Numansdorp to Breda

Distance: 45.1km

Time: 2h 20m

Average speed: 19.2 kph

Song of the day: The Day We Went to Breda

Click here to see today’s route

Our very friendly host at the hotel in Numansdorp had made a reservation for us to have dinner at the nearby Schippershuis restaurant, and we enjoyed French(-ish!) food, some lovely Zinfandel, and then back at the hotel a digestive each, courtesy of the house. We set the alarm for 8am, and were asleep in moments as usual.

The alarm turned out to be superfluous, as the church bells pealed loud and long at 8am, and we speculated that they rang each Sunday at exactly the right time to wake the hotel’s earliest breakfast guests. Which, today, was us, with only our final ride back to Breda to achieve, hopefully in time for lunch.

We headed out at 9:30, back over the water we crossed twice yesterday on our trip to Willemstad, marvelling again at the enormous locks. These might take quite some manual effort to wind up…

It was sunny, but as we turned east after the bridges and into farmland, it was quite misty in places with a heavy dew. There was a definite feeling of it being the end of our tour, but cycling alongside the newly harvested fields, some all ploughed into corduroy stripes ready for the next sowing, it also felt very firmly like the end of summer. We’ve never toured at this time of year before, when the trees are changing colour, the days are shorter and the temperatures cooler. It could have been much wetter, much colder, and much more windy, but in fact we’ve had lunch outside frequently, and not felt cold on the bike.

It being Sunday, there were lots of pelotons of weekend warriors, very different cyclists to those we’ve been encountering during the week, ‘properly’ attired and all wearing helmets, hurrah.

It was a different atmosphere altogether, actually, lots of different users of the paths today, including a roller-blader and some horse-drawn traps.

The kilometres ticked down, we started to recognise the route we’d taken out of Breda almost two weeks ago, and all too soon we were coming into the city.

We navigated to the car-park, rode down the ramp, found the car and then filled it with the dismantled tandem. A short walk out to the sunny central square and a lovely lunch with a view of the church we’d seen only in darkness on our last visit, and we were ready to leave.

It’s been a wonderful trip, no mechanical issues (not even one!), and no injuries other than a broken thumbnail. We’ve seen a lot of different aspects of this lovely friendly country, been welcomed everywhere, kept safe by their incredible cycling infrastructure, and even learned to pronounce Edam and Gouda correctly.

Bit worried about re-acquiring our climbing legs when we get home, though….

Final summary:

Total distance: 862.2

Total time: 44h 47m

Overall average speed: 19.25 kph

Delft to Numansdorp, via Willemstad

Distance: 65.5km

Time: 3h 25m

Average speed: 19.2 kph

Song of the day: The 59th Straat Bridge Song

Click here and here to see the two parts of today’s route.

We liked Delft very much – after enjoying the boat trip yesterday we resolved to wander through the Markt area en-route to our chosen restaurant, and we arrived just as the last of the evening sun was illuminating the buildings in the square.

We ate a simple Italian meal on Voldersgracht before heading back to the hotel, early-ish as usual, and no sooner had our heads hit the pillows… (a small digestif may have assisted the process slightly).

We awoke to clear blue skies for our last full day of cycling, definitely the least we deserved! So after a swift breakfast we retrieved the tandem from storage and headed for the first node of the day. Getting out of cities can be trying, and today was no exception, as within a few hundred yards our chosen route was blocked by roadworks. After some head-scratching we found an alternative route and headed off, enjoying the warmth and the bright colours.

Our aim today was to reach Numansdorp, and then Willemstad, while avoiding as much as possible of the port of Rotterdam. Ports tend not to be very pleasant places through which to travel, and Rotterdam is the busiest port in the world, so avoiding it completely was going to be impossible. We headed south, initially through the suburbs of Delft, then through beautiful parklands, towards Schiedam, to the west of Rotterdam. Soon the cranes became visible as we approached the Nieuwe Maas.

There was a certain industrial majesty to it all, though this palled after a while – there was so much of it. We started to look for the bridge we assumed would carry us across the water, but as we approached we became puzzled, as no bridge was apparent. We were taken through a complicated series of manoeuvres, which led instead to the entrance of a tunnel. That couldn’t be right, surely? It was though, as we realised it was a tunnel dedicated entirely to cyclists.

The descent into the tunnel was fast and exhilarating, the ascent out of it slow and laboured. We haven’t had to tackle many hills on this trip, and it showed! Still, we emerged, breathing heavily, at the other end, and saw much more industrial scenery. This continued for a little while until we turned right into a small idyllic rural enclave, sheltered by a dyke which also hid all of the industrial landscape.

We continued our journey south through Rhoon, approaching our second body of water, the Oude Maas. Bypassing a golf course and a branch of IKEA we enjoyed the more rural surroundings, and were somewhat less surprised this time when the anticipated bridge also turned out to be a dedicated cyclist’s tunnel. With a dedicated cyclist’s lift to lower us to the tunnel level, and another one at the other end to return us to path level. Such luxury…

Only twenty or so kilometres now remained, at least to our first stop, Numansdorp. The surroundings were green and pleasant, and the distance was soon achieved.

On planning today’s route we had originally wanted to stay in Willemstad – a village entirely enclosed by a ‘star fort’. The hotels there, though, were few in number and fully booked, so we opted instead to stay in Numansdorp. So, on arrival there, we grabbed a quick late lunch before checking into a very nice boutique hotel (yes, we’re still slumming it 😉). We off-loaded all of our panniers, and headed out towards Willemstad.

The first part of the route involved the use of a ferry – called ‘Anna’, she took visitors from Numansdorp harbour to Willemstad once every two hours. The tandem just fitted on the deck, and we enjoyed a leisurely journey across Hollands Diep into North Brabant, chatting all the while with a friendly Dutchman who lives mainly in Edinburgh.

We disembarked in Willemstad, which looks like this from the air:

Military engineer Adriaen Anthonisz designed it in the 16th century, and Napoleon Bonaparte added a powder magazine in the 18th century. Today it is still impressive – seven bastions protect the points of the star, and the entire town rests within the walls.

