Aalst to the Bocholt-Herentals Canal

Great shoes seen in Aalst. Don’t leave in the sun - they are pure Belgian chocolate

A funny story we heard about the old town gate in Ninove, one of the only historic buildings among the greatly modern town.

When the city was threatened by enemies, the key of the gate couldn’t be found. 

So a very “smart” citizen apparently got a big carrot and jammed it into the lock. But a donkey came and ate the carrot which allowed the enemy to push the gate open. Nevertheless, the carrot man has his own statue in town and his place of honour in the yearly carnival proceedings.

We finally got the ok to move further along the increasingly pretty, winding river. An array of wildflowers grows along the banks and the towpaths are lined with beautiful trees and lush paddocks. At Aalst the river widens and only from there on can commercial barges use this waterway to transport the local produce of grain and seeds for bio-oil and animal feed. 

While Ninove has a relationship to the carrot, it is all about onions in Aalst! Aalsters themselves are jokingly called “Onions”. The opinions as to the origin of this nickname are divided. It could be due to a large onion plantation on the polders of the river in 19th century, or come from the local dialect in which the “yes” sounds like “ui”, the Dutch word for onion. 

We were assured by the tourist bureau, that Aalst is THE carnival town of Belgium. There is a yearly three day celebration with processions of decorated wagons and men dressed as women, not in a sexual way but rather a stereo-typical or glamorous “Dame Edna” style way. The epitome of the carnival spirit is the statue of the “Ijlster” (a person from Aalst) on the Hopmarkt. 

The main market place of Aalst is overlooked by the statue of Dirk Martens who introduced printing to the local people in 1473. This is also the site where one of Aalst’ most notorious murderers, first held prisoner inside the beautiful Belfry Tower, was executed. Two other notable persons of Aalst are the writer Louis Paul Boon and the priest Adolf Daens. The latter committed his life to help the poor labourers, farmers and small businesses. His efforts to achieve political and social reforms caused many conflicts between him and the conservative church elders and christian party.

In Saint Martins Church we admired the Rubens painting “Christ appoints St. Roche as patron of plague victims”, a powerful work of art showing some hope in the darkest of times. 

From Aalst it is only a few kilometres to the top of the Dender where the tidal lock goes onto the River Schelde. To get there at high tide and travel in direction of Antwerp, we had to start off at 7:15 am, a new record for us! This way, with the tide going out with us we broke another speed record, but also did the longest distance ever in one day! After finally making it through the other side of the tidal waters at Antwerp, it was very windy and we couldn’t find a safe mooring on the busy Albert Canal. So we just carried on until we turning off into one of our favourites: The Bocholt-Herentals Canal. With nearly 100 km travelled, this was a marathon for us! (on the right statue “Marathon Runners” found in Ninove.)

In Herentals we indulged in “Mussels and Frites” at the same restaurant as 4 years ago and rested up before moving on to a pretty little mooring just before lock no. 9. A new Café Brasserie had opened there in June and their terrace seatings were packed with cyclists and other patrons. We joined them gladly for a Belgian beer- or two in Austin’s case, which got him a little tipsy and had him talking a little too loudly about the features of diverse dogs and their owners around us. Luckily they didn’t catch onto his Belgian beer tainted Aussie accent and no offence was taken.

We enjoyed cruising down the rest of the picturesque canal and watching hundreds of cyclists passing us on the tow way.

Tomorrow we will be back in Holland. Adieu Belgium for now!

© Austin Robinson 2019