The Winchester

"Not all those who wander are lost" – Tolkien

I went to Belgium – Oct 2009

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The 6 of us decided to go to Belgium, the main attraction being Chateau De Noisy, a gothic pile on top of a hill in the Ardennes. Being such a way away, we needed to fill the weekend with adventures and things to do, so I arranged some.


2 cars, a Land Rover and 6 people, one kerb-bash, one 2 hour delay in London, a trip round the perimeter of Cane Hill to see what’s left (nothing), and some nervous moments on the thunderous M25 eventually saw us arrive in Dover just in time for last check-in…

We sat and chatted on the ferry, purchasing a bottle of whiskey for good measure later in the trip.

On arrival in Calais we put foot down to get to the Castle of Mesen, our first destination. Within a wall inside a reasonably well-occupied residential area of the city of Lede, Mesen is well secured. We had to contend with drunken locals and curtain twitchers, but eventually we got over the first fence and into the dark woods with no real issues. As you arrive into a foreign site there is a degree of trepidation. Security is unpredictable, we don’t have recent knowledge and we don’t speak Flemish. The most relevant we had was that ‘sometimes the guard enters the buildings to see if people are there’. Great.

Muddy bogs, brambles and heavy rain were our enemies for the next 15 minutes, before we found another fence to traverse. This was easy. Once we were into the surrounding woods we could enter the buildings through a basement window.

Our plan was to sleep inside the castle and explore it when the sun came up, the crisp morning light and the mist being photographic aspirations of the group. We found a cellar and bedded down, as water trickled through the head height windows. The pitch black tempted me to sleep yet the shriek of wild animals and the pitter-patter of rain were a combination that cruelly kept me awake.
Two of the party also snored like steam engines, yet apparently I did also. Surely not?

I awoke many times in the night, shivering with cold in my pathetic excuse for a sleeping bag. A t-shirt, a polo shirt, a cardigan, a hoody and a bobble hat were not enough to keep me warm on a cold concrete floor, and when the alarm pipped me awake at 6.30 local time I was relieved to be up and about, exploring this 18th century ruin. one member of the party was adamant a wild animal had visited us in the night, miaowed and then run off, perturbed by unwelcome visitors in its usual haunt.

We stashed our sleeping materials in a cupboard in our dungeon, before making jokes about checking out of the ‘hotel’ and handing back the keys. We ascended into the entrance hall and a resplendent staircase was waiting, inside a 4-storied building that had lost its floors in the 30 years of dereliction it’s endured.

Having navigated this trashed hole, we exited into the central courtyard and into another part of the building. Along a corridor, a space opened up for us and we could see a massive room. We emerged into a huge chapel, the roof crumbling and greenery protruding from the floors. Giant stained glass windows were situated across all parts of the building, few intact but all beautiful.

chapelmesen mesen 1

We entered other parts of the building but nothing matched the chapel. We left soon after and once over the fence into the road again, we congratulated ourselves on a successful first explore, and set off for Bloso Hofstade.

Bloso Hofstade was a leisure complex opened up at the start of the 20th century for the less affluent families who couldn’t afford to travel to the seaside. Artificial lakes and beaches were made and the complex expanded through time. In June 1939 the Art Deco swimming pool was opened, yet when the Nazi’s invaded Belgium, they used the site as a vehicle repair centre. The Americans liberated it and used the site for military purposes (a prison camp), and eventually it was handed back to the Belgian government for it’s original purpose. Leisure. In time society changes and now Bloso Hofstade is a quiet centre, especially in October. With cheap airfares and the rise in travel, people go further a field.

In 1978 it failed it’s H&S and was closed. Didn’t stop us having a swim in it though!

On from Bloso, we headed for Leuven, the home of Stella Artois. We ate in a café staffed by gorgeous girls who spoke Flemish and smile politely at our bumbling attempts to purchase waffles and sausage rolls, before returning to the car and into the grounds of Stella. Everything that would have been possible in the summer was bricked up, and contractors were working away inside the main section, attaching planks of wood to anything that would take a nail. We walked around the site 3 times, and the only potential entrances were up walls with no footholds. Despite Stella being one of the sites I was looking forwards to most, alas we couldn’t access the buildings.

Salve Mater Sanitorium was the next destination. I had been told that two buildings were accessible, and that it could be a bit dodgy as one of them was next to an active nursery.Recently, an image of explorers lined up outside the buildings with the gendarmes in tow had appeared online and it was enough to make us cautious. We investigaed the Sint Paulus building, which was a relatively recent closure. We found several potential points of access but none would budge. Brad cut his hand on broken glass and the party split, Brad and Bekah returning to the car for sexytime and bandaging, myself and Charlie investigating the rear of the administration block, and Miles and Chris going in search of the airing court shelter.

We walked around the back and through an open door, and found the mortuary. Bolted to the side of the chapel, this was a 3-room building with a slab, a fridge room, and assumedly a chapel of rest.

sm1 sm2

Having photographed this suite, I ventured around the back to see what else I could find. squeezing between a wall and a garage, I found a window that opened. Inside this room was a coffin, a couple of crosses and a door. I gingerly pushed the door and a massive crack resounded through the obvious void. Peering my head round the door, I could see the most immaculate chapel ever seen on an explore. [Actually, this isn’t true. Middlesex Hospitals in Jan ’08 was more ornate].

I took two photos and departed, sure that somebody was going to put their head round the door at the other end and tell us to leave, potentially alerting the authorities to the unwelcome intruders.

Back into the open again, Charlie had found access to another part of the main building.