We cycled around the perimeter for a while, then to the centre, where we climbed to the highest point of the central tower to see some spectacular views, including this one, down the Main Street, looking north towards Numansdorp across the water.

Finally, we enjoyed a drink in one of the bars surrounding the busy yacht harbour, before remounting the tandem and cycling back to Numansdorp over the nearby lifting bridge, which, inevitably, was lifted as we arrived.

Tomorrow we return to Breda, completing our loop of The Netherlands. We hope to find our car awaiting us in the car park!

Leiden to Delft (via Gouda)

Distance: 63.6km

Time: 3h 20m

Average speed: 19 kph

Song of the day: You can go your own weg

Click here to see today’s route

Our hotel last night was interesting, a ’boutique’ hotel modelled, it seemed, on the Crystal Maze ‘industrial zone’, but very comfortable none the less, and the receptionist helped us slot the tandem into the bike rack and pointed out lots of interesting things to see in the old part of town on a map she gave us. We decided to go out early and have a pre-dinner stroll around the sights, including the house where Rembrandt was born in 1606, the Pieterskerk and the Burcht, a round fort on a little hill used for defensive purposes. It was reached by climbing lots of steps. For some reason, climbing steps is really painful after a long day’s cycling (and descending them even more so), but we gritted our teeth and winced up and down them, and the view from the walls around the top was striking in the evening sunlight.

It was a lovely evening, and we completed our short walking tour in the last of the light

A good Indonesian meal, and we were snoring by 10pm as usual. This morning was very overcast, and after exiting Leiden more or less efficiently we were quickly out onto cycle paths (‘fietspads’), and rolling towards Gouda, pronounced ‘How-dah’, with a guttural ‘h’ at the beginning, like you’re clearing your throat. A bit of drizzle started to fall, and the captain donned his new raincoat for the first time since its purchase in Leeuwarden. They are called ‘Mac in a sac’, so the mac had to come out of the sac and onto his bac.

We successfully negotiated two enormous cows standing gormlessly on the cycle path, the captain weaving expertly around the inevitable cowpats (the cows had evidently been there for some time), and in no time at all we were arriving in Gouda. What a disappointment. In the centre is a very striking church, in a large open space surrounded by beautiful little houses and cafes, one side straight, the other side a semi-circle. Gorgeous. Probably. It was hard to tell, because every available square foot was filled by a funfair.

It was too early for lunch, so we had a coffee and a ‘bum rest’, and then headed back out. Like Edam, there didn’t seem much made of the cheese connection, except that spare cheeses appear to be used as bunting!

Dry now, but still fairly overcast, we struck out west towards Delft, today’s destination. At the 50km mark we stopped for lunch in Zoetermeer, in a little delicatessen place full of Italian food products, and then it was back on the bike for the final 12km to Delft. At one point we passed a school at ‘home-time’, absolutely terrifying as hundreds of teenagers left all at once on their bikes, four abreast, casual as you like. They ride as if they have been born on a bike, quite often texting as they go, and not a one wearing a helmet. Cars naturally defer to bicycles here, quite often with a cheery wave even when the road markings show that the priority is with the car, so everyone obviously feels very safe.

Into Delft, then, a lovely hotel right on the canal, and we quickly changed out of our Lycra and headed down to where the boat tours start. As in Giethoorn, it was great to have a tour on the water, and the boatman was simultaneously describing the surroundings and their history in three languages whilst steering the long craft around tight corners and under low bridges.

It’s very beautiful, some parts are 1200 years old, and as you can see, it’s turned into a lovely evening!

One of the things the guide pointed out was that the cars all park with the driver’s side nearest the water. Apparently around four a year end up actually in the water. Far more frequently, though, a driver forgets that he or she has parked right next to the canal, opens the door to get out and falls straight into the water!

Broek in Waterland to Leiden

Distance: 65.2km

Time: 3h 38m

Average speed: 17.94 kph

Song of the day: On The Sunny Side Of The Straat

Click here to see today’s route

Broek in Waterland is only about seven miles from the centre of Amsterdam, but it exists in an oasis of calm. It is a small, simple town, consisting of seventeenth century wooden houses surrounding a small lake. Before heading out for dinner we strolled around the lake, enjoying the late evening sun.

From the side of the lake we could look back towards the church and The Inn On The Lake, our hotel for the evening, just in front of the church.

The only real indication that Amsterdam was nearby came from the distant sound of planes descending into Schiphol airport. Otherwise, all was piece and quiet, the silence intermittently broken by the chime of the church bells. We ate at Het Broekerhuis, after enjoying aperitifs in their courtyard, and it was excellent.

Breakfast this morning was exceptional too – home made crêpes filled with fruit, delicious freshly squeezed orange juice, fresh bread and croissants, all with a fine view over the lake from the breakfast room.

We had to cycle across the centre of Amsterdam today, which caused a certain amount of apprehension on the part of the stoker, who remembered only too well just how many tram tracks criss-cross the streets there. First, though, we cycled along the side of the lake, then for a few miles along rural cycle tracks, with the first heron of the day spotted very early in the journey.

After that we shadowed the Amsterdam ring road for a while, heading towards the River Ij. A red bridge loomed ahead, and we could see that the only way onto it involved climbing some steps. The tandem, when fully laden, is heavy, and we were slightly dreading the process of hauling it up the steps and over the bridge. This is Holland, though, and they love cyclists. So, to each side of the steps a channel had been built into the structure, to accommodate bicycle wheels. This made the process much easier.

On reaching the other side we turned right and joined a broad two-way cycle path, which led us painlessly into the city proper. It was a busy thoroughfare, as so much commuting here seems to involve the combination of bikes and trains. Our progress was a little stop-start, because of the traffic lights, but we soon arrived at Amsterdam’s central station, and turned left into the centre.

Initially we cycled along one of the canals which form concentric rings around the city centre. On our last visit here we stayed in a very good hotel on Keizersgracht, and we cycled along part of the same canal today.

