The ‘Fietserpad’ – a cycle tour from north to south in The Netherlands (part 2)

A bicycle ride around the world begins with a single pedal stroke

I started in the province of Groningen and passed Drenthe. My ride through Niedersachsen in Germany I will forget. That was somehow one of the least impressive parts if you ask me. Gas installations, empty villages, the route went over grassy paths, tractor tracks and gravel roads. Okay, the most interesting thing was the fabulous ‘Kuchen’ (cake) on a terrace in Uelsen.

Overijssel

Then I enter the third Dutch province of my trip: Overijssel and one of my favourite areas called Twente. My first challenge is the Poasche Berg with an elevation of 89m. It is an end moraine remaining from one of the ice ages long, long time ago. I return to the nice town of Ootmarsum (I was here last year as well, see Cycle tour around Twente) and proceed along a very long canal. At some point I see a nice historic building called ‘Schuivenhuisje’, a weir used for the releasing of water from the Dinkel river to the canal. After a less impressive day, this is cheering me up. The lovely Dinkel river is winding through the fields and forrest. Small, picturesque towns show me their happy faces. A little bit further is the estate of Singraven, with its beautiful water mill. I pass Losser and Glanerbrug, and realise I am cyling along the Dutch-German border again. On a sandy road I notice the righthand side is Dutch territory, the left German. For me both corn fields look exactly the same.

I decide to make a small detour into Germany to visit a very nice water mill in the forrest, the ‘Haarmühle’. The route proceeds along large heather fields with swampy areas and another very impressive water mill (Oostendorper molen). 

Gelderland

Without knowing I cross a province border again. I am entering Gelderland, and to be precise the Achterhoek. Famous for some Dutch rock band called Normaal, motor races and farm land. And then, again Germany. This tour partly follows the border and crosses it few times. I enter the sleepy town of Zwillbrock and see a beautiful Roman church. Not far down the road there is also a swampy area (Venn) where flamingo seems to breed. Unfortunately they do that in Spring, so I have to come back some day. 

I proceed along typical landscapes and notice the humor people have. Garden gnomes greet me, welcome signs to have a seat and rest, a warning for a suicidal dachshund and I am so happy to spot a deer in the forrest. This is what I came here for. At the end of the day I set myself on a terrace in Bredevoort. The Book town, where people put their bookcases on the street, where there are many book shops and… a very impressive brick windmill, build in 1870 and used for grinding corn.

Without many places to get coffee, I proceed my route West. And then I reach ‘s-Heerenberg and Stokkum. I thought I knew a lot about the beauty of my country but here I am stunned. There is a beautiful 13th century castle and I never knew. The sun illumunates it like a fairytale. I have lunch and just keep on looking at it. Amazing. A bit further down the road is one of the oldest brick tower mills of western Europe in the town of Zeddam. Probably built in the 15th century, it is still operational today. Cycling here is fun, as there are some hills to conquer.

Again I head into Germany. This time I pass through a forrest with some nice hills to climb. Soon after I reach the point where the river Rijn enters the Netherlands. I keep cycling West and should have known this means headwind. Many kilometers of hard pedalling along the river. Somehow I have great fun. The views are completely different from the other days. I pass the river on a small cycle ferry and proceed. The polder is fantastic. Wet areas with wild horses and Scottish Highland cows and the history of making bricks from the clay.
I pass the nice town of Nijmegen to enter a very nice area called Berg en Dal (mountain and valley). I climb and descent in the forrests, have great views on the Mooker Hei, a nice elevated area with blooming heather and lowlands in the background. These are the lands of the world famous 4 days of Nijmegen hiking event. I love it here. 450 km On my counter and more to come…

Part 3… to follow soon!

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The ‘Fietserpad’ – a cycle tour from north to south in The Netherlands (part 1)

Don’t limit your challenges – Challenge your limits

I have this long distance cycling tour in my mind for some years now, I even bought the route book already. In 2017 I finally decide to go for it. I start in Pieterburen in the North of Groningen, on the coast of the Waddenzee, and I will cycle all the way to Withuis in the South of Limburg, at the border with Belgium. The end will be on the Pietersberg (‘mountain’) in Maastricht. All in all a distance of roughly 670 km, which I cycle in 10 consecutive days. The route I take from the book “Het Fietserpad”. This is part 1 of my adventures.

