South of Antwerp: the Brabant heartland
Willebroek Canal: Brussels - Schelde River (33 to 36 km)
Nete river/canal: Boom bridge - Walem - Lier- Albert Canal (30 or 38 km)
Dijle River: Walem - Mechelen - Werchter - Leuven (43 km)
Demer River: Werchter - Aarschot - Testelt (22 km or more)
Leuven - Dijle Canal: Boom Bridge - Mechelen - Leuven; Zenne/Senne River (43 km)
Note: New pedestrian/cyclist bridges across the Nete west of Rumst and across the Dijle south of that point provide a great deal of new flexibility in how you put together the routes in this section. On 29 May 2004 these were open again after having been closed for maintenance (Karel Roose 30 May 2004)
The plain to the south and southeast of Antwerp has a dense network of navigable natural waterways: the Schelde, Rupel, Nete, Dijle, Demer and Zenne/Senne rivers. The area attracted human settlement at least as early as the Iron Age. There was apparently no major Roman city in the area, but in the new millennium it became the heart of the Duchy of Brabant. With the creation of the united Low Countries under Burgundy in 1384, the capital was in Mechelen and then Brussels.
Waterway development in this region has been primarily the improvement of nature's system by building dykes and locks. The purpose-built canals have not developed new routes but rather been better versions of the rivers: the Willebroek canal for the Zenne, and the Leuven canal for the Dijle. The most recent new route to be built was the Nete canal from Lier to Viersel, replacing the Klein Nete River.
Nete river/canal: Boom bridge - Walem - Lier - Albert Canal (30 or 38 km)
(Junctions 28 - 26 - 50 - 51 - 55 - 56 - 66 - (31 - 89 - 88) or (40 - 30 - 20 - 88) - 76 - 75 - (74) or (13 - 73 - 21 - 10)
Note: The new (2002) bridge across the Dijle River (junctions 52 - 51) allows you the alternative of the left (south) of the Rupel to Walem bridge. That is described in the Leuven - Dijle Canal section.
This route offers extensive nature preserves, large reservoirs of the Antwerp water system, the lovely town of Lier, and a bit of industry.
Start on the north (right) bank of the Rupel river by the Boom bridge (junction 26). (If you are coming across the bridge, turn left at the first light and then left at the stop sign to the road under the bridge approach.) On the east side of the bridge, follow the path by the photo shop to the dyke. (Or if it is wet, follow the street east towards the market square and church . Turn right just past the GB to the road along the river.) After about 200 m on the paved towpath on the dyke there is a stretch of road for about 300 m and then paved towpath once again. Near the end of the road section you see on the opposite bank the original end of the Willebroek Canal, a junction long blocked but now with a lock for small boats (update by Kenny Moens 4 Dec 2008), and the town of Klein Willebroek. There is a pedestrian/bicycle ferry, hours not posted.
The next few 5 km, toward junction 50, are good to excellent riding. The north bank is mostly developed - the town of Boom, then an industrial/commercial zone, then Rumst. The narrow strip of wetland on the river side of the dyke is a nature preserve, and across the river is mostly woodlands. Two short detours away from the dyke are required, one around a boat yard and one around a house. (The latter closure of the towpath is probably illegal.) The industry is mostly related to the local clay (brick manufacture) and sand and gravel. 2.7 km east of Boom bridge is the Museum Rupelklei (Clay museum - concerning the local brick industry). It is open Saturdays and Sundays from the second weekend in May through the third weekend in September, 14:00 - 17:00.
Continuing past junction 50 to 51, 6 km east of Boom bridge is the Three Rivers (drie rivieren) tavern. At this point the Rupel splits into the Nete (which continues easterly) and the Dijle (southeasterly). Here you enter a delightful stretch unfortunately only 2 km long. Just past the tavern you reach the semiformal gardens of Rumst, starting with a pond with fishing platforms. After 500 m you enter a nature preserve featuring an old channel of the Nete. There are nesting platforms for falcons, and nature interpretation signs (in Dutch).
Continuing along the north bank of the Nete (you leave the marked cycle route for a while), the tall grass along much of the riverside is called riet (phragmites australis). It is the tallest grass now native to Belgium. While an annual, the stalks remain standing for about 2 years and during the winter provide shelter for all sorts of small creatures. At one point on the land side is a row of the trees you see planted along canals, roads and field borders all over this part of Europe. It is the knotwilg (pollard willow). Once every 5 years the growth is cut off at a convenient level above the ground, with the branches used for firewood, fence posts, thatched roof substructure, etc.
