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. 

Advertisements

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

Into the Wild – Alaska

The core of man’s spirit comes from new experiences – Christopher McCandless

We move north of Anchorage. First stop (well after Waseela) is Talkeetna village. A real tourist trap with way too expensive souvenirs and Mexicans selling sombrero’s. Yeah right. This is not why I came to Alaska. Happy to move on to Kroto lakes. Where? Exactly, not on the map. A hidden gem. We go up a dirt road close to Trapper Creek, where they sell ‘Death Roast Coffee’. After roughly 25 km we take our day packs and leave the vans behind. We head into the bushes. For 3,5 km we hike or rather bushwhack. No trail, no idea where we go. Just through marshy-land, and of course keeping an eye out for Bears and Moose.

After a while we just need to cross a small river per raft to reach a beautiful cabin. The cabin is perfect. It is called Mountain View, hopefully we will see the mountain soon. Down below is a nice lake with a small island, which calls for exploration per canoe. But first, enjoy the view until way past midnight. Hard to tell time when it does not get dark…

The next morning we go for a bushwhacking hike around the cabin. Lush vegetation, marsh, beaver dams and birds. No big wildlife unfortunately, but a nice way to spend time in the wild. Back in the cabin I decide to dive in the lake. The ideal way to get rid of the dirt of the hike. However… the temperature is very, very low and within seconds my skin starts tingling. Time to have lunch, go in the sauna after (and again dip in the lake) and finish the day with a nice canoe trip around the island, where we are greeted or warned by a Beaver. This is a paradise in the wilderness. Fortunately the last morning the sky clears and we are able to see the white peaks of the Peters’ and Alaska ranges, and in particular Mount Denali, with almost 6200m the highest peak of North America.

Denali National Park
We hike out, see a Porcupine in a tree, some Moose on the road and drive to Healey. The town closest to Denali National Park. For us a nice evening out, with photo opportunity at the bus from ‘Into the Wild’. A cult story about a teenager trying to survive in Alaska, living in an abandoned bus. Sadly he does not survive. His story is written down in a book, and has been filmed. As the original bus is to far away, hidden in the wilderness, a replica is made for the movie and displayed in Healy. 

Anyway, Denali National Park, a giant park (roughly 25.000 m2) with some of the highest peaks in America. We take a park shuttle bus (the only means of transport) to drive the 146km long road through the park. The views are spectacular, the excitement pure. We see Moose, Caribou and… yessss, Grizzly bears. A mom with cubs and another female. Amazing. This is why I came to Alaska. The endpoint of the shuttle bus service is Eielson visitor centre, from which we hike up the Alpine Trail. This is a 1,5km hike uphil (300m) ending with a beautiful view of the park. And an Arctic Ground Squirrel licking our shoes… yeah right.

On our way back we decide to also hike around the Horseshoe Lake close to the entrance. Moose have been spotted there the day before. Let’s see if we can find them. A nice hike of again 3,2km around a lake, owned by some Beavers. They have cut amazingly thick trees to make their den and 6(!) dams. We see them swimming with large branches in their mouths. These are quite some busy mammals! On the way back to the entrance and our little van, we encounter a Moose. A huge animal, clumsy and therefor much more dangerous than a bear. “Hi Moose, just passing through.” Beautiful end to a fantastic day.

Ready to really go into the wild…

Yaghanen, “the good land” – Kenai Peninsula Alaska


Nudnelyahich’u qeneshi – “plants and animals”

Alaska, the last frontier, living on the edge… there are many ways to describe this state. I explore it for myself in June 2017. Under the care and passion of a wildernis guide and an excellent cook we go to ‘the good land’, as the athabascan Kenaitze Indian Tribe calls it.

The first test in Alaska is the very basic camp in the Chugach National Forest where we stay in little tents, just close to a very pretty lake. Watch out for bear and moose when walking around… hmmm, we go in groups to the toilet (city slickers as we are). We go on foot for a 2,5 km round trip hike to Byron Glacier. This is very nice, very nice indeed.

Kenai Fjord Tour

One of the highlights of the trip is the boat tour in the Kenai Fjords National Park, from Resurrection Bay to the Aialik Glacier. And what a trip this is. We see many, many wildlife: Bald Eagles, a group of Stellar Sea Lions, few species of Puffin, Harbour Seals, some Orcas and funny Sea Otters. But most amazing is a juvenile Humpback Whale doing some tricks. Waving with the fin and jumping out of the water. This is the best ever! In the end some of our group get sea sick, but I survive and love it.

Harding Icefield Trail

The next day is a hiking day. We will go up to see the Exit Glacier via the Harding Icefield Trail. A roughly 14,2 km long roundtrip, with an elevation gain of 979m. But it is worth the effort (and pain in my muscles the next 3 days). Just as we pass all the snow fields, the sky opens up a bit and a stunning view on the huge icefield unfolds itself. Amazing. After lunch we go down, enjoying various views on the glacier and discovering many, many nice Alaskan flowers. 

The next morning we say farewell to our campsite, when at that moment a Moose decides to drop by. Huge, large, funny and clumsily dangerous according to our guide. Bye for now. We head back to Anchorage to resupply and move on to Denali National Park…