Reims-Gueux Circuit
Photo: Maarten van der Westen (own photo)

At least I have to go through this only once, I thought. Very gently I moved my 1998 Mustang GT around deep holes and cracks in the temporary Belgian road past the road works. When I finally got through, I found out I missed a side road. Only one solution: back into the road works. I found the right side road, only to find a sign “Route Barrée” (road blocked) a bit further. Sigh... only option: return and go into the road works a third time...

(This is a report of a road trip I took in april 2017. I wanted to take a trip with my Bright Atlantic Blue 1998 Mustang GT and see some urbex and industrial sites in the north of France and in the Wallon-region in Belgium)

The adventure began the day before. My wife, our daughter, my sister-in-law and their mother were away for a weekend to Madrid, so it was time for a road trip. I had devised a route that took me to different interesting locations. The goal: to take as many photos of the Mustang as possible with old crap.

I had left early on Saturday morning but soon I was behind schedule. There was a big traffic jam at the French border, following terrorist attacks in France. My thirsty stallion needed new go-go-juice every 150 miles. At a toll road booth my ticket blew under the seat. And my destination turned out to be further than I thought. But I made it to my first and furthest stop: the circuit of Reims-Gueux.

Reims-Gueux Circuit
Photo: Maarten van der Westen (Own photo)

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The circuit of Reims-Gueux is an old Formula 1 street circuit. It closed in 1972 because it was fast and safety was lacking. The pits, the stands and the time booth are still there and recently restored by enthusiasts. Where the main straight ran is now a public road. It is a fascinating place that I always wanted to visit. In the bright sunlight I took many photos.

Reims-Gueux Circuit
Photo: Maarten van der Westen (own photo)

Along the old Route Nationale to Belgium were bright yellow fields full of rapeseeds, so of course I needed to park the Mustang next to it and take photos. I was running behind schedule more and more, especially when I took a wrong turn at the border and got stuck in a traffic jam.

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I was keen on visiting the abandoned industrial buildings in the mining area near Charleroi and Mons. Near an abandoned coal mine people were asking themselves what this blue Mustang was doing there. Kids looked at me from a distance while I was taking photos. A young guy dared to approach and looked at the Mustang from up close, without saying a word.

Abandoned coal mine of Marcasse
Photo: Maarten van der Westen (own photo)

One of the locations I desperately wanted to visit was an abandoned washing plant. Following another road block I got lost. More than an hour I drove around, even crossing the border back into France. Meanwhile it was getting dark soon and I thought: forget it, I’m going to my hotel. I was bummed I had to skip this location.

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And then... I drove past it.

Coal washing plant Hensies-Pommeroeuil
Photo: Maarten van der Westen (own photo)

The huge buildings, abandoned and overgrown, were very impressive. Once many people worked here, climbing the stairs, now I was the only one there climbing the rotting stairs. I had to take a look inside, where huge halls, showers, offices and lockers still could be found. Due to the evening lights I took the best photos.

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Coal washing plant Hensies-Pommeroeuil
Photo: Maarten van der Westen (own photo)

Next I visited an abandoned railway station. Tired but feeling good I drove to my hotel, where I first washed a million bugs from the front bumper before finding dinner.

Bernissart station
Photo: Maarten van der Westen (own photo)

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The next morning the misery of the earlier mentioned road works were soon forgotten when I had breakfast in the sunshine next to a beautiful 12th century castle. Still early I arrived at one of the four ancient ship elevators in the area. These industrial contraptions from the early 20th century are a Unesco world heritage site. Unfortunately there was no place to park the Mustang next to it, so I walked around a bit for photos.

Ascenseur No. 4
Photo: Maarten van der Westen (own photo)

When I got back the employees of the elevator were gathered around my Mustang discussing it. In my best French we had kind of a conversation (my French sucks). The engine was discussed in length. One of the guys informed me there would a ship riding the elevator in an hour. I wanted to see the elevator in use, so I told them I would make some photos in the area and return in time.

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Nearby was a highway that was never finished (one of Belgium’s “useless projects”), so perfect for a photoshoot.

The Mustang on an unfinished highway
Photo: Maarten van der Westen (own photo)

Afterwards I returned to the ship elevator. While the ship approached I looked for the best spot for photos. One of the guys I met earlier gestured me to follow him. I got to stand right next to the elevator, where only personnel was allowed. I was able to see everything up close. When the ship was lifted and moved on, the guys gave me a tour of the machine room, where the old engines from 1932 were.

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Old Fiats 500
Photo: Maarten van der Westen (own photo)

Next I drove to the enormous ship elevator of Strépy-Thieu, which replaced the four old elevators in 2002. On the parking lot of the huge but ugly building was a collection of old Fiats 500, which were doing a tour. I continued to two more elevators, an old mine and a nice chateau.

Chateau de Seneffe
Photo: Maarten van der Westen (own photo)

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The next highlight was the Sloping Lock of Ronquières. Here ships go up and down a mile-long slope in big buckets of water to bridge a 223 ft height difference.

While I photographed the Mustang next to the enormous building, an older gentleman started talking to me in French. I gathered from his lenghty story that he once owned a Mustang too. After a sad glance to his own Renault Twingo, which he left in the middle of the road, and a handshake he moved on.

Sloping Lock of Ronquières
Photo: Maarten van der Westen (own photo)

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The centre of this industrial area is the city of Charleroi, voted the ugliest city in the world. Of course I needed to visit it. I drove over the Route de Mons, voted the “most depressing street in the world”. Grey houses and rusty factories lined the street. The scent of coal dust was everywhere. But there was also beautiful graffiti.

Route de Mons, Charleroi
Photo: Maarten van der Westen (own photo)
Route de Mons, Charleroi
Photo: Maarten van der Westen (own photo)

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One location I was looking forward to was a well-known urbex location: the cooling tower of an abandoned coal plant. I had read the location was well secured, but when I arrived I was surprised to see a large group young people. They told me they had just done a photo shoot inside the cooling tower for a fashion brand.

Whether I was going inside too? Yeah, you should man! Just go up the stairs there. And just like that I was inside a huge cooling tower. I didn’t expect it would be this easy and it was the cherry on the cake.

Abandoned cement factory
Photo: Maarten van der Westen (own photo)

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After one last stop at an abandoned cement factory it was time to drive home. Sunday evening I arrived home with more than 400 photos and 800 more miles on the Mustang.

The weekend had been a blast: beautiful weather, cool locations, the Mustang, the photos and the response of people I encountered. This is why I drive a Mustang!