“Oh look, Tulips!”, said the stoker. I thought this unlikely, given the time of year, but she had managed to spot a stall selling tulip bulbs. As this seems as close as we’re going to get to a picture of this cultural icon, here is a picture!

Cycling along Amsterdam’s streets was fairly tiring, as pedestrians and cycles seemed to come from all directions. So it was with some relief that we turned into Vondelpark, where the paths were wide. We took the opportunity for a short break, sitting on a park bench and enjoying the sunshine.

Onwards, then, towards Schiphol, and after cycling through the lovely wooded “Amsterdamse Bos” we entered the area surrounding the airport. We couldn’t see much of it, to be honest, as there were enormous hangars and the offices of airlines and couriers between us and the runways. We were cycling alongside Fokkerweg, which brought to mind the excellent anecdote of former British diplomat Sherard Cowper-Coles.

Cowper-Coles recalled how Douglas Bader had visited a girls’ boarding school to recount his exploits during the Second World War, regaling the girls with tales of how he had shot down this Fokker then that one. The headmistress interrupted, explaining to the girls that a Fokker was a plane the Germans used but Bader corrected her: “They are, but these particular fockers were Messerschmitts!”.

Soon we left Schiphol behind, and cycled alongside the Westeinderplassen lake, into a debilitating headwind, as we neared Oude Wettering, our chosen lunch spot. As we were approaching, though, we saw plenty of suitable eateries by the side of the canal, so rather than diverting off-course into town, we chose a suitable-looking café and settled in for a good lunch.

Only twenty or so kilometres remained, but we were tiring somewhat, because of the stiff headwind. Still, the surroundings were distractingly good, as we followed the Huigsloterdijk westwards towards Leiden. Today, almost every lifting bridge we approached was either opening or already open. This presented us with a fine excuse to stop, rest and watch the transit of one or other large boat beneath the open bridge, before travelling on.

Soon enough the roads became suburban, the cycle paths busier as we entered the outskirts of Leiden, a handsome University town boasting a long roster of Nobel Prize winners. It’s also the birthplace of Rembrandt, we learned. We navigated a confusing sequence of bicycle paths before arriving close to our hotel. The hotel, in common with last night’s hotel, chooses to advertise its presence by a single tiny sign on the wall of the hotel, so we looked around in vain for several minutes before finding the entrance. However, a very warm welcome awaited inside. We’re just opposite Rembrandt’s birthplace, so we intend to take a look when we venture out later this evening,

Medemblik to Broek in Waterland

Distance: 57.7km

Time: 3h 2m

Average speed: 19 kph

Song of the day: Straat Life

Click here to see today’s route

First, an overdue picture of the captain with yesterday’s pancakes:

We were pretty tired last night after our long day in the saddle, and our conquering of the mighty Afsluitdijk. A long hot shower, and then we hobbled out into Medemblik intending to walk past the harbour to a restaurant recommended by a well-known reviews website. But then we passed a Chinese restaurant, one whiff of five-spice powder and we’d changed our minds. The prawn crackers (‘kroepoek’) were big rectangles rather than little circles, really tasty. And no chopsticks, maybe only the Brits are foolish enough to attempt them!

A good night’s sleep, and then a much later breakfast this morning, with under 60km on the schedule. Our hosts joined us and we chatted over breakfast, about the house (400 years old), Brexit (inevitably), and life in modern Netherlands. They seem a very ‘sorted’ country somehow, relaxed, confident, and well looked after, and with low unemployment and stable finances just reported again for this year, our hosts told us, it seems like a good place to live.

They saw us off, and we navigated flawlessly out of town (for a change), both feeling a little creaky after the exertions of yesterday. It didn’t help that we were facing something of a headwind, but it was dry and we’ve been incredibly lucky with the wind direction to this point, so we didn’t mind too much. We were soon out at the coast again, the sun sparkling on the IJsselmeer.

We cycled along the coast pretty much all morning, sometimes with a view of the water, sometimes behind a dyke a few metres high, like this:

After 40km we arrived in Edam for lunch, now knowing that it is correctly pronounced ‘Ey-dam’. Must remember that in Tesco… Strange, though, that what we know of as Edam cheese, with the red wax covering, doesn’t really seem to be on offer here. This is what Edam cheese in Edam looks like:

It was sunny and warm, and we managed another lunch outside – for the stoker gorgeous black bread and cheese (Edam? Not sure, the choice was ‘young’ or ‘old’ (mature), but it wasn’t clear if it was local!), and for the captain a delicious flammkuche. We had a walk around after lunch, bought some chocolate, marvelled at the wonky houses and enjoyed the sunshine.

With only 16km remaining (the psychologically important ’10 miles’), we didn’t have to rush, and it was just as well, as we got a bit caught up with the school run:

One last windmill, and we were pulling into Broek in Waterland. After a bit of faffing around we found our digs, a lovely hotel right on the water.

And for the first time since Dunkirk, a bath! There will be much wallowing…

Leeuwarden to Medemblik

Distance: 99.1km

Time: 4h 42m

Average speed: 21.05 kph

Song of the day: The Long and Not Winding Straat

Click here to see today’s route

Our hotel in Leeuwarden was impressive – an amalgam of an old bank and a post office, beautifully architected and tastefully furnished. We didn’t eat there though, as the Captain had spotted a Turkish restaurant over the road, and as we love a Turkish meal the decision was made. We did return to the hotel bar though, after a very good meal, for a digestif. There now follows the traditional photograph of the Stoker drinking wine, in opulent surroundings!

Today was to be the second longest day of our trip, and even then only marginally so. The alarm was set, then, for 7:30, and we rose, bleary-eyed, to partake of as large a breakfast as we could manage (not very large, to be honest) in order to fuel up for the day. We had an inkling that the purchase of new rainwear yesterday might forestall any rain today, and we emerged from the hotel into bright blue skies.

It was chilly, though, so we kept our arm-warmers on and pedalled hard through the streets of Leeuwarden to warm up, dealing with the cyclist rush-hour which seems to prevail in Dutch cities.

