GR 5A

GR 5A along the French border

 

General info

 The GR 5A "Walking Tour of Flanders" evokes special memories for us. Indeed, it was our first experience with the GR concept. We started around 2006 and walked the entire 600 km long trail in daily stages over a period of 3 years. Before that we had been walking regularly, but getting from A to B, and using public transport to get there and to return home, was new for us. Sometimes our travels by train and bus took us longer than the time we needed for the hike. Sometimes it was even impossible to get a trip organized using the public transport system. So we had to wait to arrange something with family / friends. But knowing that each time we were setting off on an exploration in our own country always made it worthwhile.

Meanwhile, we are a good 15 years further. The GR network has allowed us to cross Belgium in almost all directions, and to discover many interesting corners and edges. But we also noticed that time doesn't stand still and that things change ever faster, both for the better and for the worse. Hence the idea to walk the GR 5A again and to compare it with what we still remember.

This time we decided to do it without the topoguide. We'll just download the gpx track of the trail (available for free on the groteroutepaden.be website) and use it to figure out how to organize the successive stages.
Nowadays Brugge train station is the official start of GR 5A. Fifteen years ago it was the pedestrian tunnel on Antwerpen's Left Bank. Since Maj lives near that last place, we'll start there. However, it won't make much difference because this is a "Walking Tour" that can start anywhere. And to be completely contrarian, we will also walk the trail in the opposite direction. But that shouldn't be a problem either, as GR routes are always signposted in both directions.

And then there is the name "Walking Tour of Flanders" which has always bothered us. According to the GR organisation, the word "Flanders" should be interpreted as the former county of Flanders (which has existed until 3 centuries ago). GR 5A would roughly follow the borders of that county. But historically that is wrong. The county of Flanders also included considerable parts of Zeeland (in the Netherlands) and French Flanders, a much larger area than what GR 5A covers today.
On the other hand, those that haven't read that "false county" explanation will interpret "Flanders" as the Dutch-speaking part of Belgium, i.e. the provinces of East and West Flanders, Antwerpen, Vlaams-Brabant and Limburg. But that's also wrong. GR 5A only covers the provinces East and West Flanders.
So, as far as we're concerned GR 5A should be called the "Hiking Tour of the East and West-Flanders provinces", even if it also includes a small part of the province of Antwerpen.

 

Map overview 

  
(This track shows the route as it was shown on groteroutepaden.be, the website of the Flemish GR organization, in April 2023; always consult that website for the most recent situation)

 

Logistics info

 On the groteroutepaden.be website they talk about "... the easy accessibility by public transport ..." making "... the trail easily divisible into stages according to everyone's preferences and possibilities".
We'd like to believe it, but 15 years ago that easy accessibility was anything but obvious in a lot of places, and sometimes even non-existent. Meanwhile, the quality of our public transportation has not improved at all. On the contrary, our politicians are doing everything they can to degrade it further and further. But perhaps the GR 5A trail miraculously escaped this negative evolution ...

We are curious!

 

Some images

 

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