Cultural excursion

So, it being an Easter Monday blessedly free of work comitments, I decided to take the first steps in exploring Belgium’s megaliths. F and I set off to do the cluster around Tienen, finishing up with the caves of Folx-les-Caves.

Stop 1: The Lange Steen, near Bost bij Tienen. My source said it was 600 metres south of the church, but gave no other information. Church fairly obvious; road south fairly obvious (and helpfully designated as “Langesteen”); stone invisible. I asked a woman working in her allotment if she knew of a “lange steen” anywhere near by. She did not. F darkly muttered that she might have taken it away. I felt this was unlikely. We moved on.

Stop 2: Also near Tienen, the church of Our Lady of the Stone, O.L.V.-ter-Steen. This turns out to be a real find. In fact we were there too late, as Easter Monday morning sees a procession of horseriders (many of them Dutch) pass the church in a ritual that presumably goes back to a time when the Lady of the sacred site was Epona rather than Mary.

In addition there is a pedestrian pilgrimage, the “dertienmaal”, as people walk back and forth between the church and a nearby one thirteen times. On top of that, if the right rituals are performed while wearing an iron crown inset with a semi-precious stone the local saint cures headaches and nervous disorders.

I asked about what looked to me like a megalithic standing stone tucked away behind the church; the locals looked embarrassed and flatly denied that it could possibly have any religious significance; it might, they said vaguely, have been a totally non-religious boundary marker in ancient times, for the point where three tribes’ territories met. Yeah, right.

Stop 3: Middelwinden tumulus. A tumulus is a big lump of earth, probably artificial (in this case definitely so as it was excavated some years ago). Nothing much to see, let’s move on, through winding roads across the lingusitic frontier.

Stop 4: The Caves of Folx-les-Caves. Definitely the high point of the day, for me and for F. Though I suppose topographically it was a low point? Anyway, you pull up at this ordinary-looking house by the side of the road, and in the back garden they have a gorge with stairs leading down to these caves. 4 euro gets you a guided tour in French from a little old man. The caves are completely artificial, first dug in Neolithic times, subsequently the lair of an 18th-century bandit, possibly the hiding place of the French army’s lost treasure, definitely one of Belgium’s first mushroom farms. One of the chambers boasts a tiled floor, which is not usual in caves; apparently it was the site of the village’s traditional Pentecost ball, until that event was banned by fire regulations. There are fossils in the roof, and some of the walls sport bas-reliefs created by “our Canadian liberators” in 1918. To be honest, the web-site slightly over-sells it, but for 4 euro you can’t complain. And F is small enough to get in for free. Eventually he began to worry that it might not be daylight outside, but I’d had enough by then as well so was happy enough to head home.

On the way back I saw a rarity – a hitch-hiker, trying to make it from his home near the caves to Brussels. He told me he had just dropped out of his politics degree in ULB; but since he already had a degree in physical education he was not too worried. I told him that I’d managed to get a job in politics despite having no academic qualifications whatsoever, so he can always go back to it if he really wants. Dropped him at the service station near Leuven and came home.

One thought on “Cultural excursion

  1. Not too hard: for my sins, I have photographed the late David Ervine drinking pink cava with drag queen Titty Von Tramp down at the statue of Carson…

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