A few years ago I started my kayak journey on the Little Nete. I took my first involuntary dive in its murky but clean water. Which I then followed all the way to the Northsea. Now I think the time is right to find out where all this water comes from and why this river is amongst the cleanest of the Belgian rivers.
Paddling upstream from the Kastelse Kayak club to the watermill of Retie about halfway up, you pass the first of the many Netes who provide the Nete with is clean water. The Looiendse Neet is a very small river, not much wider then a brook. Straightened like most of the small rivers here to accommodate the agriculture which is a very important business in the Kempen. Following this sidetrack upstream it splits in the small Neet, the Metsenneet and the Plasnete. Basically a lot of the small brooks in Retie, Arendonk and Mol and its townships have been given a name ending on Neet or Nete.
Turning back to the main river passing the watermill in Retie it changes its name to White Nete. Half a kilometer further upstream the Black Nete splits of the White Nete. These two rivers differ like night and day.
The White Nete has been straightened and is at some places wider then the little Nete. There are no meanders to speak of, only reed patches and fallen trees block the river passage. There is a water purification station located on this river but the strangest thing you have to see to believe. On google maps you can still see the old riverbed, now it has been moved to the north and it has new, small meanders while on the banks is enough room for a bit of wildlife. I am guessing it's been done to accomodate the excavation of white sand, the reason why there are so many lakes in and around Mol. I think it's good that they have made meanders and nature gets a bit of breathing room, but on the other hand, removing a river from its original banks for commercial purposes? Then again, in the old days it just would have been excavated and nature would have to find its own way. There is a case to make for both sides I guess.
The Black Nete meanders like crazy, isn't much wider then a small brook, flows through a tiny nature reserve, a patch of forest and dips under a busy road. Paddling on it is a fun experience, providing if the water level is high enough. A few turns beyond the road there is a small island where the Werbeekse Neet joins the Black Nete. This is the penultimate split of the black Nete, only the Nonnennete branches of once it passes the centre of Retie. There are a lot of small concrete bridges, most of them are to low to paddle under.
So, how many netes did you count? I know there are used to be seven, because Retie is called the town with 7 Netes, However, after merging some townships with Retie, that number kept climbing. Officially we keep speaking about 7 because of its magic connotations but as I said, there are at least 11. I keep searching. for the remaining ones and will add them in the map embedded above. I've paddled on four of them and got to make haste to find and paddle the rest. They are so small that it's only possible to paddle on them during the winter.Of course, there's always next year...
So I sit pondering the fate of the beaver while floating downstream under a little iron bridge in the middle of a small forest. I've paddled maybe 50 times under this bridge but this is the first time I decided to stop here. Like most rivers in Belgium it too has been straightened in the past but it is still trying to be a proper piece of nature. Hopefully the coming of the beaver is a start of a new natural chapter. I am enthusiastically awaiting my first glimps of these big rodents. Hopefully I can show you a picture one of these days.
We started our journey under the bridge of the D947 next to the hamlet called Kruystraete. With a creative mind every 'problem' gets turned around in an enjoyable challenge, so crossing a field of nettles before we could get into our kayaks was just a matter of finding the right downslope and with some help from our trusty 'mooring' rope we went down with just a smitch of nettle fire on our legs. Great, we were ready for our adventure, the kayaks are full of gear and ready to go, sorry about all the mud in my cockpit though. Well, nothing we could do about that and the least of our worries at the time. After a few minutes of paddling the river was getting smaller and smaller and to top it all off, we disturbed a couple of swans with their young. If we just knew of a way to show these majestic birds they had nothing to fear of these two, I guess I must say it, strapping young men, we would implement it immediately. We closed down our yapping traps and gave the birds time to vacate the area as their young dove under the nearest bush.
