High Jinks in the Low Countries
Martin Malins writes…
This was an idea I hatched several years ago to take advantage of EasyJet’s one way flights and considerate policy on carriage of bikes. I love the wide open terrain of the Netherlands and also the stunning views across the bulbfields which are only available for a few short springtime weeks a year. Back in 1997 my brother and I did a 4 day tour staying at Youth Hostels in Dordrecht, Brunisse and Domburg (a real castle complete with moat) before catching the fast ferry back from Oostende.
We repeated the trip a year later taking in the amazing tulip gardens of Keukenhof, but were not so lucky with the Youth Hostels as it was the Queen of the Netherlands’ birthday and the whole country was booked solid. After a cold night on the sand dunes we eventually got in at a Christian hostel in Amsterdam for a couple of fairly sober nights!
A couple of years ago whilst flying back from a business trip to Amsterdam I decided I had to go back to enjoy the country’s fantastic cycling facilities and the warm welcome all cyclists receive. As it was my 50th in March a plan was hatched based on the original 1997 tour; although the Brunisse hostel had closed and the castle did not open until the month afterwards, so we shortened the trip to 3 days and booked a very friendly B and B in Vlissingen. My friend Matthew and I flew to Schiphol (this time conveniently from Gatwick) with our bikes in cardboard boxes. Soon after assembling the bikes (I now take my old hack after a few scrapes with baggage handling in the past) we were passing the stunning Kinderdijk windmills on the way to Dordrecht.
Unfortunately Matthew was called back for a family emergency the next day so I
continued to Oostende where my family came over by car for a weekend in Brussels and Bruges. We agreed to have another attempt the next year. Halfords obligingly supplied a couple of free boxes from mountain bikes and with a bit of bubble wrap and gaffer tape the bikes were safely delivered before we even got to baggage reclaim after a very efficient 40 minutes flight.
We went first to Keukenhof before riding past miles of stunning bulbfields to Den Haag the first
hostel; having devised a quiet route on the GPS which performed flawlessly. The next day we pressed South across Zeeland, which has been changed completely from medieval times as part of the constant land reclamation. All the islands are now connected by a series of dykes, bridges and a very impressive 10km long storm barrier; much of which is part of the Delta project which was built to protect these low lying lands from the force of the North Sea which has claimed many lives in the past.
Riding across the Oosterschelde dam watching the rising tide rushing in through the lock gates was very impressive (the enclosed sea has been left as sea water as it is a busy mussel farming region, in contrast to the former Zuyder Zee now Ijsselmeer further north which is now freshwater) We checked into Domburg and enjoyed a cool beer on the terrace overlooking the moat.
The next day having covered over 100 miles Matthew’s legs were getting tired and with a further 140km km to cover to Dunkerque (the Oostende ferry does not accept bikes on their own) he decided to hop on a train once we reached the first town in Belgium, Knokke. I soldiered on, but I can honestly say he didn’t miss much as the entire coast of that country is a series of very busy resorts (don’t the Belgians have to most public holidays in the EU?) and their cycle facilites are pretty rubbish compared to the Netherlands.
After a long hot grind I eventually skirted the truly awful eastern side of Dunkerque surrounded by oil refineries and nuclear power
stations to meet Matthew at the DFDS ferry terminal, he having ridden across the border and having been snookered by the final 15km and having to catch an expensive cab in order to make the boat. After a peaceful crossing on a duck-pond calm channel we finally arrived in Dover just in time to catch a fast train back to Surrey.