Heaps of decompression

With little more than baby’s hunger and baby’s sleep on your mind, getting out of the house in those first weeks after birth is 1) for bare necessities only, 2) the result of careful planning and 3) a luxury when you have a grandma who’s willing – no, asking – to take him out of your hands. So with the prospect of having an entire Saturday to ourselves, we looked forward to the most efficient remedy for decompression we know: walking it all off!

We knew we did not have to undertake a lot to find and enjoy a fine piece of nature in Belgium. And let’s face it, with a country this small, nothing is really that far away.  Therefore we headed towards Genk, in the province of Limburg. Notwithstanding it’s merely a two hour drive from hometown Ghent, we were eager to get out of the car and stretch our legs. We drove towards the parking lot of the Genk football stadium. Behind it lays an old mine site, known as the Waterschei slag heaps. Make sure not to visit the site when KRC Genk has a soccer match scheduled, as the parking will be full of exuberant fans.

The beautiful hills behind the stadium actually consist of large amounts of waste from mining and sorting coal. This way the ‘terrils’ or slag heaps were eventually formed. With the coal industry crisis in the 1960’s, the mines were shut down one after the other. At the end of the eighties the last Genk mine of Winterslag closed for business. After the mining sites were cleaned up, the slag heaps were next. Some remained as they were, others were remodeled for security reasons. Over time they actually created their own microclimate with a unique flora and fauna. In ‘99 the slag heaps were classified as a protected landscape.

As it was mid-January, winter was softly lingering on. Luckily is was a sunny day. At some places frost still covered the soil. We decided to immediately start climbing the highest hill. Some stretches are only loose stones which make the climb uphill ánd downhill a bit more challenging. Although you are basically mounting a big pile of stone waste, the 165 m high slag heap of Waterschei will give you a breathtaking view of the former Genk mine site.

Across the entire site run several trails for walks and cycling trips. Solo cyclers were about defying the hills, others were walking in the company of others, a dog or a horse, which we personally love encountering. This quiet and above all refreshing day out was exactly what our bodies and souls needed. Flanked by a mine hill we enjoyed a perfect sun down with miles and miles of horizon to scan. Thinking of our gorgeous little boy, awaiting our revitalized return.

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