Groningen

I take the train to Baflo, where I start cycling. First up North to the coast of the Waddenzee and the official end, and fir me start of the tour. I have decided to ride it from north to south, instead of the other way around like in the book. It is just that I have more connection with the southern provinces. This route is basically a cycling version of the longest long distance hikes called ‘Pieterpad’. On my tour I meet many people hiking the 485km (or part of it) to Maastricht. I follow most of their route, with some detours here and there.

The province of Groningen is flat, green, windy and has a lot of grassland with horses, sheep and cows. And windmills, of course. Mostly for keeping the land dry. Typical for this area are the ‘terpen’ or mounds. Long ago people build their churches on an elevated part of land to protect them from high waters during floodings. They are clearly visible in the otherwise flat countryside. The capital of this province is also called Groningen and it is a nice city, full of historic buildings like the Martini tower. I keep on pedaling, passing the beautiful Paterswolder lake in the late afternoon. The sun is starting to set and makes the view on the windmill simply spectacular. What a beautiful country I am living in. At the end of the day I arrive in Haren.

Drenthe

The second province I pass through is Drenthe. I have been cycling here for a long weekend last year Heather and ‘hunnebedden’ (dolmens) and am excited to be back. I pass the small town of Zuidlaren and cycle through beautiful countryside. Lots of blooming heather, sand dunes and large areas of peat or turf. Once very valuable and used for many things, most of the peat areas have been extracted, leaving swampy lands. In Balloo I visit a dolmen and pass a boulder circle, which basically is a piece of art directing and informing the long distance hikers of the ‘Pieterpad’.

The tour proceeds through forrest, small villages like Grolloo and the Ballooër Field. In the amazing setting I find one of 4 historic small drainage windmills left in Drenthe, called Tjasker. I proceed along more heather and peat fields, through lush green forrest, passing some large boulders from Scandinavia, left here during the last ice age. Part if my route passes the Hondsrug, a long stretched hill of (yes really) 26 meters high. It is of such natural and historic importance that UNESCO recognized it as geopark in 2015. And I can see why.

I pass a few more very nice farming villages with fantastic historic wooden farm houses, to finally end up in Meppen on a lovely campsite called the Boemerang with chickens and a dwarf pig calked Floor.

Part 2… 

Fortresses along the New Dutch Waterline

There are no shorcuts to any place worth going – Beverly Sills

The urge to cycle, with packs and tent, was there again. Fortunately I live in a beautiful, flat country, with many, many nice routes and sites to discover. I already had a cycling tour along a (officially) 85km long national monument in mind: the New Dutch Waterline, on the nomination list to become a Unesco World Heritage Site in 2019. It is a tour from Werkendam to Muiden along a large number of fortresses, dikes, locks and canals. All built to protect the 2 provinces called Holland from app. 1815 to 1940. In all this time it was an ingenious and indestructible fortress. How? By just opening the locks roughly 40 centimeters of water could be put on the fields, making it almost impossible for carts, horses or boats to pass. There where the land was to elevated to flood, fortresses were built to protect.

I start my trip in Werkendam, a very small town just Southeast of Rotterdam. Day 1 will lead me on a 47km tour through open farmland along some nice places already. First of all there is Fort Altena, a bastion dating back to 1840, the Brakel Battery and the impressive Castle of Loevestein. The castle was already built in the 1360s and has changed many times since then. It is most famous for the escape of a well known Dutch writer and lawyer Hugo Grotius from the prison in a bookcase in the 17th century. My day ends in the lovely historic, fortified town of Woudrichem.

The next day is a longa one. 90Kms from Woudrichem to just North of Utrecht. The weather is great, the views wide and the fortresses come in large numbers. The sheer magnitude of the defence line is incomprehensable. Hundreds of troops and all their ammunition and supplies were housed in 47 fortresses. With the invention of the airplane and it possibilities in World War II, the defence line proved to have lost its value. Fortunately it has found new use in recent history. It is a spectacular area with nice history, great nature and fantastic ways to relax, have a drink or even a party. 

