Following our successful cycling holiday to Belgium last year , 9 of us got together in November to plan our first cycling tour , this time to Holland. Most of the group had never carried panniers before , so the prospect of moving on each day added a sense of adventure.
8 of us decided to travel to the start of our route by car / ferry but Derek, one of our more experienced tourers, elected to cycle most of the way and meet us there.
The IJsselmeer cycle route. In 1932 the Dutch created a huge inland lake by building a 20 mile long dike (the Afsluitdijk), separating the Zuiderzee from the North sea.
Our plan was to cycle the 250 mile cycle route that now encircles the IJsselmeer. We wanted to complete this in five days , to allow a final day of
sightseeing (without our bikes) in Amsterdam.
Day 1 (Travelling) Derek was already tucking into his evening meal when the rest of us arrived at our first hotel in Huizen (our start point). He’d cycled the 70 miles from the Hook after an overnight crossing, and was tired after fighting a headwind all the way. Christine and I were also very tired on arrival, but our reason was not so glamorous – we’d both mysteriously developed heavy colds on the ferry , which were to plague us for the rest of the week. Despite all claims of innocence, our reputations were clearly ruined by this coincidence — (or perhaps mine was was enhanced.!)
Day 2 Huizen to Hoorn – 52 miles. The sun shines on the righteous (and the Devil looks after his own ) and after all the lousy weather of the previous week, we were relieved to set off on a generally sunny day.
Our route closely followed the coast in a NE direction, straight into a light wind —- wind substitutes for hills in Holland!!
It is impossible to get lost in the Netherlands (well almost ) as all routes are so clearly signposted. In addition we had 3 Garmin Geeks within the group to confirm each twist and turn.Derek led the way, and proved to have an excellent nose for finding the all important coffee/cake and lunch stops( and Graham and Chris quickly established themselves as Dutch apple cake connoisseurs). The scenery en route to Hoorn became ever more “Dutch”in character, with immaculate Dutch Gabled houses, windmills and numerous small harbours filled with sailing barges. The only things missing that would have made us feel at home were — pot holes and litter!
At one point we stopped along the path to adjust clothing etc. ,when a Lycra clad cyclist came cruising past, cheerily waved, and called out something like “schnorgle snuurf”. Stan, who’d had his head down and not seen him approaching, immediately looked up and responded with a confident “grouffle grountle”.
The cyclist seemed happy and we were impressed by Stan’s fluency, until he admitted it was simply a reaction to the surprise.
Our first Windmill was at Katham , just before Volendam .This appeared to be working , but the wind was so light we did wonder whether it was electrically powered for the tourists. These mills were used to pump water from the polders , a job later done by steam and now electric pumps. Most of Holland’s power comes from coal , but wind turbines are everywhere to be seen – so these must make a significant contribution
We made an essential ice cream stop in Edam, where Sue had to be dissuaded from buying a chunk of cheese that would have slowed her down for the next 200 miles.
Our destination in Hoorn was just over an hour’s ride from Edam , and we were all pleased to arrive at our hotel at about 5.30 p.m. Bikes were stored in a Garage , and our meal consisted of an “eat as much as you wish” from a selection of about 20 mini dishes – we all ate plenty to finish a pleasing and happy day
Day 3. Hoorn to Workum 57 miles. This was the day of the dreaded Afsluitdijk crossing – 20 miles of exposed cycling , and thunder and lightning had been forceasted. In preparation we appointed our tallest rider (Graham) to be our lightning conductor and were wondering where we could get a shiny metal helmet for him when we noticed that, in fact, it was bright and sunny outside without any sign of Thor and his hammer.
Our route today deviated slightly from the published route in that we headed inland to Medemblik instead of following the coast . Here we saw our second Windmill (Molen De Herder) , but more importantly Derek found another excellent coffee and cake stop.
We knew that after this stop we were heading for Den Oever – the beginning of the Dike. What we didn’t realize was that there was a really lo-o-o-o-n-g drag before we even reached Den Oever. When we eventually arrived, we were ready yet again for a recharge ,and Derek’s instinct led us to a superb fish restaurant.
We lingered perhaps longer than necessary here, putting off the challenge ahead of us , but with fixed grins we set off in good spirits ~ like RAF pilots before a raid. None of us knew what to expect; it turned out to be a cycle path with a motorway running alongside – dead straight for 18 miles where there is a slight bend, then another 2 miles – dead straight. The wind was slight but almost head on.
We all found the Dike a challenge , but those of us with coughs and colds were particularly brave, and deserve special mention.
Although dead flat ,the path looked to be rising, and a mirage on the motorway made it look wet. Derek and Stan at one stage must have been a good two or three miles ahead of us mere mortals, and could be seen as minute white and yellow dots on the disappearing point. We saw a number of Lycra louts whizzing past in the opposite direction with the wind behind them – we wondered whether they caught the (bike) bus back.
