The River Dender

After three days of extreme heat we left the canal behind and cruised on the Dender into Flanders. The first stretch of the river has little movement and winds in tight bends quite narrowly through the rural landscape. A team of lock keepers were still accompanying us up to the boarder of Wallonia and Flanders. As we were followed by a 30m long barge, they had to refill the locks and re-open the lift bridges again after us, so our progress was rather slow waiting for them to catch up. Luckily it had cooled down to around 30 degrees. 

We stopped at the first little town in Flanders called Geraardsbergen and were immediately welcomed by the harbourmaster and a very young man on a cycle, who we learned was in charge of the next lock and two bridges. 

Even though the Wallonians weren’t unfriendly, the people here seemed so much more welcoming and happy to chat, which might have had to do with, that they actually understood what we were saying. In Wallonia hardly anyone speaks English or Dutch, so communication was solely in Wallonian hard- to- understand French. 

We also saw a difference in the houses and streets. In Flanders they seem cleaner and better maintained. 

In Geraardsbergen we finally got some cooling rain. Sadly the effect from the long dry spell and heat on the waterways had become visible as a layer of toxic blue algae and a number of dead fish moved slowly downriver.

The rain didn’t deter us from doing our usual visit to the tourist office. And what should we find, but “Manneken Pis”! We were assured that this Manneken Pis is 160 years older than the one in Brussels and has its own story. But that’s not all! The tourist office had a museum full of Manneken Pis' in all different outfits: dressed as an Irish dancer, a Jamaican, a Beekeeper or baker etc. In Belgium, there seems to be an endless fascination with the little man which I don’t really share, especially as peeing in any which corner is a French/Belgian custom I do not cherish.

My preference goes to the giants of which Geraardsbergen has some very jolly ones, which are paraded through town during Carnival. 

The town does its name Geraards-"bergen” (mountains) proud! To both sides of the river cobblestone streets steeply rise uphill. It nearly killed me cycling up to the market place, and that’s only where the serious ascent begins. It’s called The "Muur” and for the cyclists of the Tour de France this ultra steep incline is at the end of a 240 km stage. Austin and I decided to walk the “Muur" (Wall) while some very fit Belgians cycled past us. By the time we reached the little chapel at the top, I think, we huffed more than the cyclists.

Maybe we should have gone easy on the local speciality called “Mattentaart”, a cake made from curdled milk tasting like a dry version of a cheese cake.

We got some more training walking the so called “Alley Route” which led us up and down small lanes where metal plaques engraved with poems of local artists were affixed to walls and houses. Unfortunately, google translate does a shocking job with poetry, and so the poems didn’t make much sense to us. But we enjoyed the walk nevertheless.

A favourite of ours was the "Saint Bartholomew's Church", a mostly baroque style building with wonderful wall paintings of Louis-Bert de l’Arbre. A little gruesome is though the statue of Saint Bartholomew holding his own flailed skin.

How cruel life can be today, we experienced when moving further up the river. Intending to cruise past Ninove we were told by the lock keeper, that this was not possible until the next day as a dead body had been found in a lock ahead. The news got worse the following day when another person was found in the water. 

So we are currently staying at a mooring in the small town of Ninove until the police has finished with investigations and we can get the ok to move on.

© Austin Robinson 2019