Unfortunately this lovely section is rudely interrupted after 2 km by the very wide E19 bridge. There is then another few hundred meters of nature before you reach the Walem bridge. The path on the right (north) bank is blocked east of this bridge, so cross over to the left (south) bank. (November 1999. Updated with information from Andrée Maes May 2002)
At this point you can turn right (west) to the Dijle River route. Otherwise, follow the south bank paved towpath east for about 5 km to Duffel (the origin of the heavy wool cloth made into Duffel coats and bags) where you cross back to the north bank and continue to Lier. The first section is semi natural, with a massive reservoir on the north side of the canal and woods on the south. (In early 2000 there was a large mobile pump on the towpath. It had been installed to help drain the floodwaters of 1998.) Later there are also reservoirs on the south. This is the water supply for the city of Antwerp.
Just past the ter Elst park you reach the formal gardens of the city of Duffel. They run for 500 m to the Duffel bridge. The main part of Duffel is on the NW side of the river, East Duffel on the SE. Both are worth a detour. The old center of the city has a surprising number of large 17th century
Duffel has several places to take refreshment. The modern Wilgenhof tavern, on the square by the church of Our Lady has a fine beer list, small meals, and an aerial photo of the floods of September 1998.
Lier area - multiple choices
The canal route: Stay on the left/south bank of the river. 2.5 km of riding on a fine paved towpath through nature brings you to a junction and a pair of locks - the beginning of the Nete canal. The locks is the rare type used for connecting to a tidal waterway - each end of each lock has two sets of gates. One set points to the river, the other to the canal. The gates used at any given time are those which point towards the higher water when closed. The water pressue keeps then closed until the levels are equal.
It may be possible to cross the canal over one of the gates, but I have not tried it. And if you do, there may be some mud to traverse on the north side until you reach the paved path on the river. You ride along the river for 1.4 km before turning on a paved road to regain the canal with paved towpath.
The Lier town route: Cross the Duffle bridge and continue east on the right/north bank. Soon after leaving the Duffle bridge you are in nature, and then a nature preserve: the Domein Neteland. Various types of habitat are highlighted, and there is an environment education center. 2.5 km from the Duffel bridge you pass on the opposite side the junction with the south end of the Nete canal (bolder line on map below), with a lock starting 400 m from the junction. Note that the dyke is now lower on the left (opposite bank) than the left - designed to take flood waters to the wetlands between the river and the canal. Then you reach another flood defense - a fork in the dyke, the two arms surrounding a farm area used for overflow at times of very high water.
3.4 km of nice nature riding after the junction with the Nete canal you pass under a highway bridge (the Lier ring road) and in another 400 m reach another junction in the river. Lier, like many many towns and cities in the Low Countries, took advantage of plentiful water for defense. The town was founded near the Nete, and later branches of the river were dug to form a moat around the city. You are at the point where the western part of the moat rejoins the river. Lier is to my knowledge unique in having preserved the entire water system - the more-or-less original river channel plus the loops on both sides.
Cross the moat on the pedestrian bridge. You can turn north and follow the inner (east) side of the western moat on bike path, but it is more pleasant to continue east along the river. In 400 m you reach another junction. The original channel turns north, the eastern moat continues east before looping north. To go into the center of town, turn left as you reach the junction to ride the paved towpath on the right (west) bank. If you are in a hurry, cross the dam and continue east on the north side of the moat - which is actually now the main channel of the river).
Lier is a lovely town worth some tourist time. It also has a confusing variety of waterways, some without public access. The GeoCart map does not have enough detail to keep you from getting lost, nor does the Falk city atlas map. Fortunately, there are several excellent maps of the city posted at various places around the city. And Lier is not large enough to remain lost for long.
Lier was the site of a major battle in the 80 Years War, on 14 Oct 1595. Had the result gone the other way, the border between the Netherlands and Belgium might be some distance further south than it is now. As it turned out, the local Protestants were forced to flee or change back to the Church of Rome.
