Sea Schelde

Left Bank: North of Linkeroever (5.5 km)
Left Bank: Linkeroever - Temse (21 or 24 km)
Right Bank: Antwerp - Boom - Temse (39.5 km)
Temse - Dendermonde (24 km)
Dendermonde - Melle bridge (34 km)

At its mouth into the North Sea at Vlissingen (Flushing), the waters of the Schelde river have flowed nearly 100 km from the last crossing by a bridge at Temse, or on the Rupel branch at Boom. This is in truth a seaway, navigable by ships in excess of 10,000 tons. In that distance there are only six fixed crossings, tunnels under the Schelde at Antwerp. (Construction began on a tunnel north from Terneuzen in 1999.) The next fixed crossings upstream are at Temse and Boom (over 20 km from the Kennedy tunnel in each case). Up the Schelde, the next fixed crossing after Temse is near Dendermonde - again over 20 km. Because of these distances between fixed crossings, I have treated the banks of the Schelde to Dendermonde, and the Rupel, as separate cycling routes.

LEFT BANK

North of Linkeroever (5.5 km)

From the north side of central Antwerp, where the Schelde makes a sharp left (west) turn, to the border, the right bank of the river is now occupied entirely by docks and industry. Industry starts a little further upstream on the left bank, and stops before the border at the town of Doel. However, Doel is scheduled to disappear in a new dock complex over the next decade. In any case, the northern limit of reasonably continuous cycling along the left bank is the fence of a Bayer chemical complex on the north side of Zwijndrecht. A large lake, now part of a nature preserve, lies just south of the river.

From the fence, ride east along the top of the dyke on hard-packed dirt. The nature preserve is on your right. In 1.9 km you reach a pub and then a stretch of park. One km later you reach another pub and pavement. Follow the road below the dyke for 600 m through Antwerp beach. (Yes, a beach with sand. However, obey the "no swimming" signs. The water is polluted, and the currents usually very swift. If you want to swim, use the pool.) There are places to stop for food or drink.

At the end of the beach there is a yacht harbor. Follow the road to the right 300 m to a main road with a wide bike lane. Follow that lane to the left (south). There are some places where you can reach the river, but no continuous path along the dyke in this area. In 1.5 km you reach the entrance building for the Sint Anna pedestrian tunnel which you can use to reach the right bank. There are two parks on the riverside, one with a collection of anchors and buoys. Just south of the tunnel entrance is a building with a variety of places to eat and drink. There is a short section of paved towpath, but it is of little use. (Aug 1998)

Linkeroever means left bank, and that is what it is to Antwerp. Until earlythis century it was in a different province. In 1923 the point of land formed by the Zwijndrecht and Burcht communes was transferred from East Flanders to Antwerp province. However, the population remained low until the construction of pedestrian and car tunnels, starting with the Sint Anna in 1933. Most buildings you see have been built in the last 30 years, since the Kennedy tunnel opened. Recently, public transportation received a boost with the opening of a tram tunnel under the river just north of the Sint Anna Tunnel.

Linkeroever - Temse (24 or 21 km)

Antwerp skyline
Antwerp skyline from Linkeroever
source: Alex Carr May 2006

Little has been done to develop the Schelde left bank towpath between the southern edge of Antwerp and Rupelmonde. While much of the route is through farmland and nature preserve, much of it is also either unpaved or on bike lanes on fairly busy roads. Some of the dyke route is in fact labeled a moderate mountain bike route.

The fast way to Rupelmonde

Follow the road to the south from the Sint Anna tunnel entrance. There is bike lane, or sometimes separate bike path, practically the whole way. 900 m south of the tunnel entrance you leave the developed area. To the left is the river, to the right open space with some lakes. 2 km south of the Sint Anna is the entrance to the Kennedy Tunnel. There is an elevator and a long flight of stairs down to the tunnel, if you wish to cross the river.

NOTE: An article in De Standaard on 1 Oct 2003 says that the elevator is out of operation more than half the time. (Thanks to Jan Steyaert for sending the article.)