We managed to access it through some ingenious work, ninja skills, some body contortion and pure luck. Having walked through a few rooms, we found ourselves in a gated off courtyard with kitchens adjacant. A door was open and we entered. The site was reminiscient of UK hospitals such as Putney, Fairmile and parts of West Park. It had evidently been derelict for a while, but hadn’t endured the natural decay often evident at sites such as Hellingly and Cane Hill. The paint peeled, the smell was musty and the windows largely intact.

We ventured inside, up the stairs and around the site, having opened a window for the other members of the party.

I decided to investigate another building on site, which looked heavily derelict. It was.

We saw the administration block and a gentleman poked his head through the window. We engaged in conversation about architecture, photography and mental healthcare for 10 minutes, before he invited us into the block to see his work. We saw beautiful portraits of nudes, set inside the grounds of the derelict buildings. At the end of the corridor was a door with frosted glass – which was opened for us. The Chapel.

We departed on good terms and were guided to a nearby restaurant. The Carrefour tempted us in and we stocked up on Wheat beer, bread rolls, cured meats and cheese. Following this we dined in the restaurant, goulash and red wine being my dish of choice.

We stood in the car park as the sun died down, repacking and preparing for the final destination of the day, Chateau de Noisy.

The drive to Noisy 5561 Heuyet took about an hour and a half, Miles insisted that I sit in the back. We all bantered for the journey, telling stories of old, reliving the day’s adventures and anticipating what the next 24 hours or so held for us.

On arrival at Rue de Furfooz we parked on a grass verge close to the main road, and the local residents came out to see what we were up to, two vehicles with Uk registrations parking up late on a saturday night, with camping gear in tow. We convinced them we were staying with friends and that we’d be gone by the morning. A clamber up a ridiculous hill ensued and after much bone aching, muscle work and effort, we could make out the silhouette of the chateau’s various turrets and towers. A wade through brambles and into the rear garden allowed us to access the buildings, and we descended into the cellars to bed down for the night, enjoying a few sups of whiskey and a chance to put our heads down.

I slept for longer this night, my rollmat preventing the cold of the concrete penetrating my sleeping bag. Awakening at 6.30, it still appeared dark. Our cellar had a window but this was blocked. We packed our kit into a cupboard and ascended the stairs into the faded grandeur of the entrance hallway, blue arches and ornate plasterwork in the ceilings showing us why this site is so revered.

noisy1 noisy2

Having explored the vast majority of the site, we decided to go to the front to view the facade of the buildings. Making our way down to the outbuildings, a gentleman in wellyboots appeared, questioning our presence with his native tongue. qu’est qu’on fait? was responded to with the generic and usual “Just taking photos, is that ok?, to which we were told no. We grabbed our sleepings bags and departed, thankful that we had already explored the site. The descent was more pleasant than the damp and murky ascent, the light allowing us to make better judgment with our directional choices. The final part was a fantastic slide down a leafy hill, and despite being busted at the end of the visit, we were in high spirits. We ate salami and chorizo in bread rolls, drank orange juice and started the 70 mile drive to Dolhain.

Dolhain was a sanitorium/preventorium built close to the German border in the 1920s. We arrived and parked at the back of the derelict farm buildings, Bekah refusing to leave the Land Rover because she thought I was taking the piss, driving them an hour to a pissy little farm. Despite the yellow tiled, 5 storied structure peering over the top of the barn.

This site didn’t excite me overly, it was stripped and in transition to development into apartments. Although reminiscient of Lemaire, it was unlike any sites in the Uk.


dolhain1 dolhain2

The choice was there for us – It was with Cheratte or Val St Lambert. We had failed to access Val St Lambert on my trip in August 2008, and Cheratte was easily accessed. Perhaps selfishly, I made the decision for the group and we headed for the region of Liege. A long walk, a hole in a wall and an easily negotiated fence allowed us into the site, parts of which were still active. Val St Lambert failed to inspire me, it seemed too empty and non-descript, lacking identity perhaps. I was alone in this, other members of the group hadn’t visited a factory like it before, and were grabbed by the stark industrial architecture.

Leaving Val St Lambert, we had a final choice to make. We could either drive to Brussells to see the laboratories of the Vetinerary school, or drive further to Aalst and see the Schott Tannery or Du Parc, the Sock Factory. It wasn’t a difficult choice to make, and we went to Brussells. A nightmarish city to drive around and park in, eventually we arrived as the evening drew in. We accessed the site easily enough, but it appeared busy. We were spoken to by several locals interested in what we were doing, and eventually we found a gap in which to enter the site.

The Basement was the attraction here. a conversion plan had been in action since 2005, and this building was the only remaining one unconverted. The upstairs was inaccessible, but having seen pictures of it subsequently, I really wish it had been. The Horror labs were just that, full of pickled animals.

I think we’ve all caught the bug for European exploring now. There is so much to see, so many new frontiers and far less of the elitism and urban tourism you get in the UK. At least it appears that way to me.

We left Brussells in high spirits and left for Calais. A smooth ride home, some night driving and eventually arriving home at 4.30am, I had what I reckon is one of my best weekends this year.

Written by Winch

October 15th, 2009 at 2:16 pm

2 Responses to 'I went to Belgium – Oct 2009'

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  1. Upstairs was accessible when we passed via les laboratoires des horreurs in august ’09, if this is from October then I’m guessing it got sealed after we’d been through, and likely why one of the belgium tourists got so pissy that we’d moved some of the specimens upstairs. Though from your photo above obviously some of ’em made the trip back to the basement.


    12 Mar 10 at 3:44 pm

  2. At the top of the stairs from the basement was a reasonably recent wooden boarding. Unless there was another staircase in the basement that we didn’t find, I’d assume that access was restricted from that point.


    12 Mar 10 at 3:51 pm

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