Soon we were out of the city and heading west, through sunlit fields, alongside drainage channels and canals. We had forty-two kilometres to complete before arriving at the Afsluitdijk, and were heading directly into the wind for much of that time, so our rate of progress was initially slow. The surroundings were lovely though – swifts, swallows and herons in the air, goats and sheep in the fields…

…oh, and a van, submerged in a canal:

I’m not quite sure what that was all about, but there was a concerted effort in place to remove the van from the canal and, judging from the relaxed manner of the operation, they weren’t expecting to find anyone in the van.

We continued on, following the nodes, until we were able to proceed no further, as the fietspad was, well, flooded.

So we consulted Google Maps (how did anyone cope before the Internet?!) and found another way round which didn’t add too much to our daily mileage. After a little while longer we arrived at Bolsward, where we took on board pancakes, tea and coffee, as we had a long hard journey before reaching our lunch spot. We enjoyed sitting outside and consuming calories with impunity, bearing in mind the task ahead.

The wind intensified as we headed further west to the shores of the Zuider Zee, and our perception was that we were having a slow day. We ground our way north-west to the start of the Afsluitdijk. This is the major dike which closes off the Zuider Zee from the North Sea – an amazing feat of construction (between 1927 and 1932) 7.25 metres high, ninety metres wide and thirty-two kilometres long. It hosts a motorway and, more importantly for us, a wide cycle path. The road and path are on the inland side of the dike, and therefore sheltered us from the northerly wind for the entire time of our transit. Occasionally the cycle path followed the top of the dike for a few hundred metres – from there we could see and smell the sea, and watch the seagulls, and if we looked left we could see the sun’s reflections in the fresh water of the IJsselmeer.

So here was our chance to pick up time – we picked up the effort and time-trialled our way across, reaching speeds up to 29kph and maintaining an excellent average for the twenty-six kilometres we needed to complete before lunch. This we took at Het Monument, which is situated at the point at which the dike was completed. We climbed up the monument before lunch, just in case we were too full afterwards. This was the view to the east:

Lunch was simple, but good, then we remounted the tandem to complete the remaining six kilometres of the transit between Friesland and North Holland. We still kept up a good pace, and were soon passing the final sluices of the dike, which were emptying water into the North Sea.

Only twenty more kilometres to go, then, and we entered a windy metalled track through woodland, the dappled light pleasing to the eyes as we meandered along.

This continued for a couple of kilometres before we emerged onto the long straight road heading south towards Medemblik.

We were tiring, now, but put our heads down and pedalled hard – the view to the east was mostly blocked by another dike, although intermittently we rose to the level of the dike and had a good view over the IJsselmeer. Mostly, though, it was slog. Fast slog, fortunately, so we soon arrived at our destination and located our B&B. Our host poured tea and coffee and we chatted for a while reflecting upon the first entirely dry day we have spent cycling here in The Netherlands. Fantastic!

Giethoorn to Leeuwarden

Distance: 88.7km

Time: 4h 37m

Average speed: 19.2 kph

Song of the day: That’s the weg (uh huh, uh huh) I like it

Click here to see today’s route

So, a day off, no pedalling, no washing kit (thanks to the cabin’s laundry room), and no rain! After a lazy morning, we headed out to take a boat trip around the canals of Giethoorn. It’s known as the ‘Dutch Venice’, and all the little canals are actually quite reminiscent of ‘La Serenissima’. The trip took us onto the lake itself too, and the driver explained that the entire lake and all the little canals had been dug by hand, the peat which was extracted then being used for fuel. It’s very beautiful, and seeing it from ‘boat’ level was lovely.

The driver pointed out things of interest as we pootled round, and was very patient with some of the incompetent self-driven tourist boats, who were getting themselves tangled up in trees and going the wrong way down one-way canals. One of the things he pointed out was a traditional thatched roof, higher at the back (where the animals lived) than the front (reserved for humans), and called a ‘camel roof’:

After the tour ended we popped into the supermarket for provisions, and then sat outside in the sunshine next to one of the little canals for a lovely lunch of flammkuchen.

After lunch, a little TLC for the tandem:

and then a relaxing evening in the cabin, with some home-cooked chicken and a bottle of wine.

This morning dawned misty but dry.

and we set off north, the last part of our route to take that direction. It was pleasant enough, the usual little cycle lanes through fields, and always the little waterways everywhere, we’re forever riding over little bridges, next to water, past water, so far not through water, and fingers crossed that remains the case! As it turned out, seeing the little film at Kinderdijk about the Dutch mastery of water management has given us a better understanding of the landscape we’re travelling through. Forty percent of the Netherlands lies below sea level, and if they stopped managing the water through dykes, pumping, sluices and so on for just three months, that land would once again be claimed by water. There’s often someone working on the waterways, clearing the channels, cutting the grass or wheat at the edges, dredging, or doing other mysterious stuff. They have lots of weird attachments for tractors to help, like this ‘edging tool’:

It’s dragging up whatever’s growing at the side of the channel and leaving it in neat piles next to the now beautifully vertical side of the waterway:

We started to see signs everywhere in two languages. We’d crossed into Friesland, and the second (or they’d probably say first) language was Frisian, also spoken in some parts of Germany and Denmark, apparently. Friesland is also famous for its Friesian cows, of course, and we saw plenty of those too.

With 60km done we stopped for lunch in Akkum/Makkum (everywhere has two names too, one in each language), good timing as it turned out, as today’s drizzle started whilst we ate. Only 28km to go after lunch, though, including a quick trip to Halfords to obtain a new rain-jacket for the captain. The zip end on his long-serving jacket finally broke this morning, we’d each planned to obtain new jackets at the start of next summer anyway but now seemed a good time! A very helpful man at Halfords in Leeuwarden, our overnight stop tonight, fitted him with a new jacket, and with a special offer on ‘last year’s colours’, the stoker bought one too. It’s pink. 😎

Huizen to Giethoorn

Distance: 100km

Time: 4h 55m

Average speed: 20.5 kph

Song of the day: Cycling in a Zwartewaterland

Click here to see today’s route

We enjoyed our time in Huizen, though the hotel (despite being our most expensive so far) lacked tea and coffee making facilities, room service and bathroom products. Cheapskates! We ate at CornelisZ, chosen for proximity rather than being subject to our usual exhaustive research. It was very good, so who needs research?