After a few 100 meters the river opened up, the change was drastic, but welcome. Closing on Roesbrugge-Haringe it meanders a short distance parallel with the French-Belgian border. At Roesbrugge-Haringe, there is the first jetty of many yet to come, but this one we were very glad to see. We could get out and clean the mud out of the kayaks. After a bite to eat we embarked in our sparkling clean boats, they looked as good as new. Because we had no more nettlefields to cross, we could ditch the long pants and start to enjoy the beautiful weather in our 'stylish' shorts.
The trip hasn’t really started and we are already at the halfwaypoint. We found a great spot to put up our tent, right at the edge of a nature reserve. Where this beautiful spot is located is easy to find, look for clues at the coat of arms on the bridge. Immediately after disembarking we spot some storks, a Brown hen-harrier is hunting for his dinner while we are preparing ours. We have the luxury of a real table, my brother in arms gets way to excited about that then is healthy, but while we take a stroll next to the Ieperlee channel, we forget all about that.
The Westhoek is a very beautiful area in Belgium, but if you take a closer look, there are a lot of grisly reminders of a dark period in our nations history. I am talking about the First World War or The Great War. You can’t travel in the Westhoek and ignore this gruesome historic event. So even as we are walking under a canope of greenery next to a picturesque channel, our eyes are drawn to the biggest landmark for miles around, the Iron Tower.
This monument was build to remember world war II. There is a big and a small Iron tower, The smaller one was build after WWI and was destroyed during WWII. After the war when they were building the new, big tower, they must have thought, well, we are building anyway, lets restore the small one to.
We made a short stop at the only Trenches we still have in Belgium from the great war, These trenches are silent reminders of terrible times and human suffering and bear the gruesome name Boyau de la Mort. After some silent contemplating we turn our backs at history for now and turn towards the goose paw. An exciting place to paddle, albeit a bit dangerous I guess.
However first things first, after two short days on a small river we were surprised to find a big water reservoir collecting all the water of the IJzer before releasing it in the goosepaw. On a day like this without any wind a rather dull affaire I'm afraid. Traversing the locks of the goosepaw was a bit of a challenge because of the high walls surrounding the complex, but we made it.
During our short dash through the harbor we had the company of a big drone. In the end it got chased away by a flock of wood sandpipers, way to go nature!
Sometimes there are seals sunbathing on the right bank of the IJzer. Unfortunately we only had the pleasure of trying to rescue the dog statues on the pillars flanking the fairway. Before we knew it we were at sea again,surfing on gentle waves towards the beach, another wonderful kayak experience under our belts.
The first time we went to the Maas, we explored a couple of big lakes near Stevensweert and Kessenich. Big lakes according to Belgian standards, made by the gravel industry. I've wanted to post a small bit about it in the blog before, but in the end I didn't get quite to it. Beautiful locations, a bit of wind and some nice waves is in a nutshell what made it a great trip, but it was cold and wet. Luckily we had great accomodations.
But...! We heard stories about an interesting piece of the Maas a few km's upstream from our location at the time. Near the city of Maasmechelen there is a meander where the river almost makes a 180° turn. But, I'll get back to that after the following facts.
One of the interesting things about the Maas is that the rivers flow is largely made up out of rainwater, so the height of the water level is very dependent of the seasons. During the summer months almost all the water is used to feed the Juliana channel. Consequently it happens that in some places you can cross the riverbed without almost wetting your feet.
On the flipside of the coin, after winter, when there is a lot of melting snow and an occasional big spring storm you get a rather fast flowing river. In some places, like in the picture above, there are some nice rapids to test your skills.
Click on the picture above if you will, need I say more? We could not believe the amount of plastic nor the height it was lodged in the trees. This must mean that the water level could vary more then two meters.
We always fish at least two pieces of plastic out of the water, no matter where we are. Faced with these huge amounts it seemed a bit futile. But, if everyone who enjoys the great outdoors, took two pieces of plastic home and recycled them, there would be quite a different view the next time we went out.
Ok, back to the meander of the Maas. Much to our surprise we were faced with a rather fast flowing river, in some places we even needed a bit of legwork to get back to our starting point. Combining this with some creative use of the water flow we managed to get back on the right side of the river..
