Date: Wednesday, January 26th, 2022
Distance: 34,6 km
It's grey and quite chilly when I get off the train in Diest. Immediately I look for the white-red GR signs of the GR512 trail, also known as the Brabantse Heuvelroute.
For a short while I follow a nice path in the Jan Heylen park along the banks of the New Demer river. At the Schaffensepoort the GR512 trail enters the inner city of Diest. First we follow the course of the Old Demer, over a duckboard path through the water. The river was uncovered here again after having been hidden under the ground for years. A first highlight is a visit to the Beguinage, with its little houses from the sixteenth century. Also noteworthy are the churches such as Onze-Lieve-Vrouw, Sint-Sulpitius and Sint-Barbara, all partly or entirely built in brown-red iron sandstone, which can be found in abundance in the Hageland.
The GR meanders through Diest and also passes by the Stadspark, where in the 13th century a castle stood and which later became a hunting domain of the Dutch Royal Court. Before leaving the little town you climb up to the Citadel. Part of the citadel disappeared over the years, but the GR trail still goes along the eastern and southern side, where the moats and citadel walls are still quite impressive.
The next 14 kilometres run parallel to the N2 highway, but on quiet streets, country roads and small paths. This way you can walk to the Vlooyberg tower in relative peace. The staircase is about 20 metres long and 11 metres high. When I arrive there, there is a fresh breeze and nobody else around. From here, you should apparently be able to see the Electrabel cooling towers in Vilvoorde and the mine terrils of Beringen (Limburg), 34 and 27 kilometres away respectively. But today, visibility is poor and I can barely recognise the village of Tielt, only 1.5 kilometres away. On a clear day, it must be beautiful here. Under the stairs, I eat my lunch at the enormous picnic table.
The next highlight is the Walenbos. Despite a few footpaths through the forest, it is an almost untouched piece of nature and is also a nature reserve. It's very wet here and so most paths are no more than mud pools. A lot of slogging around, but it doesn't hurt and I like it. It's important to clean my shoes after the hike. At the village of Houwaart I leave the Walenbos forest and see the Houwaartse Berg opposite. That is where they grow their own wine! For a moment I imagine myself in some French or German wine region. I sit down to enjoy the view.
The next eye-catcher is not long in coming: the Castle of Horst and its grounds. The last time I was here was more than 10 years ago when I got it into my head to walk from Brussels to Scherpenheuvel in one day. A pilgrimage of almost 60 kilometres. I had to stop in Rillaar, just before my final destination. On leaving the castle grounds I notice a little chapel next to a lonely tree on the otherwise bare hill in front of me. The GR trail goes around it in a straight line.
A few country roads lead us to the Troostemberg forest. Here the bivouac zone is signposted, but I don't have to go there. Via a few muddy paths along the Molenbeek, I arrive at the Gempemolen (a mill). Nowadays it's a place where hikers and cyclists can quench their thirst, but in the mid-18th century it actually had a mill function that was preserved until the 1950s. After that, the building fell into disrepair and was finally bought by a brewery. One and a half kilometres further I arrive at the bus stop along the N2 motorway where I take the bus to Leuven railway station.
Do you also want to try this beautiful hike? Download the GPX of it here:
By public transport: By train to Diest. In Lubbeek, you can take the bus to Diest or Leuven. On weekdays, the bus drives every half hour. In the weekends, it runs every hour.