I pass the historic, fortified center of Gorinchem, see Fort Vuren along the road, have a coffee at the GeoFort at Nieuwe Steeg, enjoy Art-fort Asperen and am impressed by a WWII military bunker cut in half next to the Diefdijk. The fields in this area are full of old concrete military bunkers from WWII, mostly sealed and spray painted with grafiti. A memory of a dark time in our history, not that long ago. Nowadays they are frequently used by sheep to protect them from the sun. Along the same dike a restoration project brought a historic trench and battery back to life. Just around lunchtime I reach Fort Everdingen. A very nice building with an interesting new destination. It will be a special beer brewery soon. At Culemborg I take the ferry to the other side of the Lek river. The route then follows the river until close to Utrecht. 

I pass Fort bij ‘t Hemeltje and then I get to a large fortress called Fort bij Vechten. An impressive, beautifully restored complex, housing a few restaurants and party locations. It is a giant 2 storey building, with freshly painted green doors and shutters. It is the second largest Fort with roughly 17 hectares. It was built close to the largest fortress of the Netherlands, Fort Rijnauwen. Just East of Utrecht and once housing 540 soldiers and 105 canons! Unfortunately this one only open for visits during certain hours, and I am too late. I must come back one day.

Three more forts I pass before the end of the day: Fort Voordorp with its lovely red shutters, Fort Blauwkapel only visible through the trees and last but not least Fort Ruigenhoek, which is just next to my lovely campsite. What a day, full of history, sunshine and many, many kilometers on my bike.

The last day is roughly 50km. Again, the first thing I stumble upon is a fortress, Fort De Gagel. Owned by the municipality of Utrecht it still serves well. The environment is slightly different this day. I pass large lakes, cycle along beautiful rivers and see numerous waterbirds. Along the way few fortresses, obviously the lakes helped defending the nation in a natural way. I see the remains of Fort Tienhoven and drive along the river Vecht, famous for the super large mansions on the shores. It is a nice day, so many people sail their boats and enjoy the great atmosphere. To be honest I am a bit Fort tired and decide to simply pass a few without visiting. I do have lunch at Fort Uitermeer, a nice example with a bomb free tower.

A while later I pass a nice fortified town called Weesp with a beautiful lifting bridge and Fort Ossenmarkt. This is just 5km from my final destination of this tour, which is the historic, fortified town of Muiden. Home to the ‘brown fleet’, which is a fleet of old wooden sailing boats, today still used for trips on the IJssel lake. At the shores of this town I find the West Battery and the Muiderslot. One of the nicest castles built in the Middle Ages (around 1280). In the lake, somewhere in the distance  I see the fortified island of Pampus. 

This is the end of the New Dutch Waterline, and possibly the beginning of another cycling tour around Amsterdam. There are many more historic fortresses to enjoy, all part if the ‘Stelling van Amsterdam’ or Defence Line of Amsterdam, already a Unesco World Heritage Site since 1996. 

Cycling in Midden-Delfland (just south of Delft)

Every ride is like a tiny holiday 

It is a sunny Sunday in August and I plan to cycle a tour which I already selected some time ago. Just about 70 km, starting from my home, through the typical Dutch countryside between Delft and Rotterdam. This is nature in a relatively urban area of The Netherlands. Interesting detail, this part of the country lies below sea level (upto -12 m).

The route drives me along the small villages like ‘t Woudt, Schipluiden and De Zweth with its churches prominently on the skyline, through flat farmland and along many, many small canals and ditches. The cows colour the mostly green meadows, as well as the villages with their orange tiled roofs. Along the way I spot mills. Traditional big Dutch windmills, but also the small Bosman mills. Developed in the early 1900’s, these small polder mills are used to level small diffrences in the water in this polder landscape. A Dutch invention which is still being used all over the world.

Between all the fresh green landscapes, Summer flowers, canals I see (and hear) many birds in the polders. This is heaven for them. Lots of places to nest, lots of food around. Groups of Geese, Duck, Coot, Stern and some Stork. The canals and ditches divide de lands of the farmers. That way the cattle remained separated. Nowadays pleasure boats sail the small canals as soon as the sun starts shining. Halfway the route, I need some arm muscles to operate a small manual ferry to bring me to the other side of one of the canals. 

At some point I cycle between two canals. Wind in the back makes it an easy ride. I really enjoy the beautiful reeds and blooming water lilies. Then I spot a few huge 3D drawings of local fish on the asphalt made by a skilled artist. This way the water management council wants to show how the fish can travel from one canal to the other, through the use of small sluices.