I simply love this piece of the river, it is a great place to buff up your skills. You can paddle all day long and never move an inch forward, kinda like a treadmill for kayaks. Or go with the flow, cross the rapids, improving your balance, best don't forget your spraydeck.
A beautiful winter day, cold, grey but dry after a few days of heavy rains. The perfect day to get re-acquainted with the Nete, sort of our alma mater. Just a short dash downstream today, to the Ark of Noë, not the real ark, but a very nice watering hole on the banks of the Nete and also home of the annual pumpkin regatta.
A few downed trees make the paddle a tat more adventurous. Nothing fancy, but every tiny slalom you can make or small increase in the flow of the river you feel under your kayak is a welcome diversion. We zip down to the ark and back. Before we know it, we are back at the 'rapid' under the old road. We dig down deep and come up with an extra burst of speed. Still reveling about our skills, prowess and power we are passing the kayak klub again. The small rapid has aroused our hunger for more. This time we are heading to the fish 'stairs' next to the barrage. A spot were you can try and increase your balancing skills in swift flowing water. Nothing fancy, but a nice spot to have some fun.
The circumstances are perfect, the waterlevel is just high enough to pass the different steps of the fish stairs, which consist of small boulders piled to form low walls. In the middle of the wall is a gap to let the fish, or in this case, the Scorpio through. Normally the waterlevel is too high to pass under the bridge or too low to get over the walls. This time, everything works out perfectly and after a demanding bit of paddling I reach the top of the stairs. Woohoo! I did it! Where are the flower girls?
Not that it needs saying, but of course we have done this wonderful feat with the utmost respect for the infrastructure and without damaging the fish stairs.
A memorable summer, this summer, but not because we finally completed 'The great escape'. Who would have thought that there would be something more important in my life than completing that journey. Well, it turns out, there is.
We have created life, No, not De kozze and MTTWIM but my beautiful wife and me. A wonderful baby boy. So, mea culpa, I didn't get out on the water nearly as much as I would have liked, but it was for the greater good as they say. Although, who 'they' must be, I do not know.
I will be completing the posts about the great escape in the near future, so check them out, they will be in july 2017 and june 2018.
After a very wet and not so cold december and january, I found a bit of spare time to look back on our last paddle trip under a blue sky. It was the end of summer, a busy time for most people. because everybody is getting ready for old man winter, quickly making some leftover repairs to the house, trimming the hedges, harvesting the last vegetables out of the rapidly diminishing garden. But like the busy and responsible ants we worked (not that) hard all summer long so now we can enjoy a bit of indian summer.
Always special is the entrance to Lake Channel. A mighty big hole in the channel wall which opens out into one of the biggest lakes of Belgium thats free to enjoy for everyone. As it is a frequent playground for bigger yachts and speedboats, it's better to keep to the sides. Sometimes we get lucky and it's possible to catch a bit of tailsurf from these bigger boats. A lot of fun when seated in the playful Scorpio, but surprising enough is that the broad eagle is also playful in the waves, easy to turn whilst all the time being as stable as a house. You would think that a broad kayak like that would be a lot harder to turn. In fact, it is so easy to turn or to keep on a straight line that the first thing I did when we got back was removing the rudder from the boat. The second thing was securing the all weather tarp and start dreaming of next year and all the great times we will have in the sun in 2018.
A wonderful time, sea, sun and beach, surfing great waves, spending a late summer day at the beach, that was the plan. Except what happened was this:
One of the first times in my life I was drinking seawater while remaining in an upright position. As people who have taken a look around our website may know, we don't have that much experience in traversing big swells. Sure, we spend a lot of time on big waters but, the Northsea @ Domburg with a NW wind of around 4 Beaufort was a bit more then we could chew. I can hear you thinking, that wave doesn't look that big. Well that's exactly what I was thinking while standing on the beach watching the foam of the waves blowing past us. Apparently there is a big difference in standing in front of a wave and sitting on your bottom in a very small vessel.
