Some years ago an acquaintance mentioned a river in Belgium they thought was a bit of a hidden gem, flowing through beautiful scenery in the Ardennes region, it was called the Semois. It planted a bit of a seed for me and last weekend I finally managed to spend a few days enjoying this lovely river.
Our plan was to paddle the river over 3 days starting at Florenville and finishing at Membre which we’d worked out was approximately 100km. A friend had paddled the same route a couple of years back so we had a reasonable idea of what to expect. I recall he described it by saying if the Wye and the Canche shagged, the Semois would be the result! Turned out to be a fairly god description.
We drove from Kent on Thursday morning taking the Eurotunnel and arriving at Florenville later afternoon. After sorting boats, kit and tents we ran the shuttle to Membre returning for a relaxing evening at the riverside campsite ready for an early start and a long paddling day on Saturday.
We’d had conflicting info about wild camping options so we’d planned to use campsites each evening. As it turned out wild camping would have worked fine and in some ways would have offered a bit more flexibility in terms of how we broke the trip down.
Day 1 was to be around 35km with the Les Orchay campsite at Mortehan being our planned stop for the night. A sign at the campsite at Florenville indicated paddling was between 10am and 5pm and we were a little concerned that it was unlikely we’d hot our daily distances in that time window.
The scenery got lovelier as we entered the forest areas that characterises the region. The river itself was quite shallow (although we had reasonable levels) throughout the majority of the route (12”-18”) and despite a pretty constant flow the depth and the weed did slow progress a little. We encountered several weirs on the way which added a bit of interest with a couple worthy of an inspection before running them.
We saw no other paddlers today but despite being in the depths of the forest there were quite a few fisherman along the way as well as walkers and mountain bikers. There are tracks and trails running alongside the river so it is fairly accessible.
We arrived at Les Orchay campsite around 7ish but Erik the owner was really welcoming and we enjoyed a pleasant evening at this lovely little site.
Riverside pitches at Florenville campsite
Definitely down the right hand side on this one
Lunch in the forest
The weed that characterises a lot of the stretches
Mortehan Bridge just before Les Orchay campsite
Les Orchay campsite. Very nice site.
Day 2 was to be a bit shorter than day 1 but still another long day with a portage through Bouillon to factor in. The weather had deteriorated from the previous day and what started out as an overcast morning soon turned into light drizzle. Nevertheless the scenery was stunning and felt more remote as there were fewer tracks and trails. The river was also a bit deeper today and even though there seemed a bit less flow we felt like we were making better progress than we had on day 1.
By mid afternoon the weather began to clear and we arrived at Bouillon just before 4pm. The river at Bouillon is usually closed off for boating activities so a portage is usually required. The river here does a big meander so the portage is through a tunnel that cuts through the hill below the castle.
Although we knew the portage through the tunnel was quite short we didn’t know where you get back on the river on the other side and this turned out to be a few hundred yards further along the road (left as you exit tunnel) where there was a track down to the river so a trolley is probably a worthwhile addition for the trip.
About an hour after arriving at Bouillon we’d got everything moved and were getting back on the water to head to the Haliru campsite a couple of kilometres below Bouillon. By 5.30pm we’d arrived.
First feature on day 2 and it was a wet one for the tandems!
Signs approaching Bouillon
Get out is river left. Still haven't sussed out how you'd know if the river was open to avoid portage which it sometimes is.
Portage through the tunnel
Paul steadies the ship while Yvonne loads up. He's good like that!
Day 3 and the weather looked a bit more promising than the previous day. The rivers character started to change as the day went on and it got wider with several sections that were longer and straighter than previous days.
When you look at the Semois on the maps it’s striking how much the river meanders and doubles back on itself. This continued on day 3 but we’d paddle for 3km in one direction and then paddle round a bend and paddle 3 km back down again.
Because we were unsure we’d make the overall distance in 3 days we decided not to leave the vehicle at the campsite at Membre. This gave us some flexibility if we ran over as we could wild camp and finish the trip off the following morning. As it happened we arrived Membre around 5.30pm but the campsite didn’t look too great so we decided to head on a bit further to the other site which worked out to be a better option. At around 6pm we’d arrived and that was the end of our 3 day trip down the lovely River Semois.
Departing Halliru campsite. Some interesting characters but we made it out alive!
Did I mention the weed!
Pete popped into Bouillon this morning for some bread and cakes and this flan. When he checked the bill and saw the price he nearly passed out!
Lunch stop day 3.
Play spot at Alle. Possibly a good place to finish on a future trip.
Camping Jardinet downriver of Membre bridge.
Next morning we went to pick up the car from Florenville before returning to Membre to load up and head for Eurotunnel.
Cheers to Yvonne, Wendy, Mike, Paul and Pete for their company and for a great trip.
Video to give a bit of an idea of what to expect.
Journey from Calais to Florenville approx. 4.5 hrs
Journey from Membre to Calais approx. 4 hrs
No tolls on the route we took
Shuttle time from Florenville to Membre approx. 40 mins each way.
Left the van on road river right after Membre bridge. There is a get off point here.
Florenville – Camping Le Rosiere (8 out of 10)
Mortehan – Les Orchay (10 out of 10). Erik bakes his own bread, croissants and pan au chocolate as well!
Bouillon – Camping Halliru (6 out of 10)
Membre – Camping Jardinet (8 out of 10)
Decided against Camping Le Membrette when we arrived.
Day 1 Florenville to Mortehan – 37km
Day 2 Mortehan to Bouillon – 33km
Day 3 Bouillon to Membre – 35km
1) Florenville - Chiny Map 67 7-8
2) Herbeumont - Suxy Map 67 3-4
3) Bouillon - Dohan Map 67 1-2
4) Rochehaut - Paliseul 64 5-6 (but this map only contains about 3km of river which is the top of a couple of meanders)
5) Vresse-Sur-Semois Map 63 7-8
We paddled at 0.55 on the gauge at Chiny