Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Zeeland Revisited - Day 5

Leaving Burgh-Haamstede, I enter the Binnenduin van Schouwen (inland dunes), a historically overgrazed zone, now given over to nature, heather, snipes, owls. A sandy path stretches along a row of low trees, black birds darting from branch to branch. This section of protected dunes area stretches 4km to the north coast of Schouwen.

Into the inland dunes, Schouwen.

"Moist heather and rare plants such as parnassia and gentian flourish here, as does the moor frog. The dunes are a good place for fallow deer and roe to browse and rest."

Today it is overcast and I'll cycle around 50km, which is fortunate because all I feel like doing is riding. It's a bit cool (15ยบ C). The trees end and a big flat expanse of heath opens up, much like the Hoge Veluwe. The path winds and rolls for a fun roller coaster ride. Then I reach a copse of deciduous trees, at the edge of which stands a warehouse: Renesse.

At point 76, I get a glimpse of Schouwen's north coastline, sparsely occupied by dog walkers and strolling couples on this overcast day. Point 76 to 84 is another sandy, roller coaster stretch along the inland base of the dunes. Sounds of surf, wood chopping, clucking birds. Low brushy vegetation, mezquite-like trees spreading like an open hand, lots of orange berries. Oldsters out hiking (with pro walking sticks) and/or cycling with dogs. 

Kite surfers, east of Renesse

The bridge to Goeree (the Brouwersdam) was a terrific ride, with my very own fietspad for most of the way, affording views of a vast expanse of--from west to east--the North Sea, beach with kite surfers, RVs, fietspad, highway, the inland sea called the Grevelingen Meer. Overcast skies occasionally breaking up to let the sun through, stiff breeze but not too daunting, listening to Roland Kirk (live in Paris) the whole way.

At the north end, I follow the sign to 54 and find myself on the Goeree route, since I am now on the island, or peninsula, of Goeree, which is no longer Zeeland but Zuid-Holland. The principal town here is Ouddorp. The path deviates from the road through a wooded corridor flanked by horse pastures. Is this the right way? I wonder.

It's right. I arrive at the dunes of Goeree with a brick lighthouse and great flocks of birds swooping overhead. This "valley" is the Westhoofdvallei where "typical plants" like green-winged orchids (purple flowers) and adder's-tongue grow once again now that cattle no longer graze here.

So I'll be skirting the north coast of Goeree today. Paralleling the main trail is a path at the top of the dunes, with sweeping views of the coast though it is quite windy. Freighters with cranes ply the sea and the industry of Europort can be glimpsed off to the east.

At point 55 is an observation tower. The sea coast trail (the upper one) from 54 to 55 is brilliant, without much wind and superb views of the broad beach. The whole area is laced with hiking trails.

From here it is 25km to Brielle, a bit short of my destination. The path continues to skirt the north coast of Goeree to the bridge, where Goeree merges with the eastern part of the island called Overflakkee. East of point 55 it turns to a sand surface and winds up through the dunes, where I plucked some raspberries off a vine.

Goeree north coast trail.
This is the "hallelujah" bit of today's tour. Rolling gently, the sand trail overlooks the vast beach, here absolutely undeveloped, almost a wasteland of white sand streaked with hillocks of beach grass. Then it climbs into a more remote part of the dune forest and the coast can no longer be seen, though it can still be heard. The ground is littered with shells. The coast vegetation feels tropical, especially as the sun pokes through the gray cloud cover, casting its rays upon me.

The bridge from Goeree (the Haringvlietdam) is another Deltawerks project with terrifyingly large sluice gates--imagine those things in action.

Fresh mussels? Uh-uh. 
At the north end of the bridge, I noticed a chalkboard announcing mosselen. It was down some steps to a harbor so I figured it would be a good bet for fresh fish. It was a seafood shack but the mussels were frozen. The standard way to prepare them here, like every other kind of seafood, was to bread them and throw them in a vat of boiling fat. I declined and went for the kibbeling (fish) instead, served--just like last night's dinner--with a dull salad and French fries.

From there I dropped into farmlands, the heartland west of Rotterdam: The old polders have been updated and given over to big agriculture: Farmall tractors, drainage ditches, plastic-covered bales, a field of kale about ready to harvest. Fortunately the wind has been at my back; I see that people cycling toward me are struggling.

Brielle, which I'd expected to be an interesting old village judging by its layout on the map, turned out to be a confusing maze with misleading signage. OK, it does have some pretty canals and historic houses. The map seemed to suggest I could cross the Brielse Meer here. At point 26, a sign pointed toward 27 but I would've had to ride into the river. Oh, I thought, must be some kind of ferry here. But a chubby fellow in a boat (who might have appeared in my Suske & Wiske comic book) told me I'd have to take the bridge to the east. No ferry here.

Now approaching the end of my five-day journey, I stop at a weird little bistro at the base of the bridge to Rozenburg, across the Brielse Meer. It has a glassed-in terrace facing the waterway, plied by yachts and swans, and a little beach with lawn by the bank.

Bridge over traveled waters: notice the long bike ramp on the north side.
From there the journey to Maasluis, which I had judged would be the nearest NS station for northbound trains, was quite interesting. You traverse two bridges, the first over the Brielse Meer, with an elaborate ramp on the north side, the second over a shipping canal. This is an intensely industrial zone with factories, warehouses, highways and shipping lanes.

Bridge No 2: to Rozenburg

On the second bridge, I encountered a flashing red light about midway so I stopped, not sure what to expect. Of course I had seen drawbridges all over Holland but this bridge was so big. How could it lift? After a few minutes I understood. Rather than raising by folding upwards, the middle section simply lifted up, a massive chunk of road elevating 20 meters or so, leaving a gap in the middle so a tanker could pass through. The whole process took about 15 minutes, during which a moped and five or six cyclists arrived, young women pecking on their cell phones as they waited.

From there I descended another ramp into Rozenburg and followed the signs to Maasluis, with a ferry symbol. I did not realize I would have to take a ferry. The path reached the Nieuwe Maas, the same waterway that runs through Rotterdam; at Maasluis it is 0.7km wide. One kilometer further west is the ferry landing. The big green ferry, carrying cars, motorcycles and bicycles, arrived in minutes, lowering a ramp and discharging its contents. Cost for a passenger with bike: €1.15.
Ferry cross the Maasluis. 

On the north side I rode a short distance east to the train station, a branch line that runs between Hoek van Holland and Rotterdam, and began my journey home.

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