Smugglers’ Route De Groote Heide: the customs officer | Border Stories

Learn about the customs officers’ past of De Groote Heide by following this 44-kilometre-long cycle route.

3 hour 40 minutes (44.0 km)

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Explore the De Groote Heide nature reserve by following this 44-kilometre-long cycle route. The route takes you over the border and shows you the story of an officer (customhouse officer) or a smuggler in the 1930s. This is the customs officers’ route. For the smugglers’ route, go to this page

The route begins at the Achelse Kluis Abbey and goes past several old smuggler paths, customs offices, border posts and border crossings. All are iconic parts of the smuggling story around the border between North Brabant and Belgium. This is a varied route, providing you with a good connection between city, country, the Netherlands and Belgium. You travel through unspoilt countryside and go past charming villages famous for their smuggling past. Play the cat-and-mouse game in the border area of De Groote Heide and follow in the footsteps of the smuggler, using this cycle route of about 44 kilometres.

Dismount and explore ...
Round off your c…

Explore the De Groote Heide nature reserve by following this 44-kilometre-long cycle route. The route takes you over the border and shows you the story of an officer (customhouse officer) or a smuggler in the 1930s. This is the customs officers’ route. For the smugglers’ route, go to this page

The route begins at the Achelse Kluis Abbey and goes past several old smuggler paths, customs offices, border posts and border crossings. All are iconic parts of the smuggling story around the border between North Brabant and Belgium. This is a varied route, providing you with a good connection between city, country, the Netherlands and Belgium. You travel through unspoilt countryside and go past charming villages famous for their smuggling past. Play the cat-and-mouse game in the border area of De Groote Heide and follow in the footsteps of the smuggler, using this cycle route of about 44 kilometres.

Dismount and explore ...
Round off your cycling adventure by letting the various businesses along the route surprise you with special products, offers and packages that all have to do with the theme of this route. 

  • Smugglers’ box by Borrelbar KikkerOp and Brasserie De Kapetulie: a box with five different beers.
  • Smugglers’ ice by Mamma Mia: mascarpone ice cream with stewed pears, syrup waffles and caramel. Ice cream that hints at the smuggling of butter and sugar.
  • Smugglers’ beer by Stoombierbrouwerij De Pimpelier: created especially for the launch of the Smugglers’ route. 
  • Smugglers’ cake by 't Kluutje, together with Bakkerij Rooymans: an amazingly delicious chocolate eclair filled with coffee-flavoured mousse.
  • Smugglers’ liqueur by Fruitbedrijf Jan Janssen and sweet shop 't Kluutje: a liqueur made from blueberries and a liqueur that tastes of butterscotch.
  • Smugglers’ tea by Het Zuyderblad: created especially for the launch of the Smugglers’ route. 

About this route
This cycle route was created by VisitBrabant Routebureau. The route was laid out via the North Brabant bicycle junction system. Simply cycle from one numbered junction to the next. Arrows show you the way between the junctions. If you encounter a problem with the route’s signposting, please report this to us via visitbrabant.com/meldpunt. You can also call 0800-4050050 (free of charge).

Route map
Look at this route page on your telephone or download the GPX file. If you prefer to travel with a paper map, a route brochure for this themed route is available and can be downloaded here. The route brochures can also be acquired at the Tourist Information Offices in Cranendonck and in Hamont-Achel.

Border Stories
Border stories demonstrate the versatility of the region of North Brabant in a unique manner. North Brabant is located on the border of the Netherlands and Belgium and between the provinces of Limburg, Zeeland, Zuid-Holland and Gelderland. The border has a rich history with stories about smugglers, closed borders and borderless collaborations. There is a reason why this border has always played an important role in the life of the people of Brabant. Experience routes that have been developed with this theme tell the story of the Brabant border and the unlimited nature of the region. View them all via visitbrabant.com/verhalenaandegrens.

About De Groote Heide
Explore De Groote Heide: a unique trans-border area in Cranendonck, Eindhoven, Heeze-Leende, Valkenswaard, Hamont-Achel and Neerpelt. Within North Brabant, the cross-border area De Groote Heide is a fabulous area for nature, tourism and recreation. Its 6000 ha. of continuous nature reserves with deep purple heathland, fresh green woods, brooks, small rivers and fens as well as many unique cultural-historical panoramic views make De Groote Heide a unique area.

Sights on this route

Starting point:

De Achelse Kluis
De Kluis 1
3930 Hamont-Achel
Navigate to starting point
A

It is the starting point for a wonderful walking or cycling trip through the Leenderbos, the Groote Heide or the Beverbeekse Heide. From here, you can also easily reach the charming town of Hamont-Achel.

De Achelse Kluis Abbey
218
B

They were home to the customs officers of the cyclist brigade and their families.

Customs buildings De Acht Zaligheden
564
563
541
C

Reference to measures taken by customs against motorised smugglers.

Chevaux de frise
568
D

This building was erected at the crossing of the two roads that led to the border crossings at Budel and Budel-Schoot

Former customs residences
542
E

In 1960, a new customs office for both Belgium and the Netherlands was built at the Dutch border.

