Ever cycled on water? Well no, it’s not possible. However, in this unique cycling route in Bokrijk, Belgium, it is possible to cycle through water, which certainly makes for a memorable trip out on your bike!
1. Cycling through water
Cycling through Water was opened in April 2016 and is an inspiring cycling path which, rather than simply crossing a pond, goes through it. The concrete cycle path goes through a pond in the De Wijers nature reserve and open-air museum in Bokrijk, leading from one bank to the other and covering a total of 212 metres. In the middle of the pond the water is at eye level on both sides, allowing cyclists to feel, see and smell the water and giving the illusion of truly cycling through water. The route also offers a unique perspective of the natural habitat and its inhabitants, with swans and other waterfowl gliding past curiously. It also creates a somewhat strange view for those walking or jogging past the cycle route, as cyclists appear to be in the water itself with only the tops of their heads visible.
2. A sustainable tourism project
In order to keep the project sustainable, the construction of the bike path was combined with nature conservation projects in the surrounding ponds and works on a reciprocal relationship wth nature. Because of the Cycling through Water project Bokrijk’s new woodland and landscape management plan was accelerated, supporting the flora and fauna in the area. By opening the dikes, the ponds stay clean for longer and this the improvement in the water quality has led to an increase in the habitat of local amphibians, as well as a better quality of habitat. The heritage of De Wijers was also given a boost too, as the ‘monks’ that traditionally regulate the water management of the ponds were replaced by new ones.
The expansion of the open landscape of the western pond area also gives visitors an impressive 360° view of the Bokrijk museum and improves relations between the ponds and the open-air museum. Following a thorough restoration, new viewpoints were also installed in the 17th century pigeon tower and an old farm, where visitors can picnic, play and interactively learn about Bokrijk and De Wijers, raising awareness of the natural area and its importance.
3. Belgium’s cycling capital
Each year Limburg welcomes more than 300 million cycling tourists and is widely regarded as Belgium’s premier cycling province. Over the past few years the tourist board of Limburg province, Visit Limburg, has begun creating several imaginative cycling experiences to cement this reputation. Cycling through Water is the first of these, followed by Cycling through the Trees. A third project, Cycling through the Heathland, is scheduled to open in Hoge Kempen National Park at the beginning of 2021 and features a 300-meter long cycling bridge that runs through heath landscape, bringing cyclists even closer to the evergreen surroundings of the national park.
The tourist board has said that with these new trails, Limburg is stepping up its game as a pioneer in cycling tourism and taking advantage of improved infrastructure and facilities for cycling tourists. The province now has a total 2000 kilometres of paved, safe and largely car-free cycling trails that are connected through the cycle node network. Igor Philtjens, president of Visit Limburg, explained how the cycling trails are designed to promote sustainable tourism as well as encourage people to get out into the countryside and explore their natural surroundings by bike. Since the opening of Cycling through Water, the interest in the unique bike path has been huge, with an average of 800 cyclists per day visiting this unforgettable part of the Limburg cycling route network.
4. Practical information
Cycling through Water is located at node 91 of the cycle node network in Bokrijk, part of the extensive De Wijers pond landscape. If coming by car, you can use one of Bokrijk’s two spacious parking lots. The trail is also accessible to walkers and joggers, and there is bike rental available if you don’t want to bring your own bike or do not have one. Find a rental point, reserve your bike in advance and pick it up on the day itself.