Tag Archives: Drenthe

DRENTHE – a last ride in the deep Dutch north

The long and windy road, and nothing else between Emmen and Roswinkel.

We arranged a final (for this year) farewell family gathering in a village in Drenthe, and my brother-in-law Hans suggested riding the bikes would be the best way to get there. That suited me fine. Drenthe is a super cycling destination.

Drenthe, in the north of the Netherlands on the German border, does not offer a lot of organised entertainment. They make some fuss about Kabouterland (‘Gnome Land’) though those of us over five find it a bit childish. It’s in the village of Exloo, which English speakers think is an amusing place name, but that’s where the fun ends.

Yet Drenthe is a very popular holiday destination for Dutch people. The main reason is that the cycling is brilliant – thousands of kilometres of quiet, flat, well-surfaced country roads and bike paths, through fields and forests, past thatched farmhouses and pretty villages. Continue reading

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ROSWINKEL, DRENTHE – elegy in a Dutch country churchyard

A very Dutch churchyard, modest, orderly and quiet.

This week we paid a visit to Mevrouw T’s grandparents, who for over forty years have been lying side by side in a churchyard in the northern village of Roswinkel.

The Dutch Reformed church at Roswinkel, 1759.

Everyone loves a good cemetery, and the example in this unprepossessing Dutch village of less than 1000 residents kept us happy for quite some time.

The graveyard stands a little way apart from the simple church, surrounded by a hedge and lined by oak trees, still leafless in the early spring, their twisted branches silhouetted against the leaden sky.

As far as we know, nobody famous has ever been buried in Roswinkel; the same names crop up over and over on the headstones – Kuipers, Luttjemans, Boesink, Santing and Pagters. The Christian names recur too – Jantien, Hendrik, Hans, Albert, Grietje. Continue reading

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ROSWINKEL, DRENTHE – harvest home

Belgian draught-horses always pull a crowd.

The little Dutch village Roswinkel, population just a few hundred, comes to life once a year.

It’s an unremarkable spot in the northern Netherlands province of Drenthe.

Roswinkel has no great museums, castles or stately homes. Yet it’s managed to hang around for over 750 years, making it about the same age as Amsterdam. And each year it stages an ‘Oogstdag’ harvest festival. Continue reading

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DRENTHE, NETHERLANDS – a step back in time

Drenthe people don't all drive Citroen 'ugly ducklings', but a few of them do.

Drenthe, in the north-east Netherlands, is the least populated province of one of the most densely populated countries of the world. Continue reading

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DRENTHE, NETHERLANDS – all quiet on the north-eastern front

Odoorn village

It all went a bit quiet for a few days in RT’s LOTR, but I’m back in cyberspace now.

We’ve been visiting Drenthe, a remote province in the wilds of far north-east Netherlands. They do have internet access, but the whole point of Drenthe, the most sparsely populated part of a crowded country, is that there’s not much happening there.

It has old farms and forests, sheep and Shetland ponies and ‘hunnebedden’ – ancient piles of rocks which are prehistoric burial sites. The main town Emmen has a modest zoo, and the village of Exloo has Gnome World (Kabouter Wereld) which, very sad to say, was closed on the day I pedalled past.

The Dutch flock to Drenthe in the summer because it has great ‘campings’ and brilliant cycling infrastructure with bike paths everywhere. Even in the off-season, at the weekend cafe terraces were crammed with lycra loonies downing beer, coffee and icecream earned by a few hours’ fanging around the Drenthe cycle paths.

We particularly went there to visit the Frederiksoord Kolonie, an experiment in social engineering we’d read about in Suzanna Jansen’s excellent book The Paupers’ Paradise, a family history. Sorry, it’s only available in Dutch, but take my word for it, it’s a good read. The Dutch writer discovered that her ancestors came from Veenhuizen and set out to trace the story of this settlement…

Doctor's residence, Frederiksoord Kolonie

When Napoleon lost 0-1 at Waterloo, French control of Holland ended, leaving behind an impoverished population. Beggars, tramps, returned soldiers and other undesirables crowded the towns. So well-meaning gentlemen founded the Maatschappij van Weldadigheid (“Society of Benevolence”). From 1818-1823 some 10,000 poor settlers were brought to three settlements in Drenthe, where they were provided with cottages, church, schools and agricultural implements. They were instructed to till the soil, raise healthy rosy-cheeked children and generally make a wonderful new life.

Colonist's cottage, Koloniemuseum

Predictably with the benefit of hindsight, this Veenhuizen (Fen Houses) project was not an unqualified success. Reluctant city settlers with no farming experience were unlikely to prosper on boggy land nobody else wanted, and Frederiksoord became more like a prison than a paradise.

Most of the wooden cottages built for the colonists have now been demolished, but one example has been preserved at the Koloniemuseum, furnished as it would have been in 1818. I didn’t realise they had plastic tablecloths back then – the Kolonie was way ahead of its time. The museum runs a short (Dutch language) film about the project, and in the grounds outside a hedge maze has been erected for kids to get lost in.

The pretty village of Frederiksoord had more to offer. The stately homes of the benefactors and the more modest Kolonie houses of the officials and overseers have been converted to very desirable residences set in forest and farmland.

A lady emerged barefoot from her garden when she saw us photographing her home at the end of a shady lane. It was formerly the communal kitchen, she proudly told us, the oldest Kolonie building still standing. ‘Ýou have to taste our spring water.’ She lowered a metal bucket into the well. ‘The oldest well in the Kolonie. The water is always 4-5 degrees.’ The dog keenly put it to the test, and when he’d drunk his fill it was our turn to scoop it up with cupped hands. Yes it was lovely water, cool, fresh, 4-5 degrees and hardly any doggy aftertaste.

