Day 5 & 6: Fourmies to Halle

We’ve made it past the half way point and into Belgium! Here’s a quick updates on the past couple of days.

Day 5: Fourmies to Thuin (45 miles)

After finding ourselves stuck in the up-down-up slog of the hills of France for several days near the Belgian border, we decided it was time to reroute and get ourselves into Belgium and back on flat land. The reroute involved leaving the cycle route and facing a morning of intense hill climbing on roads into Belgium with the promise of an afternoon of 16 miles of solid downhill glorious freewheeling along an old railway line so we took the gamble!

The morning saw a mix of road and a cycle path that was supposed to be paved but was a muddy mess – complete with fallen trees blocking our route. The pretty town of Liessies served as our morning stop, pulling up in the grounds of an old abbey.

The next 10 miles was a hilly climb across the border, passing through the town of Willies (where we took a picture of the sign, naturally- never grow up!). We had known this hill would be hard and so were prepared and actually tackled it quite easily – it’s the unexpected hills that sneak up on you as you turn a corner that really dampen the spirits! The crossing into Belgium was entirely unremarkable and we were disappointed by the lack of signpost to mark our achievement! We did notice a marked improvement in the number of restaurants and bars that seemed to be open in the day though – good news finally!

The downhill disused railway track delivered on its promise (yey!!), and we enjoyed an easy afternoon all the day down to Thuin. A little downpour didn’t stop Sam enjoying an ice cream by the river, and then we finished off the day by cycling a few miles along the river to our accommodation near Abbaye d’Aulne.

We were pretty delighted with our reroute and it really lifted our spirits to have reached Belgium and some downhill cycling at last!

Day 6: Thuin to Halle (39 miles)

A cold but sunny start saw us set off up the river towards Charleroi. The track consisted of an odd mix of residential and industrial parts, complete with one section where we cycled through a factory with a huge yellow digger – much to Sam’s delight!

By late morning we had joined the Charleroi to Brussels canal which would ultimately take us all the way into the capital. The cycle network in Belgium is much more developed than in France, and we’ve found ourselves being able to more easily navigate by signposts here instead of constantly checking the map – though the regular distance markers can be a bit dispiriting on slow sections!

Having said that, the cycle route we took today had lots of ‘improvements’ being undertaken, which meant there were a few ‘Deviation’ signs taking us back on to the road. At one point, one such turn wanted to take us on to an extremely busy and dangerous road, and it was at this point that Sam, for the first time in the entire trip, put his foot down about directions and insisted that we go down the closed cycle path along the canal – “THIS WAY NOW”! After cycling towards the main road and weighing up the traffic, we decided that Sam was right and risked it on the closed path – which turned out to be absolutely fine. So we’ll be trusting Sam’s navigation instincts more often!

Late afternoon, near the town of Ronquiries, we passed, for the first time in the whole trip, a cafe on the actual cycle route! Seats outside. Cycle rack. Even a bouncy castle for Sam. The sun shone for us for a perfect final stop (complete with ice cream, of course) before heading further up the canal to our evening stop in Halle. A really great day! We are getting into this cycle touring malarkey!