Johans Kayak Site


Round trip of 17 km passing 5 boatlifts annually organized by Kayak Club de Thieu. No portages.


The Canal du Centre (Centrumkanaal) was finished after the First World War in 1917 with the completion of four boat-lifts. The canal connects Mons (Bergen) to the Canal Brussels-Charleroi and it has a length of 20.9 km. The canal was of importance because of the many coal-mines in the area. The area was known as the Pays Noir (black country). Plans for making the canal existed longer, but then 17 locks would be needed. The costs of building them, and the time it would take for boats to pass them were an obstacle. The English engineer Clark had invented the hydraulic boatlift. The first one was made in 1875 near Anderton, connecting the Trent and Mersey Canal to the river Weaver. It has an ingenius hydraulic construction balancing two bassins of water. So if one bassin goes up, the other one goes down. No engine needed. Then it was decided to build four of these boatlifts to realize the canal. The size had to be according to the valid size of the locks in those days 45 x 5.8 meters to enable access to barges up to 350 tons (péniche).
In an attempt to save the industries in the area, in 1977 it was decided to build a single boatlift that could carry boats till 1350 tons with basins that could work independently. A new canal, an aqueduct and the new boatlift were completed in 2002. Costs were four times the estimated amount. And when finished, most of the industries and coalmines were already closed. So few ships use the boatlift. Because of this the boatlift came on the so called list "grands travaux inutiles" (great useless works). But now, 15 years later, the old boatlifts are restored and working again. Together with the new boatlift they are placed on the Unesco list of World Heritage. They make a good tourist attraction. Also the number of tons passing the boatlift is growing every year.
The area has great potential for tourism. There is a lot of beautiful scenery, and also there's a lot to see about the industrial past. In 2012 I also was in the area, and I filled a whole website with photo's. I enjoyed bicycling along the canals Canal du Centre, Canal Brussels-Charleroi as wel as along the beautiful river Sambre. There is a brand new hotel with a good restaurant at the aqueduct.

Every year the Kayak Club de Thieu organizes a trip on the Canal du Centre and the Old Historic Canal passing the great boat-lift at Thieu, and four historic boat-lifts in the old canal. In June 2017 I joined in and I'd like to share some information and photo's.

Starting point is at the new canal opposite the basin below boat-lift 4.
GPS: N 50.4718, E 4.0922.

From Brussels you head south on the R0 / A7 in the direction Mons (Bergen), Lille, Paris. Take exit 21 (Canal du Centre Ascenseurs). You pass two roundabouts. Follow the direction Asc. Strépy-Thieu on the N522. You go straight on and pass the great boat-lift. Then at the next roundabout you turn right towards Thieu. At the T-junction (at the church) you turn left. After the bridge you turn right.

There are no kayak-piers. You get in at a staircase on the steep slope of the canal. It's very handy to have your kayak on a rope. And a few extra hands can help to prevent from getting scratches on the kayak. There is a rail you can hold when stepping in.

From the starting point it's a short distance to the great elevator. This thing is huge and it is very impressing being lifted 73 meters. But everything goes smoothly: no ripple in the water at all. From the great elevator you follow the canal. You pass over a large aqueduct. After 6.5 km. you turn right on the old canal. After 1.6 km. you come at boatlift 1. After the boatlift you see Cantine des Italiens on your right. This picnic site is at camp where in the past Italian workers for the mines were housed. There is a boat-rental place for electro-boats. From boatlift 1 to 2 is 2.8 km. You pass the village Houdeng-Aimeries. Boatlift 2 and 3 are close to eacht other. The distance to boatlift 4 is 3.3 km. On the way you see the new boatlift on your right. After boatlift 4 the trip ends at the bassin. The quay is rather high. If you're tall you can reach for the bitt. If you're not so tall (like me) you need a rope to swing over the bolder. Then you can lift yourself up on the rope and the reach for the bitt. Remember you go only one direction, and that's up :-). When lying on your stomach you can reach for the kayak and lift it out of the water. A kayak pier really would be handy here.....

I can look back on a great experience and I like to thank the people of Kayak Club de Thieu to make this possible.

Starting point is at the new canal opposite the basin below boat-lift 4.
GPS: N 50.4718, E 4.0922.

This photo of the boatlift is from my archive of 2004.

Unloading the kayaks at the new canal opposite the old boatlift nr. 4.

Getting in is not so easy...

But with a little help...

From the starting point it's only a short distance to the boatlift.

We can enter when the light turns green.

We will be lifted up 73 meters.

When we've arrived we can paddle on.

After 6.5 km. we turn right on the old canal.

The old boatlifts are much smaller, but we all fit in.

Below lift nr. 1.

Railroad bridge.

Passing a low bridge at Houdeng-Aimeries.

Boatlift nr. 2

While we are going down, the other lift goes up with a motor yacht.

Two low bridges at Strépy-Bracquegnies are opened for us.

View from boatlift nr. 4. The basin below is where this round trip ends.

Sunset on the aqueduct of the new canal.

Strange sign along the canal...

How the hydraulic lifts work.

The Strépy-Thieu boatlift is no longer the largest boatlift in the world. In 2016 at the Three Gorges Dam in China a bigger boatlift was completed. It has a heigt of 113 meter and it can carry ships until 3000 tons.

Best Western Orange Hotel is situated at the aqueduct of the new canal in La Louviere.