The Monthly Newsletter of Chelmsford YHA Local Group
Fietsen in Belgie en Nederlands
(fietsen = cycling in Dutch)
I set off from Dover after spending a couple of hours at Dover Castle; not enough time to do it justice. The sun was out, which was promising although force 6/7 winds meant a bouncy catamaran ride to Ostende. However it was a tail wind, which assisted me to Brussels over the next three days.
I left Ostende and cycled to Ypres via Diksmuide using a series of marked cycle routes on minor roads; these are common and (mainly) well signed in Flanders and Holland. Diksmuide is a actually a 1920's reconstruction of the old town which was shelled flat in World War 1, and could only be found afterwards using a map. At Ypres, I rode through the Menen Gate, which commemorates 50,000 British soldiers whose bodies were never found, onto Hill 62 where there are real WW1 trenches. They were full of water, which I decided was too realistic, so I didn't venture too far into them as cycling shoes have holes in the soles. I then rode to Kortrijk hostel for the night.
Leaving Kortrijk, it was wet and getting wetter, and the terrain changed from flat north Flanders to something more undulating, until I picked up the river Schelde to Oudenaarde. After that, the terrain became like Herefordshire, tight rolling hills with the addition of Pave (Belgian Cobbles) which are hard work on a laden bike. I stayed in Geraardsbergen hostel, before moving on to my friend Phil's house in Brussels, where I turned up three hours late after getting lost twice, as the (until now) good signing suddenly evaporated.
While in Brussels, I gave-up the bike for the TGV to Paris for the motor-show, and a car journey into the Ardennes for the day, where I had another chance to practise my French; everywhere I had been in Belgium so far was Dutch speaking. Phil's washing machine was welcome, as were 4 nights in the same bed.
I took a train from Brussels to Bruges, and spent the afternoon in this well preserved medieval city. The next morning I rode from Bruges into Holland alongside a canal. There was nothing to tell me I had entered Holland until I got to Sluis, and the first shop I noticed was selling "erotic" videos, and DVDs. Apparently Belgians visiting the sex shops are an important local earner. A ride along the dunes got me to the ferry to Vlissingen, and into Zeeland proper. I spent the night in Westhove Castle, a genuine medieval castle which is now a youth hostel. The staff were friendly, and I spent some time propping up the hostel bar drinking Belgian beer and chatting to them.
The next morning had me cycling from Westhove, over the East Schelde flood defences (A giant version of the Thames barrier) and into wetter and windier weather. The Dutch flood defences are on a huge scale, effectively closing off most of the Rhine, Maas and Schelde delta. By the time I got to Oudorp I was soaked and glad of the fact I was staying in a hotel that night. The hair dryer was useful for drying my sodden shoes.
The last full day's ride was to The Hague, and was unwittingly lengthened by about 20-odd miles when, i) I left my waterproof trousers in the hotel and had to go back from them (16 miles extra), ii) the Hague youth hostel had moved 5 miles from where it was on both my maps. The weather was warm and sunny, and the scenery was varied, from dunes, to a Briele, an old Dutch port, and then straight into Rotterdam's Europoort. After Europoort, a sea of greenhouses, lined the way to The Hague.
The next morning, I had a wet wander in The Hague, and then rode to the Hook Of Holland for my catamaran back to Harwich.
In Holland and Belgium, cycling is much more widespread than here, and cyclists are better treated. Lots of people of all ages use bikes, just for getting about. The bikes are usually sit-up-and- beg machines like Lynn's, including what I thought of as "Dutch People-Carriers": a bike with a kiddie seat on the back, and another on the cross-bar. The equivalent transport here is probably a Ford Galaxy. There are several well signed long distance cycling routes, plus marked day rides, generally on quiet roads, or dedicated bike tracks. Many main roads have a bike lane, which is well maintained, and has priority over side roads.
In total I rode 405 miles over 8 days of cycling, in mainly warm weather, with a tail wind for most of it. Watch for the slide show coming soon.
See some of Jim's photos.
Please send any comments on these pages to Dave Plummer