Today was our longest day’s cycling on this trip, so we hoped for favourable weather. When we opened the curtains, though, we saw the view below (compare and contrast with yesterday’s similar photo).

Rain was already falling, and the forecast was for rain and cloud all day. There being no alternative, we set off! Initially the navigation out of Huizen was tricky, complicated by the closure of one of our intended fietspads. We worked our way along the coast of Gooimeer towards the bridge which would take us over to the larger of the two polders reclaimed from the Ijselmeer and Markermeer. On crossing the bridge we turned left onto the opposite coast, and followed that, in a chilly wind, until we turned North-West into the polder proper. Here, once again, we encountered a closed cycle path, and opted to wheel the tandem over the roadworks to the other side. This was the right move from a route-finding point of view, but left the bottom of the tandem caked in mud.

The next forty kilometres were in a straight line (more or less) across the polder, with arable crop fields either side. There was little variation in the view, and not much wildlife to see. It looked like this:

and sometimes had fields full of harvested but uncollected onions, like this:

The nearest coffee was 39 kilometres ahead, at Dronten. So there was not much choice involved in our cycling really – we put our heads down and time-trialled all the way to Dronten, at up to 26 kph. This may not sound rapid, but we were happy we were able to propel our fully-laden tandem at that speed for two solid hours. We were still rained on at regular intervals, but there was a sort of obstinate enjoyment to the process, despite the tedium!

At Dronten we turned into town, found a café and demanded caffè latte and chocolates. Two coffees each, in fact, as we were quite cold. We then returned to the tandem for the final ten kilometres on the polder towards Kampen, our intended lunch stop. We were still rolling along quickly though (this we credited to the chocolates 🙂) so when we arrived there we decided it was too soon for lunch.

Instead we headed for Zwartesluis, keeping our fingers crossed that the ferry there would be in operation. Fortunately, it was. We were happy about this, as it saved us the prospect of a lengthy diversion. The ferry carried us across the Zwarte Water to the town of Zwartesluis, at the reasonable price of €1.50.

On arriving at Zwartesluis we headed into town for a late lunch, having covered all but 15 kilometres of our planned journey. The lunch fortified us, and we cycled on through stunningly lovely scenery until we arrived at Giethoorn.

What a place it is! We were expecting a quiet location on the side of a lake, but when we arrived (and after popping into the local Spar for supplies) we were surprised to see just how picturesque it is. Oh, and how jammed with tourists, despite the inclement weather. Here is a typical view:

It is a warren of watery streets, with a museum and many restaurants. Boats take visitors on a tour of the area, or one can hire one’s own. Maybe tomorrow…! We checked into our chalet, which is situated at the end of a canal, looking over the lake.

We’re staying here for two nights, so tomorrow we will be at rest, and there will be no pedalling whatsoever!

Arnhem to Huizen

Distance: 80.0km

Time: 4h 22m

Average speed: 18.29 kph

Song of the day: Where the Straats Have No Name

Click here to see today’s route.

We headed out for tea in the rain last night in our ‘green amorphous blob’ outfits, and found a pizzeria where we fuelled up with delicious salami pizzas. On the way back to the studio apartment where we were staying (with access to a laundry room, hurrah!), we dropped in to the supermarket for some pains au chocolate for today’s breakfast, and then swiftly ran out of steam after the day’s exertions.

This morning dawned misty but dry, we collected the tandem from the bike storage place (released with a cheery honk on its horn by the caretaker), and we were off. Much of today’s route was a retracing of wheel tracks from yesterday, and we both agreed that Arnhem hadn’t been a particularly compelling place to have visited. Not so much ‘a bridge too far’, more that we didn’t make the effort to visit the museum and the bridge yesterday, we were just too cold and tired when we arrived.

So it was back up out of the town, and then a realisation that we were at the highest point of the trip, a dizzying 57m above sea level. It looked like this, recorded for posterity:

Then it was back along the tracks through the spooky wood, past yesterday’s lunchtime diversion, a quick wave at the friendly horse, and sunshine this time along the canal marked with concrete bunkers and pillbox-like structures. Just before we turned off was a bunker marked ‘Museumbunker’, and as we were making reasonable time, we decided to pop in. It was unlocked, with several explanatory boards, all in Dutch only, unfortunately, but we managed to work out that it was German, from 1944. There were pictures and diagrams of the huge gun inside.

Pushing on, we struck out north, aiming for Amersfoort for lunch. It looks amazing on the map, concentric canals with tiny streets between, and we headed in past the gate towards the Grote Markt.

We parked the tandem, found a nice ‘eethuis’ and sat in the sunshine. Then a weird thing happened. When we had arrived in Utrecht the lady at our hotel had given us a city map, explaining that it was in Mondrian colours and style in honour of some art collaboration thing which was going on this year. As we sat in the square waiting for our lunch to arrive, the stoker piped up that she had forgotten as yet to look up what connection Mondrian had with the Netherlands. “I’ll look it up now”, said the captain, and discovered that Mondrian was born in Amersfoort, this tiny place where we were currently having lunch! What a coincidence.

After lunch we returned to where we’d left the tandem, to discover it had gone! A mild panic, but only until we realised it had been moved along to a wider part of the street, presumably to let some vehicle through. Phew.

30km to go, and we’d barely got out of the concentric canal system when the heavens opened. We slogged along north, and eventually left the rain behind. The route was mostly along tracks through big fields, often filled with cattle, but sometimes geese (overwintering, perhaps?), smaller birds, and lots of solitary herons. Some of the cycle routes were not unpaved exactly, but hard-packed sand or white gravelly stuff, and we and the tandem were getting quite filthy. With just 5km to go the rain started again, really heavy, and we were both splattered up to our thighs in muddy splashes, just in time for our arrival at tonight’s rather posh hotel. They still let us in, fortunately. Wonderful view over the Gooimeer.