The first try with my Scorpio failed miserably, I could not stay upright even with a lot of praying. Maybe to the wrong guardian angel, who knows? After being swept out of the sea like a piece of driftwood I asked my friend, who was trying to take some action pictures of me before I drowned, if it would be smart to change boats. The answer was, stay out of the sea you crazy bugger. Normally I am the most prudent and careful guy that is out there but this time, I chose a different approach. Probably tumbling around like a washcloth in a 1950's dryer only moments before was clouding my judgement a bit. So instead of packing in my gear and drying of my Scorpio I went for the smaller, more agile Pyranha, an easier boat to handle in big swells. Or so I thought...
So again into the swell, hi ho Silver! Away! My head still a tumbling mess, my brain unable to comprehend why its body wanted back into these waters. Secretely I wasn't all that chippy about it anymore, but I had to try with the smaller boat, otherwise I would never be able to look in the mirror again... that day. But after paddling like mad, taking the first wave like a pro, the second, the third, feeling exhilarated about my paddling skills and my ability to remain upright even though at that time I had not a full grasp of the meaning of the word upright because I was gobling up large quantities of seawater. Suddenly after the fourth and biggest wave I saw my friend standing next to me, in the middle of the sea,...?
Is Riot kayaks polarity 16.5 tandem kayak the tandem kayak for us? A question we wanted answered, so we set out to kayak heaven in Wormerveer, Holland. The specs of the boat sure are promising. Easy to manoeuvre, not to long, not to wide, lots of storage capacity for short day trips or a two day camp trip. Neoprene covers and a hard shell cover provide dry storage compartments. A standard included ruther ensures the boat is easy to keep on a straight line. And last but not least, I like its looks, sturdy but not bulky.
There is a lot of room in the cockpit, comfortable seats and lots of legroom if you are build like I am, about 1m80, stocky but not bulky. The downside of all that room is that your seat is pretty low, combine that with the high and square top deck and putting your paddle in the water without hitting the side of the boat is quite the task. Because of the high sides you loose a lot of power, a high end paddle stroke is only possible if you keep moving your upper body. Seated in front there is not a problem in the world. Except a bit of splash water when there are some waves. The tip of the boat isn't that far away so that's to be expected. The rudder works like a dream but even without it, the boat is easy to keep on a straight line. It tracks very nicely and it is possible to keep up with faster single boats with ease. Turning it around is never a problem, even without banking or using the ruther it is possible to follow a challenging route down river. The bottom of the boat has a bit of a catamaran shape, so it's not flat on the inside, which can make stepping in and out of the boat a bit harder. Thanks to its excellent stability this 'problem' is easily solved.
Downside of all that sportiness, there isn't room to take lots of bagage, so multi-day trips aren't a possibility. That's not our intent so for us the fact that is was a used boat and the ruther needed fixing never made us change our mind. These 'sloppy seconds' were for us a great way to save some money. Does this mean that the polarity isn't a good boat? No, it is a great boat, I would have bought it if not for the presence of the lighter and easier to handle fiberglass eagle. If you want to make short camp trips or day trips in a tandem kayak, I would also recommend the polarity. When your main focus are sea trips, I think there are better alternatives.
In no time we were at the old lock of Wintam. This used to connect the Rupel to the Seachannel Brussels. Only at higher water levels is it still possible to loiter about directly next to the old lock. Only on the side of the Rupel, the other side has been filled up. A funny fact is that the lock still exists on google maps but when you select satellite view, half of the lock and its access channel disappears. The only use this old lock still has now is purely of sentimental nature for us 'old' folks.
The wind blew our kayaks to the shore but they were already drifting towards the next bend in the river. Luckily the Gods were with us that day and our little mistake, born out of inexperience with the tides, only bought us a short rush down the riverbank over some boulders before we had the boats again in our care. So we discovered that it's a good hard paddle against the tide for the last few kilometers. After our adrenaline shot it would be a walk in the park? Think again, we had to cross the riverlane and when the tide is coming in, it flows with a steady pace. But in the end we reached our destination for today, the Hobokense Polder. A small peace of green pasture between all the ugly industry. A job well done and another part of the great escape checked and approved. Until next time!
