Our train ride back to the Ardennes for the Hoge Ardennenroute’s final section is livened up by a squealing toddler and an entire Scout group. With ringing ears, we digest the journey so far – along with a pain au chocolat – on a tea room’s terrace in Bouillon.
But the action-packed morning is far from over. A delivery truck’s side mirror taps a first umbrella, causing the entire row to topple over like dominoes, targeting the table of an elderly couple that manages to jump up just in time. Luckily, no cappuccinos or croissants are harmed in the process.
As we set off on our steep climb out of the valley, the tourists relaxing on the river in hot-pink pedal boats adorned with giant swan heads soon drop out of sight. Accompanied by the local youth’s speakers blasting Estelle’s American boy, we make our way up the grand watchtower for one last view over the old town.
At last, we reconnect with the woods’ solitude. A whole other range of sounds takes over: a finch singing cheerfully, bees buzzing past and a soft breeze rustling the maple leaves that shield us from the sun, while the river Semois leads us to an idyllic lunch spot.
The trail then hits us with a second long climb before guiding us through dense vegetation. By the time we reach the quiet town of Vivy, the muggy weather has made our water supplies dwindle. A local lady kindly fills up our bottles, while a jeep flies by with screeching tires, Belgian flags waving from the sides and young lads dangling out the windows.
The whole country is getting ready for the kick-off against Italy tonight and we could not feel further removed from the Euro madness. Following the match from the forest through texts and emojis from friends and family, we give up after the first half. Disgruntled boars trot past our tents all night, clearly as upset by Belgium’s loss as we are.
A less romantic version of nature
A blueberry bush graciously supplements our breakfast in the morning, while the fresh paw prints in the mud allow us to speculate who else passed by last night: a deer, some squirrels, a fox?
Through dewy fields we reach the town of Naomé, where a bench by the church calls our names. As we let our socks dry, we take another peek at the weather forecast and try to estimate how far we can still make it before the elements catch up to us.
“Do you ever wonder if we just romanticize nature when we’re in the city?” I ask Katrien, while staring down at my legs that have been transformed into battlefields by the nettles, ticks and horseflies, all eager to leave their mark. “Nature sure isn’t always kind.”
A narrow trail winds up and down along the Our until the Lesse takes us further towards Daverdisse. On a comfortable looking rock, we sit in silence and try to catch our breath. But nature grants us little respite: mosquito swarms have started their evening shift, giving us just the push we need to rush further up the hill.
Thrilled that the storm seems to have blown over for the night, however, we count our blessings. When we finally sit down for dinner in the beautiful forest we call home for the night, a hare pops his head around a rock. The moment his eyes meet mine, he shoots off into the bushes.
In the morning, a little mouse greets me as I open my tent door to find clear blue skies and pleasantly warm sunrays piercing through the foliage. We pack up and sprint towards the finish line, stopping only at an old mining site to marvel at how resilient nature truly is.
The multitude of mountain bikers and fishermen indicate that we are nearing Mirwart and with only five kilometres left to go, the predicted showers finally erupt. After starting our adventure on the Hoge Ardennenroute in the snow in April and bathing in the sun in June, it feels only fitting to finish during a summer rainstorm in July.
Having walked 278 kilometres through some of the most beautiful parts of the country, I can safely say that although nature may not always be kind, I would let it bite me all over again in a heartbeat.
Other blogs on the Hoge Ardennenroute