Walking the River Scheldt, Bornem and Temse

Tell someone from Flanders that you visited the small town of Bornem, and the chances are they will mention a popular Dutch language TV show, Stille Waters. Filmed here in 2001 the series was a runaway success and thrust the town and surrounding area into the spotlight. The boost it gave to tourism seems to have fizzled out, but this sleepy region has much to offer the day-tripping Brussels resident.

The towns of Bornem and Temse sit on opposite sides of the River Scheldt, or Schelde as it is known to Dutch speakers, and the countryside around them is criss-crossed with walking and cycling routes. Flanders is as flat as a pancake, so the going is easy. Bornem was once much closer to the banks of the river, but when the course of the Scheldt changed around 1240 the town found itself further inland.

Castle d’Ursel, Belgium
Church of Our Lady and Town Hall, Temse, Belgium
Statue on the River Scheldt, Belgium
Church of Our Lady, Temse, Belgium
River Scheldt, Belgium
River Scheldt and Temse, Belgium

Bornem first appeared in written history in the 9th century, when there was already a castle on the banks of the Scheldt to defend against Viking raiders sailing up the river and attacking local towns. The castle was built on the river bank, but thanks to that 13th century course correction, it now sits about a kilometre away. The castle’s most famous inhabitant arrived in the 16th century in the form of Don Pedro Coloma.

A Spanish officer fighting in the Habsburg’s Army of Flanders against the Dutch, Coloma founded a religious community here in 1603. Bornem Abbey still stands today, and it was there that I made my way after stepping off an early morning train. The abbey only opens in the afternoon, but a friendly and helpful guide who was there told me the history of the place.

I plan to go back to take the tour, if for no other reason than to see the ancient library containing over 34,000 books. I had read somewhere that Bornem Castle was open to the public, the abbey guide told me that that happened only a couple of time a year … and I was out of luck. Instead, I struck out into the nearby countryside on my way to the Scheldt and Temse.

Temse is just as ancient as Bornem, and crossing the bridge provides views over the old town, centred around the Church of Our Lady and the Town Hall, and along the Scheldt. Temse could not be said to be a big or particularly lively place, after a visit to the church and a stroll around the Markt, I walked back over the bridge and set off eastwards along the river.

My destination, Paviljoen De Notelaer, was made famous as ‘Villa Vorlat’ in Stille Waters. Built in the 1790s by the third Duke d’Ursel, it was closed the day I was there due to a wedding reception. The building overlooks the river, but behind pleasant gardens, woodlands and fields extend back towards Bornem. An arrow straight road led me to the grounds of the Castle d’Ursel.

The delightful summer residence of the Dukes of d’Ursel dates back to 1608, but the building was remodelled on several occasions, only given its current form in the mid-18th century. The family sold the castle to the local authorities in 1973. The weather was roasting hot, so I stopped at the open air restaurant in the grounds and had a German beer – fitting given that the d’Ursel family were originally from Germany.

Castle d’Ursel, Belgium
Town Hall, Temse, Belgium
Sint Bernardus Abbey, Bornem, Belgium
Abbey beer, Bornem, Belgium
Countryside around Bornem, Belgium
Countryside around Bornem, Belgium

Passing through the tiny village of Hingene, an array of animal themed street art awaited me on the outskirts of Bornem. I had a little time to spare and found a nice bistro with a garden, ordered some food and a local beer – brewed by the Van Steenberge brewery, but based on a traditional Bornem Abbey beer. The perfect end to a Scheldt stroll.

7 thoughts on “Walking the River Scheldt, Bornem and Temse

  1. You should publish a book of your travels. How many countries have you visited? Or have you lost count?

    1. For that I would need time, Brian, a commodity in short supply. I’ve been lucky that my work has taken me to many interesting places, and I’ve been around long enough to go to four countries that no longer exist. A retirement project, perhaps!

      Hope all’s well with you?

      1. Your work has indeed helped. Plus the interest of the work itself… 😉
        Four countries that no longer exist? 🤔 (You beat me there… which ones?)

        1. It’s a bit of a cheat because there are two former Germany’s, but also Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia – all related to the end of the Soviet block.

        2. Of course, of course…
          I was wondering. I never crossed the Iron curtain. half by choice, half because my work never took me there.
          Been to West Germany countless times in the 80’s.
          To Prague, only after the separation.

  2. That all looks fabulous. I assume you’ll be going back when everything is open?

    1. It is a truth universally acknowledged, that I really need to plan ahead, at least occasionally. Although, the castle only opens on 2 days each year and that sort of planning may be beyond me. Beautiful area though, I will be back when the weather improves.

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