Holland Cycle Tours 2011

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Wednesday 30 April 2014

Holland Cycle Tours 2011

It had been several years since we'd had our last adventure, our cycle tour of northern France so we were keen to get out on the bikes again.  Since our first cycle tour in Holland, way back in 2006 when we cycled to Texel and back on traditional dutch bikes, we had been keen to try a more serious adventure on the bikes in Holland. In fact, we went twice, once in July 2011 and again in July 2012.  Both times we were in Holland to visit Esther's Oma but during the visit we took a few days out to explore more of the Netherlands.

Novelty - car camping in France!
We set off from the Hague using our road training bikes, me on my Ribble Audax frame and Esther on her Giant. Neither of us was really getting a lot of use out of the bikes any more so it was nice to have a reason to get them out of the garage and dust them off. We crossed on the ferry from Dover to Calais in the car, camped over night in France and the next day Esther drove us to the Hague to spend a few days with her grandma.  We then set off for a shortish 4 night excursion, circumnavigating the Ijsselmeer, the big inland sea that the Dutch created back in the 1920s when the built a 32km dam across the North Sea!

Brilliant Knooppunt system
The great thing about cycle touring in Holland is that you very rarely have to use the same roads that the cars are using and, better still, because the entire country is marked out in a series of Knooppunt (or waymarkers as I think of them) you can plan the details of your route on the go. For example, you might reach a post in the road that is numbered 36 and indicates that 37 is straight on and 38 is left of here. Nearby you check the Knooppunt board which shows the surrounding points and provided you have a rough idea which direction you are heading in you can simply choose the next number to aim for - brilliant.

Lost in the woods
We left the Hague heading east, passing Utrecht and heading north east in the direction of Appeldoorn. The problem with the Dutch cycle network, however, is that if you pass through a major city like Utrecht at, say, rush hour then it is very easy to miss a marker and once you've done that you could end up a long way off course. This is exactly what happened to us. Long story short, we ended up riding in the twilight and the rain through a heavily wooded area on dirt tracks someone near Putten.

Fortunately, just as the last light faded the cycling muses smiled on us and we stumbled upon a campsite in the middle of the forest. I think, but am not 100% sure, that this was Camping de Wijde Blik. We pitched as quick as we could and met a very friendly couple who gave us a token each so we could shower as reception was closed for the day and we had no muntjes for the facilities.

On the little Islands and Giethoorn
The next day we were able to get back on track and headed almost dead north, through Zwolle and finished the day at Giethoorn, a very famous tourist attraction in Holland where all of the beautiful kept houses are built on little islands with many bridges over the network of canals to reach each of the houses. The so called 'Dutch Venice'. It also has a very nicely equipped and not very expensive camping and we had time to eat and take a nice stroll around the old Dutch village before bed as the sun was setting. It was a very peaceful place, with lots of water creating a very calming atmosphere.

Happy at the start of the Afsluitdijk crossing
After Giethoorn, we started to pick out the way towards the Afsluitdijk which separated the Ijselmeer from the North Sea. Passing through Herrenveen and Sneek, we reached the Afsluitdijk with plenty of daylight left and set off. Imagine one road, dead straight for 32km except for a slight kink halfway along it with nothing to break up the scenery except the passing cars and waymarkers every 100m telling you that you are very slowly eating up the miles. Now add a stinking headwind, heavy panniers and tired legs. That is crossing the Afsluitdijk.

Much more fun than the Alfsluitdijk crossing!
Once across we found the first camping we could and settled in for the night close to Den Oever.  It was a lovely camping with an orchard and a very large trampoline, which Esther made use of! The big decision we faced now was whether we should aim for the Hague all in one go, more than 100 miles, or take a more scenic route crossing right over to the north sea on the west coast and tracking through the dunes.

In the end the weather made the decision for us and we had a lovely tailwind helping us on our way back to the Hague all in one go, with the promise of a warm house and a bed after 3 days of perpetual headwind and chilly showers.

Cycling on the delta islands
We continued our mini-tour the next day, but without our paniers, by heading south very early from the Hague to Hoek van Holland, down the Nordzee Canal to cross at Maassluis on the short car ferry. Continuing to follow the Knooppunts, we explored the southern delta islands, crossing from one island at Hellevoetsluis over another dijk and onto Goeree Overflakkee.  We cycled a loop on this island, stopping to visit some of the old lighthouses and then headed for the next island along, crossing another dijk.  However, after stopping to fix a puncture on the dijk, we realised it was getting quite late so we decided to turn round and headed (on a more direct route) all the way back to hague in one long go!

Cycling in Holland is fantastic in terms of the infrastructure and if you like repetitive, calming scenery (as I do) then it is really quite a meditative experience. Unfortunately when the weather turns against you it can be a very forbidding environment, particularly against those head winds. You come to realise that Holland has lots of windmills for a reason!

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