Antitank Canal: Oelegem - St-Job-in-'t- Goor (10 km)

(Junctions 56 - 57 - 26 - 42 - 41)

Waterwegenroute (green line) loop including antitank canal path as right side
source: GeoCart
The antitank canal offers fine riding from Oelegem on the Albert Canal to Sint-Job-in-'t-Goor on the Turnhout. Combined with the Albert west to Schoten and then the Turnhout northeast to Sint-Job, you have a nice loop of 40 km. This is marked in the clockwise direction "Waterwegenroute", and is route 46 in the GeoCart cycle guide for Antwerp province.

The antitank canal (the line of squares north and east of Antwerpen on the Kempen map) was constructed as a defense (modern moat) for Antwerp. At the east end it started from the Albert canal at Oelegem and ran northwest though Schilde, 's-Gravenwezel, St.-Job-in-'t-Goor, Schoten, Brasschaat, Kapellen, Putte, and Stabroek to Berendrecht at the north end of the port of Antwerp. The overall length is 46 km, bottom width 5 m, with a water depth of 2 meters. The embankments of either side were 14 to 18 m wide. Due to a difference in water level of 15 m over the 45 km, 17 fortified locks (sluisbunkers) (actually fortified culverts) were required. It was finished in the first weeks of 1940.

bike path along antitank canal
source: Richard Murray 20 May 2007
The canal was only the latest in numerous attempts to protect Antwerp from invaders. There had been two different city walls. Then in the years before WW1 a ring of eighteen forts was built around the city. The antitank canal (or ditch) was designed to strengthen six of the forts by connecting them with a modern moat that would be capable of stopping tanks. And as with all other passive defenses, from the Walls of Jericho to Hitler's Atlantic Wall, the antitank canal was a failure against a determined army. The German forces did not attack Antwerp at all in their charge to the sea.

In 1948 most of the canal was filled. In the early 1970s an Antwerp bypass canal using the antitank canal route was proposed. Barge convoys of up to 9,000 tons could travel from the Albert to the north end of the Antwerp docks. Highway bridges (including the E34) were (re)built with that in mind. However, NIMBY (Not in My Back Yard) protests led to indefinite postponement. In 1985 renovation of the original canal was started. The fill was removed, and a crushed limestone biker/hiker path laid between St.-Job-in-'t-Goor and Oelegem. This was later marked as part of the Waterwegenroute.

Entrance to Fort Oelegem
source: André Maes
The path runs practically straight from the Albert Canal. From the peak of the intended junction on the Albert (junction 56), follow the limestone path north toward junction 57 under the E34 bridge. In about 2 km (just past junction 57, direction 26) you reach the first fort, named Oelegem for the neighboring town. The area is now privately owned and a nature preserve. The fort itself houses a bat colony. A bit over 2 km later (past junction 26 direction 45) near Koeputten you reach a lunette - a strong point. The fortifications have been partly destroyed. The area is now used by a fishing club. Two km further is another fort, 's-Gravenwezel. This is a designated recreation zone that has been partly taken over by illegal county houses. Nearly 4 km later past junction 42 direction 41 you reach the north end of the path at St-Job-in-'t-Goor where you turn right and then left to the bridge over the Turnhout Canal (junction 41). (Route description based on material from André Maes December 2002) (Junction numbers added 21 November 2008)

Last update 16 July 2007, junction numbers added 21 November 2008

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