Monday, October 07, 2013

Seven Wonders of the (northern) European Waterways

Just recently, my Facebook and Twitter friend, Colin of posted his choice of the seven wonders of the British waterways. I really enjoyed his post and it showed me features of the British waterways I hadn't seen before, many of which are remarkable engineering achievements and very lovely. So I thought it would be nice to do my own blog post about my choice of 'wonders' but this time in northern Europe. Many of these are within a day's drive from here, so I decided I would start with home base, which is to me my absolute number one wonder!

1.  The Oude Haven and the historic harbour complex in Rotterdam: Our harbour is the oldest  harbour in Rotterdam and both the first and the largest historic harbour in the country. It is home to a large fleet of traditional Dutch barges and the harbour is part of the whole haven Museum complex which includes the Maritime museum as well. It's also where my Vereeniging is moored, making it even more special of course!

the Oude Haven with its lovely array of historic barges

A traditional tug boat 
2. The beautiful old boat lifts at La Louviere in Wallonia, Belgium: There are four of these, each one lifting boats up about fourteen metres. The big basins that carry the barges can hold boats of around forty metres in length and over five metres wide. They are similar to the Anderton boat lift in England, and they work on a counter-weight system. They are very beautiful with their lacy ironwork, and I've been lucky enough to hitch a ride on a barge going up one of them.

Old boat lifts at La Louvière

3. Still in Wallonia and very close to the old boat lifts is the new and amazing boat lift at Strèpy Thieu. This replaces the four old lifts and is a huge double lift that rises seventy two metres high. It can also take much larger barges as it was built to current commercial dimensions and standards. It was opened in 2001. I have to say it is phenomenal. Standing at the top of the hill and looking down, it is hard to believe these lifts carry basins full of water and barge up so high.

New, huge boat lift at Strèpy Thieu

4. My number four is the gorgeous village of Giethoorn in Overijssel. It is a unique place in that it has no roads - only canals and footpaths. No cars can enter the village and goods are transported by boat along these charming and extremely picturesque waterways. It's a very popular tourist attraction as visitors can hire small boats and cruise around the village. I made a film about Giethoorn which unbeknown to me became very popular on YouTube when a travel company used it for publicity, and I think it got so many views because people love going there. I can't blame them.

Giethoorn, a village with no roads

5. This just has to be another Belgian marvel, the Inclined Plane at Ronquières: I've posted photos of this before as well, but it's worth listing here as it really is fantastic to see and to watch.  Another engineering marvel, the inclined plane consists of double tracks that carry huge barges up or down a 1500 metre long hill in massive basins of water. The rise is around sixty metres and it takes approximately twenty minutes for these enormous trolleys to go up or down. They work on a counter-weight system like the old boat lifts.

The inclined plane at Ronquières
6: For number six, I've chosen our own great shipping canal in Zeeuws Vlaanderen, the Terneuzen to Ghent sea canal. It really is so impressive, and it has to be almost unique for an inland waterway in this part of the world to go so deep into the country. We see great sea-going vessels creeping past pulled by tugs; we see even larger cargo transporters that seem to manage without tugs and it is an awe-inspiring sight.

The great ship canal from Ternuezen to Ghent

7. And my last European waterways wonder is the beautiful city of Ghent. I have chosen this simply because it is such a surprise to visit a city in northern Europe and find a kind of Venetian town where the waterways seem to be everywhere. In fact there are two important rivers flowing through Ghent: the Scheldt and the Leie, and on a sunny day they are teeming with boats and activity. I just love it!

Waterways in Ghent

 So there you have it. My personal seven wonders of the northern European waterways. All well known to me and all quite close together, relatively speaking. There are many more, of course, and France has a whole collection all by itself, but I have yet to visit most of those. That will be for another time.

If you've seen any of these waterway wonders, do tell me about it!


  1. Absolutely excellent Val - I'm flattered you feel I've given you any inspiration though - you certainly don't need any with your great articles...

  2. Thanks Colin! But you really did inspire me with your post. I loved it and there are so many waterway marvels in England that I haven't seen. I'm glad you liked this one too :-)

  3. #4. You have posted about this before? I seem to remember it, it is a place like a fairy tale, so beautiful, heavenlike.
    And Ghent so stunning.
    But, all of them are beautiful, city's and town's with these amazing waterways . #4 though I I would love to visit.
    (Forgive me not mentioning the name, I am using my iPad and to go back and forth within pages , I have not yet figured that out, and may never ;). )
    Interesting post Val, thank you.