Former Belgian customs office
215
F

The current Belgian-Dutch border was laid down in detail and established officially in 1843. 388 cast-iron border posts were installed along the border.

Border crossing with National Border Post 172
12
G

Get to know smuggling in the border region at the museum. The region, situated on the border of the Netherlands and Belgium and bordering on Limburg, is known for its many smuggling practices in former times.

Smuggling Museum Cranendonck
09
01
58
H

Villa Cranendonck, the little white castle, was built in the early 20th century. It was privately owned for quite some time until the municipality became owner or the Cranendonck estate in 1938.

Barony of Cranendonck
40
04
30
35
34
J

The former shop was known as the distribution point for smuggled provisions.

Former village shop/chemist’s
05
59
41
K

Smugglers often used streams to smuggle goods across the border.

De Strijper Aa
06
03
L

The centre of the smallest residential area of the municipality of Cranendonck, where many residents were involved in smuggling on both a small and large scale.

Artwork of the former butter factory and St. Cornelius Chapel
39
216
M

Famous border crossing for smugglers and now a monument for World War I.

Den Ezel: National Border Post 174
N

Many “pungelaars” (smugglers carrying burlap bags filled with contraband on their backs) followed small forest paths and sandy roads to cross the border along the Budel-Gastel route towards Achel and vice versa.

Den Doodendraad and National Border Post 175
38
O

A square post with ‘Barony of Hees and Leen’ on one side and ‘Barony of Cranendonck’ on the opposite side, Bergbosweg, Budel.

The Double Post, National Border Post 176 with Barony Post
P

In the centre of this heathland region among several remote fens lies the remains of what used to be a conventicle (a secret or unlawful religious meeting), during the period that lasted from 1648 to 1672.

Location of former Border chapel
36
217
Q

It is the starting point for a wonderful walking or cycling trip through the Leenderbos, the Groote Heide or the Beverbeekse Heide. From here, you can also easily reach the charming town of Hamont-Achel.

De Achelse Kluis Abbey

End point:

De Achelse Kluis
De Kluis 1
3930 Hamont-Achel
Navigate to endpoint

Story of the route

Starting point:

De Achelse Kluis
De Kluis 1
3930 Hamont-Achel
Navigate to starting point
  • Belgium – 1930s. Cor Commies, a poor man from Antwerp, pulled the door closed behind him and crossed the provincial border, heading towards Belgian Limburg. You could earn a good living as an officer (border police/customs). Customs officers on both sides of the border had their hands full with collaring the smugglers. The smugglers had become more resourceful than ever in concealing goods such as butter, sugar and salt at the border where the Netherlands and Belgium meet.
  • As usual, Commies began his day at the Achelse Kluis (10), where his colleague was already waiting for him in a customs officers’ cabin. Both of them laughed again about the supply of undocumented butter that they were able to intercept at a farm the evening before. That went well!
  •  After having their first coffee of the day, they began their journey. Along the way, they passed the cyclists’ barracks (home base for the officers on bicycles) (11) where, earlier that week, Commies had found a bicycle in good shape. A little further down the road, the officers saw some children playing outside. As they rode up onto the property, the children raced indoors. Thumps were heard behind the door, and then the farmer opened the door with a broad smile.
  •  People were often exceedingly nice to the officers. That afternoon as well, when a young man offered them a liqueur during their lunch break in Achel-Statie. But the truth was soon revealed: it was the infamous Vanishing John. If Commies would just tell Vanishing John where the officers were holding watch tonight, he would be given a bottle of delicious, rather pricey liqueur to take home. A whole bottle? That was worth three weeks of work. Because Cor was conscientious, he rejected the offer, rather astonished. Before he knew it, Vanishing John was gone again. He’d have to keep a watchful eye out.
  •  Before they began their watch, the officers went past the customs office (14/15) to pick up their pay packet. Because he sent his money to his poor family in Antwerp, Commies had barely anything left for himself. And yet, every evening he entered the edge of the woods, full of hope, because every smuggler that was caught was a bonus for Commies.
  •  At twilight, he met a Dutch colleague at the border post (78). Just as the colleague is telling Cor about his recent catch, they suddenly saw a row of figures walking by on a path a little further up. Quietly, they crept closer. Isn’t that Vanishing John? Cor decided to let the first smuggler pass and then ran across the fields to Vanishing John with two large duffel bags on his bicycle. Cor grabbed hold of Vanishing John, but the young man dropped everything and ran into the woods. The officers met up again, carrying a bag filled with contraband but without smugglers. The Dutch colleague took his contraband and headed off towards his customs office. Cor Commies made one last attempt and followed Vanishing John’s trail into the woods …
  •  Passing by the cafe, he noticed that the outside light was not lit up. The officers suspected that this was a signal to the smugglers that the coast was clear. Would they be successful tonight?

End point:

De Achelse Kluis
De Kluis 1
3930 Hamont-Achel
Navigate to endpoint
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Route features

Landscape
Forest, Heathland, Nature Park
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