Leaving Ninove about 10 on Wednesday morning we were through the lock just above town by about 20 after and entered the Dender Valley. “Valley” indicates hills and, voila! there was elevation! We had seen a little uphill and down on our bike ride to Aalst but now we were doing some serious twisting and turning through the Belgian woods.
After 1 more lock and two opening bridges (waiting for us as we were the only boat moving on the river), by just a little after noon we were tied up on the pontoon between the two opening bridges in Geraardsbergen, “The oldest town in Flanders.” In 1068 the town received it’s charter from the Count of Flanders, granting it’s citizens many rights, including personal freedom, an unusual gift in those days. The town grew continuously with the increasing cloth trade, then in the 19th century it became the center of the creation of chantilly lace, reaching a worldwide market. More recently, there was a huge matchmaking company, Union Match, and cigar making.
Geraardsbergen main shopping street.
A nice butcher, a couple of bakeries, a medium sized supermarket and the usual tidy shops and houses on cobblestone streets. It’s a vey pleasant town.
You may also have heard of the “Mannekin-Pis,” the fountain in Brussels. Well, maybe not. Anyway, the citizens of Geraardsbergen lay claim to having theirs first. This Mannekin-Pis was made in 1459, 160 years before the one in Brussels. That’s their story and they’re sticking to it!
We especially like the small “No drinking water” sign on the railing.
Now the town is most notable for it’s part in the Tour de Flanders bicycle race and it’s brutal climb up the “Muir,” a cobblestone track up a 20% grade that thins out the peloton.
It’s also famous for mattentaart, a local pastry that was the first Flemish regional product protected under European regulations. They really are pretty good.
There’s also a really sweet municipal museum, admission €1.25 each, with rooms dedicated to the match company (with a zillion matchbook covers), the tobacco industry, chantilly lace and the Concordia Brewing Company, one of the first industrial sized breweries in Belgium. The guy at the desk in the museum was very happy to give us a personalized tour.
We had a really good pizza dinner at an Italian restaurant called “Arte” and just generally enjoyed the town.
The sun goes down on the Geraardsgergen Haven.
Major reconstruction was taking place on the next lock right on the edge of town, so it’s operating hours were restricted to early morning, noon and evening and, since the river was closed due to more construction just a little further on, this was the furthest south we’d get on the Dender. Friday morning we turned around and passed back through the Wijngaard Bridge but only traveled about 3 1/2 k to the “marina” (complete with what look like abandoned boats, a feature of the river, it seems) in the regional park at De Gavers. It’s a huge lake with walking and bicycling paths, campground, cabins, a swimming beach and bike and boat rentals; a huge summer holiday camp. Being late May, however, the place was basically deserted; a few people jogging and walking the paths and a few in the cafe. We managed the 5 k walk around the lake back to the boat just before a big rainstorm.
Saturday morning it was yet another 10 am departure through 3 locks and 3 bridges to the pontoon in Denderleeuw, the “Schipstrekkers koesteren.” A small village with a big church, in the olden days before engines, when barges had to be towed by people or horsepower, this village halfway between Dendermonde and Ath was the home of the men (and some women) who hauled the barges.
Another 10 am departure Sunday morning took us through 3 more locks and 3 more bridges to the pontoon we were unable to stay on last Saturday. We had it all to ourselves. We’d be reentering the tidal Schelde on Monday morning and to get the proper current we didn’t want to get there until 11 am. We visited the Monday market in Dendermonde again and by 11:30 were back on the Schelde, zooming our way towards Ghent.
Things are a little busier in the square on market day.