Netherlands No More

Monday dawned bright and fresh, we were not in a hurry to get away today as many of the shops, including the camping supplies outlet we had identified, do not open until 12.00 in many parts of the Netherlands. We therefore had a relatively leisurely breakfast, chatting to our neighbours, who were French and on a cycle tour around the perimeter border of the Netherlands. This is a route which we had looked at doing on one of our earlier trips, but not pursued it and it had been semi-forgotten until discussing it that morning. We all packed up our respective bags, loaded our bicycles and set off, bidding adieu to our fellow bike packers.

We were taking a bit of a detour headed towards Veendam, to re-stock on camping gas, before heading on to Papenburg, which is just across the border into Germany. Though it had been forecast that the weather would be warm, we were fortunate that it fell just short of that, so made for pleasant going on the whole as it was bright and cool. We travelled through arable farmland and small towns, entering the outskirts of Veendam at around 10.30, coming first to a countryside leisure area with a man-made beach, which we thought would have been heaving with humanity the day before, but today was deserted. We navigated our way to the Lamain Camping Outlet, but having made good time, found that we had an hour to kill. After checking in the neighbouring open Gamma store that they did not stock what we needed, we considered whether to find somewhere more salubrious than a retail park to have our coffee whilst we waited, but thought that by the time we found somewhere, it would be time to come back as we did not want to tarry too long on this errand. So we took a pavement seat in the shade and poured our coffees and cracked open the snacks whilst we waited for opening time. As it turned out, the time passed quickly as we are seemingly a bit of a curiosity, obviously cycle touring and also on a tandem; so a number of people stopped to chat. We had an informative interaction with a lady who was collecting the free earthquake provisions that are provided to residents of the area. Evidently a few decades earlier there had been considerable gas extraction in the vicinity, with numerous tall flare/flame structures dotted around the countryside, but this had resulted in earthquakes which were obviously an issue, so with that and the move to less polluting sources of power, the industry has been discontinued. This was fascinating for us, as we had noted the abundance of pipes and tall structures with central flues, dotted around the countryside and had wondered what they were for; the puzzle was thus explained.

Before we knew it, the time had marched on and we hauled ourselves off the ground and were amongst the first across the threshold of the camping shop. Appropriate gas bottle found, we decided to also buy a spare and had a quick look around to see if there was anything else that would be of use, before completing our purchase and pedalling on our way.

Around lunchtime we picked up provisions and found a charming small park surrounding a windmill and decided that this would make up for the car park coffee. One of the gardeners stopped to chat, admiring Talula, he apologised that his English was not that good, as he had learned German at school, but as we told him, it was far and away better than our Dutch or German! It transpired that he lived in one of the houses around the park, and was a CB radio enthusiast and enjoyed talking to people from other countries; he was also immensely proud of his 8 metre aerial on his house, which we incidentally spotted as we rode away. It was impressive.

Lovely spot for lunch

We stopped at an interesting building in Wedde which we could see by the map as we approached, looked like a castle with a moat. It turned out to be a ‘children’s hotel’ where under privileged children can enjoy holidays, with activities. Unfortunately it was not open, but from Wednesdays for a €3 entrance fee, you can look around and have a coffee/tea included.

Before too long we were crossing the border into Germany, we knew the exact point from the now redundant border post. Almost immediately we did notice a difference in the quality of the cycle paths and road surface, being more on par with what we have come to expect in the UK. We had hoped to stop at a supermarket to get supper provisions, but found that our route to the chosen camp site did not take us anywhere near a decent sized conurbation, or even any local grocery stores; fortunately we do carry some emergency rations for such eventualities. When we arrived at our campsite, we were tired and just wanted to pitch up, get showered, fed and ready for bed. However, there was no joy from ringing the bell at the reception, and the site itself looked a little down at heel and deserted, which did not give us a good feeling, especially as our phone signals were showing no service, so no alternative options could be sought. Thankfully, the owner turned up just as we were becoming despondent, and we booked in and he showed us to a pitch, complete with gazebo and tables and chairs, all within a fenced off area. All the elements for a lovely site were there, but alas the overall shabbiness gave a pervasive air of neglect. A quick inspection of the nearby ablution block found that they were relatively modern and clean, so spirits rose as this was after all, just for one night, and our little area was ok, even if it was flanked either side by somewhat Heath-Robinson residential caravans. Our neighbour on one side came across to say hello when we were setting up, he was from Switzerland, which obviously accounted for the large Swiss flag flying from his abode.

Once we had pitched the tent and sorted ourselves out, Mr V had a lovely hot shower, but disappointingly mine was no more than tepid, and given that we had been issued with a dongle that you had to plug in to access the hot water, and clocked up the cost, I was loath to waste money by letting it run for too long to see if it warmed up, so I had to resort to what we call a ‘pits and parts’ was in the private sink cubicle. Not ideal, but needs must. We dined on our meagre provisions, treating ourselves to a hot chocolate. It was still relatively early when we had cleared up, so we took a stroll to the neighbouring nature reserve, we did note that the facilities there had also seen better days, but the sunset across the fields was quite lovely.

Returning to our tent at around 22.00, I could swear I heard snoring, but Mr V assured me it must be some machinery in the surrounding countryside. We retired to our sleeping bags, both tired and listened to an audio book we have been enjoying. When we turned it off though, there was no mistaking the log-sawing sound of someone in the neighbouring caravan snoring away. Fortunately, being veterans of camping, I had packed some earplugs, but even these heavy duty plugs could not completely muffle the persistent sound.

There followed a fitful night’s sleep, not only was Snorey McSnorerson clearly soundly asleep, but my bed was on a slight side slope, meaning I kept sliding off, and Mr V’s almost new thermarest mattress definitely seemed to be deflating. Unsurprisingly, we were awake when the sun rose, and decided to crack on, pack up and be on our way. We made quick work of breaking camp and were packed up and ready to go as soon as the office opened at 08.00 so that we could pay the bill. As we rode away Snorey McSnorerson was still sawing his logs, so at least someone had a good nights sleep!

Up and on our way

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