© Terril du pays à part à Haillicourt | CRTC Hauts-de-France - Fabien Coisy

Scale a black mountain

The Mining Basin is a UNESCO World Heritage Site crowned with terrils (slag heaps), black mountains formed from the waste material generated by coal mining. And they are just crying out to be climbed. There’s certainly no shortage of choice with Haillicourt, Raismes and Loos-en-Gohelle all having their own mini Everests. But we’re taking you to Béthune, where an organisation of passionate locals make the adventure even more special. As a family, friends or couple, come meet people who are proud of their history and with a heart as big as the Himalayas.

Northern France _ Haillicourt _ slag heaps ©Bassin Minier Unesco - OT Béthune-BruayNorthern France _ Haillicourt _ slag heaps ©Bassin Minier Unesco - OT Béthune-Bruay
©Northern France, Haillicourt, slag heap | Bassin Minier Unesco - OT Béthune-Bruay

A truly special bird’s-eye view

To paraphrase Napoleon: “From the heights of these terrils, 100 years of mining look down on us”. Terril comes from the word tèrri in the Walloon language, which by 1300 was already used to describe the pile of earth and stone that was dug up to operate the mine. There are 340 coal terrils in the region, the biggest of which peaks at 188 metres and is found in Loos-en-Gohelle. So much for being flat country. From atop the Terril du Pays à Part, in Haillicourt, the panoramic views of the Tour-Lanterne in Notre-Dame de Lorette, Lille and Monts de Flandre in the distance are breath-taking. A truly special bird’s-eye view, 180 metres in the sky.

 

To reach the summit, there are 420 steps (yes, it’s a workout, but it makes the sight even more rewarding), which are maintained by the organisation Eden62. It aims to “preserve the fragile site, both for ecological and historical purposes; these terrils are living proof of a century of hard life for miners and must be respected”. So, grab your walking shoes and come explore the small peaks of Northern France with their amazing fauna and flora.

Local's tip

Micheline LemayMicheline Lemay
Visit the small mining museums

 

Everyone knows Lewarde’s Mining History Centre. However, there are other lesser-known mining museums nearer by that are also well worth a visit, including in Auchel, Bruay-la-Buissière and Nœux-les-Mines. But my favourite is the one in Nœux-les-Mines, which was originally one of the ‘fake mines’ created to train pit boys. Can you get any more authentic? The reconstructed tunnels teach you the different stages of a miner’s work and make for a fascinating tour. I highly recommend it!

Micheline, expert greeter in mining heritage
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