Eastern Flanders - the Big Rivers

Durme River and Moervaart: Tielrode - Lokeren - Terdonk (36 km)
Gent area - the Ring Canal and within
Upper Schelde/Escaut (81 km)
Bossuit - Kortrijk Canal (16 km)
Espierres - Roubaix (FR) Canal (8.4 km)
Leie/Lys River: Gent ring - Deinze - Kortrijk - Armentières (FR) (85 km)
Comines - Ieper Canal (15 km)
Roeselare Canal: Ooigem - Roeselare (16.5 km)
Lieve Canal: Gent Ring - Schipdonk (11 km)
Gent - Terneuzen Canal (30 km)

Most of this region is flat, relatively new land created by silting over the last few thousand years. The Schelde River is the waterway backbone of this region. The Schelde and its tributaries the Leie and Dender have been used for navigation since antiquity. The Schelde is tidal up to Gent, and the locks to the west and south of Gent are more for maintaining water in the canals and rivers than for raising elevations.

Bossuit - Kortrijk Canal (16 km)

source: Dan Gamber 2004

old tunnel entrance near Moen
old postcard found by Karel Roose
A pleasant ride through farmland, with little of distinction. You would use this canal, as the barges do, as a connection between the upper Schelde/Escaut and Leie. The canal, which has an official length of 15.2 km, was built for 300-ton barges, with a total of 11 hand-operated locks and a 611 m long one-way tunnel. The tunnel was situated in the highest section of the canal, between the "Smalspoorbrug" and "Taverne de Souterrain" - on the east side - which name still refers to the tunnel. Starting in perhaps 1979 12 km of the canal was widened for 1,350 tons, starting from the south (Schelde) end. The tunnel was dug out, and 8 locks replaced by three. (Old lock 6 still exists but is by-passed). There is no indication of widening work on the final 3 km at Kortrijk end - perhaps because there is no real need for it. The only obvious industry using the canal is a metal fabricating factory between old locks six and seven. Along the canal in Zwevegem, the old electrical power station has been transformed into the "Energiemuseum".

Bossuit - Kortrijk Lock 11
source: Karel Roose
The towpath on the east side is sometimes a minor highway, and requires a substantial detour in the area of the E17 bridge. It is easier and more pleasant to use the west bank, which is posted as the LF 6a bike route. Most of the route is either paved towpath or minor road with little traffic. The one busy section, north of the E17, has bike lanes.

As you approach Kortrijk there are three locks in a short distance. At the first, lock 9, a highway bridge crosses the canal - and under that bridge is a short Bailey bridge for pedestrians and cyclists to cross the canal. (Karel Roose August 2002) (Reviewed by Dirk Vande Putte 31 October 2004)

Espierres - Roubaix (FR) Canal (8.4 km)

This canal leads westerly from the Escaut into France by Roubaix. On the Belgian side of the border it is a lovely route through an arcade of trees. Past the border the arcade disappears, but the towpath is fine.

Belgian side of the border
Belgian side of the border
source: Dirk Vande Putte
The canal was built from 1840 to 1843, to connect with a proposed French canal in Roubaix. The intent was to tie together the Belgian and French waterway networks. In the event, the French canal was not built. At the same time, industrial development in Roubaix let to heavy industrial pollution of the waters flowing from that town - the Espierres River and the canal which it fed. This exportation of pollution from France to Belgium became a major source of conflict. Later in the century the canal was extended to connect with the Canal du Tourcoing, providing a connection between the the Escaut and the Deule. The total length is 22 km, of which 8 km is in Belgium. The canal had a capacity of 300 tons. It was decommissioned - closed to navigation - in 1985. You can read more in French, or at the same site select a computer translation into English. Another site provides more detail.

You can reach this canal from the Schelde/Escaut towpaths from the Pottes bridge to the north, or the Warcoing bridge to the south. From the Pottes bridge, follow the bike route signs through the village to the highway. Turn left (south) on the highway (bike lane) and in 2.6 km you reach the Spiere bridge across the Espierres canal. (Note that "Spiere" and "Espierres" are simply the Dutch and French variations of the same name. The town is on the language border.) Cross the bridge and make a U-turn at the bottom of the ramp.