Following the right/west bank river of the river through a park into the center, 400 m brings you the first square is the Zimmerplein. It is best know for the Zimmertoren tower with the multi-faceted clock. The tower is part of the 14th walls, but the clock is actually quite modern - 1930. At the west end of the square is the old prisoners gate, and a short distance to the south and around the corner from that gate is a begijnhof. Two short blocks north is the main market, with Stadhuis (1744) and Vleeshuis (1418 with modern Gothic facade).
If you skip the center and continue along the eastern moat/river, it slowly curves to the left. In 1.5 km you pass two bridges and then reach a point where there is a channel to the west and also to east across the river. The Nete splits in Lier. This is the large (Grote Nete) branch which flows under the new channel. Another 600 m brings you to a junction with the western part of the moat. There is no bridge - you must turn west along the moat. In 300 you reach a bridge. Turn right (north) on the road for 200 m to a railroad crossing. Turn right BEFORE crossing the railway and follow the road/path along the railway for about 500 m. (Mar 2000) This is junction 88 on the new cycle path network. (September 2006)
At the railway bridge you have a choice: take the short route (8.5 km) due north along the Nete Canal to the Albert Canal, or take the longer (16.5 km) and more scenic Nete River.
For the Nete River, cross the rail bridge over the river. At the bottom of the ramp is D'Oude Lier tavern, closed Mondays and Fridays, nice garden for the good weather. After refreshment, follow the road under the railway, turn right on the bike path, and cross the next bridge (over the canal). At the bottom of the ramp make a U-turn back to the towpath along the canal. (From this point south the east bank of the canal is blocked, and the west bank does not have a paved towpath.) Turn north along the canal for a little less than one km, where the river actually goes under the canal. Your are following the signs towards junction 76.
The river now starts curving to the east, away from the canal. The route signs are in the direction of junction 73. In 4 km there is a fairly new wooden footbridge. (2 October 2007 Stefan Reel reported that both sides of the river provide a good ride to the Albert from this point.) The river now has become quite narrow, and curves a lot. It must not have been possible to use very large barges here. 2.9 km past the wooden bridge is an old lock, now beside the river which has been restored to a somewhat natural state. Just past the lock is a weir with a bridge. To stay on pavement, cross that bridge and continue up the right (west) bank for the remaining one km to the Albert. Or you can stay on the left bank (if it is dry). The section past the weir has what appears to be a private zoo. Then you reach the E313 and pavement ends. There is a well-worn track for 150 m under the highway and then up to the base of a power line tower. At that point there is a gravel road up to the Albert Canal . The towpath along the south bank of the Albert has a bridge over the Nete River - which goes UNDER the canal. (May 1999) (Lier - Nete - Albert - Nete Canal verified by Dirk Vande Putte August 2003) (Reviewed by Karel Roose 17 Apr 2004) (Updated with some junction number 28 September 2006)
Dijle River: Walem - Mechelen - Werchter - Leuven (43 km)
In the Middle Ages, the Dijle provided water access from the Rupel to Mechelen and Leuven, and via the branch Demer to Aarschot and Diest. The rivers were progressively improved until the construction of the new Leuven canal. The embankments continue to be maintained for drainage, and some provide good cycling. This route is not shown on the GeoCart map.
Walem bridge to Werchter (31 km)
Farmland, nature and Mechelen. From the south end of the Walem bridge over the Nete, follow the left bank of the Nete river to the west on nice paved towpath for 2.6 km to Three Rivers- the junction where the Rupel splits into the Nete and Dijle. The dyke path curves left to the SE. You are on the right (northeast) bank of the Dijle. To the left (east) is a tree farm, and then a large lake named Large Lake (Grotte Vijver). (No, I did not make that up.) In .9 km you are opposite another split with a lock across the river. The lock is the north end of the Leuven canal.
In another km you reach the Mechelen North commercial zone, and 2 km later a bridge with a ramp for bicycles.
To bypass central Mechelen, continue south on the east/right bank.
To continue south on the Leuven canal, cross the bridge. When you get to the towpath on the left (west) side, turn left (north) under the bridge and then left when you come to a paved bike path. In 200 m the bike path ends. Continue straight on the road (Neerweg) to a T junction (about 100 m). Turn left (south) towards the highway bridge. Just before that bridge turn right (west) on a paved bike path which takes you in about 100 m to the Leuven canal. 100 m to your left is Battel bridge.
