Tackling the slag heaps
It’s autumn, the trees that have taken over the slag heaps are glowing with warm colours. Let’s make the most of these lovely sunny days to try climbing one of these mountains of coal waste that bear witness to the region’s industrial heritage, which flourisheduntil the middle of the 20th century.
They have now become nature reserves, like the ones in Wasmes (Marcasse) and Dour, sports grounds designed for paragliding takeoffs in Hornu or for BMX and mountain bike riders on the QBike slope in Quaregnon (www.qbike.be). The GR412footpath (named in memory of St Barbara, the patron saint of miners, celebrated on 4 December) runs over them, giving you the opportunity to explore a unique range of flora and fauna. Thanks to the heat released by the coal waste, it isn’t unusual to find exotic plants there, such as orchids for example. At Quaregnon, three cedars have grown up on top of one of these “black mountains”.
For your picnic, you can hard boil eggs by burying them in the earth that releases a vapour when you dig a hole in it:the temperature in the heart of a slag heap can exceed 2,000° C. Make sure you’re wearing sturdy shoes and you’ll need to be fairly fit to climb some of them, as the paths don’t always make for an easy walk. But it’s well worth it when you get to the top! Up there it’s a real joy to revel in the peace and quiet and admire the beautiful scenery.
Each slag heap is imbued with the history of coalmining, which has left its mark on the landscape:the Grand-Hornu mining site, which is now home to the museum of contemporary art (MAC’s) and the Crachet site, which has been transformed into the Scientific Adventure Park (PASS) to name but two. In Wasmes, the Marcasse site is remembered for the number of victims it engulfed in a disaster marked by a stone at the entrance. On a gable wall, a mural created by children tells the story of how the great artist, Vincent Van Gogh, who stayed in the Borinage between 1878 and 1890, working as a protestant pastor, went down into the mine to see what life was like for miners.
Did you know?
The 2015 cultural year kicks off on 25 January with an exhibition at the BAM (Mons’ Museum of Fine Art) dedicated to the future painter, and Marcasse will be the backdrop for the Aube Boraine in June 2015. And oh, yes, I almost forgot, don’t miss the sunflower maze in the Grand Place in Mons in July!