to Reims, Reims to Paris-Est, walk to Paris-Nord, then the Thalys to Bruxelles-Midi. When I arrived at 8 o’clock at night, Shanshan picked me up at Sam’s Café in the station, I must say unlike the 1st part of the trip, I felt physically great, and spared of painful blisters.

Château of Montcornet, where GR12 meets GR AE (E3) under cloudy skies, announcing couple of stormy days …

Walking Statistics

  • 2005: 110 km in 5 days, averaging 22 km/day
  • 2006: 124 km in 5 days (excluding 1 day return-voyage), averaging 24 km/day
  • Total of 235 km in 10 days, average 23 km/day

Navigational References

Topo-Guide Du Sentier De Grande Randonnée
Amsterdam-Bruxelles-Paris (Tronçon Bruxelles-Rocroi)
S.G.R. asbl, Troisième édition: janvier 1999

Carte de Promenade 05 1:100.000
Charleville-Mézières Maubeuge IGN (Institut Geographique National)
Covers track Charleroi until Montcornet

To cater for all you topo-map needs, including GR-guides:
Librairie "Anticyclone des açores"
Phone: 02-217.52.46
Rue du Fossé aux Loups 34, 1000 Bruxelles

Personal Lessons Learned

  • Possibility to carry 4-5 days worth of food, but 2,5 litres water lasts you less then 1 day. Look into ways of water-filtration, can come in handy 2 to 3 times per trip, but nothing worse than going thirsty.
  • A.S. Adventure sells travel biscuits perfectly rationed, good replacement for bread.
  • Back-pack weight below 18 kg to keep it bearable.
  • Find more durable and foldable replacement for plastic underground to protect tent.
  • Varied food (olive oil, tabasco, rice, pasta, nuts, ...) great to keep spirits high.
  • Pack stove with food for 1 day on top, and insert elaborate culinary stops, enjoying the scenery.