Visiting the Bayard Rock, Dinant, Belgium: where the scenic Meuse Valley, history and legend meet

Flag of Belgium
Flag of Belgium | Source
Dinant: the right bank of the Meuse; the Bayard Rock
Dinant: the right bank of the Meuse; the Bayard Rock | Source
Generals Omar Bradley, Dwight D. Eisenhower and George S. Patton
Generals Omar Bradley, Dwight D. Eisenhower and George S. Patton | Source
Map location of Dinant in Namur province
Map location of Dinant in Namur province | Source

Remembering also sinister events which threatened US troops in the Battle of the Bulge

At the Bayard Rock in Dinant, Belgium, on the scenic Meuse River, in Namur proivince, in the Walloon region, there is a coming together of history and legend. This remarkable rock pinnacle has for centuries been the focus for memories of Medieval legendary happenings. As such, it has long been a significant visitor attraction in southern Belgium.

According to legend, four knights, the sons of Aymon, were fleeing on a single horse, named Bayard, from the troops of Emperor Charlemagne. When the sturdy horse came to the rock outcrop by the Meuse, near present day Dinant, its hooves struck a portion of the rock which thus became separated from the main part of the outcrop. The pinnacle we see today is supposedly the result. So the question arises, what caused the legend? is there any oblique factual basis, albeit shrouded in exaggeration, to the core of the legend?

It is known that a local song was popular in the Ardennes in the Middle Ages, which spoke of the alleged event in the legend of Bayard. But in actuality, it was troops belonging to Louis XIV who were responsible for driving a road through the outcrop of rock alongside the Meuse River, although this occurred many centuries after the supposed event in the legend.

Fast forward to World War Two. One of the aims of the German von Rundstedt Offensive of late 1944, which spearheaded the Battle of the Bulge, was to reach the Meuse River and make it easier for German forces to re-take Antwerp. Fierce fighting resulted, with huge American and German losses, before the von Rundstedt Offensive finally failed. What is not known widely is that, at least technically, the aim of reaching the Meuse was met, when a patrol of German soldiers did indeed arrive at the river by the Bayard Rock.

But here is the twist to the account: the Germans that actually succeeded in this tactical aim were in disguise as American soldiers. From a German perspective, this offered only a very tenuous hold upon the local area; indeed, this shortly came to nothing, since the patrol was wiped out by a landmine. But, in a wider area during the Battle of the Bulge, rumours of German troops in disguise as Americans, in what was known as Operation Greif, played a more sinister and effective role of destabilizing American troops. A number of captured Germans in disguise were executed, but concerns about their activities caused General Dwight D. Eisenhower to spend Christmas 1944 in isolation for security reasons.

In one way or another, nebulously intertwined rumour and fact seem to have circulated around the Bayard Rock for over a thousand years, making it a focal point for diverse local narratives.

Also worth seeing

In Dinant itself, its Collegiate Chuch has a striking, bulbous roof. Nearby Bouvignes-sur-Meuse is picturesque and is overlooked by Medieval castle ruins.

Namur (distance: 29 kilometres) is situated at the confluence of the Sambre and Meuse Rivers; and has a formerly strategic Medieval citadel.

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How to get there: Brussels Airlines flies from New York to Brussels Airport (Brussel Nationaal / Bruxelles-National ), from where car rental is available. The Belgian railroad company SNCB - NMBS maintains a service between Brussels and Dinant. Some facilities may be withdrawn without notice. Please check with the airline or your travel agent for up to date information. For any special border crossing arrangements which may apply to citizens of certain nationalities, please refer to appropriate consular sources.

MJFenn is an independent travel writer based in Ontario, Canada.

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