Holland Cycle Tour 2012

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Wednesday 30 April 2014

Holland Cycle Tour 2012

We set off on our second Dutch cycle adventure in July 2012, this time heading clockwise around the Ijsselmeer.  This year we caught the overnight ferry from Newcastle to Ijmuiden (Amsterdam), and set off on our tour straight from Ijmuiden on our bikes, this time our town bikes.

On the road again!
 The ferry arrived at 9am and we started our cycle by first crossing the Nordzeekanaal, then heading north to Alkmaar as it was a Friday - the famous cheese market day.  After arriving just in time to catch the end of the cheese weighing we took a walk through Alkmaar and then set off again on the bikes, working our way cross country to Hoorn on the western shores of the Ijsselmeer. We explored the centre of Hoorn and the harbour before heading out of town to find a small rural farm camping for our first night of camping. Navigating from Alkmaar had been a bit tricky, but once by the shores of the Ijsselmeer the way was much easier to find following the Knooppunt fietsnetwerk again.  We cooked a warm meal and went for a walk along the shores of the Ijsselmeer as the sun set - it had been a long day.

Going back in time at Zuiderzee Museum
On our second day, we set off early, after being woken by the farmyard cows mooing.  We tracked the water up to Enkhuizen, where we'd planned to spend the morning at the Zuiderzee Musuem - an open air museum which had authentic buildings from the former Zuiderzee region, such as a church, a fish-curing shed, a mill, a cheese warehouse, shops and dwelling houses from the surrounding fishing villages.  These villages were now no longer connected to the sea since the construction of the Afsluitdijk so all these traditional industries have now all but disappeared.  We didn't realise how extensive the museum would be until we started explore and getting involved in the crafts and activities on offer so we ended up spending the majority of the day at the museum until it closed.   As it was getting dark, we continued tracking the Ijsslemeer until we stumbled upon a lovely small campsite in Medemblik, Camping Arado.

Crime: too much complaining
about the rain
Now the heavens opened, but we really were spolit at the Medemblik camping which had a central heated communal area with cable TV and a fully equipped kitchen we could make use of. Since there was no let up in the weather on Day 3 we decided the only wise thing to do was to stay put, eat, read some books.  In the afternoon the weather eased slightly so we also took a wander into town where we got to enjoy an annual choir concert in the unseasonally chilly air, visit the town's animal park and explore the town castle where it was tempting to leave Esther in the stocks!

Between the rain showers
Day 4 was initially kinder with the weather so we set off north again, this time aiming to cross the Afsluitdijk from west to east. But it wasn't long before the rain came back. We also got the news that day that one of our bunnies back home, Benji, had died overnight. Needless to say we weren't in the best of spirits crossing the Afsluitdijk into another headwind (it doesn't matter which way you go, it is always a headwind) and we were low on supplies. In fact, we were so low on supplies that by the time we reached the other side one of us refused to cycle another inch unless we ate, which meant breaking out the stove and cooking right there on the cycle path which we did. Fortunately it wasn't too far after that to a camping at Harlingen where we could get ourselves washed and feel human again.
Feed me please!!

On Day 5 the sun finally came back and we headed due west through Leeuwarden where we stopped for proper re-supplies.  We'd decided to try and head for Lauwersoog and the nature reserve around Lauwersmeer as it had been recommended to us.  We made it as far as Hurdegaryp and to Camping De Kleine Wielen.  After cooking, playing some table football and feeling more refreshed, as it was such a nice evening once the foul weather had blown through that we even took a 3 hour excursion without our gear cycling through the northern reaches of Holland to take a look at the Waddenzee just off the north coast.

After a lovely evening it was disappointing that the rain came back the next morning. After a bit of lie in we decided not to stay where we were (as it wasn't the nicest camping) so we set off shortly before lunch to head back to Leeuwarden and grab some food and then and make a plan. We chose to head south towards Sneek, right into a stinking headwind plus quite a lot of diversions. On the plus side by the time we finally got there it was brightening up. We got out our camping guide and picked one at a place called Dedgum, but completely lost again and as the sun started to set started trying others until settling on a place called Gastmeer, which was lovely with a big communal area to relax and play several games of table tennis.

