Driving south against the clouds, we eventually passed out of the gloom and into sunshine at Lessines, a charming market town on the French side of the language border. After taking some photos of the local colour (people and things), we headed still further south to Strépy Thieu where Sindy reckoned she needed a quick dash around the great ship lift there. So to avoid the typical "s'not fair" look, we parked the car and got out.
Market stalls at Lessines
The scenery there was, as always spectacular and as luck would have it, we saw a large tanker, the Redoutable, entering the lift in the lower basin. Watching the lift in action is always fascinating and even awesome. These huge tubs that can take ships of up to 2000 tons are lifted by the downward force of equally huge counterweights, and the speed with which they do it is incredible.
We climbed to the top, 73 metres above the lower basin, and watched the Redoutable making its exit followed by a very pretty historic barge that had sneaked in behind it.
The rain then started again, but this time in earnest, so we drove into La Louvière to seek out our favourite café and have their very excellent coffee in subtly genteel surroundings. The town had its wet weather face on, though, and we were not inclined to spend much more time there, other than to do a bit of necessary shopping, so we headed out again. Driving round the area is always a treasure trove and it took us to re-visit a little house we seriously considered buying a year or so before we found our Westdorpe get away. It was good to see the place again and be reminded of why we'd been so tempted.
The return journey brought new delights, though. Driving towards the town of Ath, we found sunshine again at Soignies, another attractive place with a truly magnificent church that was founded a thousand years ago. I love this photo Koos took of the town square with the church high up on the hill behind it.
But then the real treasure of the day came. One of the pleasures of exploring Belgium is taking a dive off the main roads and seeing where it takes you. The evening light was turning the landscape to gold and the greens, yellows and browns of the meadows and ploughed fields glowed agains the vivid blue of the sky. Koos has taken some heart wrenching photos of the scenery, which you can find on his Flickr page, but below is one I took from my place in the car.
We drove through it all with mouths agape at the sheer beauty of the world. Eventually, though, we had to move on, and Ath, our final stop of the day, also proved to be a grand new discovery. What a lovely, lively place. It has both style and character and the feeling of a living, breathing urban heart. Even better, it has a river and a canal, and although I hadn't visited the town before, it has a special place in my memories. It was here on our first ever trip out together, more than nine years ago, that Koos showed me a lock on the town's outskirts. The day was very hot and the tar between the stone slabs was warm and soft, so in a fit of romantic togetherness, we put our thumbprints in it. I wonder if they are still there. I like to think so.