1.1 km later you cross the border to Burcht. The bike lane ends - continue straight on the road through Burcht for 3 km, to a junction with the N 419, by The Passage night club. Turn left and follow the bike lane for 6 km to the edge of Rupelmonde and the Werkmansrust pub. Take the left (secondary) street by the pub. In 2 km you reach the market square of Rupelmonde. Turn left down the hill, past the tower and water mill to the embankment of the river (300 m).

The scenic way

Heading south from the Sint Anna tunnel entrance, follow the bike lane/path along the highway. Soon the developed area is left behind - you see the river to the east and green space with lakes to the right. On the lakes are the buildings of several water sports clubs. 2 km from the Sint Anna you cross the entrance to the Kennedy Tunnel, which has a pedestrian/cycling tunnel between the twin road tunnels. The pedestrian entrance is on the riverside. There is an elevator down to the tunnel, and a LONG flight of stairs.

NOTE: An article in De Standaard on 1 Oct 2003 says that the elevator is out of operation more than half the time. (Thanks to Jan Steyaert for sending the article.)

unpaved towpath near Basel

Another km brings you to another town, Burcht. 400 m after passing the sign for the town limits there is a ramp up to a paved towpath. Ignore it - after 200 m you are forced off the dyke again, next to a church. Stay on the road to the church (St Martinus), and turn into the road to the left just past it. Follow the road along the back of various commercial establishments for 500 m to reach a towpath - gravel at first and then paved. This section lasts less than a km before the way is blocked. Follow the road to the right. In 500 m you reach a highway with bike lanes, at a traffic light by an army base. Turn left.

In 400 m you reach a junction with the N419 highway at The Passage night club. Turn left on the bike lane. 2.2 km of this brings you to Kruibeke and a sign for the Kruibeke ferry. Turn left and follow the road for 600 m to the ferry landing. (Note the new Bailey Bridge, installed in 2007. You can see pictures of the construction process at Kruibeke - Oost-Vlaanderen.) This car ferry to Hoboken now runs daily. (Ferry update from Andre Maes Oct 2002)

From the south side of the traffic circle at the Kruibeke ferry is the Kruibeekse Kreek wandelpad (footpath). This is best for bicycles with fat tires. You have a short distance of hardpacked road, then a hardpacked towpath, then a footpath through a nature preserve, and finally over 3 km of rough towpath (see picture). Finally (after a total of 4 km) you reach a pub (closed Mondays) and then another ferry - to Hemiksem. This ferry runs daily. Across the ferry access road the footpath continues along the dyke.

South of this the unpaved towpath continues, and becomes more difficult because of ruts and holes. It is in fact marked as a mountain bike route of moderate difficulty. This lasts for 3 km. At the edge of Rupelmonde you reach a road, first by a few houses and then a former boatyard. The road (Dijkstraat) leads you away from the river. In 500 m you come to a T junction with Broekstraat. Turn left and in 300 m you come to another T junction at Het Loze Vissertje pub. At this point the name of the road you are on has changed to Ankerstraat.

Mercator Tower, Rupelmonde
Turn left. In front of you is the Rupelmonde tower, followed in quick order by the tourist office in the tidal mill and then the embankment.

Rupelmonde tide mill
Rupelmonde has been important since the 12th century, when a tower was built to guard the confluence of the Rupel and Schelde rivers. At about the same time, a water mill was built that utilized the tides. Gerhardus Mercator(1512 - 1594) (the inventor of modern scale maps) was born and lived in Rupelmonde. He was quizzed here by the Inquisition for some months. It was finally decided that his ideas were not anti-Christian and he was released. The tower, a remnant of once massive fortifications, was destroyed by the troops of Louis XIV. In the early 19th century a new tower was built on the foundations, and it now houses an exhibition on Mercator and his works.

Rupelmonde OLV Church
The lake around the tower receives water when the Schelde is approaching high water, and releases water as the tide goes out. Both movements drive the waterwheel of the mill that was recently restored. The building dates from the 16th century. Up the hill on the town square is a church built in the 17th and 18th centuries on 9th century foundations. On the square there is also a statue of Mercator.

