Hiked: July 18, 2016
After I finished the Floris V-pad trail between Amsterdam and Bergen op Zoom, I decided to hike a shorter long-distance trail in the southwest corner of the Netherlands, in the region between the towns of Bergen op Zoom and Roosendaal and the Belgian border to the south. I had realized that I had never visited this part of the country, not for hiking nor for any other reason. I tend to head east from The Hague for my hikes, even though Roosendaal and Bergen op Zoom are easy to reach by train from The Hague. The Brabantse Wal trail is a 112km long circular trail starting and ending in Bergen op Zoom and passing through an area where different geographical landscapes meet: the low-lying sea clay with its polder land and the slightly higher and gently sloping (but no more than that: they’re not hills by a long shot) land of the sandy soil to its east. Already on the first of the four hikes on this trail, I noticed this change in landscape.
Because it was going to be a very warm day, I got on my way early and arrived at Bergen op Zoom train station at 8am. Today’s hike would take me to Steenbergen, the northern tip of the trail, the same as my first leg of the Floris V-pad trail but via a very different route – already from the very start as this time I took a different exit out of the train station, heading towards the town center. I walked to the central Grote Markt square and to the Markiezenhof nearby, the official starting point of the Brabantse Wal trail. The Markiezenhof is an old residence of the local nobility dating from the late 15th century, the heyday of Bergen op Zoom as a trading town. On my way out of the town center, I passed the Gevangenpoort (Prison Gate), another landmark dating from the 13th century.
Bergen op Zoom lies at the eastern end of the Oosterschelde (Eastern Scheldt), but is now closed off from the main water body. From the town center, I first walked south along a small water front with urban beaches along what is now a closed off lake surrounded by residential areas. I quickly crossed the residential area, then turned west and north to follow grass paths along the Markiezaatsmeer, a much larger water body resulting from closing off the eastern part of the Oosterschelde. The first part was popular with dog walkers from the nearby residential area, but as soon as I left that behind me, it was quiet and I was alone walking along grass paths through fields of reed along the water’s edge. It was already warm and sunny, but along the open water was a nice breeze. I followed a dike right along the water for about two kilometers along the edge of an industrial zone to the northwest of Bergen op Zoom. At the end of the dike, a major hiking chore followed: the route took me straight through the industrial zone past the immense plastic-producing Sabic plant. Making things worse, this was a long, open stretch and the sun was burning, even though it was only around 10.30am.
Fortunately, things soon got better. The landscape changed: I left the water behind me and followed a slightly elevated wooded ridge with here and there nice views across wheat fields and pastures. I passed the village of Halsteren, just past the halfway point of my hike, and followed country roads to the tiny village of Lepelstraat. The second half of the hike almost entirely followed paved roads, which did get somewhat boring after a while, especially since some of the roads I followed were rather busy, especially the main road connecting the villages of Halsteren and Steenbergen. I crossed the A4 highway and walked through an area with large greenhouses growing mostly chili peppers and tomatoes as far as I could tell. I entered Steenbergen from the west side and near the village center I crossed the Floris V-pad trail. I walked through the village center and around the northern and eastern edge of the village to the bus stop just east of the village. By the time I got there, I was tired, hot and sweaty, but also content about hiking 31km in the hot and sunny weather.