Sunday, 9 April 2017

We're in Zeeland

We're in Zeeland - Holland

Tuesday 4th April 2017

This morning we left Dunkirk and commenced our 150 ish mile drive through Belgium and into the Netherlands, where the first province over the border is Zeeland (Seeland), and that's where we're staying for the first part of this little 'holiday', (the second half will be in the 🌷🌷🌷🌷🌷 fields further north). Zeeland mostly consists of a number of islands and peninsulas, and besides it's huge stretches of beautiful white sand beaches, it has an ingenious cycle network that should facilitate our biking explorations while we're here.

 Apparently, every major junction has it's own number and is signposted with arrows pointing in every direction it is possible to take, saying, what number you will come to if you go that way.  Therefore, all you have to do is look at your map and note down the numbers of the trails you wish to follow and 'hey presto' you can go more or less anywhere in the area without getting lost!

We're presently booked into the Westhove Campsite where we're only paying the ACSI rate of 17 euros a night, and it has absolutely first class facilities, along with lots of  πŸ‡πŸ°πŸ‡ that skip about and entertain us in the evenings.  Once we'd settled in we had a short walk to the nearby village of Domburg which apparently is the oldest seaside resort on this coast.   The town is fronted by a huge sandy promenade and it's streets are lined with cafes and restaurants mostly offering outdoor seating so you can sit and watch the world go by. But really when we got there we felt like the odd ones out - not because we're foreigners, but because we weren't on our bikes! Everybody from the oldest πŸ‘΅ to the youngest πŸ‘Ά cycle here, and rather than watching for cars you need to keep your eyes peeled for bikes creeping up behind you!

Wednesday 5th April 2017

This morning we set out following a section of the LF1 cycle route which is part of the 6,200 km North Sea Cycle route that passes through 7 countries - and is the longest signposted route in the world!  However, as you would imagine, we only cycled a little bit of it's magnificent length, but that was mostly, would you believe, right beside the majestic North Sea!

At the start of our journey we nipped back into Domburg where we stopped at the Tourist Info shop to collect said map of cycle routes, and then we continued on along the LF1 with frequent stops at the many War Memorials that informed us of the devastating impact that the War had on the Dutch people's lives.

Our planned route took us through Westkapelle and Zoutelande before we arrived at Vlissingen where we found plaques telling us that the area had suffered German occupation for over 4 years from May 17th 1940, and in that time the town's population diminished from 23,000 to 3,000.

 Liberation of this area and particularly Slijk Harbour (code named 'Uncle Beach') took place on 1st  November 1944  when allied troops landed in the early hours of the morning and fought to win back the territory so that the port of Antwerp could be used again.
Somehow they missed the windmill
in the bombings!

 After our history lesson we left The North Sea Route to start our homeward trek which took us down the Kanaal door Walcheren and into the outskirts of the area's capital city Middelburg. Then from there we continued along quite but very windy country lanes and back home.  Early in our ride we'd commented 'why do people need Electric Bikes in Holland when it's so flat?'  Well, it's for a very good reason - it's to fight the almost constant prevailing gales!

Thursday 6th April 2017

Happy Birthday Jack πŸŽ‚ Hope you had a lovely day and a fantastic party on Sunday xxxxx

This morning we set of cycling to see the Delta Works, or more precisely, The Eastern Scheldt Storm Surge Barrier that protects a large part of Holland's low lying lands from the sea.  However, this is only one of 12 dams and dikes that are committed to this job in this province - almost everywhere you look you can see mechanisms in place to hold back the North Sea waters

The Barrier itself is a system of sixty five colossal pillars and 62 enormous sliding gates that stretch for 8 kilometres separating the North Sea from the inland waters of the Oosterschelde, and while mostly they are left open to preserve the marine tides and eco systems of this vast man made lake, they can be shut within 75 minutes if necessary. The last major flood in this area was in 1953, and that seems to have been the catalyst which induced the Dutch people to spend huge amounts of Gilders and Euros on this project in order to protect themselves.  However, since then The Delta Works have been declared one of the Seven Wonders of the Modern World by the American Society of Civil Engineers, so now besides offering protection they are also a huge tourist attraction.

To get there we took the North Sea Cycle Route in the opposite direction to yesterday and eventually found ourselves cycling  through wooded areas and over cobbled tracks until we arrived at the Veerse Gatdam (which is also part of the Delta Works) - a huge dam that has a couple of  cafes along it's way and that divides the North Sea from another man made lake - The Veerse Meer which is now used for all kinds of water sports and other land activities around it's perimeter.