French side of the border
French side of the border
source: Dirk Vande Putte
From the Warcoing bridge, ride west about 700 m to a highway. Turn right (north) on the road, and in slightly over one km take the road to the left as the highway starts to climb to the Spiere bridge.

The paved towpath along the Roubaix canal is entirely on the south side, except in one short section near the Roubaix end. Until the border with France, the canal is a lovely tree-lined arcade. At the border the arcade disappears and you join a fine towpath that was rebuilt by the French in 2002. There is only one place to stop for refreshments, the "La Guinguette" café shortly before the French border. Note the open sewer running between the canal and the pub. (Actually, the canal is pretty smelly also.) (Aug 1998) (updated by Dirk Vande Putte May 2005)

Roeselare Canal: Ooigem - Roeselare (16.5 km)

Mostly a fine ride. However, the lack of interesting landmarks and impressive landscapes makes this primarily a route to ride if you find it convenient for getting someplace else. The land is flat - the only lock is at the Leie end of the canal.

The city of Roeselare is ancient, and was important in Roman times. Then it was at the intersection of two roads, and also could be reached by small boats on the Mandel river. (That waterway is no longer even marked on maps.) Early in the second millenium Roeselare became an important cloth (woolen) center. However in the last 400 years it has suffered repeated disasters, particularly during the 80 Years' War and during French occupations from 1678 to 1713 and 1795 to 1814. The cloth makers left during the religious wars, taking their skills to the Netherlands. However, cloth making (now primarily linen) recovered and remains important, along with other industries that rely on agricultural products. The area is now booming.

The canal is a recent one, dug 1862 - 72. It is now one of the most important waterways in Belgium. The route is through farmland scattered with industries that often utilize water transportation.

The north bank of the canal is a very mixed bag: part roads with heavy vehicles, much unpaved. The south bank is the way to go.

Ooigem lock
source: Frans Van Bruaene
The canal begins on the Leie River at the Ooigem lock and bridge. The paved towpath starts just south of the old lock complex. (Note: in 2005 a group of neighboring communes and other organizations announced a plan to recreate to some extent the natural river that the canal replaced, including rehabilitation of the old three-step lock at the Leie. André Maes December 2005) This is kp 16.3 on the canal, counting from the end in Roeselare. The first 5 km of towpath runs parallel to a road, and was repaved in 2001. (Peter De Schrijver) Then at the Wantebrug the road moves away from the canal. The excellent towpath provides a pleasant ride under the trees for 2 km to the Dorpsbrug. (August 1999) (January 2007 note from Peter De Schrijver: There will be an obstruction during March 2007 because of sewer construction, a few hundred meters before the Dorpsbrug. (January 2007). For people who like to picnic are now picnic benches - 1 on the south bank and about 5 on the north bank near the castle park.

Ingelmunster on the north bank is the first town of any consequence. If you are in the mood for sightseeing or a brew, cross the second Ingelmunster bridge (Dorpsbrug) and continue north about 300 m on Stationstraat to the entrance of the castle park. The present castle dates from 1736, but that replaced an earlier structure which in turn was built in the 11th century on the remains of a monastery (munster) built by 640 (not long after the arrival of Christianity in this area) that had once been occupied by English (Ingel) monks. The castle has since 1986 been owned by Van Honsebrouck brewers, maker of among other beers Kasteel (castle) beer. Van Honsebrouck was founded in 1900, but the castle most likely contained a small brewery during most of its history. You can taste the beers (including traditional kriek and gueuze) in the basement of the castle. Part of the castle was damaged in a fire in early 2002, but it has been restored.