A long day in prospect tomorrow up to Giethoorn, nearly 100km to almost our northerly-most point, and the location for a rest day.

Utrecht to Arnhem

Distance: 75.2km

Time: 4h

Average speed: 18.73

Song of the day: Bleecker Straat

Click here to see today’s route.

Utrecht is lovely. In particular, the street on which our hotel is located, Oudegracht, is delightful. It is fairly narrow, bisected by the canal, but the street is on a higher level. Lower down, on the banks of the canal, there is a terrace on either side, which provides room for plenty of water-side restaurants.

We tried to dine in one of these, recommended by Mary K at the hotel, but sadly it was closed. Instead, we headed for Drieharingstraat and found her alternative recommendation, Spekuk, a simple Indonesian restaurant where we thoroughly enjoyed our meal and a couple of glasses of wine.

Utrecht bustles with activity, and there are bicycles everywhere – the lot of a pedestrian is an hazardous one, forced to dodge between cars, buses and bikes. We took a stroll to see the Dom Tower too – very striking. To be honest, we tend to flake out in the evenings after putting in a lot of effort on the tandem, so our enthusiasm for sightseeing is limited. Besides, we’ve been sightseeing all day, albeit at a marginally higher speed. And so to bed.

The weather forecast for today wasn’t great, although the winds were supposed to be weaker (and still behind us, fortunately). We don’t mind getting wet too much – it is preferable to slogging all day into a headwind. The forecast notwithstanding, we emerged from the hotel into blue skies and sunshine. It couldn’t possibly last, but it was a pleasing way to start the day. Exiting Utrecht in an easterly direction we soon found ourselves in green field territory – the suburbs didn’t seem to extend very far. There were fewer canals and drainage ditches, more fields – some containing arable crops, some with cattle, including some Belted Galloways at one point. It was still sunny, and we could see our shadows.

Occasionally we crossed major roads. When we did so, we had our own special fietsers traffic lights. At these one has to press a button, or sometimes to cycle past a sensor. A digital sign indicates that waiting is appropriate, and shows a Countdown style clock, which extinguishes lights in an anti-clockwise manner until it is time to cross the road.

It is obligatory at this point to hum the Countdown theme tune.

The stoker decided to take advantage of the sunny conditions and unpack the GoPro pole. Selfie stick, if you must. 😉 After a few false starts a suitable film was taken, from which this frame has been extracted. Apologies for the gormless expression on the Captain’s face – he is concentrating on pedalling!

For reasons which will become apparent, our photography was limited to the morning. Here’s the last one for today, featuring a friendly horse:

After covering about two thirds of the planned mileage we diverted into the town of Veenendaal for lunch, featuring a ham and cheese broodje for the Stoker, and Bratwurst and fritjes for the Captain. It started raining while we were eating. When we had finished eating it started to rain more heavily. We postponed our exit briefly with a double espresso each, but eventually we had to go out and face the elements.

The rain wasn’t too heavy at first. It took us a little while to retrace our way onto the route, but we found it more or less where we left it. The tracks this afternoon were rougher, often through heavily wooded areas. We were shocked to find out that this part of the Netherlands has hills. They are gentle rolling hills, to be fair, but on at least one occasion we had to change gear down into the “granny ring” – this was unexpected.

As we approached the outskirts of Arnhem the rain started lashing down. Although our rain jackets provided some relief from this, we were soaked through by the time we arrived at our accommodation on Koningstraat. Pausing to check the tandem in at another bike garage, we then checked into our apartment for the evening, and cranked the heating up to eleven. I don’t think we’ll be doing too much sightseeing again tonight, it is cold and wet out there…!

Kinderdijk to Utrecht

Distance: 65.6km

Time: 3h 21m

Average speed: 19.58 kph

Song of the day: Windy Straats

Click here to see today’s route.

A good meal last night in the hotel, we were seated facing out towards the water, watching the huge barges whizzing past bearing enormous loads of sand, containers and other mysterious cargo. Many of them have a car on a little platform at the back, how it is reacquainted with the land is a conundrum – a gangway, a crane?

We knew there was a storm coming in thanks to the Buienradar.nl weather app recommended to us (thanks, Dennis!), so it wasn’t a surprise to open the curtains and see trees bent horizontal and scudding clouds. Today’s direction was largely eastwards, and that’s the way the clouds were going, so we knew it would be in our favour, but the gustiness was a bit intimidating.

We breakfasted with a view of the windmills, all their sails chained down now against the gales. At the museum yesterday it was explained that different sail positions were used to signal between the windmills, this position meaning ‘start pumping’, that position notifying a birth, another a marriage and so on. All the sails were in a ‘George cross’ configuration, signalling ‘best stay in bed today, it’s too windy’…

No such luck for the touring cyclist, though, and we struck out east along the little path through the windmills. The reeds on either side were practically flat in the wind, a cross-tailwind except for a brief diversion where the cycle path was closed. Just a couple of hundred metres into the teeth of the gale was absolutely exhausting, such a relief to turn back east.

We cycled for a couple of hours through dairy farming land, the fields bounded by water-filled channels, lots of herons and quite a few swans. Suddenly out of one farmyard came a little snarling bulldog, hurtling towards us, baring his teeth. He gave chase, and astonishingly, given our speed, he was actually gaining on us. A squeaked request by the stoker for more power (the rear motive unit’s legs being much closer to the bulldog’s slavering teeth), a burst of speed, and he was left behind.

We followed the path of ‘De Lek’ river east, passing through some gorgeous little villages, Goudriaan, Noordeloos, Meerkerk. Canals ran through the centre of each, with charming little bridges across, all beautifully kept.

At Vianen we stopped for lunch before the big river crossing. The Grote Markt was full of market stalls (and not especially grote), car-free and very attractive. We idled away an hour over broodjes and then headed out to tackle the bridge. It seems remarkable that bicycles, pedestrians and other prohibited traffic are all allowed to cross right next to the motorway, but that’s how it works. It feels perfectly safe, but the cross-wind was very strong, and it was a relief to get down off the bridge and into the suburbs of Utrecht, tonight’s destination.