All in all a lovely day of riding the bike, with wind in my hair and sun on my skin. And of course the cities of Rotterdam and Delft are nearby and visible on the horizon, of course I hear the sound of the busy highway between The Hague and Rotterdam. Filtering that out, I do realize I live in a beautiful country. Seeing the many wind- & polder mills and pumping houses I also realize I live below sea level. We need these machines to keep our feet from getting wet. Strange, but this is why we are so famous in the world for our water managememt skills. I can summarize my day easily: water, gras and biking. Lekker!

Nothing is softer or more flexible than water, yet nothing can resist it – Lao Tzu

Tundra, taiga and copper – Alaska

To the lover of wilderness, Alaska is one of the most wonderful countries of the world – John Muir

Alaska is more then Bears and Moose… it is the country of tundra and taiga. Taiga being the wide, widespread forrest of pine, larch and spruce trees. Locally sometimes called drunken spruce trees, for due to the permafrost the roots cannot really hold the trees and they start “wandering”. The taiga can be somewhat boring, as the trees block spectacular views. However, Moose like taiga and the small lakes. We see quite a lot of them along the roadside.
Tundra is the open, empty landscape, but full of small vegetation like mosses and lichens. The views are mostly beautiful, especially when the snowy tops of the Alaska range are filling the background. Caribou love the lichen.

Our next stop is after 170km driving on the unpaved Denali Highway, straight through tundra and taiga. White tops in the background, broad river banks in the foreground. Hardly any human being. Just pure loneliness. You can get lost here for a long time, but then life will be very tough. We stop at a roadhouse at Tangle River. It is a blockhut type place, build in a beautiful scenery with some small lakes to canoe on. However, it interior is utterly kitch and it makes our imagination go wild. In the end my bunkbed really sucks, but the inhabitants are hilarious. They would do well in a real life soap!

We move on along the Copper river in the direction of Wrangell-Saint Elias National Park & Preserve. Another amazing area in Alaska with spectacular nature ans some cultural heritage. The Alaskan native population already knew what was officially discovered end of the 1900’s. These mountains have (had) many copper deposits. It is even said, that the mines of the twin town of McCarthy and Kennicott held the largest ores ever discovered. It was mined for 40 years and transported by boat and railway. What is left are 2 small towns. Kennicott is now sort of a ghost town with some historic buildings and ruins. It is now starting point to amazing tours in the steep mountains surrounding it, and of course the magnificent Root Glacier. McCarthy, once the town of sins, is now a tourist town with hotel, some restaurants and adventure activities.

We camp on the river bank of the Kennicott river and make some memorable hikes. The first along the Root Glacier, on top of the moraine. We see bear droppings everywhere, so it is somewhat exciting to walk here. The next day we hike up to the Bonanza Mine. The trail is over 7 km one way and it ascents 1200 meter. No flat spots here, but amazing views. Reaching the old, wooden and ruined copper mine, we see pieces of green and blue Malachite and Azurite everywhere. This is so surreal. Very impressed we hike down the long steep path again. How tough life must have been 100 years ago.

Holiday is almost over. We drive back in the direction of Anchorage. We see the first traffic lights in 10 days, we see cars and people. It is busy and the rain does not help getting rid of the feeling that the holiday is almost over. The last night we spend on a riverbank with view on the Matanuska glacier (if it would have been clear). We have a nice Dr. Pepper marinated ribs dinner and a few campfire stories. Our guide/cook Phil tells us his story of a grizzly bear attack he barely survived in 1999 (Story in the newspaper) and another nice poem of Robert Service. No matter how nice the campsite is, when I close my eyes later on in the tent, I think back to Phil’s story and the many nights this trip we slept in this small tent in the same wilderness. Brrr…

Back in Anchorage the trip is over. We do some souvenir shopping and that is it. A last hike along the Knik and off we go. Alaska, it has been great!

There’s gold, and it’s haunting and haunting;
It’s luring me on as of old;
Yet it isn’t the gold that I’m wanting
So much as just finding the gold.
It’s the great, big, broad land ’way up yonder,
It’s the forests where silence has lease;
It’s the beauty that thrills me with wonder,
It’s the stillness that fills me with peace.

The Spell of the Yukon – Robert Service