Towpath near Ingelmunster
source: Peter De Schrijver
Back on the canal, past the Dorpsbrug the trees end as a rail line runs close to the canal for nearly 3 km. As you enter the next town, Izegem, the railway moves off to the south and you reach an industrial area. The towpath ends - you must ride the road. Then you reach the Centrumbrug and "no bicycle" signs. The next km or so has heavy commercial establishments, and occasional trains. Best to follow the bicycle route signs: blue direction-signs (arrow-shaped) marked "Roeselare," with a black cycle on a white background on it. You turn left (south) away from the canal. Continue until you reach the rail station (about 200 m) where you turn right and follow the road next to the railroad track - Prins Albertlaan. A part of this road has a separate bike path, next to the railroad. Use this where you can because this is a very busy road. Follow this road (+/- 1.5 km) until you reach the second railroad crossing. (The Prins Albertlaan contains two interesting buildings: the "Stadselectriciteit" accomodating a large old power generator [one can easily peep through the windows] with a large steam engine; and an old shoe factory "chaussures Eperon d'Or" ca. 1930 in Art Deco. - Karel Roose) (Peter De Schrijver reports in January 2007 that there are plans to use the old shoe factory as a shoe and brush museum.) Do not cross the railroad, but take the Mandelstraat on your right. It is marked with the blue bicycle direction sign for Roeselare. Follow this sign and ride to the end of this road back at the canal. Turn left to continue west along the canal. (Material from Peter De Schrijver, checked by Karel Roose November 2002.)

Past Izegem you are again on paved towpath through pleasant farmland with an occasional industry (including at least one linen mill) for 4 1/2 km - to the edge of Roeselare. There is some root damage, but only a little.
Roeselare "harbor"
source: Frans Van Bruaene
As you enter Roeselare you must ride a road, which in 800 m enters the main harbor/industry area at the Bruanebrug. (At this point there is an interesting detour, to the nearby Rodenbach brewery At the Bruane bridge turn north on Mandellaan and then left on the first street - Spanjestraat. Frans Van Bruaene 12 August 2005)

The end of the canal is another 1,100 m, through a heavy commercial area. Most of the establishments utilize water transportation. The road has little traffic, mostly heavy vehicles.

The center of Roeselare is just on the other side of the railway from the end of the canal. (August 1999)

Lieve Canal: Gent Ring - Schipdonk (11 km)

A new superhighway for bicycles, through fine countryside.

This canal was built between Gent and Damme (then a seaport on the Zwin arm of the North Sea) in 1251-69. (Or Gent - Brugge: Derek Blythe.) Gent then had water connections via the Schelde/Escaut to France to the south and Antwerp to the east, and to the sea via both Antwerp and Damme. The Lieve served for less than 200 years before silting of the Zwin made it useless, although the Gent end was in use until the 19th century. A short section remains in Gent - the western waterway by the Gravensteen fortress. Another section, from the Gent - Brugge canal just west of the Gent ring to the Schipdonk north of Zomergem, remains for drainage. The rest of the canal has disappeared entirely.

From the Nieuwekalebrug (N9 bridge, by Vinderhoute) over the Gent ring, cycle west along the N9 for about 500 meters (past two pubs) to the signs pointing to the right for Evergem. Turn off the N9 on the cobblestones and you quickly reach the beginning of the bikeway along the Lieve - by the De Lieve restaurant. Keep by the canal, to the west side of the restaurant.

From this point you have about 10 km of lovely riding through farmlands. Much is fields, some cattle or ostriches. The only urban area you encounter is on the south side of Waarschoot - you ride under a highway and then for a short distance of a road by houses. (Notice that many of the houses have a Madonna doll, in what looks like a bird house with a glass front.) The only thing that keeps this from being an outstanding ride is the lack of trees most of the way. (But André Maes notes in August 2003 that many new trees have been planted along the canal.)

About 3 km later the towpath ends. Turn left on the road and in 200 m you reach the Stoktevijerbrug over the Schipdonk canal. (July 1999) (reviewed by André Maes August 2003)

Gent - Terneuzen (NE) (30 km)

Not a great ride for nature fans, or those who dislike riding with the sound of cars. It does have some interesting industrial features, and north of the border is quite pleasant.

