Tag Archives: Cycling

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 >> 

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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

Heather and ‘hunebedden’ (dolmens)

Drenthe-00

“Kaokeln is gien kuunst, maor eierkeggen wal” – easier said than done (Drents proverb)

Nice weather is predicted, so I decide to go for another few days of cycling in The Netherlands. After some puzzling and surfing the internet I decide to go to the province of Drenthe. I think I created a nice tour.

Day 1: Coevorden – Dwingeloo

I park my car in Coevorden, put the bags on my bike and take off. First stop is Orvelte, a car-free, historic village with a nice green, originated in the Middle Ages. Typical Drenthe, with nice historical farms and a real horsetram (for the tourists). The atmosphere is nicely busy and I decide to take a break. Not for long, as I still want to cycle to Westerbork. My goal is a memorial center for the former transit camp from World War II. Not a nice stop, but a stop I think I should have seen. More than a 100.000 people have been transported to the various concentration camps between 1942 and 1945. A long row of posts along the road remind visitors of the dates of each transport and the number of people on it. The row seems endless and the numbers are varying from a few hundred to a few thousand per transport… A bit further on the road a few remains of barracks, a transportation wagon, a piece of the original train track and a very impressive monument with 107.000 stones can be found. One stone for each person in the transports. Unbelievable! At the entrance of the center I see a small suitcase with the text “what if you have to flee”. Now, in 2016, millions of people all over the world are still on the run. It looks like we have not learned from the past.

Deeply impressed by what I have seen and learned I continue my tour in the direction of Beilen and National Park Dwingelder Field. I cycle through meadows with cows, forrest and over plains with heather and herds of sheep. These areas are very wide and at what beautiful moment I have decided to come here. The heather is blooming turning the fields purple. After 80 kilometer I find a nice campsite just before the town of Dwingeloo. It is very quiet and lies in the National Park. I even hear some hooves around the tent at night. Is it deer or wild hogs, I have no clue.

Day 2: Dwingeloo – Rolde

I am lazy and get up late. I have all day, so I decide to take it easy. First of all I cycle over the beautiful Dwingelder Field to Dwingeloo, again a very nice village with a green and many cosy restaurants. Time for coffee! After, I continue in the direction of Diever. In the forrest I stop to visit a hideout called ‘Wigwam’. Made in 1943 by some resistance fighters from Diever to hide in. Again impressive and I am happy these kind of monuments are free for visitors to check out and learn about their history.

The tour follows the border between the provinces of Drenthe and Friesland and crosses the fantastic nature park Drents-Friese Wold. Great plains with heather and forrest are the decor, filled with some cyclists, hikers and sheep. I pass Appelscha, a village in Friesland, and arrive in one of the best preserved areas of peat moor in The Netherlands, the Fochteloër moor. It is again a beautiful area. Once people cut the peat for a living in these areas. Lucky for us we can enjoy this moor now, as the peat cutting times where about over when this area was up for production.

By the time I reach Assen, I am having cravings for pizza. I cycled for almost 75 kilometer and decide to stop at the first restaurant which serves a nice one. After a heavenly meal I continue my route through the nice evening glow to the campsite in Rolde. On my route I of course visit the statue of Bartje, a hero from Dutch children’s books and a tv-series around a century ago. He became world famous in The Netherlands for his quote ‘ik bid nie veur bruune boon’n‘’ (I do not pray for brown beans).

Day 3: Rolde – Coevorden

Already the last day. I get up early. It is misty, but this time a year that usuall means a nice sunny day lies ahead. I cycle over the Hondsrug, a sand ridge arisen in the second last ice age, over 130.000 years ago. Nowadays it is part of the first Geopark in The Netherlands. It is also the area of many prehistoric dolmens or ‘hunebedden’ as we say in Dutch. These barrows were build by people from the Funnel Beaker culture. Their age is estimated at about 3500 to 5000 years old. and they are still there. Close to Rolde I see my first one, next to a modern cemetery. Beautiful. Along the route I pass a few more, some small, others bigger. The biggest can be found in the town of Borger, where there is also a center (Hunebedcentrum) and information center for the Geopark. It is very busy and unfortunately the visitors do not respect the prehistoric monuments. I leave quickly before I start discussions with them.

The tour proceeds through nice forrests, over beautiful heaths and past many historical farms in the many villages. I pass the large town of Emmen and after again 75 kilometerI arrive back in Coevorden. This is also a historical town, which actually looks best from the air. It is a fortified town with a very impressive star shaped moat.

It was a nice cycle tour again, passing beautifull and impressive spots and again with many sweet people along the way. “Tot ‘n anermoal!” (See you again)

Cycle tour around Twente (NL)

Twente-14

Nie lull’n moar poets’n (Twente quote ~ make it happen)

Well, I did make it happen! A cycle tour in Twente, it was on my to-do-list for a while. Just 3 days of cycling, 180 km according to the information leaflet I found on the internet. In the end I cycled over 210. No clue if it was due to my navigation skills or the cosy little villages I passed. The extra 30 km were fun as well.

day 1: Delden – Lemele

In Delden I drive off. My bike is loaded, I really took everything. After many years I notice I have to get used to cycling with the packs again. I have more than enough gear, but what to take when the nights are still rather chilly and I do not want to eat in restaurants all the time. In the end I always take too much, as I did now. Anyway, I just loaded everything on the bike and take off in a very good mood. Goal of the day is Lemele, a small village some 65 km away. I follow the signs of the long distance cycle tour LF15(b) – farmers route (Boerenlandroute), and later the LF8(b). My first stop is already after a few kilometers, Twickel estate and castle. An impressive historic estate from the 14th century, situated in a beautiful park. A good start I would say!

