One of the must see places on every list of things to do and see in the Netherlands, is Giethoorn. The settlement was originally established by peat harvesters, the process of harvesting created lakes and ponds, and therefore houses were built on the islands in between, which are connected by small bridges. Obviously therefore, Giethoorn was on our list to see as we toured.
The houses are predominantly thatched, and evidently this is known as English thatch and used because it was a cheap and plentiful material. This was a fact that we gleaned from the commentary of a passing tourist boat. The place itself is utterly charming, and you can see exactly why people flock to view it. It reminded Mr V and I of some of the Cotswold villages around where we live. Just like those pretty Cotswold villages though, the visitors that are drawn, (us included) somehow also detract from the experience of the visit.
There ore no cars in the central area of the village, there is a main canal, flanked by a pathway, along which numerous bridges cross onto the many islets. Although this path is technically a cycleway, cycling is impossible given the number of people walking along. Where there are tourists, there will be associated trades, and obviously, boat tours along with boat and canoe hire are a natural draw. Therefore there is a constant procession of boats along the waterways ferrying occupants from all corners of the world.
Having made our way along the path, pushing Talula, we found a bench with a pretty view and had lunch, watching the boats go by. Mr V was not keen on pushing Talula through the throngs, and preferred to rest a while, so I ventured forth to see the full length of the village. I took some photographs for his benefit, and in reviewing them, realised that I had subconsciously snapped in the gaps between people, therefore my pictures do not really do justice to how busy the place is, and give the impression of a tranquil place. All very instagram!
Having ‘done’ Giethoorn, we travelled on to our campsite, our route taking us through the Weerribben-Wieden National Park, which was a peaceful balm after mass humanity of Giethoorn. We made our way to Vollenhove, where we had found a well reviewed mini-camping site; we tend to prefer these types of sites as they are more personal, being less of a large business and more a farmer/landowner augmenting their income.
We set up our tent in the small paddock behind the owner’s home, and nodded a greeting to the other two caravan residents. It is an unwritten rule on campsites that after an initial acknowledgement to fellow campers, you go about your business and pretend like there is an invisible wall between you whilst at respective pitches. If they are to be had, conversations take place around the communal areas. The acknowledgement is renewed with a ‘morning’ and perhaps a nod of the head each day. This protocol is necessary to maintain the illusion of private space when living in close quarters with mere canvas walls.
The next morning we had a more leisurely start, and it is always a treat when we do not have to pack up, but can leave our temporary home where it stands. Today we were headed for the fishing town of Urk, which was on our list of places to visit. Urk has an interesting history as it was formerly an island, until 1939 when a dyke from the mainland was built as part of the sea defences ended it’s island status. This project also made the water surrounding Urk less saline. this has meant that the fishing boats now need to travel greater distances than previously. The old part of the town is charming with lanes of what were fishermen’s cottages, but the town has grown considerably and now has sizeable ship building and fish processing enterprises as well as a busy marina. We took a ride around the older part of town and along the sea front, finding ourselves stopping to contemplate the poignant memorial to the fishermen lost at sea. The earliest commemorated was from 1717 and the most recent 2019, the statue depicts a fisher wife, eyes scanning the sea for the return of her husband.
We made the return journey via a slightly different route that ran more along the coastline, and taking in the area of Schokland. This too used to be an island until the Noordoostpolder was reclaimed in 1942. However before this it was under continuous threat of flooding due to sea level rises and in 1859 the permanent settlement was ended. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site (the first in the Netherlands), there is a museum that you can learn about the historical significance of the area, however as we arrived, so did a coach load of tourists, and given that it is a small museum, we decided to move on.
As we had not had anything since breakfast, we were feeling a little empty, and in using the Fietsroute tracker, we noted that there were symbols for eateries along the way, so decided to stop at one in Ens, where we were fortified by a cool Radler, with sandwiches and chips (frites). Our return route took us through some lovely countryside, and close to our destination we went through a forestry area which is also a water park, here we encountered the first self wind ferry of our trip this year. These are fun, but hard work. Our accompanying passengers were two older ladies and a gentleman and a small dog. Mr V valiantly took on the task of winding the handle to allow the ferry to run along it’s chain, and vowed not to let his upper body workouts lapse whilst we are cycle touring!
The next morning we once again packed up our belongings and headed off. We were travelling towards Kampen and then beyond to a campsite outside Elbrug; both places that had been recommended to add to our list. The morning was bright, but breezy, so it was relatively hard pedalling all the way to Kampen. We stopped just across the river from the city and had our coffee and breakfast with a lovely view before crossing the elegant bridge and navigating our way through the town. As it was Saturday, the square was quickly filling up with traders for the weekend market. It wasn’t long before we found the campsite that we had identified by the good reviews, however on ringing the bell a couple of times there was no reply so we reassessed. It was still early, as the clock had not yet struck 12.00, and knowing that there were a couple more options in the vicinity, we decided to ride on.
We came to the town of Elburg, which we had wanted to visit, and treated ourselves to coffee and apple pie before heading out to another campsite just outside the town. We arrived at Camping de Plaats whilst the sun was high in the sky, and though the owner spoke very little English, we managed with the assistance of his grandson and google translate to establish that we needed a shady pitch for the night. He showed us to a hedged section with caravans along each side and asked us to set up at the head of the section on the grass, as there was a caravan pitch to the right. Quickly getting sorted and setting our tent where he instructed, we were just taking a breather when the future occupants of the pitch to the right showed up. Not a caravan but a large tent with inflated ‘poles’. We left before they were fully set up to go and buy provisions and have a wonder around Elburg, which is essentially an ancient citadel, with the remains of the protective wall and a moat still in evidence around the old part of the town. It is clearly very much a tourist destination as by this time it was very busy, and the multitude of restaurants and cafes lining the central streets were full to bursting.
Once we had seen what there was to see, and taken a walk around the moat, we headed back to the campsite. As we drew into the section where we were camped, we were taken aback to find that the new neighbours with the large tent, had also erected a gazebo and fenced off a considerable area with orange netting which, being within a metre, rather encroached upon where our tent was. Given that they and a guest were sat out chatting in the area nearest our tent, this felt a little too crowded. We moved our chairs to the other side of our tent and discussed our discomfort at the situation in quiet tones. We decided that we would move our tent over a few feet, but so as not to appear rude, Mr V said hello and asked if they spoke English, they did, so he explained that we would move over a little so as to give them space, though they countered with a ‘no, no, it is fine’, it was not fine for us, so we moved. This though left us feeling a little cornered, as we did not want to encroach upon the caravan that was parked on the left, and there were high hedges around each section, but we reasoned that we were only there for the night so it will be fine. Later though as Mr V came back from his shower, he said that we could move to the field that was originally offered as this had become shady as the day had worn on. So off we trotted, taking first the bags and chairs, and then lifting the tent up whole, and manoeuvring it through the small walkway in the hedges. This was indeed a better spot, where we could relax for the evening. It was only when I was in the tent sorting out my things to take my shower, that I noticed that we had ripped the tent in squeezing it through the gap in the hedge. As our protection from the elements, it is obviously essential that the outer fly sheet is waterproof, so this was a bit of a disaster. Some quick thinking and utilisation of what we had to hand, the rips (we discovered a second) were covered/supported from the inside with medical tape, so that they could be superglued on the outside, then this was topped off with a puncture repair patch. We shall have to see if this professional quality bodge-job of a repair holds if/when we get inclement weather, but for the moment the forecast is hot, damn hot!