Today, I am directing my attention to the High Fens, in what is, without doubt, one of Belgium’s most beautiful parts: German-speaking Ostbelgien.
None of its names, neither in German (Hohes Venn), French (Hautes Fagnes), Dutch (Hoge Venen) or English (High Fens) conjure up images of anything recognizable.
The first part—’tall’ or ‘high’—seemed promising enough. The second—’fens’—had as of yet not come up in conversation during the first 46 years of my existence. However, having consulted Wikipedia, my hopes of having discovered unknown alpine Belgium were shattered.
Though the highest point reaches a semi-respectable 693 meters, the slopes are gentle and the pinnacles and precipices notably absent. It is, in short, a highland plateau.
A fen, it turns out, is a type wetland. To rub my nose in my education’s many diverse deficiencies, Wikipedia added that it is one of the MAIN types. My botany professor would likely have shed a tear over the carcass of my ineptitude.
As it was, I decided to lay the blame for my shortcomings at the feet of linguistics. After all, it must be conceded that ‘minerotrof myr’, as it is named in Norwegian, is moderately different from ‘fen’.
But I digress…
A highland was something.
Upon reflection, a highland was indeed QUITE something.
Walking in Belgium, you see, is mostly a question of forests. Now, forests are indisputably beautiful. But for heathens like me, who grew up thinking of forests as nothing more than obstacles en-route to mountains, one forest looks much like another.
The Hautes Fagnes presents a great diversion for those who feel that they have had a good helping of tree-trunks, and presently wish to feast their eyes on open landscapes.
Many paths in the High Fens include extended sections of winding boardwalks that simultaneously keep you dry—and make for excellent motives.
The Hautes Fagnes is also one of the few places where you can be reasonably sure to find enough snow for skiing for a week or two in winter.
The High Fens are well-publicized and no secret. Yet, for me, they were a fresh discovery of the year, and have been a vital stimulant for sanity in an unusual time.