Canal du Centre

Canal du Centre

Monday, May 22, 2017

The Dender, Or We Come To Terms With Out and Back

Our original plan for the early part of the summer was (you can follow along on the Belgium Canal chart on the sidebar) to travel south on the Dender from Dendermonde to the Blanton-Ath Canal, turn west and north on the Nimy-Blanton-Perrones Canal to the Escaut then cut across to Kortrijk and north to Ghent. However, plans being jello and all, just before we left Stevensweert we were informed that the upper reaches of the Dender above (south of) Geraardsbergen were closed until the first of July due to construction, and the through route was unavailable. We debated just giving the Dender a pass but decided we would embrace the out-and-back; head to where we couldn’t go any further, then turn around and head back to the Schelde. 
Saturday evening about 5 pm we cleared the first lock onto the Dender, hoping to spend the night at a pontoon just a couple of k up the river. We found it full so headed further on to the next lock (Denderbelle), only to discover it closed at 6 pm. We were about 5 minutes late and the lockkeeper had already left. Luckily there was a set of posts right before the lock for waiting. We’d be waiting until the morning so we tied up. Sunday the locks don’t open until 10. There was a large commercial barge above the lock. One of the surprises of the lower reaches of the river was the amount of commercial traffic. There are several big industrial operations around Aalst that draw a couple of barges a day. Once he was through, we locked up and tied up on the wall after the lock. It’s free, a nice spot and we were just a 5 k bike ride from Dendermonde. Since it was only 10:30, we did a few chores, had lunch and then biked into town.

The main square in Dendermonde
Very quiet on a Sunday afternoon.
Not so on Monday morning. It would be packed!

The very nice new tourist office opened just as we arrived so we got the lowdown on town. We also found out that the market is held on Monday’s. We’d stay another day at the lock so we could check it out.
Monday morning we cycled back to town for the market, then after lunch headed off on more of the excellent Belgian cycle routes. The only problem is that was that is was Monday so none of the cafes along the bike paths were open. We had to get back to the boat before we could have a beer!
Since a good part of our cycling route was along the river, we did have a chance to check out some of the mooring possibilities along the way. None of them looked particularly pleasant. Several of the pontoons are crowded with what appear to be abandoned boats and the tie ups in Aalst, the next large town, were all in industrial areas and didn’t look very pleasant. However, The lock above Aalst is much smaller that the two further down the river so there is no commercial traffic above it and it looked like the canal was much smaller and more picturesque. The next moorings on our chart were about 25 k up the river in Ninove so we thought we’d give them a try.
Good decision. We arrived at the pontoon about 1:30 and there was just room for us with a little left over. We had plenty of time to investigate the town and sample the local brew, Witkap Pater. Yum, yum!

Many towns parade giant “puppets” through the streets as part of their festivals.
This guy has obviously been sampling the local brew!

We also thought there must be some kind of fitness challenge happening in town. We were tied up right by the city park along the towpath and we think we saw every citizen of the town either bike or jog by the boat that afternoon. Everybody from elementary school kids to grandparents were out working up a sweat. It also helped that the weather had finally turned nice. In fact, Tuesday was pretty warm, with temps into the 80’s.
Wednesday morning we shoved off and navigated the 2 locks and 2 opening bridges to Geraardsbergen, the furthest up the river we’d travel this year.

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