The rain hit the tent hard in the night and we got up undecided whether to cross the Ijsselmeer again or head further south. We got up and relaxed in the communal area again while making our plans and then when we couldn't put it off any more, at 12pm we decided to head for a boat across the Ijsselmeer at 2pm, about 20km away into the wind. So we got going through the lakes and windmills to Hindeloopen, a picturesque village we'd learned about at the Zuiderzee museum, before pushing on along the Ijsselmeer to Stavoren where we caught the passenger ferry back to Enkhuizen.

From here cycled inland towards Opmeer and camped up on another small farm camping.  Although that night it was pretty busy as it was a Boerengolf camping (Farmer's golf - a new type of golf played on a farmyard with a stick with a clog on the end of it as your club!) and there was a tournament.  Unfortunately my health issues created a few problems for me here.  Just as I was getting into my sleeping bag, I was struck down with really violent stomach cramps. I'd had them before but never found anything that helped, you just need to get through until they natuarally ease.  I spent an uncomfortable night in the toilet block and it was one of the longest nights of my life.  Exhausted, the next morning we made the decision to catch the first train we could back to the Hague to rest up as I was pretty exhausted and also in case the pain returned.

Second time (un)lucky
Back in the Hague we rested up with Esther's family for about 4 days and then decided to try again. This time we chose to head south, crossing the Islands south of the Hague and making our way across the massive flood defences and then planning to loop inland before coming back to the Hague. At least that was the plan.

We had a leisurely start on the first day, packing up in the house and visiting Esther's grandma before hitting the road properly at around lunchtime. The law of wind in Holland was in force and despite a forecast for a tailwind we found ourselves pumping into a headwind, again! We crossed the Rotterdam canal at Maasluis and worked our way onto the first small islands which we'd cycled the year before, crossing the first major floodwork and then riding past where we'd turned round last year, before officially leaving South Holland and entered the province of Zeeland.

The sun was shining by the evening and we were tired so decided to seek our first camping, Camping La Ferme, a basic but friendly farm camping.  The farmer was a massive football fan and had rigged up a big projector in a barn, put out chairs and even some nibbles so we joined all the other guests to watch Holland playing in the Euro2012, against Germany! Most of the guests were German or Dutch so it was a good atmosphere. Holland lost 2-1, ending their world cup hopes, but we didn't mind as we watched the sun go down over the fields before bed.

After a cold, clear night where I'd had some stomach problems again (not as bad as before) we went into Scharendijke for supplies before heading off. We decided we were in no rush so instead of racing through the island we'd take the path round the west coast. Wow - hills in Holland. I suppose they're not really hills by normal standards but the path seemed to be made up of short steep climbs and matching descents. After a few hours of this we were pleased to reach the end of the island tired and ready for the next major sea stopping flood defence. The south islands were very different from the north part of Holland with much of the inland areas protected by the Delta Works - a massive engineering project designed to dam the sea and protect inland Holland from storm tides. The scale of the dams, which you cycle right across, has to be seen to be believed. And it was these we were now starting to cross. We even stopped part way along this 8km sluice system to hide from the beating sun and have some lunch.

We arrived on the next island (which was really 2 islands very close together, Noord-Beveland and Walcheren/Zuid-Beveland) and decided to start thinking about where to stay.  After about 20km we arrived at Camping Hofwei and the farmer's wife showed us to the tent field which we had all to ourselves. Leaving our gear, we decided to go for a short ride to the west coast of the island, just to enjoy the nice evening and look out over the sea. As the sun set it got a little chilly so we rode back in time to cook as it got dark and we hit the sleeping bags.

The rain was back the next day (what a surprise) and we were feeling quite tired after our evening ride. Esther felt particularly tired so we chose to head towards Middelburg about 10km away, stopping en route to get some food. Middelburg is a pretty, historic town and with Esther feeling really rough by now we chose to stay a while. It also kept raining on and off so we sat out a few heavy showers in the town centre. We ended up spending about 2 hours just waiting in the chilly air to see if the nausea Esther was feeling passed. At 4pm Esther felt like trying to ride on but we only made it about as far as the outskirts of Middelburg before Esther's lunch came back so we decided the only sensible option was to get back to civilisation. We took a very slow, painful ride back to Middleburg centre and back on the train again to the Hague and a warm bed. This was definitely the right decision as it took a good 3-4 days before Esther had recovered from the vomiting bug, which I luckily avoided.

Although our second attempt had also been cut short by illness, we'd seen a new part of Holland we'd never seen before and overall had spent another couple of nights doing what we loved and sleeping under canvas. I'm sure we'll try a loop of south Holland again in the years ahead.

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