To go into central Mechelen, cross the bridge and turn right (south) when the bike path reaches the left bank of the Dijle. 1.7 km of riding on a fine towpath, mostly through country, brings you to the junction of the new (to the left) and old (to the right) channels of the Dijle. There is no way to cross so you continue on the left (west) bank of the old channel. You quickly reach a lock (towpath blocked) and the beginning the Mechelen commercial harbor. You are forced away from the river to go around a sports hall before regaining the river bank on a road. (Little traffic, but cobblestones now and then.) In about 800 m you reach an old turning bridge which is the effective southern limit of navigation today. The river north of the bridge is now filled with pleasure boats. The old warehouses on the east bank have been converted into apartments. The LF 2 cycle route crosses this bridge and continues to the center of town.
Continuing straight on the left/west bank you shortly have to make a 200 m detour through an old brewery, on cobblestones. At the end of the brewery you cross a street by the Grootbrug and continue south on the left/west bank. Here are several 16 th century wooden houses. After about 200 m you are again forced away from the river. There is a short climb to the Church of our Lady. Turn left on the shopping street.
400 m brings you to a cross street at Vijfhoek. Turn left and cross the river. On the east/left bank is a gateway to the Botanical Garden. Turn through the gate and then keep to the right at the next gate. This puts you on a path along the river, with the gardens on your left. In 400 m you reach an old watergate, part of the city wall.
Follow the path up and to the street. Cross the street and the bridge and turn left by A&M Logistics. After 100 m you are again on towpath, now hard packed dirt. The path includes two foot bridges under bridges (road and railway). In 500 m you reach an old lock, now apparently out of use. This is the junction between the old river and the channel which bypasses the center of Mechelen to the north and east. (See next section.) From the lock there is 2.7 km of fine paved towpath through a wooded area with some fine houses to the bridge at Muizen . (September 2000)
More on central Mechelen can be found below in the Leuven canal description.
To continue south without going through central Mechelen, continue straight on the right (east) bank of the river. In fairly quick order you then pass under the several bridges of the E19 and then reach a split in the river. The right (south) branch is the original channel of the Dijle. The left (east) branch is a new channel which served as part of the city moat. There is no way to cross, so continue along the right bank of the new channel. In 500 m you reach the Mechelen ring road and the N1, by a McDonald's.
The fine towpath continues to the bridge at Muizen, 2.5 km after regaining the river in Mechelen. The situation now changes.
In 5.5 km you reach Rijmenam bridge, with a white stone church on the other side. This town is ancient, dating back to at least Roman times. The present church (St Marten) dates from the 14th century, with various modifications and repairs since.
Continue east to Werchter (11.8 km) on the south bank, on a hard packed twin track road. The surface is generally excellent, but in late summer the vegetation can be a bit of a hindrance. There are a couple of bunkers or pillboxes on this section. It would have been too expensive to demolish them, so most are simply sealed with cement. Now and then a window was left open, to provide nesting space for bats and other wild life. About half way you pass the recently restored Hansbrug.
Werchter - Leuven (12 km)
From Werchter south the Dijle meanders even more, and is rarely accessible on either bank except for short stretches of road and occasional dirt paths. If you are cycling for pleasure, join the Demer River at this point. If your objective is Leuven, you will have some sections of riding along traffic. Perhaps the best route is to follow the highway south from the west end of the Werchter bridge (towards Rotselaar) for 400 m, to a road to the right (direction Wakkerzeel) just before the road crosses the river. Turn right toward Wakkerzeel, and in 900 m left at the first junction on Achterheide. The road has very little traffic, and in fact is marked "no entry - local traffic only." (September 2000) Another 900 m of pleasant country riding, on occasion by the river, brings you to "5th of the Line" street in Rotselaar. If you look left you see a water mill (parts 17th century).
Turn right (west) and in 100 m on your right there is a war monument that explains the name of the street. On 12 September 1914, 300 men of the Belgian 5th and 25th Line Regiments, and the 5th Artillery Brigade, lost their lives in a battle in this area. The second (smaller) monument is to one man who died at the spot. It was erected by his widow. (Reviewed to this point by Karel Roose 29 May 2004)
Follow the road (bike lanes) as it wanders to the west and then south, to Wijgmaal and the Leuven canal. Cross the bridge and continue south on the west bank of the canal to Leuven. (August 1999)
Demer River: Werchter - Aarschot - Testelt (22 km or more)
Werchter to Aarschot (11.4 km)
At Werchter the Dijle is joined by the Demer river. On the right (north) bank of the Demer there is a lovely paved towpath to Aarschot - 11.4 km. The path starts at the east end of the south side of the N21 bridge across the Dijle. There is a sign.