I think we were glad we did it , but would probably not want to do it again. It was interesting but a 2 hour slog can also be boring. What we certainly were glad of was the turn South at the end of the Dyke ;for the first time the wind was behind us and we could glide effortlessly through Friesland to our destination in Workum .
Day 4 Workum to Sloten 31.2 miles. This was our planned easy day ; a shorter ride as a reward for crossing the dyke.
Again the sky was generally bright but the temperature had dropped noticeably. Our route quickly led us to the coast and a village called Hindeloopen – a pleasant , convenient and necessary loo stop given the temperature.We carried on around the coast via Stavoren and Mirns before cutting inland at Oudermirdum towards the tiny city of Sloten. We arrived at hotel Stedswal at about 4.00 p.m. and were glad to to get in for a warm up. Nonetheless someone had the bright idea of drinking the complimentary ½ bottle of wine that we all had , on the front terrace. We quickly decided to sort out a restaurant for the evening – not a difficult choice ; there were only two to choose from in this “city”. Hunger and cold meant we soon settled on ‘t Bolwerk where “mine host” took great pleasure in serving us. Our dithering over whether to have a dessert or not, was settled by our host filling the table with cheesecake, each with “slages uber” (cream) and charging only those who’d ordered it.
Day 5 Sloten to Zalk . 56 miles. This route took us through the Weeribben national park, said to be the most important wetland area in Western Europe. To us , it was very much like cycling along the Lea Valley towpath,with the added excitement of playing chicken with grim faced Grandmothers, charging bolt upright on their Dutch cast – iron roadsters, in the opposite direction. We saw a number of storks , reed beds and a mouse/vole/rat thingy.
We also saw a Velomobile similar to John Highet’s, – and a “rowingbike” on which the rider propelled himself with a rowing action. He must have had stomach muscles of iron, but did look a bit of a twit when he “rowed” off – hence the name pratmobile.
Our lunch stop was in the pretty harbour of Blokzijl, where most of ate at the Prins Mauritshus restaurant, but where Derek and Graham gorged themselves at a takeaway fish restaurant opposite. It was fortunate that this was a pretty stop (and warm) as it was here that Jerry decided to have his puncture. In fact he had two , and it transpired these were due to a manufacturing fault on some tubes he’d bought. After patching him up we were on our way again passing another windmill and feeling really Dutch as we crossed the Zwarte Water by ferry at Cellamuiden. We then travelled on to the large town of Kampen where we passed over the river IJsssel and did our one and only battle with traffic. Cars had been very deferential all the while we were on paths, but once on main city roads ….
After Kampen it was a pleasant ride along lanes to find our Hotel . This was very much a Travelodge type hotel situated on a motorway , but the restaurant was nothing like Little Chef – fully licenced and full menu. The food and surroundings were also excellent
Day 6 Zalk to Huizen D. This route took us alongside the Veluwemeer all the way to Huizen. Again the sun shone for us , lighting up the barges and schooners on the sea.
Less than an hour after setting off we were seduced by a windmill cafe and sat in the sun enjoying their home-made Dutch apple cake.
The next highlight of the day was lunch in Harderwijk ; a large holiday resort with a small sandy beach. We thought at first how nice it was that two mounted police were taking holiday snaps of the beach ; then realized they were taking evidence of two dogs roaming free on the beach. We sipped our coffee as we watched them ride slowly down to the owners. Unfortunately they were out of earshot – it would have been entertaining to learn some expletive Dutch.What we did hear however was a choir of men , dressed in bright pink , singing the song of the Hebrew slaves from a barge across the bay.
We left Haderwijk to the sound of them singing ,and made our way back to our first hotel in Huizen and a drink to celebrate our completion of 253 miles around the IJsselmeer. True to form, the service at this hotel was slow (and that’s a compliment), but we were too pleased with ourselves to complain too loudly.
Day 7 Amsterdam. Jerry was volunteered to arrange this day for us ,and managed to book a superb 2 hour walking tour of Amsterdam. The guide was simply excellent.
Although Portuguese by birth , he knew the history and culture of Amsterdam intimately and clearly enjoyed acting as a guide. Our tour lasted over an hour longer than the allotted time – nothing to do with the fact we had serious window shopping to do in the the Red light district. After the tour, we had a nice lunch , Sue and Graham went off in search of the cheese they didn’t buy in Edam, then we caught the train back to Huizen.
Day 8 Journey home. Derek left Huizen well before the rest of us, as he had to cycle the 70 mile return journey to the Hook before catching an overnight ferry. He had some rain but an otherwise good trip.
Our return home was uneventful . Somehow the ferry crossing seemed longer going back than coming, and some of us even resorted to playing cards. Thunder and lightning greeted us as we approached Hertfordshire , this being the only bad weather of the holiday.
It was a great trip and very much a team effort , so thanks to all for the parts you played and the cheerful easy going company.
Chris deserves a special mention as – like last year – she was a real inspiration, source of encouragement and efficient organiser from the start ; thanks Chris and well done for cheerfully battling through your cough/cold. Really appreciated.