The embankment was rebuilt in 1995, with an extra wall for flood protection. By the mill is permanently moored a wooden-hulled mine sweeper, the Breydal. The embankment runs for about 400 m, to the large Scaldiana tavern and the Nieuwe Scheldewerven shipyard. You have to detour around the shipyard - 600 m on quiet roads. That is followed by 1.3 km of fine paved towpath, part passing by the town of Steendorp (at least two pubs) before another 300 m detour around a disused (except for a few pleasure boats) harbor by a brick works. Then you have a delightful 3 km of wide, paved towpath through nature. That ends with a sewage treatment plant under construction. Most of the final km to the Temse bridge is by a large sand and gravel storage area, with a marina on the river. (May 2000) (reviewed by André Maes August 2003)

Right bank (55 or 64 km)

Antwerp - Boom bridge (24.5 k)

Starting in one of Belgium's most interesting cities, much of this route is through industrial and port areas where you cannot ride directly on the dyke. There are also some stretches of pleasant countryside, and one nature preserve. The industry, dead and alive, includes shipyards and a series of brick factories. This is a very interesting route. And it is safe - where you are not on a separate bike path there are either quiet roads or bike lanes on the roadways. The route is mostly that of the LF 2 long distance cycle route.

From Hanger 27 at the northwest corner of the Antwerp commercial area (on the riverside Kaai at Amsterdamstraat) (also the starting point for the Albert Canal ride and the ride through the docks there is a fine, wide bicycle path running south along the right (east) bank of the Schelde. This is the former railway that served the wharves and hangers (large sheds - there were 29, most now gone) along the river. Start south on this path.

In 150 m you reach the first of the modern inland docks (dokken - singular dok - in Flemish) to be excavated - called appropriately Bonaparte for the man (Napoleon) who started the modern development of the port. (Actually there was a dok here at least as early as 1557, which Napoleon had enlarged.) This area is being redeveloped, with the basin a museum for old watercraft of the inland waterways. There was once a lock to the river from this dock, but all traces of it have been buried.

About 150 m past the Bonaparte dock you ride over the Waasland road tunnel (at the traffic light at Browersvliet) and enter central Antwerp. You pass the Steen (remainder of a fortress), and then (after 1 km) a park by the end of Suikerrui. To reach the Grote Markt and cathedral, you can turn left here. (For more about Antwerp sightseeing, visit Tourism Antwerp.) A short distance further, after a hanger (shed - probably late 19th century) now used for parking, there is a pedestrian bridge over the bike path and the Zuiderterrasse restaurant on the riverside. Cruise ships are occasionally docked here.

The wall running between the wharves and the kaai (street) is for flood protection. It was built after the 1953 floods. Each opening has a (hopefully) waterproof gate that can be closed if extremely high tides are forecast.

On the opposite side of the street, south of the Winston Pub, is the entry building of the pedestrian/bicycle Sint-Anna Tunnel under the Schelde to Linkeroever. The tunnel opened 1933, was damaged by Allied bombing in 1944, and reopened in 1947. It is 572 m long, and 31.57 m below street level on the right bank. You can reach the tunnel by escalator (two sets, with a landing between), or by elevator. The arrangements on the other side are the same. The escalator route is the most interesting, as there are pictures of the construction and reconstruction of the tunnel along the escalators and on the landings.

Continuing south along the wharves (mostly now cleared of buildings but still used by some ships) there is residential and then (mostly abandoned) industry on the land side. In 2.4 km you reach another river crossing at the Kennedy Tunnel. This carries the E17 motorway, with the central safety bore used for pedestrians and bicycles. There is an elevator and a very long flight of stairs on each side.

NOTE: An article in De Standaard on 1 Oct 2003 says that the elevator is out of operation more than half the time. (Thanks to Jan Steyaert for sending the article.)

1.6 km past the Kennedy tunnel entrance (mostly through a series of tank farms) you reach a T junction, and a choice. The most scenic route is through the Hoboken Polder nature area, but that is mostly on not very good cobblestone pavement. At the T turn right towards the river, then left (south) along the cobblestone service road. 900 m brings you to a short stretch of fine paved towpath and the beginning of the nature preserve. Through the nature preserve you ride a cobblestone path for 1.8 km, to the YCC yacht club. The dyke is then blocked. Turn left on the road for 300 m (to a Mazda dealer) and then right.