After 11 km of pleasant cycling through the countryside you reach Aarschot. At the third road bridge (the one following the construction equipment company) turn left and then right at the light. Follow the bike lane along the road as it rises on a bridge to cross the railway (which blocks the towpath along the river). When you return to ground level you are again by the river and a curious old lock. The gates are quite far apart, and the lock is on a curve. Across the river is a mill that is being restored. Continue on 200 m to a bridge, by a church.
Aarschot to Testelt (11 to 14 km, depending on route)
A meander through pretty farm country. This is a route for the adventurous, mountain bike highly recommended.
From Aarschot church bridge, go east on the right (north) bank along unpaved road and towpath 400 m to the next bridge (d'Harmonie pub). Cross the bridge and turn east again on the towpath (hard gravel) on the left (south) bank. The 2.6 km to the footbridge at Langdorp is fine. (September 2000) Soon after the bridge the paths on both sides deteriorate badly - stretches have been plowed. Your choice is hard slogging or leaving the embankment for farm roads. (Mar 1998, reviewed by Dirk Vande Putte Oct 2003)
Access: E 40 and then E314/A2 to exit 21 (Holsbeek). Turn left (north) to Werchter. Also, E314/A2 exit 22 for Aarschot. Also, E19 exit 19 (Vilvoorde) and right on N21 to Kampenhout and then Haacht. After crossing the Leuven canal you pass on the left the Haacht brewery, which offers tours Monday to Thursday from 14:00 from April - September. The brewery runs a pub across the street - look for the copper vat. Then follow signs to Haacht and Keerbergen, and park near bridge over the river. Also E19 to exit 9 (Mechelen north) and follow signs for Lier and then Walem.
Leuven - Dijle Canal: Boom Bridge - Mechelen - Leuven (43 km); Zenne/Senne River
Note March 2002: New pedestrian/cycle bridges across the Nete near Rumst and Dijle a little further south, allow you to ride the north (right) bank of the Rupel from Boom to Three Rivers and crossing there to connect to the Leuven canal. This is a considerably shorter route, and one which avoids the open sewer of the Senne/Zenne.
Fishermen, storks, countryside and beer. This route generally follows the LF 2 bicycle route, which is posted. The canal was built 1750 - 1763 to provide better navigation than the narrow, winding and tidal Dijle River. A more popular name is the Leuven Canal, or on some maps Leuven - Mechelen canal. Note that the locks are all hand operated. The canal actually handles quite a bit of tonnage (mostly grains), but the number of barges is small.
At the south end of the Boom bridge there is a ramp on the east side down to the towpath. Follow the dyke east along the left bank of the Rupel. In a half km there is a pedestrian ferry. Then you approach the end of the original Willebroek canal (lock now removed and blocked) where you have to detour a short distance to cross an old bridge. Returning to the fine paved towpath (by a Sherman tank) you enter a nice stretch of countryside. Soon the dyke splits, to form an overflow area for use when the tides threaten to be so high as to break or overflow the dykes. You can take either branch. 5.5 km from Boom bridge you reach Three Rivers (which is the name of a tavern on the north bank), the end of the Rupel and beginning of its branches Nete and Dijle. There is no way to cross any of those, so you must follow the right bank of the Dijle for 1.3 km to another junction: the south branch is the Zenne (Senne), the middle the Leuven canal (with the lock), and the north the Dijle. By the junction is a tavern, de Zennehoeve. From April through September it is open Tuesdays through Sundays. In the cooler months it is only open Friday evenings, Saturdays and Sundays.
At this point you can follow the Zenne River further south for 6 km. This is pleasant but not particularly interesting countryside, and the river does not let you forget that it is the main sewer outfall for Brussels. (But a note of hope: in August 2000 the first Brussels sewage treatment plant is being brought on line. It is south of the city and will handle a quarter or third of the sewage of the metropolis. A second plant north of the city is some years away.) At the second bridge across the Zenne (Leest) you can go left along a minor road back to Battel. Otherwise you can continue along the Zenne to Hombeek and a lake. There is no towpath along the river south of that lake, and the west side of the lake is difficult because of the dumping of demolition rubble. (basic description Mar 2000)
Or if you are in a hurry, turn left (east) at Heffenon the bike lane along the N16. In 1 km you reach a sign for the LC Bike store. Don't bother unless you are interested in motorcycles. Another .5 km brings you to a ramp to a bridge. Stay with the bike path to the flat land to the right of the ramp. In 300 m you are at the low level bridge at Battel.