According to a plaque in a little park on the south side of the bridge road in Sas van Gent, the first canal was authorized in 1547 by Charles V. The objective was to create a reliable short cut from Gent to the sea. In those days that could be achieved by a canal to Sas where it connected with a branch of the Schelde, the Braakman, which was navigable. During the early years of the quest for Netherlands independence, the area remained in Spanish hands, although in 1572 Protestants (Gueuze) burnt the locks at Sas. In 1644 the area was definitively captured by the Dutch under Prince Frederik Hendrik. All traffic was stopped, and the canal (and the Braakman) silted up. Gent lost its direct connection to the sea.

With the advent of the United Netherlands (including what is now Belgium) in 1815, a new canal was commissioned by King William I. The objective, and result, was to turn Gent into a major seaport. The original channel to Sas was rebuilt, and the canal extended north to the navigable West Schelde at Terneuzen. The canal has a total length of 31 km, including a section now inside the Gent ring, and was built from 1824 to 1827. In 1882 the capacity of the canal was increased, with new channels cut by Sas and Sluiskil. The latest (finished 1968) improvement, with yet another new channel by Sas, increased capacity to 60,000 tons. There is now only one lock between the Gent ring and the west Schelde, at Terneuzen. (The first version had other locks at Sas van Gent and Sluiskil.) There are major dokken (docks) at several places along the east side of the canal.

From the Gent ring Gent (Evergem bridge) you take the west bank. (Note: the Evergem Bridge and the towpath on the west side of the Gent-Terneuzen canal are closed for a major industrial project until at least December 2004. If you want to ride to Terneuzen, take the R4 bike lane, about one km west of the junction of the ring and Gent - Terneuzen, north about 1.5 km. At the N463 take right, next at the intersection with the N458 turn right to rejoin the canal at the Langerbrugge power station.) The east bank has been developed for heavy industry, and with several branch harbors cannot be accessed except at the ferry landings for the first 12 km.

Langerbrugge power station
source: Karel Roose
For the first 6 km you ride on a bike lane on a road that has some traffic (including heavy trucks) on work days. The interesting features include an old electricity generating plant once powered by coal and now apparently converted to natural gas. At Doornzele there is a ferry to Terdonk (follow signs) you can use to connect to the Moervaart to the east.

As you approach Doornzele the road is blocked - cars must go left. You can go straight, and soon see the reason traffic is diverted - a new dok is being dug on the west side of the canal. At some time in the future the road on the west bank will be cut to provide access to the dok. In June 1998 it appeared that it would be some years before that happened. (When it does, a detour is already marked. You turn away from the canal just before the ferry at Doornzele and follow the "Burggraven Pad" bike trail signs for a bit over 3 km until you reach the Ertvelde - Rieme road. That is the first one you reach that has bike lanes. There you turn right towards Rieme to return to the road along the canal. This detour is mainly nicely paved country road, with a section of hard packed dirt and 200 m of ancient cobblestones.)

Staying along the canal: in 3.5 km you are again on an open road with bike lane. 3.2 km later you reach the Zelzatebrug - the first bridge across the canal north of the docks near central Gent. (There are three auto ferries providing frequent service on that stretch. They are marked on the GeoCart map.) One km later you reach the border. Follow the markings across the highway to the separate bike path on the west side. The path continues most of the way to the end of the canal, with short sections of bike lanes and riding on parking roads in Sas van Gent. The countryside now has less industry and seems to me to be prettier than on the Belgian side.

Two km north of the border you reach the pleasant town of Sas van Gent. The canal splits into three channels. The east one is today's main channel, with the largest rotating bridge I have ever seen. (It turns on a center pivot to parallel to the canal, providing a clear lane for a large ship on either side.) The center channel was cut in the center by the approach for the bridge over the new main channel. The northern stub is a yacht harbor. Most of the southern stub has been filled, but near the south end is the remains of the old lock. The west channel was the original from the 1550's and later 1827. It has been filled in the middle. The northern stub is used by freight barges, the southern stub is a yacht harbor. (Seen in the south stub in June 1998 was a VERY large, VERY expensive motor yacht.) Along the road by the southern yacht harbor are several pubs with sidewalk seating in good weather. In the yacht section there is a lift bridge, a 1985 rebuild (with motor) of one originally built on the spot in 1825. Near the north end of the stub is a statue commemorating the many people who hauled barges (literally pulled them) on the canal. Just past the end of the stub is the town market square (and parking lot), and then a little park with the plaque summarized above.

