Saturday, 26 May 2012

Day 2 - Across Holland

I love overnight ferry crossings, the throb of the engine, the sense of anticipation at arriving somewhere new and foreign. By 8 o'clock we were slowly moving in towards Europort on a cool, grey and misty morning. Fortunately, I no longer felt sick.

 The few bicycles on board disembarked first, by 9:30. Remembering to keep to the right, I set off through the eerie quiet of the Dutch morning, cycling along smooth, flat cycle paths through an industrial area of cranes, storage tanks, chemical works and boats of all shapes and sizes. As a Sunday morning it was completely quiet, and the place had that strange post-apocalyptic feel. The only people around were occasional joggers and cyclists: at one point a small group all wearing Rabobank strip rushed past me in a tight bunch, and I wondered if they were the professional team out for a training run. They certainly had the tanned, tough-jawed look of professional cyclists.

I pressed on across the flat islands. Everywhere was shut being a Sunday and I was a little concerned about where I would get today's carbohydrates from.
Ferry linking islands
 Eventually I came across a small village on a tiny hill surrounded by miles of flat farmland and sat outside a closed bar in the sunshine: somewhere along the street someone was practising playing their bugle. Many of the roads followed the tops of dikes, and the few metres of height and gave good views across the huge open spaces.

I started to notice some of the peculiarities of Dutch rural life: many houses had a small patch of land outside where they kept animals, sheep and goats mainly, but I did see one house that had four cows grazing happily in the front garden.

Before starting the journey I had used my GPS unit, a Satmap Active 10 and its website, to plot routes for each of my days. For these few days across Holland it had picked out wonderful cycle routes, which gave me the sense of travelling in a more or less straight line across the entire country. Cycle provision in Holland is, indeed, fantastic. Everywhere has dedicated cycle paths, whether it is a clearly-marked lane by the side of the road or a separate track running alongside. Where these tracks score over the largely useless cycle tracks in the UK is that they have right of way at junctions, so motorists always stop at turnings to allow cyclists to continue. As any cyclist knows, keeping your momentum is important, and having to constantly stop at side turnings makes most British cycle lanes a waste of time.
Roterdam - Eindhoven (from

As a British cyclist, I treat cycle lanes as somewhat optional, but in Holland they are compulsory. If you find yourself cycling on a road where there is a cycle lane, cars blow their horns and people shout. You also have to be careful about if there are lanes on both sides of a road (in which case they are one way) or on just one side (two way). Signs to indicate what they are, are of course in Dutch, but by the end of the first day I had just about worked it out.

People ride bicycles everywhere, and older people are often seen on new electric bicycles. At one point I saw an elderly gentleman pull out on a side turning some distance ahead of me, and he set off along the cycle path at well over 15 mph, so I found it difficult to catch him up. When I did I saw that he was riding one of these electric bicycles. I look forward to having one myself, in later years to extend my cycling activity!

In fact, the whole country seems to have been designed for people, rather than cars, to live in. Communities seem to have a well-thought out layout. Junctions are often raised with no rights of way, so that everyone has to slow down and look. In many places there is no distinction between pedestrian space and car space: the ambiguity makes drivers instinctively slow down. Entrances to decide roads are raised, and the roads themselves have different surfaces, so they feel like different spaces. All of this goes to make travelling through Holland a very pleasant experience.

The water helps as well, everywhere there are ponds, streams and rivers. In Tilburg I sat under a tree and looked at a small river that meandered through a housing estate: people sapped by the waterside fishing, chatting, enjoying themselves.

Just before Breda I saw two cyclists with panniers looking at a map, and as one of them was wearing a jacket saying "UK to Venice, me, 2012" they were clearly Brits. I stopped and chatted to Dave and Doug. They were cycling to Venice, where they were going to meet their wives and spend the Jubilee weekend. They had also set off from Rotterdam that morning and we all hoped to arrive at our destinations at about the same time. We cycled along together for several miles and it was good to have some company. At one point Doug and I moved to one side to let someone pass, and it turned out to be a low-profile, aerodynamically-shaped white tube that was shooting along the cycle path. Doug called out to Dave to move to the side and when he looked around to see what was happening he almost fell off his bike at the sight of this wheeled missile heading towards him. It vanished into the distance, and none of us could quite believe what we had just seen.
Wilhelmina Canal after thunderstorm
This was a long day. I was heading for a campsite just south of Eindhoven, and was held up for some time by thunderstorms. But thanks to the GPS I found my way through the city and to the campsite at Heeze. By this time it was 8:30 and I had to quickly pitch my tent and walk into town to find somewhere to eat. A kindly Italian restaurant agreed to serve me with pizza at 9:15.

I eventually collapsed into my tent at just after 11. 100 miles in the day and 168 done altogether.

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