The outskirts of Utrecht were not particularly picturesque, although the section next to the Lekkanal had many floating homes, bungalows on the canal, each built on its own floating platform, which were interesting. After a slightly hairy navigation into the centre of Utrecht we found our hotel, quirky and friendly, the owner delighted to see we were ‘still talking to each other and smiling’ after our day in the wind.

Breda to Kinderdijk

Distance: 56.5km

Time: 3h 5m

Average speed: 18.34 kph

Song of the day: Respectable Straat!

Click here to see today’s route.

We knew when we planned this journey that, having scheduled it for late summer, the weather could possibly be variable. Breda welcomed us with open arms and then the heavens opened too.

Undeterred we headed towards the Grote Markt, fashionably clad in the lightest rain protection wear we are prepared to carry in our panniers. Nobody sniggered, thankfully, at our amorphous green ponchos, though we giggled somewhat, knowing that we looked like a couple of discoloured Smurfs. We doffed them before entering the restaurant, in case we weren’t allowed in.

When we opened the curtains this morning the weather hadn’t changed much. Still, that’s cycle touring for you – one must cope with the prevailing conditions. So, after a good breakfast we headed to the cycle garage, handed over our one euro parking fee and headed out into light drizzle.

At home we go out regularly on the tandem (though never quite as regularly as we should), and we’re used to how it feels. When we start a tour, though, we’re carrying four panniers which, although packed as lightly as possible, still make an appreciable difference to the handling of the bike. The centre of gravity is much lower – hence the steering feels completely different, a little clumsier (or perhaps that’s just me) and harder to handle. So it takes a few miles to adjust to the way the bike moves.

It all felt smooth, though, after the service at John and Ruth Hargreaves’ excellent tandem shop in Gargrave. Soon the stoker was singing out the instructions from the rear of the tandem. These largely consisted of the next ‘node’ number, as The Netherlands boasts an extremely extensive network of cycle paths, much like those we have previously encountered in Flanders, where, in order to reach the destination, one need only have a list of the relevant node numbers. Sometimes the stoker included other pertinent information – our average speed, perhaps, or the distance we had already covered. Uniquely, here, she also told me just how far we were below sea level – as low as forty-one feet below, at one point.

At first the paths were suburban in nature, with occasional diversions past industrial sites where necessary. Then we moved into cultivated areas – market gardens, usually, sometimes adjacent to maize and wheat. Poplar trees protected the flat fields from the wind, which was gusty today. Looking up we saw some blue skies, some cumulus clouds and, intermittently, some dark grey nimbus. Twice this morning the heavens opened and we cycled through torrential rain. This never seemed to last too long, but we were pretty well soaked by each one. The cycle paths were very well maintained, impeccably signposted and well-used by other cyclists. There were few Lycra warriors though, as most people here seem to ride “sit up and beg” bikes, which are very practical for getting around town and for carrying shopping. They cycled in everyday clothing and wore waterproof jackets to cope with the downpours.

After crossing the Hollands Diep, south of Dordrecht, a most impressive body of water, we started to look out for our chosen lunch spot. We stopped at Zwijndrecht, across the Oude Maas from the more historic part of Dordrecht. The sun was out, and we enjoyed sitting outside and eating sandwiches while admiring the view over the water.

After lunch we wasted a little time trying to circumvent some roadworks which completely blocked the cycle path. Eventually succeeding, we crossed the Noord and arrived at the Hotel Kinderdijk. We paused briefly to offload our panniers before setting out to explore this remarkable place.

Kinderdijk has nineteen windmills, all close together, all built around 1738-40. Some are built of brick, some are thatched, all of them are beautiful but of course now redundant, though the area is a World Heritage site. Two of the windmills still operate, at least in ‘museum’ mode.

We managed to tick off a couple of our ‘icons of Dutch Culture’ in one go:

It was a fascinating visit, more impressive and extensive even than we had expected. We returned to our hotel where, from the bedroom window, we can see most of the windmills – what a fantastic view:

Tomorrow we head North East to Utrecht, upping the mileage slightly. Cycling in this direction should mean that we benefit from a tailwind all day. We shall see…!

Ready to go…

We’ve arrived at our starting point, Breda, in the Netherlands, after having breakfast in France and lunch in Belgium 😎

It’s been a busy few days. We attended Peter and Sally’s fabulous wedding on Saturday (complete with llamas), a wonderful day of celebration with a wonderful couple, congratulations and much love to you both. It was a long drive yesterday down to Dunkirk, where we stayed in a very cool hotel, staffed it seemed entirely by machines. We ate last night on the Princess Elizabeth, one of the ‘little ships’ which evacuated soldiers from the beaches in 1940, now beautifully restored as a restaurant. After a visit to the museum this morning we headed east, stopped in Antwerp for a quick lunch, and then on to Breda where we assembled the tandem and rode to our hotel. The Netherlands is, of course, a very cycling-positive country, and the tandem is spending the night in a special secure storage (‘Fietsenstalling’)’ with a very nice man in charge.

And tomorrow we ride.

While we’re here, we’re hoping to tick off some icons of Dutch culture:

  • Tulips (well, not actual flowering ones, obviously)
  • Windmills
  • Clogs (mouse optional)
  • A ball of Edam
  • Dykes
  • Waffles (and/or pancakes)

Tomorrow we strike north for Kinderdijk, where windmills aplenty are promised.

We’re touring again

Time for another tour – this time in the Netherlands. Nice and flat, the Netherlands! We start cycling on Tuesday 12th September, aiming to complete the trip on Saturday 23rd September.

