I called the Rochehaut tourist office after trying for days to find a website where I could get more information on the Ladder walk. A colleague had recommended this walk and had sent me a website in Dutch. I could hardly glean any information from this except the name Rochehaut (pronounced something like Roshou). So after many google searches, I decided to check the website of Rochehaut and found some more details on the Promenade des Echelles. Then I called the tourist office:
Lady at the tourist office: “Are you sure you want to take that walk?”
me: “Yes… this is the one with the ladders – right?”
L: “Ladders? I am not sure what mean you”
me: “Echelons” (Ae she lons)
L: “I do not understand but Promenade 84 is very dangerous and I will tell you tomorrow another walk and you can take that. 84 is not recommended for children.”
me: “There are no children”
L: “The walk is not recommended for old people”
me: “We are all young – you know we are all 35”
L: “I will take a look with you tomorrow and recommend another more beautiful walk”
me: “What is so dangerous? Are the ladders dangerous?” – not to be deprived of an exciting walk…
L: “The ladder will be 6m high and the walk will be slippery”
me (thinking – ‘whatever’): “Ok… let us decide tomorrow”.
We were finally five of us who went for the walk. It was a cloudy day though there seemed to be no forecast of rain. We reached Rochehaut, a small little town hidden in the Ardennes. We had agreed to meet at the church. Paul came to meet us “We assumed this was the church – the steeple is not very big”. We searched for the tourist office and found it hidden inside a Boucherie. On being asked for a map, the lady picked out one and handed it over to us and continued with her work (there was no mention of danger or decisions).
We started on the walk. All through the way we encountered signs proclaiming that it is dangerous to continue under wet or humid conditions. Knowing better than local people and anyone else, we decided to continue. After all how slippery can ladders get? As we crossed the last sign before the forest we hesitated only for a second to laugh at the sign there and entered the forest.
All of a sudden well laid out paths disappeared. The slope with loose soil and fallen leaves laid out in front of us. Small footholds of roots of trees promised us some security. Yet, as we laid the sure soles of our hiking boots on the roots and small rocks to get the foothold, our feet slipped. While we girls slowly and gingerly felt our way through, Paul, a seasoned hiker, jumped through the roots and down the slopes. I was the first one to fall and for once acknowledged the advantages of being short and fat. Short meant I fell shorter vertical height and fat meant that my fall was well cushioned.
We soon came to the river slowing slowly – it had the same colour as the one that we had gone kayaking on last week. There were beautiful forest flowers and wonderful berries including mulberry. We plucked the berries from the trees – not as sweet as the ones in the shops (of course, they were not yet ripe). As we slid towards the river, we found another group at the river side breaking for their picnic. We found a small spot next to them and opened ours. They would be our companions for the rest of the day. During our picnic a couple of kayaks went by and suddenly around the corner came two swans (the biggest and the most whitest I have ever seen) flying low and in perfect formation – the white broke the complete greenery that was all around.
We started walking again this time next to the river.
As the path become even more narrow, there was one part where there was just a slippery rock, no firm foothold and a vertical slope into the river. As I sat, I realized that my small legs would not be able to do what Paul had just done – jump quickly over the rock. Gingerly sitting on the rock, I tried to inch forward and slipped. Paul extended his arms and I knew it was still too far for me to jump. Just as I inched forward again, Paul’s mobile rang. Seeing the number he picked it up and talked into it. I waited sitting precariously over the rock and sliding closer towards the direction where Paul was. He finished talking and I was close enough to jump. First obstacle crossed. It was not long before we came to the next one – a ladder and slippery shoes from all the wet ground.
As we crossed 4 ladders
and many more slippery rocks and firm roots, went up and down the mountains (to exclamations from Paul – “and we thought Belgium is a flat country”), I felt I have been walking in one of the more beautiful walks I have been on and the most thrilling one. If you want a real experience an yet a short and not too difficult hike, then this is the one to be on. Here are some pictures.
and we offered some prayers as we came out.