L’Ascenseur furniculaire de Strépy-Thieu, before it was trumped by the Three Gorges Dam in 2016, was the largest boat-lift in the world. We thought it would be interesting to take a look. At just over 100 metres high and 135 metres long it is a monster.
By the 1960’s the four existing hydraulic boat lifts, built in the late 1890’s and early 1900’s, were no longer sufficient to accommodate the larger barges that were by then plying the canal network. A program of modernisation was needed. Taking twenty years to build the lift was finally unveiled in 2002 and can accommodate barges of up to 1350 tonnes.
The Voies d’Eau du Hainaut website entices you with the words ‘climb up through the core, all the way up to the panoramic viewing point at the top where you can experience the “Land of Genius” interactive tour’. We were not to be enticed. After seeing a barge enter the lift at the bottom we frantically scrambled up the steep bank to see it exit at the top. It’s cheaper that way. Genius!
Parked right on the edge of the canal at the free aire at Thieu we spent three days cycling and walking the canal.
Designated by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site the four ‘old’ boat lifts were a much more photogenic affair than the new one.
Spaced out over seven kilometres each boat lift hauls its cargo up or down 15-16 metres. They are still in their original working condition.
Tim extolled on the quality of the rivets and the craftsmanship of the build. Not being an engineer myself I can’t really comment but it all looked pretty sturdy to me.
Even though Belgium hasn’t been up there for spectacular landscape it has got some excellent traffic free cycle paths. 15km along the canal took us into Mons.
We didn’t go specifically to see Mons as we were after a bit of peace and quiet really but we had to find somewhere to print off a couple of documents to get posted back to the UK.
Job done the round trip took about three hours. It is nice to have the time to take three hours to print and post a letter though.
Twenty kilometres further up the canal we stopped to take a look at the Ronquières super lock completed in 1968. It’s not a lock as such more a kind of boat slide. Stretching 1.4km in length it is quite a sight. The boat motors into a type of lock which is then winched, on rails, up or down the 68m hill.
We arrived expecting to be able to walk along a tow path alongside it but were disappointed that it can only be seen from the bottom, halfway up or at the top. Also there wasn’t a boat to be seen so we didn’t see it in action.
We nipped back over the French border to stop for a few days at Givet as I thought we could cycle to Dinant along the river Meuse from there. We parked up at the ‘unofficial aire’ on the opposite side of the river from the town. The official aire, a ten minute walk away, was full of plant machinery for some refurbishment that was going on. I don’t think anyone uses it though.
I asked at the tourist information whether they had a route map for a cycle to Dinant. Unfortunately, as Dinant is in Belgium it’s not their remit to provide guides for anything across the border but I could have a lovely spiral bound glossy guide to the Voie Verte going south along the river on the French side. Oh, Ok. So we went south down the Meuse towards Fumay instead.
Along the way we happened upon a rather large group of youngsters on an outing with just two adults in charge and nary a high viz vest in sight. They’d never get away with it in the UK 😉
We’d never seen anything like it before counting at least forty two goslings being led by two adult geese. I later googled it and was surprised to learn that goose crèches are fairly common. An article in the Daily Mail does say though that forty is exceptional. It made my day seeing them 🙂
Not being able to find a suitable traffic free route along the Meuse to Dinant we drove instead. Quite a lot of the route followed the edge of the Meuse and was very picturesque. We were into the Ardenne region which is full of gently rolling hills, forests and quiet roads. Quiet roads, that was, until we got to Dinant where every man and his dog seemed to be driving through. Our guidebook describes Dinant as ‘picture-postcard’ which it kind of is except for all that noisy traffic.
We didn’t have the relaxing stroll we were hoping for and spent just an hour there. Adolph Sax, inventor of the saxophone, was born in Dinant so with Tim being a sax player it was a chance to get the obligatory photo outside where the inventor was born.
There is a free tiny museum to look around but it isn’t much to write about and the interactive commentary was drowned out by the constant traffic rumbling past outside.
We stopped overnight at the free aire behind the fire station at Arlon which is in the Province of Luxembourg but in Belgium and where many residents apparently speak Luxembourgish. Mmm weird, but then Belgium has a curious mix of languages in different areas with predominantly Flemish (similar to Dutch) spoken in the northern region of Flanders, French spoken in the southern region of Wallonia and a teeny German speaking area in the eastern province of Liege. Add in the Luxembourgish and all the different dialects and it all gets a little bit complicated!
We went out for a couple of Belgian beers and I ordered them in French. So far so good. On the second round I asked the lady ‘Qu-est ce-que vous recommendez?’ She started to reply in French and seeing my blank expression morphed into what sounded like German and then what appeared to be Dutch? I just said ‘yes’ to what she had suggested to keep things simple. What came out was not a beer at all but a kind of homemade wine or punch with a bit of orange floating on the top. And foul it was too! When I paid she said she thought we were Dutch which explained a lot!
Anyway, next up Luxembourg.
Au revoir. Auf wiedersehen. Vaarwel. Ӓddi!