I packed up early afternoon and began cycling through the hustle and bustle of Amsterdam, leaving the traffic, bikes and people behind, heading west on a quiet and straight cycle path towards the city of Haarlem. The rain was pelting down nearly the whole way so that by the time I had reached Haarlem, I felt like I had been submerged in water. This is where I discovered that my jacket, ‘waterproof’ trousers and gloves are really not that waterproof any more resulting in me cycling about in a bright blue tourist poncho. Cold and tired, I had no motivation to explore anything and ended up camping in a nature reserve on the coast, merely 20km from Amsterdam. I turned the poncho upside down to make a bucket to collect water and went to bed.
It turned out that it would rain consistently for the next 48 hours. I ended up living here for two days, reading and making tea collected from the rainwater poncho.
When the rain finally stopped I donned my wet shoes and cycled a little further north to the small city of Alkmaar to refresh myself and wash my clothes.
Alkmaar is quite typical of a Dutch city with not too many tourists, a fairly impressive market and lots of cheese. In fact the following morning I was just in time for the cheese rolling show.
Later in the day I continued north towards Den Helder but this time into a ferocious headwind across land that was mostly reclaimed from the sea over 100 years ago, the massive dyke along the coast the only hill visible on the vast plains of farmland. Curiosity invited me to inquire how much the ferry would be to the nearby island, Texel, which I assumed by the name would be some sort of industrialised petrochemical dump, but at only 2.50 euro I decided to cross. There was quite a large amount of traffic and cyclists on the ferry and I was beginning to wonder where they would all go when we arrived on the small island. But sure enough once I escaped the madness on the ferry, disembarking along the specially made cycle ramp, the island seemed to swallow everyone up and I found myself cycling alone across quiet roads toward the West coast where I stumbled across a very nice beach.
Now I know why so many people come here. There are in fact beaches all along the west coast. The dunes from the beaches extend back as far as a few kilometres and hold some beautiful untouched nature, full of birds, rich grass and foliage and not a person in sight.
I found a great spot to camp but as it is getting dark quite late now, to avoid being seen I didn’t set up my tent and I ate my dinner somewhere else, a short cycle away. When I returned unfortunately somebody else was sitting in their car at the entrance to my spot. It was dark and now I had nowhere to stay. I cycled along the road a bit further, franticly looking for somewhere to sleep, and in my distress I uneasily darted across a field behind an electric fence. It was far from a perfect camp site, in fact the nearby houses could see me if I was standing up, which meant a lot of crouching about. Though I figured I was here now and might as well stay the night and get up early. I ditched the tent idea as it was a really clear night and just rolled out my sleeping bag and ground mat, put on a couple of extra layers and began to fall asleep. However I was rudely awakened at 3am by a stampede of horses. Maybe around 10 surrounded me as I lay on the floor like a vegetable in my sleeping bag. I don’t think horses deliberately kill people but I was beginning to get a bit worried as they were almost standing on me, so I had to find somewhere else in case I was trodden on in complete darkness. Plus being killed by horses in a field while you sleep is a pretty rubbish way to die. I ungracefully emerged from my cocoon and slept on the other side of the fence, next to the road, looking back at the silhouettes of the horses against a starlit sky. It was a pretty rough night especially as I woke up freezing and to find the bottom of my sleeping bag covered in a thin layer of ice. Fortunately it turned out to be quite a sunny day and I spent the morning reading and wandering around the natural park. I really wanted to stay on the island and in fact there was nothing stopping me but I had an urge to explore further and see what I could find. I joined the mass traffic/people ensemble on the ferry and headed back across. As I sailed closer to the mainland, covered with grey navy boats and drab warehouses, I wondered what was waiting for me back there.
Looking at the map I noticed a long straight road connecting the north west and north east of the Netherlands, not too far from Den Helder. It turns out it’s a massive 30km dyke. So long in fact, you couldn’t see the end of it.
Here it is from the road.
I’ve never cycled in a straight line for so long. Indeed, there’s probably more cycle path on this one bit of road than in the whole of Scotland. I cycled for an hour and a half into a fairly strong headwind and tried not to fall asleep.
When I arrived on the other side it was all much of the same flat farmland and quiet Dutch villages. I stocked up on some food in Sneek and camped behind a building in an industrial estate. It helped because it was a Saturday night, which meant that probably nobody would be working there in the morning, so I could have a bit of a lie in. My diet by this point was incredibly bad, taking ‘eat what you like when on cycle tour’ to another level. Dinner was three cakes dipped in pure honey with a full Oreo Milka bar washed down with half a carton of flavoured yoghurt.
The following day I decided to head back to Rotterdam. Whilst cycling along my shoe somehow managed to clip the front mudgaurd on my bike which prompted a cable-tie roadside repair. I was soon joined by a concerned Dutch recumbent cyclist, casually smoking a joint, who told me of a good route along the coast. I followed his advice and cycled along past the wind turbines and fields of sheep, some of which slumbered on the cycle path, and wound up at the fishing village of Urk (I forgot to take a photo, but if your in the area it’s definitely worth a visit). I decided to refresh my diet by getting some fresh plaice and potatoes at the restaurant before relaxing in the sun and heading again across masses of reclaimed land (helped by the massive dyke) towards Utrecht and finally Rotterdam.
The Netherlands is a great place for cycle touring, especially if you have never been on a tour before. It’s safe, all flat and everything is really close: you can cycle from one city to another in as little as half an hour and get a completely different experience. Navigation is fairly easy as well as there are signposts on the cycle paths at nearly every junction. I’ve cycled almost 1000km here now, barely any of which on roads, and I believe there’s still a lot left to be seen…