A quiet secluded life in the country, with the possibility of being useful to people to whom it is easy to do good, and who are not accustomed to have it done to them; then work which one hopes may be of some use; then rest, nature, books, music, love for one’s neighbour – such is my idea of happiness.”
– Leo Tolstoy from Family Happiness
It is mid-March and the Belgian spring has no inclination towards emerging from the clutches of the winter. Yes, the days are getting longer and skies are getting bluer, but the temperature and the snow have no intention of letting up! Today morning I wake up in a friend’s place at a small village south of Brussels to a freezing yet sunny -14 degrees!
(Click on photos for larger version)
Gendron is peaceful and tranquil, with only about a 100 inhabitants. The solitude is perhaps the reason why Google cannot pull out useful links from the worldwide web on Gendron. Imagine, I was in a fairly accessible place in Belgium within range of a strong wi-fi; yet with no article on the English Wikipedia about it (reminding me to devote an hour this weekend on an english article on Gendron). The only article I found was on the French Wikipedia on the nearby railway station Gare Gendron-Celles, a smaller settlement around a railway station.
Tucked away in a small abutment of Wallonie (the southern French-speaking region of Belgium) into France, the village of Gendron is less than an hours drive from Brussels. Taking the public transport apparently takes 2-3 hours one way from Antwerp and possibly an hour less from Brussels. But, I doubt that the trains are frequent (MAP here).
Not always peaceful though. It was near here that the last few encounters of the Battle of the Bulge were fought where the German 2nd Panzer divisions were knocked out. On 24 December 1944, the Nazi Panzer tanks reached the western-most point in their offensive against the Allies near Gendron. From that day on, it was only retreat as the Allies closed in on Germany from several fronts. One of the Panzers can still be seen to the left en route Gendron when you pass through the town of Celles.
After some nice warm rghaif, which reminded me of crisp Punjabi Parathas, we took a nice walk through the nearby woods, primarily oak forests. Large parts of the woods were brought down in July 2010, when heavy winds and storm hit several parts of the Ardennes damaging buildings even. See this photo of the church at Ciney which lost a part of its tower to the storm!
About a 100m descent into the valley as we trekked through several inches of snow was the river Lesse, joined here by a smaller river (I forget its name). The river Lesse is a smallish river that joins the larger river Meuse, apparently flowing underground for over a kilometre through limestone caves in some parts of its journey. The erosions underground caused by the river are accessible and many of them are important archaeological sites, including the caves of Han-sur-Lesse.
Fishing permitted with license. The main activity for which Gendron is somewhat known for seems to be kayaking on the Lesse, the few hits that one gets on Google – see Rajeev Verma’s kayaking experience caught on video. There is an album compiled on this blog by a Gendronese resident, that does no justice to the place though. Beware of the 18+ only photographs of the femme fatale fishing in Gendron with….ahem let’s say summer clothing (If you did not heed to my warnings here, dont blame me after clicking it 🙂 Another page on the same blog contains a nice compilation of information on the village made by Colette Smoother, a teacher at the village till 2001. It is in french and can be accessed here.
Birding activity was great. Having seen many of the birds at the garden feeder, the trek in the woods did not add anything new. Garden birds included Chaffinch (Fringilla coelebs), Bullfinch (Pyrrhula pyrrhula), blue and coal tits (Parus caeruleus & Periparus ater). Other birds already photographed at the feeder by my friends were Willow Tits (Poecile montanus), Goldfinch (Carduelis carduelis), green and the spotted woodpeckers (Picus viridian & Dendrocopos major). Kestrels were also reported from here.
Deer tracks crisscrossed our paths. So did several well-marked trekking paths, including some of the tracks of the GR footpath, parts of which pass by Gendron. I tried to look around for the characteristic horizontal red-white markings of the GR, but only found smaller more local trekking routes.
The town itself was beautiful. A short walk revealed a church and the only farm left in the village, but running since late 18th century and a few houses. The houses have a characteristic margin of granite stones lining the windows.
I coudnt get a photo of the railway station, which the French wikipedia article announced that they needed, but this will have to do for now…until perhaps my next visit? I hope somebody will beat me to it though…
All in all, a day well spent in Gendron and hoping to go back to spend more time trekking along the valley of the Lesse perhaps later this year!
Special thanks to Vincent & Amina for their kind hospitality and for the c.1930 photo of Gendron.