Or to keep away from the traffic, cross the Heffen bridge and turn back north on the right bank of the Zenne back to the split (2.4 km) along a fine paved towpath. At the junction the pavement ends. Follow the curve around to the lock at the end of the Leuven canal. By the lock there is a pub, the Zennegat (closed Mondays and Tuesdays).
Cross one of the lock gates to continue south on the east bank. (The west bank is not paved for a distance, and can be muddy.) Two km of mostly countryside riding along a nice paved towpath plus 1 km of hard packed dirt brings you to the beginning of Mechelen at the Battel bridge. There is a nice pub (den Biechtstoel - the confessional) on the east side of the canal 200 m north of the bridge.
The Plaisance bridge (or rather pair of bridges) is your entrance to central Mechelen. This ancient city is well worth a detour. If you are on the west bank, cross to the east.
Mechelen was the effective capital of the Burgundian lowlands for a few decades prior to 1531, and the home of Charles V during his youth (1501 - 1516). A 1651 map shows Mechelen as equal in size to Antwerp. There are many structures from before 1700, a tapestry school and museum, a school for carillon (beiaard) players, and the most effective holocaust museum (including Washington, DC) I have seen. Sunday afternoons there are carillon concerts.
Two hundred meters east of the bridge is the Brusselpoort (Brussels gate). (Before reaching the gate you pass a bicycle shop on the north side of the street.) The gate is the only remainder of twelve around the city - a large number demonstrating the importance of the city when the wall was built around 1300. The gate's towers were lowered and the current roof and spires added in the 17th century. At some time in the future the gate will house the Mechelen city museum.
Continue straight east (actually northeast) past the gate on Hoogstraat, which becomes Korenmarkt (grain market) and then Guldenstraat, until you reach the 13 th century Grootbrug (great bridge) over the narrow Dijle River (700 m from the Plaisance bridge). To the left and right along the river a few 16th century houses remain. This, with a canal in the street straight ahead (Ijzerenleen - with the double row of iron railings marking the former banks of the canal) was the 16th century port of the city.
Continuing south from Plaisance bridge, you have to ride on a road on either side. The west bank is by a little the better route unless you want to visit the Plankendael animal park - a branch of the Antwerp zoo. Heading south the surroundings are city for close to a 1 km, where you pass under a road and two rail bridges - the end of central Mechelen. Just to the east on the rail lines is the main rail station, with a plaque in the ticket hall reminding you that the first passenger railway on the continent opened between Brussels and Mechelen on 5 May 1835. Past the bridges on the east there is then a large industrial establishment - the main equipment maintenance facilities of the Belgian railways. Two km of that brings you to the Mechelen city limits and paved towpath (east bank) or service road with little traffic (west bank). The next 2.5 km are semi-rural, sometimes farm or woods and sometimes urban sprawl. Then you approach a rail bridge. (February 2000)
Just before that bridge on the east bank is an entrance to Planckendael animial park. This is an overflow area for the Antwerp zoo, featuring mostly water birds and hoofed animals. Not a great zoo, but a very pleasant way to spend an hour or two. The park is open all year, this gate only April thru September 08:30 - 17:00. To reach the zoo during the other months, turn east on the road on the south side of the rail bridge. In 500 m you reach a highway. Turn left on the bike lane 500 m to the entrance to the park.
From Bleuken south the path is excellent on both sides for the 4.7 km to Kampenhout lock. (From this point the LF 2 bike route follows the southwest bank.) The surroundings are mostly farm and woods, with occasion urban and commercial areas. Where there are not trees along the canal, new ones are being planted. There are many water birds using the canal - probably a sign of clean water. 1 km south of Bleuken on the west bank is a wetland development - a shallow area created on the side of the canal that will be allowed to develop as nature wishes. Shortly after that is the Boortmeerbeek bridge, and then the Boortmeerbeek lock. You can cross either gate.