A Cathedral Sculpture on Neeltje Jans island
Then soon after that we were crossing over the first half of the jaw dropping Storm Surge Barrier and on towards The Neeltje Jans which is an artificial island that was originally put there for the Barrier's construction.  However, as time has passed it has developed into a delightful open dune area where people come to spend their leisure time and the birds come to get drunk! Apparently Sea Buckthorn grows there - a thorny bush that bares yellow sour berries which can be made into jams, however after a frosty spell the starch in the berries turns to sugar and then to alcohol, so when the birds partake they quickly become sloshed and can sometimes be seen staggering tipsily!

By now the time was getting on so our dilemma was whether to stay on the island and have lunch or to continue over the 2nd half of the barrier and find somewhere on the other side to eat.  We did the latter and once we reached the far side we rode along a very sandy road until we discovered a little prominently that stuck out into the sea with a picnic site at the end - an ideal if windy dining room!

Then once fed and watered it was time to set off back, but this time as we passed over the Barrier we were treated to views of the sea swirling and whirling as the water was dragged back under the gates as the North Sea tide ebbed.

To finish our ride we mostly retraced our steps back the way we had come, but we both agreed that our 40 odd mile journey had made a fascinating day out and one we would recommend to anybody visiting this area.

Friday 7th April 2017

Today we did the ' odd ' thing again and went out walking - this time into an area of sandy dunes called The Oranjezon where the rare breed of Konik horses and deer roam free.  Our target was a tall wooden viewing tower, but to get there our journey would be about 6 miles each way, and happily every one of them was filled with lovely things to see as we went.  Apparently this nature reserve used to be used for the extraction and filtering of fresh water - the water was brought in, filtered through the dunes and then taken away again as a sweet tasting product, but this process upset the salt balance of the environment so in 1995 it was stopped, and since then the area has returned to it's more natural rugged self.

All of our walk was either through forest, sand dunes or on the magnificent beach, and along the way we were treated to lots of lovely views that nature provided - including a closeup of a heron fishing for his dinner!  However, as we neared the end of our journey we came across this strange sculpture - we couldn't decide if it was the Woodentops of Morph - but in the end we thought it might be a cross between the two!

Saturday 8th April 2017

Well today John told me we were cycling and that it would be a very very very long way -  it turned out to be just a little 85 kilometres or 53 miles - and we were five and a half hours in the saddle!  Having said that it was a fantastic ride, I think mostly because the leisure and cycling facilities here in Holland are the best we've found anywhere in Europe!

The first 10 miles of our ride was a repeat of Thursday's, but once we got to The Barrier we turned off into The Oosterschelde National Park where miles of cycle track follow the edge of the vast man made lakes and where the trails also lead you through marinas and farmlands, many of which are dotted with picnic sites where you can pause and relax.   Facts and figures wise - the park covers 37,000 hectares, has 179 km of shoreline and has 800 billion litres of water flow in and out with each tide.   It's stunning, and there really are not enough nouns for me to describe it's beauty as one vista took over from another, and this resulted in us deciding that we would've needed a week to explore it all properly rather than the few hours we'd got!

Amongst other things our ride took us past an old Oesterput (oyster pond) where oyster's used to be extracted in huge numbers, and judging from the debris on the ground the birds clearly still take full advantage of this succulent feast.  We also learnt about 'the peelanders' a profession dating back to the 16th century when the people of this area worked in the large scale production of sugar beet!

For our lunch we stopped by the waterside with views of The Zeeland Bridge which is the longest bridge in the Netherlands and spans the Oosterschelde estuary connecting the islands of Schouwen Duiveland and Noord Beveland.  It was built between 1963 and 1965, and at that time it was the longest bridge in Europe at a length of just over 5 kms, which consists of 48 spans of 95 metres, 2 of 72.5 metres and a movable bridge that is 40 metres.  And just in case your interested, they used to charge tolls for crossing for the first 24 years of it's life, but now crossing is free

Our picnic spot was also overlooked by this strange object which appeared to have lots of mega-phones pointing in several directions.  We couldn't decide what it was, and as all the info was in Dutch we didn't give it much attention, however about half way through our meal it started to omit a strange tuneful noise, and we later learnt it was a monument to the drowned villages in the area.
Mad March Hares in April!

All to soon it was time to turn our tyres homewards, but even then we kept seeing more delightful sights, and the last good cheer of the day was making it back just before the supermarket closed so that we could reward ourselves with a nice cold beer in the last of the evening sunshine.

Our afternoon snack site
Beer O'clock - and can you spot meπŸ˜€!

Sunday 9th April 2017

Today was another moving day so we left the island of  Walcheren via The Delta Barrier, passed over the middle island of Schouwen and proceeded to the island of Goeree, and we're now residing on another ACSI campsite near the town of Ouddorp.  On the way we stopped off to do a bit of shopping in good old ALDI, and now we've awarded ourselves a relaxing afternoon in our lovely sunny spot.

So for now I'd going to say good bye so that I can put my feet up and enjoy the sunshine 😘😘

Click here to see our Netherlands camping spots