For some reason, this quiet area in southern Belgium has a bunch of UNESCO sites for us to investigate, so off we went in our rental car! Today's stop was a series of four canal lifts dating from the late 19th century. During the industrial revolution, this area in Belgium was coal mining country with hundreds of mines dotted across the landscape.
To transport the goods in these pre-railway days, barges were used. However, in this particular area, the transport canals were about 70 metres too high to connect to other nearby canals in the wider network. Normally, traversing a hill or something isn't a huge problem in a canal, as you can do it with a lock. But locks can't raise or lower by much, so they came up instead with boat lifts.
Each of these are a pair of essentially swimming pools sitting on connected hydraulic poles. Flood one with water, and the extra weight means it descends, raising up the other pool. You sail your barge into the elevated one, flood that with water, lowering down to the level of the lower canal. The bonus of this system is that it doesn't really require any energy other than the movement of water and a couple of pulleys for sluice gates and dams. There's four different lifts, all of them about 16-17 metres high, so we had a look around at this and did some filming before getting a little wet in a brief rain shower!
While in the area we also visited the new canal lift at Strepy-Thieu, built in the 1980s to replace the old four canal lifts from the previous century. This one was absolutely gigantic - raising and lowering boats the full 70 metres in one go! Shame we couldn't see it in operation though, as we didn't have long. It's not world heritage listed, but maybe it'll get added one day!
Up next after a brief lunch was a mining site. As mentioned, this area of southern Belgium was once covered in coalmines, and the few that remain are on the World Heritage list. For today we visited a site known as Bois-du-Luc, which shut down in the early 20th century and had basically been preserved in-situ since closing.
After going through the museum, we had to wait about 20 minutes while the staff found the guy with the keys to the actual mine area! They don't get many tourists I guess, though he was nice enough to supply us coffee and tea while we waited. The mine site itself was quite interesting, going through various aspects of mining in that era (though much of it was familiar to us from mine site visits in England).
Finished our filming for the day and headed back to Mons where we relaxed in the hotel room for the late afternoon and evening, only ducking out briefly for dinner.Read more