During the summer of 2015 I was looking for a kayaking holiday starting from the heart of Brussels. At that time I was a member of a kayak club in Anderlecht and could use one of their tour kayaks for a full week. It was certainly a good idea to take some basic courses on safety techniques and what to do when you flip over.
The plan was simple: enjoy nature and kayak through the Belgian backland. So that’s what I did: I kayaked from Tour&Taxis in Brussels to Deinze, over the canal, Zenne, Dijle, Rupel, Schelde, ringvaart and Leie.
My kayak was filled with my camping gear, water, boiled eggs, fresh fruit, muesli bars, some canned food and a bottle of wine. For the kayaking part I took a good map, a well charged mobilephone with gps and a cart to put my kayak on to walk around the locks.
The route I took looked exactly like on the map below. Important to mention that at every lock you have to take your kayak out of the water, walk around the lock complex and find a spot to safely get into your kayak again.
Day 1: Brussel – Klein Willebroek
I loaded the kayak on the dock next to Kanal and Tour & Taxis in the morning and started paddling in the direction of Antwerp. Past Vilvoorde I took the dock on the right side and had to lift my kayak out of the water for a first time. 5 days of food, camping gear and the kayak itself is quite a weight, so I was happy to put the two wheels under the kayak and roll it through the grass, over the road and back to the water.
An hour later I remembered there was a very important point: don’t follow the old Zenne until next to Mechelen or you’ll get trapped in a concrete canal with a small damm/turbine. I checked on my gps every couple of minutes and realized well in advance where I had to turn right not to kill myself.
In the beginning of the afternoon I arrived in “Zennegat”, a place where 3 canals come together. It has a super cosy bar (Zennegat 13), so I charged my phone for the first time and toasted to myself with a beer.
And that was the easy part without having to take into account the tidals. As from now I would have to calculate the most optimal moments to kayak and have the tide pushing my downstream (instead of paddling against the tide). Around 17pm I decided that 8 hours of paddling was enough for the day and put my camp next to a desolated working dock in Klein Willebroek. With a little drizzling rain I waited for my girlfriend to join me by train and bike and tell her all about how my arms heart but the nature is so beautiful.
Day 2: Klein Willebroek – Sint-Amands on the Schelde
Eventhough I realized it would still take a couple of hours before the tide would be beneficial, I decided to take a quick breakfast and start paddling towards the schelde. If you stay well on the side of the rupel you can actualy benefit of the stream turning backwards onto the riverbanks. So that’s what I did.
Putting sunscreen every two hours I reached the Schelde just on time to still get the tide along and shot down towards Sint-Amands. The picture just above is the idilic arrival at Sint-Amands. It’s a poetry village with a couple of small restaurants. It feels like arriving in a fairy tale. I camped next to a cycling path just outside of the village. Next time I’ll go to the same place for a nice biking tour!
Day 3: Sint-Amands – Ghent centre
The third day is where I changed my original plans from going to dendermonde to continuing until Ghent and then on the beautiful Lei river. And that’s where I started improvising on the route.
I had to paddle for about 10-12 hours to get to Ghent and arrived just before sunset facing an impressive 10m high lock wall without any spot to get out of the water. After getting yelled at by the lock responsible to “go back where you came from with your toyboat or drown, I couldn’t care less” I turned around full of adrenaline.
In the pitch dark with my headtorched I paddled back looking for a spot where I could go on land. Since it was next to a road there was not a single square meter to pitch my tent. So I rang at the front door of people with some grass in their frontyard. Yes, I could camp there and of course they could charge my phone. Lucky me. After paddling more than thirty kilometres that day I fell asleep immediately.
Day 4: Ghent – Sint-Martenslatem
After spent the early morning relaxing and reading in my tent I set of for another day full of adventure. Early afternoon there was the huge lock of Merelbeke. Steep riverside walls of 6 metres high lead to some brain stretching engineering techniques with a long rope and the wheels under the kayak. It took me two full hours to get back into the water just behind the lock.
So with less time left to paddle I decided to go slow and enjoy the pictoresk views of the Leie. In the evening i pitched my tent with a view on 11 cows and a boat. I enjoyed the last bit of my wine, meatloaf, tomatoes, parovitta, mozarella cheese and tomato juice. My healthy kayakers lunch dinner since 4 days, also called “pica pica”. For desserts I ate two balistos and some speculoos.
Day 5: Sint-Martenslatem – Deinze
The last day of my trip I went as slow as possible to just enjoy the scenery. I paddled for a couple of hours and arranged my pickup with my parrents at lunchtime: Gasthof Halifax, a lovely terrace with views on the Leie. A nice celebration to finish the adventure!