Anyone in possession of small children occasionally finds herself in need of a place to let them destroy leaf piles, collect sticks, breathe freshly plant-recycled air, wander off a bit without danger of a road, and generally muck about in the dirt. We recently found that place for our family, in the Parc Naturel des Plaines de l’Escaut. The park is in Hainaut Province just west of Mons and hugs the border with France.
What attracted us to that particular spot was the Maison du Parc des Plaines de l’Escaut (also known as the Scheldt Plain Nature Park House) and its tree-top walkway, but what truly sold us was the educational displays in the Park House, the trails through the surrounding woods, and the atmospheric town just down the street.
After paying our entrance fee, we poked around the main floor of the Park House, which has a wonderfully informative display on owls in French, including—to my daughter’s fascination—many examples of owl pellets. There was also (naturally) salami, cheese, and local beer for sale. Proceeding upstairs, we entered a dark and mysterious model forest, where the kids learned about tree rings and local tree species. We then ventured into a room of ceiling-high grass and towering toadstools, where the kids got a taste of how big the world is to an ant.
In my favorite room a video display gave an idea of the diversity and the specific identities of the local bird life. There were also statues of several species, created by a local artist so that visually impaired visitors could become acquainted with local avifauna by touch. The final indoor attraction was an excellent video about the park, filmed by hot air balloon, canal barge, and underwater camera. (We were told it was available in English, but was showing in Dutch at the time.)
The tree-top walk was just outside and involved a two-story climb up spiral stairs to reach a walkway among what will in summer be the wood’s canopy. The cold, windless sky was hung with a heavy sheet of clouds, but brave little green buds were beginning to erupt all over and the air shrilled with birdsong. Jays raucously chased each other, wood pigeons flapped noisily from branch to branch, crows soared high above and great tits and blue tits flitted by. From the vantage point, we were able to look down on a pair of blue tits and see their brilliant hues more clearly than from our usual perspective of looking up. We were surprised at how short the walkway was (about 80 meters), but my kids loved the experience and in later spring or summer it must be heavenly. After descending, we strolled under towering trees along the nearby path, where we found that even in the sleepy early spring there is plenty of color to be spotted. Apparently the path went on for quite some distance.
The Park House is perched on the edge of the village of Bon Secours, which was too inviting for us to pass up. From the House we took a short walk down the street to visit the town’s beautiful and inviting Basilique Notre-Dame, admiring its soaring gothic architecture, brilliant stained glass, and gargoyles.
We popped across the nearby French border for a photo-op with the sign. From chlorophyll to church, from birds to beer, there was something for everyone on our little outing to Bon-Secours.
Website for the Park House: http://www.plainesdelescaut.
Cost: 6 euros per adult; kids under 6 are free