Distance: 84.93 km
Time: 5 hrs 47 minutes
Average speed : 14.7 km/h
Total distance: 241.17 km
slow progress — cobbles and mud tracks — a welcome brewery — a bit of Beethoven
We had to stagger all of fifty yards last night to get to the restaurant, which was part of a spa complex. Once we’d found the restaurant entrance (harder than it sounds) we settled down to enjoy a very good meal. The hotel too was good, although the traffic noise woke us quite early this morning. The excellent breakfast was some compensation for this.
Gary the Garmin navigated us impeccably through the centre of Halle to the first node of today’s route to Tienen. When planning the route we’d reckoned yesterday to be the toughest day, but this morning was brutal! It wasn’t so much the climbing – there were fewer hills than yesterday, and the gradients were generally less severe. Yesterday, though, the surfaces were generally very good, but this morning we encountered all kinds of tracks: tarmac (though not much); smooth cobbles; rough cobbles; sand; grit and mud with deep potholes. At one point we had to climb a very narrow mud path which wound horribly steeply up the hillside, using every ounce of our strength to keep pedalling. We were glad not to meet anything coming the other way… The pot-holed surface was difficult to handle, particularly on a tandem, and we pedalled gingerly between the more solid sections of the track.
Our average speed was pretty dire as a result, and our target lunch stop seemed a very long way away – at mid-day it was still some 24 kilometres distant. A couple of smoother sections gave us some false hope of making it but it was not to be. After negotiating a vile mile-long stretch of pot-holed mud we emerged with delight onto a metalled road. Fifty yards later Gary instructed us to turn left. Yes, onto another muddy track, for another mile. There may have been bad language, from both Captain and Stoker!
Abandoning our planned lunch stop we decided to find the nearest cafė, and after cycling in a circle around the town of Neerijse we found a great spot where we could sit outside and enjoy a meal. We ordered a sort of Caesar Salad, but with a mild curry dressing, reminiscent of Coronation Chicken.It sounds a little strange but was really delicious. The Captain washed his down with a glass of Westmalle Tripel, but soon realised this was a faux pas, as what we had thought was a simple cafe was actually part of a brewery – the Brouwerij de Kroon. Not wanting to upset the waiter, he decided a second beer was in order, this time the local brew. Very fine it was, too!
Somehow, that was the turning point. If this morning was tough, this afternoon was an absolute delight. The early kilometres were spent cycling on good tracks through woods in dappled sunlight. A few cobbled sections seemed easy after the exertions of the morning. The terrain, too, had changed, from a seemingly endless series of ridges to a more open, gently rolling landscape.
We passed signs for Waterloo, then emerged, cycling past a canoe slalom, into the grounds of the magnificent university at Leuven. The university buildings and grounds were spectacular, and after cycling through them we emerged near the Abdij van t’ Park, or “Park Abbey” where, as we rolled past, the steeple bells serenaded us with Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy”. How thoughtful of them!
We were rolling along nicely now, though never quite quickly enough to raise our daily average speed to a respectable value. We were getting tired, though, and we crossed, re-crossed and crossed again the busy A3, each time climbing wearily to the bridge level. After the final crossing we spotted our destination town, Tienen, in the distance, and after a few more kilometres we arrived at our hotel, not far from the centre of town.
So another day done, and we’re definitely getting stronger by the day now – even when tired we can feel the increased power available from our legs. We realised today that on the first day of this trip we reached the milestone of 10,000 miles cycled by tandem in the last 5 years – at this rate in a few years we could be quite good at it!
Tomorrow we head for Liege, the last leg in an easterly direction before we strike north for the Dutch border.
Here’s today’s track: