Saturday, 1 September 2012

The Dutch West Cape by bicycle

The Netherlands may not be a premium tourist destination for coastal explorations, but if you like cycling there is no better coastal ride then the Dutch West Cape in the Zeeland province. Even if you are not bothered by the golden beaches, sand dune reserves and amazing flood barriers on the way, you'll at least be impressed by the excellent cycling infrastructure and Omni-presence of cycling participation! Naturally, this route is featured in my guidebook Cycling in  Amsterdam and The Netherlands - The very best routes in the cyclist's paradise. It is also one of the best sections of the famous North Sea Cycle Route

The ride starts in nautical Vlissingen (also known as Flushing in English) which can easily be reached by train from central Netherlands (direct services from Amsterdam Central, Haarlem, The Hague HS and Rotterdam Central). Expect to pay about £ 20 per rider and bicycle for the two hour train ride. Immediately on arrival, you'll start riding on Vlissingen's seawall, taking in a pretty Dutch windmill on the way and great views over the shipping canal to Antwerp Harbour in Belgium


On the promenade, the Michiel de Ruyter statue looks proudly over the waves. This is Flushing's famous admiral, responsible for the 1667 Dutch raid on the Medway. The spirit of piracy is kept high in the former armoury Het Arsenaal, a pirate theme park with sea aquarium and viewing tower; a perfect start to your cycling holiday when cycling with children! The nearby Muzeeum displays the past of the Zeeland province more seriously. You can also find out here how cartographers came about to name New Zealand after this Dutch province.
   
Leave the Vlissingen attractions behind to take in the full Dutch sand dune reserve experience. The continuous coastal traffic-free cycle route is not only popular amongst leisure cyclists, but also to those who are travelling to the beach by bike. Large scale bike parking is available every couple of kilometres or so. The Dutch West Cape at Westkapelle will be in reach after an hour or pedalling. This small town is surrounded by the North Sea at three sides. With the sand dunes being washed away centuries ago, life wouldn't be possible here without the impressive man-made Westkapelle seawall.

During WWII this seawall was bombed by allied forces to literally drown the Nazi defences. On 3rd October 1944 Westkapelle town was destroyed by a wall of water rushing into the low lying area of Walcheren, followed by a mini D-day amphibious landing a month later. You can relive these historic events at the Liberty Bridge, placed over the cycle path, leading to a Sherman tank on the seawall. The Dike and War-museum opposite this memorial provides excellent additional displays, making a good break from the cycling.

The restored Westkapelle seawall offers excellent cycling conditions and great views over the North Sea, the nearby shipping canal and the Domburg beaches further north. Domburg is a small scale seaside resort, with the original village dating back to Roman times. Its historic bathing pavilion dates from 1837 and was for a while internationally fashionable. Today, the total number of bucket and spade brigades remains bearable, even during the summer holidays. Just a mile out of town, on the cycle path in the Mantelingen Nature Reserve, you can easily be on your own.

From here, you now enter the world of the Delta Project, The Netherlands' multi billion scheme to protect its south-western lowlands from flooding. Since the notorious 1953 floods (which drowned over 1800 people and left many more homeless) the Dutch have been building enormous dams across their estuaries for over half a century, dramatically reshaping a vulnerable coastline.

The mighty Oosterschelde barrier is the most spectacular of all; about 6 miles long, with three series of floodgates over a total length of 2 miles and two man-made construction islands on the way. This "eco"-dam allows the local seafood industry and special estuary wildlife to survive, as well as offering protection from rising sea levels during North Sea storms. The wide cycle path across the barrier only gets occasionally used by maintenance vehicles and is therefore perfect for cycling! This is where you can literally cycle the waves, or as a plaque on the dam proudly says "Here, above the tides; the moon, the wind and us".

Just across the Oosterschelde barrier, it is pleasant cycling to the lonely Koudekerke church tower. With panoramic views over the tamed Oosterschelde estuary, this tower tells the tale of the Dutch battle against the sea as no other. Originally, Koudekerke village could be found 4 km away from the estuary, but with the strong currents of the Oosterschelde eating away more and more land of Westenschouwen island, the village was gradually abandoned between 1583 and 1650. A newly built inland dyke behind the tower shows how locals expected the tower to disappear in the waves too, but up to today the lonely tower ("plompe toren") still stands.

You can climb the tower for free and also experience its local legend: One day, the wealthy fisherman of Westenschouwen captured a mermaid in their nets. Her husband (a King Neptune-type character) begged the fishermen to give his wife back, but they just laughed. He then threatened the fishermen to silt up their harbour, but the fishermen sailed their ships away from him, taking the mermaid with them. Then the mermaid's husband spoke his fatal words; I'll let your village drown and only the tower will survive!

Once you have taken in the views from the top of the lonely tower it is only a 15 minute bike ride to Burgh-Haamstede town. This is where you'll find the Pancake Windmill Restaurant "De Graanhalm" with a great display of bicycles (see picture). With 58 kilometres (36 miles) of relaxed traffic-calmed cycling from the start in Vlissingen you have well deserved a traditional Dutch pancake! Of course you can also cycle this route over multiple days. My Netherlands guidebook provides a full route description, high profile mapping and accommodation listings (both camping and Bed & Breakfasts) for this route!




Cycling in  Amsterdam and The Netherlands - The very best routes in the cyclist's paradise makes you travel beyond Dutch cliches like clogs, windmills and the Amsterdam red light district, allowing you to truly explore the lowlands. The book features 1064 kms of routes and has special chapters explaining the unique Dutch cycling-minded traffic rules and its cycle route signage systems; 164 pages, colour, wiro bound, fits in standard handlebar bag.

Buy it now and also receive GPS-tracks of all routes!

The London - Land's End Cycle Route Book is designed for those who LOVE cycling, but don't like traffic. The book takes you onto the most beautiful cycle routes of southern England, including the Camel Trail, Devon Coast to Coast Route, Bristol and Bath Railway path, Thames Valley route and many more! What makes the book unique is that the route is completely continuous, including detailed directions and local knowledge all the way. Get inspired; choose your favourite route sections or go for a full summer holiday adventure; 164 pages, colour, wiro bound, fits in standard handlebar bag.

Buy it now and also receive GPS-tracks of all routes!

The Devon Coast to Coast is southern England's best developed cycle route. Traffic-free paths on former railway lines, such as the Tarka TrailGranite WayDrake's Trail and Plym Valley Way, allow you to explore Devon's stunning countryside at an easy pace. Whether you are young or old, fast or slow, the limited mileage and stunning countryside makes the Devon Coast to Coast an adventure suitable for all! If you love sightseeing from your bike, you can't go wrong with my latest guidebook; 40 pages, colour, wiro bound, fits in standard handlebar bag.