Sunday, 8 January 2017

The Riddle of the Sands

Full moon at sunset - Hookseil
Fedderwarderseil was the first of a series of 'seils' or sluices that I came to around this part of the coast of Frisland. Back in 1903, when 'The Riddle of the Sands' was published, the 'seils' were tiny hamlets inhabited by very few people - farmers, fishermen and the people who maintained the sluices. Today they have turned into seaside resorts where holidaymakers can enjoy the bracing atmosphere of the Wattenmeer. There is, as I have mentioned before, not a lot of sand to be seen, and often it appears to be imported to create a small beach oasis in the mud.

To the west of Feddeerwarderseil is the large bay where the River Jade enters the sea. On the far side is the port of Wilhelmshaven, where the German battle fleet was based in WW1. The Jade bay has the deepest water on the North Sea coast of Germany. There was rumoured to be a ferry across the bay between Eckwarderhörne and Wilhelmshaven but I had heard ( I can't remember from whom) that it was unreliable. Instead, I cycled around the bay.

The route is mainly on roadside cycle paths. In Germany they like to make these out of brick pavers, so you get used to the constant rumble of tyre over brick. Unfortunately the Germans are also fond of planting trees beside the paths, and the roots thrust upwards creating bumps that after a while become incredibly annoying. Even so, it was an easy ride around the bay, although I discovered that in these parts there was no opportunity to nip behind a hedge for a pee. The identical roadside farmhouses were immaculately maintained and there were no fields opening on to the road as there are in England. No gateways that didn't lead to a house!

There is also a sculpture trail around the Jade bay. I saw one or two, but I wouldn't take this route just to see them. At midday I arrived at Dangast where there is a small beach resort. It was hot, so I thought I'd go for a swim. I changed, and started wading into the water. By the time I'd gone a hundred metres it was still rippling around my ankles. Another hundred metres and it was halfway to my knees. I spotted figures in the distance. The water had almost reached their knees. The sea was a muddy soup. I turned round and returned to my bike.

In Wilhelmshaven there was a crowded swimming spot with proper deep water, but by then I was keen to find the campsite and explore the town. Ten kilometres further north in the suburbs I was still searching. I gave up and carried on to Hookseil. It was a small town with a vast campsite and toilet blocks to match - two storey and cleaned in the mornings by a small army of cleaners.

It was a lovely evening so I went for a ride along the road behind the beach. I noticed a line of figures on top of the dunes, silhouetted against the sky, blinked and realized that they were naked men, either worshipping the setting sun or posing for the benefit of passers-by. I cycled into the town and had a meal in a pub. The landlady summoned a teenaged girl from the gloomy interior and ordered her to converse with me in English. She was very shy, and I think I may have been the first English person she had met, but I managed to get a very enjoyable meal of fish and refried potatoes, with a glass of beer from the local Jever brewery. The beer was good. Lots of hops and with more of a bite than a lot of lager.

I returned to my tent and to Erskine Childers' book. Childers thought the Germans might be planning to hide an invasion fleet among the sandbanks of the Frisian islands, and Winston Churchill credited the book with persuading him to take the German naval threat seriously, but for me it is chiefly notable for its evocation of tides and weather, mists and bleak landscapes.  The perfect guidebook for this part of Germany.

Map:  Hookseil


  • There is a ferry in summer across the Jade to and from Wilhelmshaven.  Here is a link.
  • I could not find a campsite in Wilhelmshaven. I don't think there is one. And anyway, Hookseil is fun.

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