800 m south of the lock on the south bank is De Wilg cafe, open during the winter Friday, Saturday and Sunday only, from 11:30. In another km you approach a marina (or at least a section of the canal used for docking pleasure boats). The canal then makes a bend to the east and you pass under the Kampenhout bridge and arrive at the Kampenhout lock. From this point south the north bank has a stretch of gravel, and then riding on a minor highway. Cross to the south bank over one of the gates of the lock. On the south bank next to the bridge is a rudimentary pub, apparently open weekends only.
Tildonk is 3.7 km of fine paved towpath south of Kampenhout. After a turn just past the Kampenhout lock the canal runs in an absolutely straight line, mostly through farmland and woods. At Tildonk there is a bend and then a lock (marked "no crossing"). Just before the lock a new bridge was under construction in May 2004, and the towpath blocked for a short distance. There is a marked detour. (Karel Roose, 15 May 2004) The next bridge past Tildonk is 4.4 km, at Wijgmaal. (Jan 2000, updated by Karel Roose 15 May 2004)
About 3 km past Wijgmaal you pass under the E314 bridge and enter Leuven. This is a rather uninspiring commercial area. Soon you reach a footbridge over the canal. If you plan to go into the center of Leuven, cross the bridge to the east side and continue south on the bike lane by the highway (N19). You passes under the new TGV/HST bridge (Train Grande Vitesse/Hogesnelheidstrein) In 1.7 km you reach the Leuven ring bridge over the river, with the Interbrew Stella Artois brewery, the largest in Belgium, on your left. If you continue under the bridge, the canal makes a right turn to its end in what must have been a bustling harbor for several centuries. This is a rather dull commerical area. Instead, leave the canal by the brewery and head for the market.
Just before the ring bridge turn left across the road and follow the bike path east along the ring road. In 200 m, just after the end of the bridge across the canal, there is a marked pedestrian crossing. Use it to cross the ring road to the south side and the Dijle River. Turn right (south) on the bike path along the river - or rather between two branches of the river. (It seems more of an open sewer, from the smell.) In 100 m you reach a foot bridge. Turn left across the bridge and follow the LF 2 route signs through the parking areas and then another bike path to a road by a tower block apartment building with a spire on the top.
Turn right on the road (LF 2 sign). The Leuven Market is 500 m straight ahead. The highlights are the town hall (1439 - 1469, statues late 19th century) and St Pieters Church (much 15th century). Both the church and town hall were supposed to have mighty towers, but the ground proved too soft.
was founded over 1,000 years ago, and for centuries was capital of Brabant. Even after the capital moved to Mechelen and then Brussels, Leuven remained an important city. A 1651 map shows it as larger than Brussels. The center was destroyed in 1914, and further extensive damage was done in 1944. However, much of the old was restored and there is much to see, including the Cloth Hall (original parts 1317 - 1345). It is one of the many buildings belonging to the sprawling University of Leuven (founded 1425). The quadrant SE of the market is mostly university buildings and student housing, though they are also scattered around much of the rest of town.
For local food, try the second largest brewery in Leuven, Domus (8 Tiensestraat, a short distance east of the town hall). (September 2000, updated by Karel Roose 15 May 2004)
Access: Battel bridge:
Take the E19 exit 9 at Mechelen north and follow the signs for Willebroek (to the west). At the second traffic light turn left (sign for Battel), and then turn right at the first opportunity (at the bottom of the ramp). The Dijle canal and Battel bridge are just ahead. The easiest parking is probably on the other side, by the bridge ramp. Or E19 exit 11 Weerde to Hever.
Car wash alternative: E19 exit 11, east towards Boortmeerbeek. In about 1.6 km, after going straight at a traffic light, follow the right turning towards Schiplaken. After going through the center of this quiet town (which has 90 graves in the memorial in the church yard to the battle of Schiplaken in August - September 1914) you reach a traffic circle. Take the second exit - in effect turning left - and in a short distance you reach the Hellebrug across the Leuven canal and then Dietmar's Car Wash. This is probably the best carwash I have seen in Belgium, combining a machine for rinsing with hand work. Regular cars BEF 380, jeeps BEF 480 for outside only. My Explorer was BEF 800 for inside and out. You can leave your car for washing while you take a bike ride.
Last update 23 December 2008 (Lier area information from Kenny Moens)
Copyright Dan Gamber, 1998 - 2009
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