facemask, far west, far west of belgium, hiking in western flanders, mountainbikes, stiltewandeling, the Belgians are the bravest, the French are the nicest, Westouter, what to do when restaurants are closed
Nowadays, all you hear is you can’t do this, you can’t do that. This closes, that is forbidden. Everyone is just so negative.
But why always focus on the things you can’t do? Why not have a look at the million things we are still allowed to do? At least today :-)?
While zipping our Sunday morning coffee we discuss the possibilities. The weather forecast is horrid, but then who still believes that app on his phone? We were supposed to wake up with ‘rain tapping on your windows’, we have been up for a while, but we still haven’t seen or heard a drop.
We decide on going for a walk outside and chose the Far West as destination ; not so long ago I received a tip from a friend and I figure it’s time to explore it.
The Far West isn’t exactly an official region, it’s how I call it, because it’s about as far west as you can possibly go in this small country, and getting there takes us over an hour (100km).
We put on our waterproof walking shoes, take our raincoat -just in case-, a snack, pay a last visit to the bathroom (all restaurants and bars are closed), and we are ready to drive to Westouter, Heuvelland (‘Hill-land’).
The road is exceptionally quiet. It’s still early, the sky is gray, rain is predicted. Belgians rather stay at home.
When we arrive, church service has just started in the small town of Westouter. The church bells ring, the church door is open, the warm welcoming lights are on. The parking lot is full. (With 8 cars or so). Not a soul outside.
We grab our facemask, we leave our wallet (nothing’s open anyway) and we start to walk.
It’s all nature. Trails through or alongside fields, muddy tracks next to tiny rivers or streams, tracks through forests. A few paved walking paths, several wooden paths. It’s not for nothing that the area is called Heuvelland (hilly land), we walk up, we walk down again. It’s magnificent. It’s as if we are in another world. A people-free world.
While walking on a narrow muddy path, a guy on his mountainbike approaches fast. He cheerfully calls ‘bonjour’ ant tells us how many more muddy men are coming. We wait patiently, pushing ourselves just off the track, try not to get splashed with mud. One after the other passes by, yelling bonjour while focussing on the muddy track . One laughing ‘who has ordered all this mud?!’. They all speak French. They are like a bomb of positive energy and cheerfulness passing buy. They make us smile.
It seems like the mountain bikers have woken up. It seems we are in mountain bike land, even though there are signs everywhere that bikes are forbidden on some of these tracks. Every now and then we need to jump aside. We don’t mind.
The mud is everywhere, sometimes deep, sometimes slippery. I am like a little child. I like mud. But I walk carefully, as I don’t want to touch the mud with any other part of my body than my already muddy feet.
The trail continues. We pass by a small town called Zwartberg, Mont Noir, that seems alive. Maybe we can get a take away coffee. We put on our masks and make a detour.
Where are we? Is this Belgium or is this France? We look at the cars in the (only and) main street but can’t figure it out. To our surprise we see a bar open. It must be France. But the waiters speak the typical West Flemish accent. They explain that this side if the street is France (bars open), across the street is Belgium (bars closed). And we are lucky. We can pay with our phone.
The coffee tastes like heaven and gives us energy enough to continue our walk through the mud.
The sun comes out, and with that also the people. Families with kids, couples,… both French and flemish. The French all interrupt the conversation they are in to say ‘bonjour’ to us, some Flemish say ‘bonjour’, probably assuming we are nice French people. But most Flemish don’t say a thing, or give us a short answer when we address them. It’s so easy to see what nationality one is. It’s easy to see who is the friendliest.
13km later we are back at the car. We try to kick the mud off our boots, in order to keep the car relatively clean. We fail. We take the mud home while discussing the difference between the French and the Belgians. It never quite struck us before.
The Belgians might be the bravest, the French are, undoubtedly, the nicest.
Trail ‘stiltewandeling’ (walk of silence) in Westouter
You can also find the trail on routeyou (and probably other apps).
Autumn colours were only just starting, so hurry up! Put on your hiking boots and go for that walk!