Hoboken ferry
source: Tim Freh March 2006
The alternate and slightly longer route is to the left. There is a so-so bike lane along the road (Naftaweg) to a bridge over the railway. Do not climb the bridge but use the bike path to the right, and then turn right (south) on the bike lane along the road paralleling the railway. The nature preserve is on your right. After about 1.5 km the bike lane ends. Continue straight on the road for 100 m. Traffic is required to turn right. Follow that way, and in 500 m you reach the Mazda dealer. Turn left.

Titan crane
source: Tim Freh March 2006
You soon pass the Cockerill ship yard (bankrupt and closed in 1982, for sale or rent) with a giant gantry crane. The crane is appropriately named Titan. It was built in 1974 and has a capacity of 240 tons. At the next intersection (Leo Bosschartlaan) you can turn right to the Hoboken ferry. (This car ferry now runs every day.) Otherwise go straight across Bosschartlaan and on a side street to a T junction. The cross street is Kapelstraat, next to Linda & Chris' frite shop. Turn right on the road. It soon curves to the left to parallel the river. Just past that point is the beginning of a bike lane on the inland side of the road. The name of the street changes to Vulkaanlaan, appropriate for this industrial zone. In about 3.5 km you reach van Praetstraat - turn left with the bike path. In 500 m you reach a highway by a railway crossing and the Cafe Stad Luik. Turn right (south) along the road (Antwerpsesteenweg). There is bike lane most of the 1.4 km to a side street marked to Callebeek veer (ferry). Turn right towards the ferry. In 600 m you reach the river.

Where you rejoin the river at Hemiksem there is a ferry which runs ever 30 minutes from 05:00 to 22:00. Around the ferry landing are several restaurants and pubs. The Barcardere has an excellent beer and food menu, including snacks. (Dec 1999)

From Hemiksem the river slowly curves to the west. South of the ferry there is 1/2 km of paved towpath and then 700 m on a riverside road along a wharf (little traffic). Near the end of the wharf you are forced away from the river (signposted) around an industrial area. On that detour you pass the former St Bernardus Abbey, now being (very slowly) rehabilitated for various commune activities including a museum. Past the abbey you regain the towpath for 300 m, only to be forced off again by the Maaienhoek nature preserve (no public access) and then the closed Schelle power plant. (Raf VdH reported in April 2001 that wind turbines have been erected by the former generating plant.) The detour (generally signposted) is 2.2 km, mostly through fields on a fine paved service road.

New Wintam ferry and landing
source: Heen en Weer
When you regain the towpath you are actually on the Rupel, just south of its mouth on the Schelde. Across the Rupel you can seen the control tower of the lock on the latest (1997) extension of the Willebroek canal. Follow the fine paved towpath south along the Rupel by fields, woods and nature preserves for 2.4 km to Niel. Along the way you pass the Tolhuisveer (site of former toll house and ferry) tavern and since 6 September 2002 the north landing of the Wintam pedestrian ferry, and then on the opposite bank the lock of the middle branch of the Willebroek canal. (Mar 1998)

To continue along the Schelde instead of going to Boom, take the tiny ferry (08:30 to 17:50 during the winter, until 18:50 during the summer, every 30 minutes. Free.) On the other side follow the pavement 200 m (turning left and then right) to the old Wintam lock at the end of the middle branch of the Willebroek canal. The lock has now been decommissioned and a bridge built across it. Cross over the bridge and continue up the Schelde.

If you continue along the Rupel, you learn the reason for the name of the bike route (baksteen - brick) you are following. It is not the pavement, which is mostly asphalt. From Niel to Boom to Rumst there were and still are major brick factories using the clay which underlies the sand and gravel surface layer. Most of the brick used in Brussels from the 16th century to the early 20th century came from this area by barge.

Boom bridge from east
From south of Niel you are in fact forced off the embankment by a series of brick factories. Follow the Baksteenpad signs through back roads. Along the way you pass a brick museum (open April - October) with an interesting double-peaked kiln building. About one km later you join a highway, with a bike path along the side after a short distance. (That is just after a pub - the Noeveren - where the road kinks. This a convenient place to stop for a beer. For a snack, the adjacent frite shop is open during meal times, and Sundays from 17:00.)