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THE PIETERPAD – 500km across Holland by foot and bike

‘How exactly is this meant to be fun??’ My wife is screaming to make herself heard over the thunder and pelting rain. She fumbles to tighten the hood of her jacket, and the gale nearly rips the plastic coverings from her bike’s panniers.

I look around for shelter. There isn’t any. We’re totally exposed on a dyke by the Overijssel Canal, somewhere in the northern Netherlands. I tug grimly at the straps on my backpack and count several beats between lightning flash and thunder. We won’t be struck dead immediately. The rain is replaced by hailstones as big as, well, big enough to hurt when they hit your head.
‘We could get a train back to Amsterdam tonight,’ says my wife, trying to sound reasonable. ‘Why are we doing this?’

I don’t know why. I just decided to walk the Pieterpad. The ‘Peter Path’ is a marked route crossing the Netherlands from north to south. It’s supposed to give you a real Dutch experience. We’ve done the first 134km and it certainly has been an experience. It’s rained every day, we’re cold, we’re tired and it’s still over 350km to the Belgian border.

‘Only five kilometres to Gramsbergen,’ I say cheerily.

‘What’s so good about Gramsbergen?’ she asks through clenched teeth. I have no idea. I only booked accommodation there because the map said it was 29km from Sleen and I thought that would be a reasonable day’s walk.

We press on and find a farm shed to shelter in, and the guard dog barks but doesn’t bite. When the storm passes we cross improbably green fields to the impossibly cute village of Gramsbergen. In the kitchen of our B & B, Mrs Cuperus pumps us with tea and coffee and her pet parrot choruses ‘Mooi, mooi!’ (‘Beautiful, beautiful!’)  By next morning we’re ready to take on another stage.

It isn’t difficult, since the Pieterpad is mostly flat. The Dutch don’t ‘bushwalk’ or ‘hike’. They make a ‘wandeling’, which suggests a pleasant cross between wandering and rambling. The route can also be cycled, so my wife has brought her bike. While I wandel through forests and over fields, she follows the big clear numbers on the bitumen cycle paths criss-crossing the country. We meet up for coffee breaks and lunch; then she goes ahead to locate a B&B or small hotel, and uncork the wine in time for The Walker to arrive.

Navigation is no problem. The maps mark every field, barn and canal. There are villages every few kilometres, with encouraging red teacup symbols promising cheerful cafes. Anyway, we can often see the church spire of the next village sticking up behind those black-faced sheep.

Pictures in the Pieterpad guidebook show lightly-clad walkers strolling across sunny dykes and through dolls-house villages. They didn’t photograph any thunderstorms or icy winds. They forgot to mention that cheerful cafes may be closed until 6pm, Wednesday or Christmas.

Yet despite such setbacks we have a great time. The daily weather reports always say it will ‘remain changeable’, but the sun shines more often as we move south and the Pieterpad is as charming as advertised. We love the small scale of everything. Perfect little rectangular farms, little patches of forest and little villages with little thatched-roof houses. Even the most popular horses are Shetland ponies.

We love the skies too. On a landscape so flat, we pay attention to the clouds. It’s early spring, so we see the seasons change. We watch the first green buds appear on the trees, and in turn the crocuses, daffodils and eventually tulips start to bloom.

But for Aussies, the man-made Dutch landscape is the most interesting aspect of the trip. Every house is apparently forced by law to have an immaculate front garden with low box hedges, clogs hung up as flower pots and a ‘WELKOM’ sign by the front door. Windowsills must be decorated with symmetrical pairs of pot plants, candles or statues of storks. Every little village square must have a statue; not a heroic bust of a forgotten public figure but a small, accessible sculpture, often funny or quirky.

Then there’s all that history. In the northern province of Drenthe we visit “hunebedden”; piles of ancient boulders which were pre-historic burial sites. Near Arnhem are the WW2 sites – a cemetery for Canadian paratroops from Operation Market Garden, monuments in the forests to crews of crashed Allied planes, and Jewish cemeteries with tragic little memorials remembering local holocaust victims.
In the larger towns we visit museums like the ultramodern Groninger Museum and the quaint Niedermeyer Museum, dedicated entirely to the history of smoking and chewing tobacco. We pass though attractive old villages like Ommen and Gennep, and ones with great names like Slek, Tolkamer and Grubbenvorst. There’s never a shortage of bed and breakfasts or small hotels we can stay in.
The food is good too. Because of all the exercise we’re getting, we feel justified in eating huge slices of apple cake with whipped cream, and shovelling in litres of traditional split pea or brown bean soup.
We meet hardy Dutch day walkers, usually hearty older couples straight out of TV ads for retirement funds. Thousands of people walk the Pieterpad each year, though few tackle it in one go, as we are doing. But it’s easy to organise a day or weekend trip to do a part of it and well worth the trouble. As highlights, we’d pick Drenthe for its wild heath landscape and old farms. Or alternatively we’d suggest South Limburg for the gently undulating hills (yes, there are a few in the Netherlands) and the lovely towns of Sittard and Maastricht.
After three weeks of walking/cycling, an anticlimactic litter bin and a small stone monument beside the track tell us that we’ve made it to Sint Pietersberg and the end of the route. We ask a passing group of Goretex-jacketed retirees to photograph us. ‘We’ve just done the whole Pieterpad!’ we tell them. ‘Nearly 500km!’ ‘What’s the Pieterpad?’ they ask. Well, it was always meant to be a personal achievement.

Guidebooks (in Dutch, but with self-explanatory maps, accommodation listings, and Dutch/English glossary): Pieterpad (two volumes) pub. Nivon www.nivon.nl

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