The sun is shining on a weekend in Holland. While the tourists invade Amsterdam and the tulip gardens in the Keukenhof, we join the stream of Dutch cyclists escaping for a quiet ride round the island of Texel.
Texel (pronounced ‘Tessel’) is the largest of the Wadden Islands, the chain looping across the top of the country, protecting the Netherlands from the North Sea. A 75min train ride north from Amsterdam takes us to Den Helder, where we board the ferry for a 20min crossing.
We’re not alone on the boat. The car deck is crowded with vehicles, many with touring bikes strapped to the racks behind. Excited school children heading for a cycling camp are tossing their sandwich lunches to the swirling, squawking flock of herring gulls.
When the ferry pulls into the wharf, we let the crowds pedal off into the middle distance; then we have the road to ourselves. Not that that is so important. Texel is mostly flat. The dunes just back from the coast are covered with pine forest and criss-crossed by walking, horse riding and cycling paths. It’s very easy riding, gently up and down the bitumen paths through the forest, and the few cars that come anywhere near us have their own road and don’t need to travel on our bike track.
There are sheep chewing lush green grass, hectares of tulip fields with nobody queuing for tickets and breeding colonies of spoonbills and gulls. It’s a paradise for cyclists, walkers and birdwatchers.
The villages are pretty, with Waal getting our vote as the belle of the ball, while Den Hoorn has the cutest church tower – a pointy white affair poking up out of the tulip fields – very photogenic. There’s a street market in Den Burgh so the little town is not exactly buzzing, but humming gently. A poster advertises a theatre show starring ‘One woman and fifty sheep’. I think it’s a play about wool.
At de Koog we park the bikes and trudge up over the dunes to what is reputedly one of Europe’s best beaches. There is no surf, just a line of offshore windmills. There are no swimmers either, just a few paddlers. Most beachgoers are sheltering in the beachfront cafes with a coffee or a beer.
Our friend Klaas, a native ‘Texelaar’, told us a story about the end of WWII. All Holland had heard the war was ending and that the Canadians were coming, so each day Texel residents trooped to the wharf, flags at the ready to welcome the glorious liberators. Nothing happened, until eventually a lone Canadian soldier arrived to visit his parents who lived on the island. He announced to the crowd that Texel was now free, and apologised that nobody had told them earlier.*
Texel is that sort of place. Not much happens here, and that’s the whole idea.
*Though note Willem’s comment below, about the tragic revolt of the Georgian soldiers against their German masters, which cost some 1000 lives, weeks after the rest of the country had been liberated.
Getting there: Trains from Amsterdam to Den Helder run every half hour. A day pass to take a bike on the train anywhere in the Netherlands costs EUR6. The Teso ferry from Den Helder to Texel takes 20 minutes and costs EUR3 per person return, plus EUR2.50 for a bike. Cars with up to nine passengers cost EUR24.50-EUR30.
Staying there: Numerous accommodation options on Texel are listed on the website: texel.net
Further information: Bike Hire is available on arrival at Texel harbour from EUR5.50 for a bike with no gears and EUR8 for a solid touring bike. No reservations are needed for groups of less than 15.