Our planned stopping places are:

Breda
Kinderdijk
Utrecht
Arnhem
Naarden
Giethoorn
Leeuwarden
Medemblik
Broek in Waterland
Leiden
Delft
Numansdorp
Breda

Le Neubourg to Rouen

We walked the best part of a kilometre up the road towards the centre of Le Neubourg last night to eat at “La Table de Tom”. Clearly a popular place, it was virtually booked up, but as we were early they squeezed us in. We enjoyed our meal, the most notable part of which was an enormous Tartiflette, which defeated the Captain, a notorious trencherman…

So on to our final half day, just twenty-six miles to Rouen. We negotiated the centre of Le Neubourg and emerged onto a high plateau in predominantly sunny weather. Here we powered along, surrounded by wheat, corn and flax, using our (now seasoned) cycling legs to good effect. We anticipated only a couple of climbs today: one, a short “blip” duly arrived but barely troubled us. After a while though we started to descend into a steep river valley, enjoying the momentum of the tandem, but always cognisant that a valley has two sides.

Sure enough the floor of the valley loomed, and after it, our second serious climb of the day. We set off, accompanied by tooted encouragement from passing cars, on a long steady climb. It was fine – a gradient of perhaps 8 percent, but quite long. The road was quiet though, and the climb was soon achieved before a second long descent towards the boucles of the Seine. Indeed we could see the meanders we negotiated last Saturday on our way out of Rouen towards Jumièges.

By now we were in the land of industrial estates and factories- not Rouen’s most attractive facet, it has to be said. We took advantage of all the cycle lanes we could find in a tortuous entry into the city, finally crossing the Seine onto Rue de la République, commissioned by Napoleon, and providing us with a direct route towards our final stop at the car park where we left our car a week ago.

We dismounted, embraced (as is traditional!) and set about dismantling the tandem into smaller pieces which would fit into the car. This we achieved quite efficiently allowing us plenty of time to check into the Hotel, grab a quick shower and then head for a long leisurely lunch in a sunny square, accompanied by a bottle of Bourgogne Aligoté. We discussed, briefly, whether our morning’s effort was sufficient to allow for the consumption of a final salty caramel ice-cream – you can guess the result.

Just enough time, then, to take the petit train around the streets of Rouen – always the best way to become familiar with a new French destination. It’s a glorious city, chock-full of scenic squares, narrow alleyways, half-timbered buildings and tourists, lots of tourists (including us, of course).

So that’s it. Our journey is done – all that remains is to spend a final evening in Rouen, grab a final croissant for breakfast and head for the Channel Tunnel in the morning.

…on which subject. It has to be said that this has been a bitter-sweet trip. All of the “sweet” part has been down to France and the French. The welcome we’ve received has been as warm as ever. The drivers were accommodating, the hoteliers welcoming, the restaurateurs provided fantastic food and wine. Normandy is spectacularly lovely. The “bitter” part of the equation comes from knowing that we and our countrymen will have to live for decades with the crassly stupid decision we took last week to leave the EU. It has to be said that many of our compatriots (particularly the elderly, sadly) voted with their prejudices instead of their intellects. This was the inevitable product of the demonisation of Europe conducted for years by the British media, in pursuit of their own narrow interests, and of the juvenile infighting between Old Etonians prepared to sell the country down the river in pursuit of the role of Prime Minister. They lied. They all lied, and now we face the consequences. Shame on us.

Nevertheless we shall return. A trip down the Loire, perhaps, or, even sooner than that, a circuit around Les Pays-Bas. Not forgetting, of course, our longer term plan for a “top-to-toe” journey down Italy. Can’t wait!

Click here to see today’s route.

Saint-Loup-de-Fribois to Le Neubourg

A proper day’s cycling

Dinner last night was at ‘La pomme pressée’, a small but friendly restaurant a few hundred metres from our chambres d’hôtes. Burger ‘normande’ was selected by both, and very nice it was too, with a camembert sauce. Some of our fellow diners were drinking local cider, a product of this area as is camembert, but we chose a bottle of red wine, unsurprisingly.

We slept long, having turned in early, and went down to breakfast this morning to be greeted by the husband of our very friendly hostess, who was very impressed by our cycling get-up, and told us he would be expecting to see us on the starting line of the Tour de France tomorrow at Mont St Michel! He insisted on taking a photo of us before we left!

After some minor bike care, a little air in the tyres, we set off on our longest day of the trip, over fifty miles east to Le Neubourg. An early climb, long but not steep, warmed us up fast, and then we stayed up on the plateau for a few miles, views of fields full of crops to the left and right, broken up by the occasional picturesque village. We are firmly back in half-timbering territory now, it had disappeared somewhat as we journeyed west, but as we returned eastwards, it had become more prevalent again, and just as pretty as we remembered.

The riding was not difficult, but certainly more up and down than we’d encountered so far on this trip, we were hardly ever on the flat, always climbing gently or descending easily with the aid of a slight downward slope. The tiny rural roads were lovely, barely a car, a few potholes to avoid, but nothing like at home, frankly! We ate up the kilometres, giggling childishly at ‘Ouilly-le-Vicomte’ (sounds almost exactly like….), crossing from Calvados back into Eure, passing lots of stud farms, another speciality of the area.

At last, Bernay, our lunch destination, and already 56km done. We were very ready for a stop, and had a simple lunch in a roadside brasserie in the centre. After an hour, and a ‘wake-up’ espresso each, we hoisted our tired but somewhat refreshed bodies back on the tandem and set off. We knew it was vital to exit Bernay south of the railway, otherwise we’d have no access to the quiet road onwards which we’d selected. We messed it up the first time, had to do a little loop to correct, but it was well worth the trouble, a little climb, then a lovely quiet road winding through sleepy villages, the birdsong only interrupted from time to time by a train whizzing by on the tracks correctly to our left.

The last 5km were a time trial into Le Neubourg along a long straight road through the crops, flax on one side, wheat on the other. Our hotel is about 1km from town, so we have a little walk to dinner at ‘La table de Tom’, but it is very well reviewed. The hotel looked a little grim from the outside, a bit ‘Travelodge’, but it’s fine, a big quiet room, and a bath! 

And no washing of the cycle gear necessary tonight, as we have a clean set each, and tomorrow’s short run back to Rouen is our last day.

Click here to see today’s route.