International Tandem Rally 2006
~ Houthalen, Limburg, Belgium
Recreatiepark Hengelhoef near Genk (in the Limburg region of Belgium) was an excellent venue for a Tandem Club International Rally. We were all camped in one area of this huge campsite and the pitches were well appointed with each having its own water, electricity, TV and drainage and the shower toilet block had under-floor heating which made it very cosy. For those not camping there was static-type accommodation situated close to the campsite. For the children it must have been a dream come true with a sub-tropical swimming paradise pool complex with scary giant tubular slides and a raging river, whilst outside pedalled 1 or 4 people "go-karts" could be hired or crazy golf played. We didn't really have to explore the nearby local towns for supplies as the on-site shop was excellently stocked and also reasonably priced. There was also an on-site restaurant.
The terrain in this area is mostly fairly flat with a few undulating hills a little further afield. Each route sheet gave some refreshment information and also whether the route was flat, hilly, undulating. We had been given the chance, on booking, to purchase the Fietsroutenetwerk Limburg (cycle routes map) and it was a good idea to have this map handy as backup to the smaller scale photocopied map on the route sheet. The amount of cycling paths in this area is absolutely staggering and they are fabulous. It was a case of "cycling by numbers and joining up the dots" as every path is excellently signed all along its length by its number and all optional cycle paths signed at each junction - an excellent system. The paths are mainly paved or tarmacked with a few unmade sections and a fair proportion sharing quiet roads. For UK riders an amazing and most pleasant aspect of riding in Belgium or the Netherlands is that 90% of the time traffic stops and gives way to cyclists, at junctions, crossing main roads, at roundabouts. Each day's 4 routes (family, short, medium and long) had been planned so that they looped into each other, meaning that the longer riders could start out with and meet up later with the short riders; this is an excellent way of planning mixed ability routes and means that people aren't isolated but have a very good chance of meeting other tandemists along the way.
Saturday 27 May
Several members had already arrived earlier in the week but this was the rally start day and therefore the influx was duly expected. "Welcomers & guiders" were stationed near the Park entrance from very early in the morning (7am!): campers were guided to their respective pitches by a volunteer on a tandem and this task was taken over later in the day by a group of highly enthusiastic children. There was no official "short ride" but several people went out exploring the immediate neighbourhood on their tandems. At 6.30pm the "Welcome Evening" began with Tony Prichard welcoming everyone to the area followed by local beer and waffles and also wine and juice for everyone, all accompanied by a trumpeter (a little too loud for some!). Unfortunately the rain was pouring down by now, making the marquee very cosy (and noisy with the trumpeter & chatting competing).
Sunday 28 May
This was a mixed day of heavy cloud and bright sunshine. The routes all went north west and gave us a fair idea of what to expect for the rest of the week: forest, open fields, quiet suburban roads (see the accompanying extensive photo collection). Near the end of the rides we all converged on an excellent ice cream shop where we were able to sit in their garden in the sunshine.
Monday 29 May
We woke to rain and the temperature had dropped considerably from the previous day. Today's routes went west via Hasselt and then south: the long ride used some beautiful little hilly lanes near its southernmost point just east of Borgloon (3 arrows on the map meaning "steep slope" but not even coming near to the UK O/S 1 arrow of 1:7). The ride was accompanied by rain showers but ended in a little sunshine.
Tuesday 30 May
A very mixed day for weather starting with sun (though cool) and moving on to rain showers and even a couple of heavy hail showers! We later heard of some very ingenious ways of hiding from these showers - a group of tandemists sheltered in an empty removals lorry which welcomingly had its ramp down! and a conveniently empty marquee was also found along the route. This ride took us all east to As for an early coffee stop with some resourceful people linking directly (2 km) across to the old Asch railway station for lunch. The long riders went to Thorn, just over the border into the Netherlands, where there is a fantastic pancake shop. On the home run a tea stop could be made at the Planetarium cafe (which was very very noisy!) where they'd erected a bouncy castle inside.
