On a chilly day in December, I was lucky enough to be allowed time off work in preparation for a night shift. It’s called “pre-repos”. What better way to rest than to go for a 10 kilometre hike in the countryside surrounding Horst Castle, close to a village called Holsbeek.

The car park for visitors to the castle was almost empty this Thursday morning. The sky was a startling blue, a far cry from the stereotypical Belgian winter grey, and the surface of the lake next to the castle was frozen. I stepped out of the car into a quiet and serene winter landscape.

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The route that I took was courtesy of a favourite blog of mine called Discovering Belgium, a treasure trove of ideas for outings and hikes in Belgium. From Horst Castle, the author Denzil has plotted four different routes, going north, south, east and west. Today I chose the one going south. What a beauty.

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It had frozen overnight. Every now and then I would ‘test’ the surface of a puddle, cracking the ice with my foot and watching the liquid water seep up from beneath.

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I have already mentioned that it was uncharacteristically sunny for a Belgian winter day, and going south in the first half of the walk I was facing the low-lying December sun. It hadn’t occurred to me to bring a sun visor cap on such a cold winter day. In some stretches walking straight towards the sun, I had to resort to a raised palm to protect my eyes. In other instances I hid behind hedges or a thick tree trunk to protect my camera lens, which created a brilliant lighting effect as an added bonus.

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There’s an old water mill that now serves as a restaurant, cafe, brasserie or a mix of them all. A delicious whiff of potato fries was emanating from the building, but it was still early, I wasn’t particularly hungry or tired and the place seemed still empty of customers as it had just opened. Remember, this was a normal working day in mid-December. I moved on. Replenishment of my physical reserves could wait.

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Denzil’s southern route from Horst Castle turned back northwards from here, uphill into a wood.

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I came across the remains of a huge tree that must have collapsed, some while ago, and had its trunk sawn off. The stump was left behind, and I noticed that it has become one of the main features of the wood as I immediately recognised it a few minutes later pictured on a tourist information board with a map and an explanation on this area.

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By now, the feeble few degrees above zero had been enough to melt those puddles that were basking in the sun’s rays. Lucky for me. It’s easier to wade through shallow water than walk on ice. Walking on ice is not a good idea. If you’ve never tried it, don’t. A bad slip on ice may well be one reason why I’m no longer running, but that’s another story…

… and eventually, Horst Castle came back into view.

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It’s still closed for restoration, alas, but that’s okay. There’s another reason to come visit again once it reopens.

Now, the time was right for me to replenish my physical reserves.

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Just a toasted sandwich? a friend remarked in reaction to the above picture on Facebook. Ah, I pointed out, but you’re not using the correct language. Croque monsieur sounds so much more grand and sophisticated.