From 1579 to 1648 there was practically continuous war between the independent Netherlands and Spain. One reminder of that is a tower built by the Protestants in Sas van Gent. It is just west of the center, in a park.

Continuing north from Sas van Gent, there is a pleasant bike path running on the west side of the highway. After a bit more than 5 km the road and path curves slightly away from the canal - a bypass of the town of Sluiskil. Where a road branches to the right, cross the highway and follow the side road back to the canal. This is the original channel, now blocked just to the right of where you reach it. The southern stub is used for sand and gravel barges, the northern one for storage of old barges and further up various industries.

Continuing north from the point where you joined the canal road, you have about one km riding a quiet road before you are on bike path again. Two km later you reach the Sluiskil swing bridge, big but not as big as the one at Sas. This one also serves as a rail bridge.

Sluiskill swing bridge, open to let ship pass
source: Karel Roose
From Sluiskil north, the east bank has a deep industrial zone. You cannot ride closer to the canal than a km. Continuing up the west bank, 4 km after the Sluiskil bridge is the west lock at Terneuzen, with a bridge at either end. Another 2 km brings you to the West Schelde and the end of the canal. The dike to the west does not have a paved path, and there is a large industrial plant in the near distance. On the broad waterway you see ships on their way between Antwerp and the North Sea, with some turning into the Terneuzen canal.

The town of Terneuzen is worth a little exploration. The present locks are on the west side of the town. There are three, named west, center and east. East seems to be the one normally used today, and work is being down on center.

Terneuzen was given a town charter by William of Orange in 1545, yet the old town looks very new. Why? Not because of war damage, I was told at a pub. Rather, the period after WW2 saw, as in the US, a lot of "urban renewal." There are a few older houses in the pedestrian zone, but not many. In addition, the town has been extended. Before 1950 the town ended at the Schelde along roughly the currently line of single houses. The dike and the ring round inside it were built later on fill. (Remember that the sea level has been rising in this region, and there were serious floods on both sides of the North Sea in the early 1950's.) The old harbor, now a lake in a park, was on the east side of the town. The new harbor for tugs and pleasure boats, just east of the lighthouse, is close to where the old harbor entered the Schelde. The old harbor was also the mouth of the 1847 canal, a fact remembered in the form of the new city hall and nearby buildings. They are supposed to give the impression of the ship going through a lock. (I did not see that until told.)

This was a fishing town, probably focusing on cockles and mussels and such in the tidal flats. You can still see individuals digging during low tide.

There is a paved path along the dike as it runs east past new apartment blocks and then turns north. (June, August 1998; reviewed by Karel Roose 13 September 2003)

On 14 March 2003 the 6.6 km twin-tube Westerschelde Tunnel opened from Terneuzen north under the Schelde to near Ellewoutsdijk. This is motor vehicles only, but there is bus service that takes bicycles (and via trailer small motorized vehicles such as mopeds). For information on the bus services see Connexxion. Buses run every 30 minutes during the day. No night service. The Vlissingen - Breskens ferry service remains for cyclists and pedestrians, running every 30 minutes from roughly 8 to 19. Service starts earlier on some days, and continues into the evening on an hourly schedule.

Access: E40 to Gent R4 and north to Zelzate. Follow the R4 as it turns west past its 0 KM (the total length is about 63 km) through Zelzate and across the canal. Turn right immediately after you get over the bridge and drive north 3 km along the west bank of the canal to Sas-van-Gent. There is a large parking lot just past the stub end of the canal - turn right where the canal ends, then left and left into the lot.

Last update 2 January 2007

Copyright Dan Gamber, 1998 - 2007
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