Wednesday 31 May
This was the official "rest day" and it dawned raining and cold so it was a late start (waiting for the rain to stop) for many to cycle to the suggested Bokrijk Open Air Museum just 6 miles away, where the sun came out and was quite warm. What an excellent place for all age groups to enjoy. The open air museum comprises 3 different areas of old buildings which have been taken from their original Flemish locations and re-built here: there are "working" craft places (an excellent bakery selling their wares - good cyclists' fare!). In a separate area, for which there is no entry fee, there is an amazing adventure play park with huge tubular slides where we watched children tumbling down on top of each other squealing with happiness. The restaurants were good too.
Thursday 1 June
We were told that this was the coldest 1st June in Belgium on record - great! It certainly was very cold with leggings and winter gloves being worn by those lucky enough to have them with them! The route took us west, soon in quite heavy rain, to make a very welcome coffee stop at an abbey undergoing restoration. The short and medium riders then converged on the two restaurants in Bolderberg for lunch. The showers kept coming, interspersed with sun, but the sun stayed out for the Tandem Games (and then the midges came out to play!). There was some hilarity with the "go kart" racing with the vehicles seeming to steer themselves at times - though this also happened to Lindsay & Sophie's tandem in the balloon race when their tandem just kept on going into the trees!
Friday 2 June
At last it was a little warmer again and although there was a lot of cloud, no rain and some very pleasant warm sunshine in the afternoon. This route took us a little south east to Zutendaal for coffee, then south to the excellent Alden Biessen castle (originally founded by a German Teutonic Hospital Order of Knights) where picnics could be enjoyed in the grounds or meals taken in either of the two restaurants. The weather stayed fine and warm for the Farewell Barbecue: Lindsay McKay did an excellent selling job in many languages, whilst stood on a chair and wearing his kilt (very brave!), for his 2006 National Rally in Edinburgh.
Saturday 3 June
Time to pack up and leave for most with, of course, the sun shining quite strongly by now! A few lucky people had opted to stay another night and so were able to enjoy another ride in warm sunshine.
Many thanks to Tony (and of course Janet who gets caught up and whirled along in Tony's enthusiasm) for all the hard work of resourcing and planning yet another excellent International rally for us all to enjoy. Unfortunately this rally will, like Denmark last year, be remembered more for its unseasonally cold and rather wet weather, whereas it should be remembered for the excellent cycling in such a cycle-friendly country, the good venue, good restaurants and cafes and all the good company enjoyed.
Report by Tricia Anderson
Bookings - 120
Total Participants - 352 + 1 dog (Lizzie)
Children - 63
Chalets/B etc. - 17 Parties
Netherlands - 9 parties
Belgium - 6 Parties
Germany - 4 Parties
Israel - 1 Party
UK - 100 Parties
The low turn out for Netherlands, Belgium & Germany is partly attributable to their holidays not coinciding. We could have had a good 10 day rally if we had started the previous Wednesday.
Tony Prichard's Memorable Moments
Tony offers his thanks to the following people:
- "A lady offering me her chair when I visited the bank. I shall have to stop colouring my hair silver!"
- "Nik Janssen arranging to have a collapsed wheel rebuilt during the arrival reception."
- "The enthusiastic children piloting arrivals to their pitches."
Click here for Games Pictures
- Ortaire & Georgette de Tork for the idea and many pre rally arrangements and hospitality. Ortaire was sorry that his back problem prevented him being with us and thanks us for remembering him during the rally. He says he thought of the rally every morning.
- Jean Bruyninckx for his excellent work on the routes.
- Nik & Lut Janssen for their magnificent help & support - I called them Mr & Mrs Fix-it.
- Sylvia Szumlanski - Senior Receptionist for her help in making all the site arrangements.
- All the people who took boxes of kit to the rally.
- Everyone who helped with the children's club.
- Especially those who carried out little jobs that I didn't notice.
- Geoff & Francesca Milton for helping stuff all the rally packs and Geoff particularly for turning out at 6.45am on Saturday to greet the first arrivals.
- Phil Harmer and Eugene Kertzman for organising the Tandem Games. Eugene also helped translate some of the obscure Flemish words I came across. Like sausages which are called hamburgers!
Click here for all other Pictures