Sunday, 11 December 2016

Groningen

Somewhere in Frisland someone told me I'd find the farming very different in Holland. They were right. I left Bad Nieuwschens and at once I was in a landscape of vast fields of wheat, barley and sugar beet. There were dykes and polders and sluices, and long rows of trees silhouetted black against the sky. And in the distance were the towers and chimneys of Delfzijl.


Approaching Delfzijl

I didn't much enjoy cycling past the chemical factories. The industrial part of the town seemed to go on for a long time and I think I must have lost the cycle route at some point. North of the town was more farmland and I stopped for lunch in a field where a friendly farmer found me as he hoed the sugar beet. I was hoping to get to Vierhuisen where I was going to meet Kate and spend a week exploring Groningen, but the wind was strong and against me, so I spent the night in a campsite at Pieterburen which is famous for its seal sanctuary and for Wad-loping, which means frolicking in the mud of the Waddenzee.


The farmhouses in this part of the Netherlands are a sight to see. Apparently many are owned by rich absentee farmers who use them as weekend retreats. They are certainly done up in a very fanciful way. Front gardens around here are also extremely formal with manicured trees and topiary. There are also larger gardens to see at Uisthuizen and Leenz which are on, or close to, the North Sea Cycle route.


After a week on the campsite in Veirhuizen which included, among many other outings,  a trip around the nearby island of Schiermonnikoog by bicycle, I set off again towards the Hook of Holland.

Schiermonnikoog

While we were on Schiermonnikoog (an island whose name is almost unpronounceable, by me at least) I failed to meet fellow North Sea cyclist @joneklings. We'd been following each other on Instagram and were travelling around the North Sea in opposite directions. He stopped at the campsite and posted a picture while we were out.


I followed the route through the Lauwersmeer nature reserve but then cut across country towards Dokkum, a small town ringed by canals. From there I headed straight towards Leeuwarden and I'd recommend this detour if only because it gives you the chance to visit the house of Ruurd Wiersma in Burdaard. He was a village milkman who spent years painting almost everything inside his house (walls, doors, shoes, coal scuttle) after he was disappointed in love.

Leeuwarden is a nice place too, and although I got a bit lost trying to find my way past all the new roads on the way to Harlingen, the wind was strong and behind me. It was so strong, in fact, that I decided it would be best to use it to help me across the 30km of the Afsluitsdijk even though I'd already cycled quite a long way that day. This incredible earthwork was opened in 1933, closing the sea inlet of the Zuiderzee and turning it into the IJselmeer.


It took me just over an hour to get across. I hate to think how long it might have taken going in the opposite direction. Even so, I began to regret my decision when it proved hard to find a campsite. Or rather, there were several campsites in the area, but all of the offices were shut and none of the campers seemed to know anything.

Finally I found a place that seemed to be open, but the woman there told me to go to the next one, behind the dyke. Well, it was a large campsite and it did have a sign saying something like, 'NO OVERNIGHT CAMPERS', but I'd had enough by then and I found an empty patch of grass and put up my tent.

It was a lovely evening, and a little later I wandered up to the reception and found the campsite owner there. It turned out the sign meant what it said, but she was very friendly and chatty and said I was fine where I was. The facilities were excellent, as was the sunset. I had left the Waddenzee behind me now, but not the dyke. I sat on the concrete and watched the sun go down.


Maps are here: Pieterburen; Vierhuizen; Dam

Tips:
  • Don't miss Ruurd Wiersma's house.  
  • The alternative route through Dokkum and Leeuwarden to Harlingen is very pleasant and I bet it's more interesting than the dyke.


No comments:

Post a Comment