A bike ride where your main guides are the river and the old Somain-Peruwelz mining railway.
I love to pedal. I find it easy, relaxing, and also exciting! For me, cycle touring is first and foremost tourism carried out with the aid of a vehicle that’s neither too fast nor too slow, allowing the traveller to really take in everything their senses ‘collect’ along the way. Exercise should remain a pleasurable activity I’ll gladly leave pole position to those who research performance. To each their own motivations.
Bright and early, setting off from the town centre, I mount my non-motorised two-wheeler. So a bike, basically! I have no reason to envy the Tour de France racers (other than the polka dot jersey, and the masses of supporters). I cross the Pont Jacob before turning right, onto the edge of the canal, to reach the starting point of today’s route. Valescaut (Valenciennes’ marina). I’m there. Green and white signs confirm the route I have to take. The goal: to reach the Chabaud-Latour mining subsidence lakes in Condé-sur-l’Escaut. On the side, some boaters are waiting to go through the lock. On the other bank two fishermen calmly reach the Epaix marshes. I keep moving. I’ve made my mind up to go at a relaxed pace, admiring the landscape at the same time. I relish the ribbon of the river and the non-stop surprises studding the route. Look, a waterfall from an old lock! What a nice view of the ‘rive aux machines’. I’m told it’s the famous Contargo container port. An enclosure with a camel in it - unexpected...
The route also offers various opportunities to connect with the areas you pass through. I realise this when making my first detour around the Gare d’Eau pond in Bruay-sur-l’Escaut. Nearby, I also discover ‘Thiers’, a mining town with an outstandingly renovated square (And to think that Zola came here to get inspiration for his celebrated novel Germinal!)
It’s such a pleasure to feel your bike moving forward in the light wind that’s still fresh and damp and that gradually gives way to the gentle sunbeams and to the many scents rising from the vegetation that lines the banks of the river. The walking and cycling path mainly uses existing pathways that have just been revamped, secured and enhanced with the aim of achieving Haute Qualité Environnementale (High Environmental Quality). Believe me, it’s a success! Because did you know? The Un’Escaut loop also aims to highlight several elements of the Trame Verte et Bleue of the Valenciennes metropolitan area, such as the ecological corridors of the Scheldt and of the Cavalier des Gueules Noires (mining railway).
We don’t always think of what’s afoot in our landscapes. Like us, animals need to move around. They use natural spaces and pathways to feed, reproduce, protect themselves from predators... taking action for the green and blue corridor means preserving these natural pathways that animals use to get from A to B.
I continue on my way and make another little detour to get to the Parc Joliot-Curie in Fresnes-sur-Escaut, which isn’t on the route but is a must-see nonetheless! I dismount for a few minutes to ‘get lost’ in the pretty paths of this English-style park establised in the 18th century to serve as a setting for the château of the Vicomte Desandrouin (a pioneer in the discovery of coal). I post a few pictures on Instagram #slowtourismUnesco! And off I go again! The kilometres keep adding up and after barely an hour and a half of cycling, I reach Condé-sur-l’Escaut, a characterful fortified town that tempts me to take a refreshing break on the hundred-year-old Quai du Petit Rempart.
I’m near my goal, the Chabaud-Latour lakes are at the end of the Rue du Marais. The route passes close by the old Marais de la Canarderie, weaves between the impeccably maintained lakes; a favourite haunt of ducks, herons and all water birds... The path is lined with an abundance of plant life. From there, the route that takes me to the Ledoux headframe alternates between a landscape of polders, canals and huge skies and one of unspoilt countryside with charming old cobblestoned paths. At the end, you just have to take a break at La Roselière (a former miners’ estaminet) - it’s a delight! Like the many possibilities on offer: climbing the slag heap, water sports. You just might forget to go home.
On my way back, I pedal even more along the Voie Verte des Gueules Noires, which has been given Voie Verte certification by the Nord department. The little bonus? An trip that harks back to the days of old, since the Voie Verte des Gueules Noires is actually the old railway used by the Compagnie des Mines d’Anzin on which the trains filled with coal circulated between Somain and Peruwelz. On the Voie Verte des Gueules Noires, walkers have taken the place of trains. 8 green, peaceful, car-free kilometres that take me from Condé-sur-l’Escaut to Anzin... then Valenciennes. I’ve come full circle!
What’s one of the lovely things I discovered on my way back? The old station in Fresnes-sur-Escaut. Speaking of stations, I don’t think that getting to the Un’Escaut loop from the one in Valenciennes is all that complicated. How about going away with your tribe for a few days? B&Bs and gites are available near the route. A good idea for those who want to extend (or slow down) their trip to Valenciennes.