The river Lys (Leie in Dutch) is a river in France and Belgium, and a left-bank tributary of the Scheldt. Its source is in Pas-de-Calais, France, and it flows into the river Scheldt in Ghent, Belgium. Its total length is 202 kilometres (126 mi), and it is canalized throughout most of its length. Lys is the name more widely used in English, but for clarity the official names are used in this article: Lys from the source via the head of navigation at Aire-sur-la-Lys to the point where it forms the border between Belgium and France, Lys Mitoyenne for the border length covered by a treaty between France and Belgium dating from before the EU, and Leie in Flanders. French-speaking Wallonia has a small enclave within Flanders on the left bank of the Lys Mitoyenne. Historically a very polluted river from the high population density and industrialisation in both Northern France and Belgium, it has seen substantial improvements in recent years, partly due to the decline of the principal industry, the spinning and weaving of flax. The section of the Leie between Deinze and Ghent was a favourite place for numerous painters in the first half of the 20th century.
The source of the Lys is in the village of Lisbourg east of Fruges, in the Pas-de-Calais department of France. It flows generally northeast through the following departments of France, provinces of Belgium and towns and municipalities:
- Pas-de-Calais (F): Thérouanne, Aire-sur-la-Lys
- Nord (F): Merville, Armentières, Halluin
- Hainaut (B): Comines-Warneton
- West Flanders (B): Menen, Wevelgem, Kortrijk, Waregem, Wervik
- East Flanders (B): Zulte, Deinze, Ghent
The main tributaries of the Lys are, from source to mouth: Laquette, Clarence, Lawe, Deûle and Mandel. After draining a small catchment area in the Artois plateau, the river flows on a gentle gradient through the Flanders plain. The city of Ghent grew around the confluence of the Leie and the Schelde (Escaut).
The Leie/Lys was a commercial navigation from the Middle Ages, but it was the river’s devastating floods rather than navigation improvements which justified major works and meander cut-offs started around 1670. The 9 metre difference in elevation between Aire-sur-la-Lys and the border was gradually overcome by six locks and weirs, completed in 1780. The river carried a heavy traffic in grain and linen through to Ghent and Antwerp. The navigation was leased out to a company around 1825, and the locks upgraded to 5.20 m wide, for a draught of 1.60 m. The river in France was given its present depth by the Freycinet programme. The section below Armentières was enlarged to class III from 1930, and the border section was improved to class Va starting from 1960.
The Lys/Leie from Deûlémont to the junction with the Lys diversion canal is part of the EU’s 'core corridor' project for the Seine-Escaut waterway, under which the Flanders waterway administration is upgrading the river with new locks. The upstream section, by contrast, is used almost exclusively by recreational craft. Tourism throughout the river and on the former towpath is actively promoted by the cross-border association Lys Sans Frontières.
- River Lys (in France) with maps and details of places, moorings and services (by the author of Inland Waterways of France)
- Navigation details for 80 French rivers and canals (French waterways website section)
- The Lys (Leie) in the Sandre database
- River basin of the Lys in Flanders
- Toerisme Leiestreek
- Edwards-May, David (2010). Inland Waterways of France. St Ives, Cambs. UK: Imray. pp. 127–129. ISBN 978-1-846230-14-1.
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