23-29/8/16. Sorry for the lack of updates in the last week. The “reason” is that there doesn’t seem to have been much to report back on.
We have been making our way down the Dutch coast and are now west of Amsterdam, near Haarlem. It has been thoroughly pleasant but unremarkable – which is not intended to damn with faint praise. We have been enjoying the cycling, the countryside and the people very much.
We found the cycle paths in Germany wonderful but the Dutch ones are on a whole new level! They are more like “cycling roads” – generally having priority where they meet the real roads, wide (often allowing 2 way traffic), well signposted and they are everywhere. It is no wonder that they are so well used. There are bikes of all shapes and sizes – ridden by people of all shapes and sizes! And hardly a helmet in sight, apart from the lycra clad wannabe racers. Even Christine has “gone Dutch” as it were (Stephen stopped wearing his as soon as we left Aus and NZ (where they are required by law).
The first part of the route was in Friesland, the coastal area of which is a national park – part of the Wadden Sea World Heritage site. Generally we were riding at the base of the dyke on the land side but periodically we would climb up the slope to look at the saltmarsh and mudflats. At one point there was a hide which looked over a favourite beach of the seal population. There were more than 50 basking in the sun when we were there.
There was one point when wave after wave of ducks and geese flew over us heading south. It felt as though we were under an avian motorway and we were worried about getting splattered!
The area was relatively sparsely populated (by Dutch standards at least) with the occasional small village or town and of course the landscape was pan flat. There were, however, a lot of campsites around so it was straightfoward to find somewhere to stay when we had had enough cycling for the day – apart from the third and final day in Friesland, that is. The weather had been glorious all day – in fact TOO gloroius for Christine who started to wilt in the sun and heat as the afternoon wore on. We passed a campsite but she decided that she would prefer to head to the next one marked on the map, about 10 km further on, so that we were closer to the long dam across the IJselmeer which we were going to cross the next day.
However, when we turned up in the small town where the site was shown we could find neither hide nor hair of it. The only possible place was a “bungalow park” but we were told in no uncertain terms that camping was not allowed. We were faced with two alternatives – go 6 km sort of back the way we had come but inland or head on to Harlingen, another 15-20 km. As the temperature had dropped a little, Christine felt she could manage the latter and we were pleased that we did so as we found a very nice campsite, which was clearly very popular.
On Friday, we headed south for about 10 km before turning onto the dam. We had been viewing this with some trepidation as it was 30 km heading right into the prevailing wind with absolutely no shelter. However, our luck was in as we actually had a gentle tail/cross wind from a north/north easterly direction! The trip on the dam was actually fairly boring as it was a dead straight route beside a motorway with the view on one side blocked by the dyke – but it is an impressive engineering feat.
At the end of the dam we turned northwards towards Den Helder which meant that we were heading pretty much into the teeth of the wind. It made for hard going but was, no doubt, divine retribution for the easy time we had had earlier in the day.
As we had been making good progress we decided to have an “extra” rest day on Saturday (as well as Sunday) there. It was also an opportunity for Christine to catch up on her walking which had been “neglected” in the last couple of weeks by the absence of hills for her to push up! To do this we caught the ferry to the island of Texel – along with two million other cyclists! And it appeared as though any motorists on the ferry immediately hired bikes as soon as they landed! We have never seen so many cyclists in a day. If we had a pound – or even a penny – for everyone on a bike that we saw that day we would be extremely well off!
Sunday was spent at church or on the statutory bike ride (depending on your inclination) followed by an afternoon of laundry and leisure. In the evening we went to dinner with Patricia, a lady from Cambridge who married a Dutchman and has lived in Den Helder for 30+ years, with whom Christine got chatting at church. We had a lovely meal of homemade soup and bread – and a highlight for Stephen, at least, was the homemade pickled onions!
Monday saw us back on the road – or rather cycle path – again heading south. This involved (gasp!) some climbing (in a very low key sense!) through the dunes which are, apparently, the highest in Holland. There was one point where we were looking down on the absolutely pan flat fields, many of which were covered in water (we are unsure why) – it looked just like paddy fields in Japan apart from the style of the buildings.
Christine had woken with a sore throat and the cold developed “nicely” throughout the day so that by mid afternoon she was feeling distinctly under the weather but determined to make it a decent day’s trip – especially as we were enjoying the tailwind. Amazingly, this was the first illness that either of us of had in about a year of cycling (other than the broken arm, of course!). No doubt that will put the mockers on our health from here on.