It is 700 m from the Noeveren to Boom bridge. As you approach the Boom railway bridge the Baksteenpad turns left. Continue straight on bike lane on the road along the river (you cross the railway and then the north entrance to the A12 tunnel under the Rupel) until you approach a road bridge - the Boom bridge. If you want to continue south on the Willebroek Canal, turn left just before the bridge. Climb to the bus stop and then turn right onto the bridge approach. For the town center or to continue along the Rupel, continue straight under the bridge approach. (Apr 2000)

Boom is fairly ancient but there is little to show for it. Most of what you now see is 20th century construction. The main town square is a short distance east of the bridge.

Boom Bridge - Temse (15 km)

From the south end of the Boom Bridge over the Rupel River, follow the main highway SW 300 m to the bridge across the Willebroek canal. (Apr 2000)

Turn right just before the bridge, by the recycling (recyclage) company. This road runs through mixed industry and nature, with little traffic. After 3.9 km you reach old Wintam lock where the middle branch of the Willebroek canal joins the Rupel. There is now a bridge across the lock, which has been decommissioned.

(Just past the lock is a closed pub, the Scheepvaart. If you continue past the pub and then to the right you reach the Wintam pedestrian ferry across the Rupal. The LF 5 cycle route takes that ferry. It runs ever 30 min from about 09:00 to 18:00.)

Cross the bridge over old Wintam lock and turn right. You are now on the newly named Noordelijk Eiland (Northern Island), which was created when the latest extension of the Willebroek canal was dug in the 1990's. The island (or at least the northern part) is being developed as a nature preserve, which will include wild horses and cattle similar to the types which were native to Belgium before man bred them into (or replaced them by) current breeds. A loop around the island is about 7 km, with fine pavement for all except 800 m at the southern end.

new Wintam lock
new Wintam lock

Follow the newly (late 1999) paved towpath to the right/north to and around the northern end of the island to the new Wintam lock (3 km). At the Wintam lock cross whichever gate is closed and then go right (north) along the embankment (paved pink) 500 m. to the Schelde. (January 2001)

Notice the sign at the junction, describing the fort which was here. It was used during the 80 Years' War for Dutch independence. Most of the site of the fort was excavated for the canal extension.

Schelde dyke south of Wintam
Schelde dyke west of Wintam
You now enter a truly delightful stretch of riding, 14 km of nature with an occasional town or pub. The road on the dyke is perfect, with no motor vehicles except the occasional service type. On the river side is a nature preserve, on the land side mostly polder tree farm or nature preserve. In about 3 km you come to a statue of a maiden mentioned in literature about the river. Next is the interesting Jachtpaviljoen (hunting pavilion) De Notelaar (the nut tree), now a museum of Schelde life and snack bar. The specialty, walnut cakes, commemorates the time when walnut trees were common along the Schelde. By the pavilion are interpretation centers for wildlife and tree farming, and along the dyke are poems about the river. Less than 2 km later there is a pub, open Friday - Tuesday, 14:00 - 20:00.
maid of the Schelde statue
maid of the Schelde

7 km from the Willebroek canal is the Temse road/rail bridge - the first fixed crossing above Antwerp, and the last bridge over the Schelde on its run to the North Sea. The bridge is quite high enough for barges and small coastal freighters. It is occasionally opened for large ocean-going ships.

hunting lodge
Jachtpaviljoen De Notelaar
If you want to take a break, cross the Temse bridge and cut back to the river front. There are a few pubs and restaurants with views of the river. Paling (eel) is a local specialty. Be warned that none of them know what a light snack is - even a croque monsieur is a major meal that starts with homemade bread. If you only want a snack, find a bakery and have a sausage roll.

Alternately, you could make a loop by turning SE on the bike path east along the N16 highway to the Willebroek canal and back north to Boom. (You pass a McDonald's that was burnt by arsonists - self-proclaimed animal rights activitists - in September, 1998.) The total length of the loop is about 37 km. The highway has fairly heavy traffic. (Apr 2000)

Or just continue upstream to Dendermonde.

last update 27 September 2007

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