It’s Been a While …


With Covid becoming something that we all now have to live with and try to get on with normality, whilst obviously taking sensible precautions, we decided that this was the year that we would return to touring on Talula on the continent. Last time we had been here in 2018, we had the plan to pedal to Copenhagen. Oh how deluded we were that we could cover the distance from Hook of Holland there and back in three scant weeks! This year though, we have saved up during the winter working months, so that we can spend up to 8 (hopefully) glorious weeks, wending our way up to Denmark and on to Copenhagen and from there where the fancy takes us.

We had, as previously, prevailed upon my uncle Bob to drive our car and drop us off at Harwich, as there is next to no long stay parking there. We travelled over to their home the day before departure, and as usual were spoilt rotten by aunty Babs. As previously we booked an overnight crossing, preferring this to spending a tedious 7 hours looking out at grey seascape. So we were dropped off in good time to embark and settle into our cabin before departure. As the evening was balmy, we spent some time on the decks watching the port bustle, before deciding to have a cup of tea, prior to retiring to bed. Given the late hour, the cost of our two cups of tea (made by us) could not be classed as daylight robbery, but at £7.40, we were aghast.

We both passed a somewhat fitful night, perhaps with the slight apprehension that always accompanies a new adventure, and were already awake when the call to breakfast came over the tannoy. We decided that we would give that a miss though as we would probably need to sell a kidney to afford it! When we emerged from our cabin to go on deck, we found the sun beginning to shine and watched from a vantage point sheltered from the wind, as we approached land and the sun fully rise.

After watching the ferry dock, we heard the usual call to claim your transport from the vehicle deck, so made our way to unleash Talula from her corral and pedal out of the maw of the ship, blinking in the bright daylight. There were quite a number of other cyclists on this trip, and we were amongst a sea of Ortlieb panniers as we joined the queue to have our passports stamped. After a little delay for this, were were then off seeking out the familiar cycleways to make our way northwards along the coast.

We have on our previous trips, tried to meet up with a school friend of mine, who now lives in Katwijk, but have never been able to coordinate; this time though, we have been able to synchronise, so after a lovely pedal through woodland, sand dunes and a nature reserve, we arrived at her house, thanks to the navigation of trusty google maps. We spent a lovely time catching up over coffee and cake and meeting her adorable new puppy Izzy, and all too quickly it was time for us to be on our way, wending eastwards on our loose route to our intended eventual destination. We stopped to buy victuals for lunch, and found a lovely spot by a canal with a never ending parade of very smart, small leisure boats and from where we could see the first windmill of this trip. After relaxing in the sun for a while, we pressed onwards, and had our first small ferry crossing of the trip.

The going has been very pleasant today, there have been some undulations, which are felt given the weight of kit we are carrying, but we were not challenged by them. We have passed through varying countryside, there have been some stretches adjacent to main roads, and we have had to navigate through a number of towns, but when it came to the time that we were looking to find somewhere to camp, the day had got sticky and hot, and we found ourselves in an agricultural area, with a dearth of camping availability. Luckily we spotted a site, and as we were cycling down the drive, the owner was driving out, we were a little crestfallen though when he said that they no longer did tent camping, only longer term stays. Our faces must have betrayed our tiredness from the heat as he took pity on us and offered to let us stay the night. The evening was still quite unbearably hot, but we were refreshed by showers and supper and once the heat had left the day, spent some time reorganising our bags, this may be ongoing over the next few days as we re-adapt to the bike touring life.

We had made the somewhat extravagant purchase of new camping pillows, after our recent trip to Scotland. Having read various reviews we opted for ones that are a hybrid of memory foam and inflatable cushion. After just one night using them, we both agreed that they were well worth it. Though we both slipped quickly into a sound slumber, I was awoken around 01.30 by my bladder. My efforts to try and ignore it and go back to sleep were seriously hindered by what was clearly a full army of frogs, chorusing. This of course led my brain to link to the Paul McCartney classic tune – The Frog’s Chorus, which then ended up as an ear worm, driving me from my cosy bed to march across the field to the ablution block. Returning to my bed, bladder relieved, but now fully awake, the chorus and ear worm ensured that sleep eluded me for some time.

Early rising is part and parcel of camping, not least because the sun was rising, but it also takes a couple of hours to have our breakfast, carry out ablutions and break camp to pack up for the days journey. We were on the road before 08.00, with the day still fresh but the sun already making the promise of a warm day. We were a little concerned that we may be too early, as we came to a ferry crossing within our first half hour, but sure enough it was running early to accommodate commuter ‘traffic’.

We have plotted a loose course eastward, aiming to eventually make Hamburg, before going north. Those who have followed our travels previously will know that we have relied heavily on the View Ranger App. We were sorry to find that this App has now been discontinued, and taken over by another called Outdooractive, which meant that we have had to familiarise ourselves with how this worked and whether it was suitable for our needs. We have used this and another App called Komoot over the last few months, thinking that neither was as good a fit as the trusty old Ranger. However, on this trip I have been using the course plotting feature or OA, and found it to work very well, and indeed, whereas in previous years, Mr V’s evening task was to plot the junction numbers, he now has time on his hands. Indeed, using the junction number technique, did previously mean that we often missed signs that were a little less prominent, resulting in u-turns and frustrations. This has been largely eradicated with what is essentially a cycle sat-nav, so we are giving this a 👍.

Our route today took us initially through arable farmland, which gave way to waterways, and then back to farmland again, but with the fiets pad (cycleway) being tree-lined, giving us lovely dappled sun and shade. We stumbled serendipitously across an unusual cafe, seemingly in the middle of nowhere, just as we were thinking it was approaching coffee time, I did try out my rudimentary Dutch, to order ‘two coffees please’ much to the amusement of the owner, who assisted me with the pronunciation of ‘please’ (alsjeblieft). We enjoyed our coffees and the tranquil surroundings for a while before moving on toward Utrecht. We have been here before and explored the city, which is lovely, and so today were travelling through the city, just skirting around the centre, which would be the cause for apprehension to us here in the UK, but such is the nature of the fully separate, but cohesive cycleways, this was jeopardy free, and straightforward.

Once through the city itself, we found a shady spot and had a quick lunch from our provisions. We have packed light, and with minimum food as we knew that there is plenty of opportunity to stop here. However, Mr V had requested I make a batch of his favourite Newfoundland date slice to take away with us. What neither of us had given much consideration to, until we picked up the package containing it, was that the half a kilo of dates that the recipe calls for, means that the whole thing is quite a weight. We have been munching our way through it for both lunches and supper and am sure that Talula is travelling faster the more we consume!

Over lunch we decided that as it had already been a long day, we would search out a nearby campsite to have an early finish. We found a couple, one was about 15 minuets away and the other 40. We opted for the nearest, but on arrival, despite being assured that they could accommodate us for a mere €22 plus €45 deposit for the shower key, we rode around the site to find that it was something of a low-rent Butlins, filled with semi-permanent caravans, and that the ‘beach’ area that we were directed to camp by, was actually a sandy playground. As we had not yet completed the transaction, we returned to the reception to say we would pass, and headed on to the second option. We are so glad we did. We have passed a relaxing evening in the dappled shade of a woodland camping area, where we are the only small tent in our secluded area. It has been bliss, the shop even sold our favourite pear ice-lollies and cold Radlers, which really hit the spot after a hot day. And all for the price of €18, including €5 shower key deposit and €2 worth of hot showers – bargain!

And relax!

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