  4. How pretty is Giethoom, definitely one for the 'must do' list. My son has just spent the weekend in Ghent with his girl friend and loved it. I love your choices of 'wonders' and make me even keener to get over to visit very soon xxxx

  5. Lovely post. Have seen an inclined plane in France; this one is quite something! All fantastic choices. One ticked off; six to go! 😊

  6. Thank you for your comments Grace, Fran and Christina!

    Grace, yes, I have posted about Giethoorn before. It's a very special place. It's also very popular with visitors so you have to pick your time to visit otherwise it can be over-crowded.

    Fran, Ghent is one of my favourite cities anywhere in the world. It is just lovely!

    Christina, I am convinced you would be fascinated by the lifts and the inclined plane. They are historical, engineering and aesthetic marvels.

  7. Aren't these wonderful, Val. And so interesting, to group them together like this - underlines how great our canals are, not just their beauty but also as feat of engineering.

  8. Hi Val,

    Everything seems so well maintained compared to here where the system is crumbling to bits.

    Gorgeous photos!


  9. Thank you, Jo. We are very rich in our waterways wonders over here.

    Heather, the photos of the English canal systems always make it look lovely. Sad to hear things aren't being well maintained. It's like that in France too, I'm afraid. The advantage with Holland and Belgium is that the waterways are still very busy commercially, so they need to keep them in good shape, especially the big lifts and the inclined plane.

  10. Giethoorn....oh a tourist spot. I can handle that. How does one get around if not own their own boat/water vessel? are there water taxi's. A place to retire?

  11. Such a lovely, interesting and informative post! Great reading and loved the photos.

    Thanks for sharing.


  12. Lovely post Val.I am entering a world I know nothing about.Boat lifts? I didn't know such a thing exsisted. I love the village with no roads I can wait to show it to hubby,he will love it and Ghent is so lovely too. Thanks for showing it all to us.

  13. Wow, they all look amazing, especially the village with no roads.

    One day, we might make it over there. It's so nice to hear about places that are so different but still have a resonance with the English waterways.


  14. Thanks, Nas. There's so much to see, I'll see if I can come up with some more of them!

    Anne, I can see your hubby's going to need a couple of watery ways holidays before long :-)

    Neil! Thanks for 'popping in' :-) The engineering feats are amazing, but I notice Giethoorn really appeals to so many more people. I suppose it's just the idea of having a village with no roads and just going everywhere by boat...very appealing isn't it?

  15. I think Gierhoorn is mostly the beauty, the uniqueness of the water as your passage. A fairy tale likeness

  16. I love reading about these canals and lifts. If/when I ever get to Northern Europe, I would love to visit Giethoorn. It looks so a fairy tale village.

  17. what a lovely post, especially as I have been stuck indoors. The beautiful pictures capture an essence you could actually visualize being there.


  18. These are all beautiful places, but #4 is also my favorite. It really does look like it's straight out of a storybook!


  19. Hi Val - I haven't read it properly .. but I can imagine you've given us some really interesting places to visit .. I'd love to go to Ghent - one day ... and that village with no roads ...

    Cheers and I must peek at Colin's suggestions .. happy times ahead - Hilary

  20. Carol, it's worth a holiday just to tour round and see these places, it really is!

    Thank you, Lainy! I'm glad I've given you something lovely to look at!

    Julie, if I had to put them in order of popularity, I am sure #4 Giethoorn would come out tops. It's a lovely place and deserves its fame.

    Thanks for stopping by Hilary! I am sure you would love them all, but like many, the village with no roads would be top of the list! And yes, Ghent is gorgeous too :)

  21. Hey Val. It seems living on a boat gives you a whole new world perspective. I loved this. Ghent sounds amazing. Geo and I plan to do a trip down the French canals in the future, but I think I'd like to join up with a few others to do it.

    Love your new profile pic.


  22. Thanks Denise! I'm so glad you find it interesting. Travelling with other people can also be very nice, you're right. I hope you manage to organise your dream trip!

  23. The lifts in Walloon look like the lift in England because they were designed by the same engineer! The Belgians liked what he had done in England and invited him to do the same x 4 for them.

  24. Good stuff val! Did you take all those pictures yourself as well?

  25. Thanks, Chris, yes, all except the one of the back of my head. I'm not quite that clever at self portraits yet :)


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