At the time, it seemed like a good idea :-) As you can see on the pictures, there was quite a storm raging over Belgium. I was keeping a close watch at the waterlevels of a small river that is very close to my home. A river that you are only able to kayak on when there is a lot of water flowing. As it happened to be on that rather windy 7th of march. I told my boss I needed to be somewhere, dropped everything I needed in the new and improved Kayak van and drove to the starting point.
Meanwhile it had stopped raining and the wind was laying low, I felt like a million bucks and launched myself into the 'rapid' flowing river. What was the most exciting part of it? That I had to cross one little dam and I was determined to do this without portaging. A first and a rather enjoyable experience I will be repeating in the near future. What I hadn't counted on was the second, slightly bigger dam that came next. Luckily our summertraining paid off and I stayed upright, barely. Yes I told myself, you are king of the world, a feeling that I lost quite soon when the river turned right into the wind. That day there were windspeeds up to 100kph and I can tell you, it is impossible to move ahead if you get caught by one. But after an hour of praying, pleading and a bit of blasphemy I reached the safe compounds of my home. Which I could not enter because my keys where still in the van. So, after some breaking and entering I had secured an old bike with a leaky back tire to drive back to my van, still in my kayak getup. After two kilometers of battling the blasting wind, I came to the conclusion that I left the key of the van lying next to my garage. Lets just say that when eventually I got to the van I was quite proud of my achievement. In the great scheme of things a rather small one but it felt as if I had just obtained a great personal victory!!. :-)
It has been officially confirmed , kayak heaven exists and is located in Wormer , Netherlands . On the banks of the Zaan on the edge of the largest contiguous peatland region of Western Europe , the Wormer- en Jisperveld we find the canoe and kayak center Arjan Bloem. This wonderful shop is filled to the ridge of the roof and to the edge of the water with new and used canoes and kayaks. With a smile you get introduced from A to Z to the wonderful world of water sports. Each boat you can thoroughly test on the water nearby , If you can't find here the stuff you had in mind, you probably do not need it to practice our sport.
Het is officieel bevestigd, De kajak-hemel bestaat en bevindt zich te Wormer, Nederland. Aan de oevers van de Zaan op de rand van het grootste aaneengesloten veenweide-gebied van West-Europa, het Wormer- en Jisperveld vinden we het kano- en kajakcentrum van Arjan Bloem.
Deze prachtige winkel ligt tot de nok van het dak en tot aan de rand van het water vol met nieuwe en tweedehandse kano's en kajaks. Met de glimlach word je van A tot Z wegwijs gemaakt in de wondere wereld van de watersport. Elke boot mag je uitvoerig testen op het nabijgelegen water,
Als je hier de spulletjes niet kan vinden die je in gedachten had, heb je ze waarschijnlijk niet nodig om onze sport te beoefenen.
One of the many advantages of tour kayaking on a big river in a small country that is a bit overbuilt is discovering beautiful places to live. These appartements are located at Burcht. (picture1) The view across the river Schelde in the direction of Kruibeke is magnificent. (picture2)
Een van de vele voordelen van toerkajakken op een grote rivier in een dichtbebouwd land, is het spotten van woongelegenheden op mooie locaties. Zo ook te Burcht waar we dit pareltje hebben zien staan. (foto1) Het uitzicht over de Schelde richting Kruibeke is magnifiek. (foto2)
Like every picture of the legendary snowman, UFO or Sasquatch is our first photo of our second encounter with a single seal in the Westerschelde almost unrecognizable. For the record, the dot in the middle of the photo is the head of a wild seal.
Zoals elke foto van de legendarische sneeuwman, UFO of Sasquatch is ook onze eerste foto van onze tweede ontmoeting met een enkele zeehond in de Westerschelde bijna onherkenbaar. Voor de goede orde, het stipje in het midden van de foto is een wilde zeehondenkopje.