Happily I move on, cycling through nice scenery. Sometimes mainly agricultural with a lot of meadows, farms, cows, sheep, lama’s and sometimes more woody. Over sandy tracks and gravel, through heathland, over streams and rivers, through forrest. All very beautiful and with so many birds singing lovely songs. I spot a bird of prey who wants to land on my path but is scared of at the last minute and a small stone marten. I cycle alone for large parts… where is everybody? Are there people living here? Am I really such a townie? But when I am enjoying some traditional Twente raisin bread (krentenwegge) at a picnic spot, a couple decides to stop here as well and we have a lovely chat. They speak the Twente dialect to which I just have to get used to a bit. After an hour we go our separate ways again.

All of a sudden I see a commemorative plate with a garlant around it. I stop and read it. It is a reminder of an aircraft crash during the 2nd World War. Part of a project called ‘Opdat niet wordt vergeten’ (Lest one should not forget) crash sites are marked. Gosh, this is quite a different viewpoint on this lovely day.

Impressed by a very nice day I arrive in the little village of Lemele. I am tired but have to find some dinner in the local supermarket and proceed to the small nature campsite ‘De Olde Lucashoeve’. A very hospitable location where I am happy to pitch my tent for the night.

day 2: Lemele – Beuningen

After a good night sleep in a very quiet area, I am awakened by many birds and loud bangs in the distance. Are there hunters in this area? I pack my stuff and jump on my bike again. This will be the longest cycling day of this weekend, so I better start early. And what a start. Just after I leave the campsite the road climbs. In the Netherlands? Yes. I am on the Sallandse Heuvelrug (ridge) en just next to the Lemeler ‘Mountain’. This is a moraine from the last ice age and is roughly 60 meters high. It does not sound very impressive, but with the extra 10+ kgs I do feel it. Nice start of the day. After an hour I reach Ommen… coffee! I find a pleasant terrace in the historic centre and enjoy a good cup of coffee and a nice conversation with a rock ‘n roll lover. I enjoy meeting people, even though I will probably never meet them again.

After the coffee I cycle part of the LF16(a) – Vecht valley route (Vechtdalroute), along the river Vecht. Beautiful nature again. It is not a very sunny day, but that does not matter. I pass a lot of meadows again, find some sand dunes in the forrest and all of a sudden I see a small farm/brewery ‘De Pauw’. A real surprise I would say. After a while I switch to the LF14(a) – Saxony route (Saksenroute). I pass a few nice towns and villages today. After Ommen I cycle through Vroomshoop, Tubbergen, Ootmarsum and a bit of Denekamp. Especially Ootmarsum is a lively little town. Many art shops and pleasant terraces. I would love to stay, but I can see it coming. A dark cloud is moving my way. As I still have to cover another 10 km to the destination of today, I decide to speed up a bit.

Just below Denekamp is the little town of Beuningen. It is small and has a nice nature campsite called ‘Olde Kottink’. This is a true discovery, where I am welcomed with a very good cup of coffee. In the mean time a lot of fun is going around in the yard. Kids are baking some bread-on-a-stick above a small fire, grown ups are sitting at large picnic tables with a glas of wine or a beer. Rapidly I pitch my tent and return for my own glass of wine. After dinner I decide to go for a small walk. I spot a deer with 2 calfs. Being a townie I do not see nature like this too often and after the long cycle trip of today (~ 76 km) I enjoy it a lot!

day 3: Beuningen – Delden

Last day already. I wake up from the small pitter-patter of rain on my tent. Not a very annoying sound, but the idea to cycle in the rain is not appealing. I decide to just relax some more, for I only have to cycle around 60 km today. I am in no hurry. When I finally get up and walk to the sanitary building I spot something nice. Fresh slices of the Twente raisin bread for the guests. I decide this will be my breakfast, hmmm…

The sun breaks through, I wait for the tent to dry, talk a bit with other cyclists and at around 11 am I hop on my bike. Today I cycle in the direction of the large city of Enschede. The route officially goes straight through town, but I like cycling in nature so I decide to take the LF4(a) Centre of Netherlands route (Midden-Nederland route), passing just above Enschede. Along the way I pass a ‘Klopkeshoes’. A very tiny house showing how single women in the past were living, serving the landlord and God. Gosh.

In the village De Lutte I drink a cup of coffee and spot a statue of a hellhound (hellehond), a mythological figure which mainly was ‘spotted’ here. In folk tales, the hellhound was bringer of imminent disaster. I don’t want to think, just cycle. I pass a colorful field of sunflowers, dark forrest, muddy paths, a few small chapels and again beautiful landscapes. Close to Enschede the environment is more urbane. The route runs through an area with a mental institution, crosses the campus of the University and passes the football stadium of FC Twente. It is Sunday and Summer holidays, so everywhere I go it is quiet, hardly any people on the streets and for the first time I think the route is a bit boring. Until I reach Boekelo. A small village, known for the salt industry in the past. Along the road many small huts can be found. End of the 19th century a salt layer was discovered and from within these small huts people started producing the salt. They are everywhere. I need to find the story behind this when I get home.

After more than 65 km I am back in Delden. I have missed the route a few times in the last part, mostly because some signs were missing. That explains the extra kilometers I would say. This was a very beautiful cycle tour through a wonderful part of The Netherlands. I enjoyed the landscape, the hospitality, the lovely people I met on the way and the delicious raisin bread. Should do this more often!