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. 

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