Saturday, 10 December 2016

Noord-Holland

I woke at 6.00AM to a sky covered with small cumulus clouds and a fresh North-East wind. By the time I set off the sky had cleared and the wind was already veering to the South. The first part of the day was like cycling through the Lincolnshire fens: dykes, polders, rivers, fields of bare earth, flooded fields, fields of lilies and alliums. Then I hit the dunes and turned due South into the wind. It was hard work and made me feel very glad that I'd crossed the Afsluitdijk the previous evening.

I cycled past a seemingly never-ending campsite in the dunes at a place called Sint Maartenszee and then onto a very exposed section of dyke, which was just about the last I encountered. From here on it was dunes. The dunes at least gave some shelter from the wind, but there was now a new menace - other cyclists. Suddenly there seemed to be hundreds of them - old, young, sporty types and grandparents on ebikes. Eventually I reached the port of IJmuiden, crossed the river on a free ferry and found a campsite in a park. It was a very strange campsite, with hundreds of campers crammed into tiny spaces among the trees and bushes. It wasn't very clean and was very busy. It was only later that I realised I was more or less in a suburb of Amsterdam, so close that people popped out there for the weekend.


The following day was the busiest of the whole trip. Most of it was on a cycle path through the dunes. It was Sunday morning and it seemed as if the whole of Holland was out on bikes. There were pelotons of lycra-clad fitness fanatics, families carrying windbreaks and spades and picnic hampers, the usual suspects whizzing by on ebikes, cycle tourists with the full complement of Ortlieb panniers, mountain bikers - it was complete bicycle madness. It was almost a relief to arrive at the ferry port at Hoek van Holland.




It was lucky I arrived as early as I did. The terminal seemed deserted at first, then I saw a single ticket window open. I asked the dour girl on the desk if I could get a ticket for the evening sailing and she said: 'I'll see.' Then: 'You know you have to have a cabin?' as though she was hoping this would put me off. She then inspected my passport. 'Your eyes look brown here,' she accused me, staring from my passport photo to my own blue eyes. There must have been something about me that aroused her suspicion. Finally she handed me my ticket.

I went and ate a meal at the restaurant, then waited with the car drivers to get on the ferry, but there was still one more interrogation to endure. The passport control officer wanted to know where I'd got my bike from. 'Did you buy it in Holland?' I explained that I had cycled from Norway. 'So did you buy it in Norway?' I explained that I'd taken it there on the plane. He looked at me as if I was crazy.

Then he let me through.

Maps:  Dreihuis (IJmuiden); Hoek van Holland

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