Sunday, March 27, 2016

Guidebook research II: Roermond -> Thorn

On the train to Roermond, in central Limburg. The corridor to the north of Maastricht looks mainly agricultural-suburban-industrial, highways and power lines. A warm, almost summery day so a good day for a ride to Thorn.

(original date of this entry: May 22, 2015)
I start by taking the bridge over the River Maas, the very same one I took on my journey to Groote Peel national park. On the other side of the bridge I continue along the highway and eventually emerge at Horn, a village with a fine castle of brick and stone surrounded by a lovely park sprinkled with yellow flowers. I had a slice of vlaai with coffee at a cafe next to the church accompanied by slime from the radio, then perused the highlights of this fietstocht from a Zuid Limburg cycling guide I picked up this morning at the VVV in Maastricht. The first part of the journey will take me through the gravel pits of Maasbracht.

Castle of Horn

Recreational gravel pit.
Outstanding bit of this route. Leave Horn via an old road, bridge over highway, then leave the road and drop right into the forest. It's a rolling packed sand trail through the oaks and elms. Vriend op de Fiets in Roermond Paul Aarts says the whole area north of Roermond was covered with sand 10,000 years ago or so. And it's still there with trees growing out of it now. A superb, practically unaccompanied ramble through the forest (just the occasional oldster couple). Then emerge under massive power line towers at kp 30, the first lake -- one of those gravel pit deals. The slope to the bank is steep. The guidebook says it's now a watersports haven but I see no one on the water. It's in the middle of an interconnected band of artificial lakes at the edge of Beegden.

Roermond - Thorn

Sluis Heel
30 -> 35
At the Sluis Heel where Mover 3 is pushing several great covered barges towards the open waters of the Maas with the cooling towers of the Clauscentrale power plant in the background. Fortunately there's a little park beside the sluice gate so you can sit on a bench and watch the canal interconnection process. The gate channels traffic that goes down the Lateraalkanaal, a canal beside the network of gravel pit lakes, into the Maas where they may continue up a canal to the Rhine. Here comes a barge full of gravel and a crew member is tying up at the gate--and will presumably wait unitl the water level evens on the other side before proceeding. The dude looks eastern European. Along a parallel canal at a higher level comes the Flava, a long tanker of some sort. Motorcycles traverse the gate to proceed through the lake zone to Linne and Maasbracht. But I will head west to Heel, which sits alone on a peninsula amid the lakes. Now an alarm sounds briefly--to signal the opening of the gate? But nothing happens.

To get here I skirted the prosaic burg of Beegden, past a couple of windmills to the Lateraalkanaal, though I could not see it as the road runs alongside below an embankment.   

35 -> 42
View from Pol-Wessem bridge, Clauscentrale power plant in background
At the edge of Wessem, highway overpass, cyclists whizzing around, tractors, gravel and hay. From the big canal the trail traversed table-flat farmlands to arrive in Heel, a cheerful burg with a few inviting cafes, where everyone was out cycling including a bald dad pushing his kid in a wagon and a geezer with white mustache whom I greeted. Then down through Pol, where a middle-aged woman informed me that the strap on my new Gazelle bag was dangling, a hazard if it gets caught in the wheel.

42 -> 33
The quaint town of Wessem with neat rows of square brick structures and a waterfront promenade from which you may watch the cargo boats and pleasure craft. Boat excursions from here do a triangle of Wessem-Thorn-Stevensweert.

The road to Thorn

The trail (LF5 here) weaves through the town, then heads out along a gravel road through farm fields, then by sheep pastures. A left turn for Thorn where the church bells are clanging. The town is an agglomeration of perfectly preserved white houses, looking more French or Spanish than Dutch. The trail back to kp 33 arrives at a waterfront panorama on the Maas. A peaceful spot on this warm spring afternoon.


33 -> 34 -> 50 -> 32
Leaving Thorn toward kp 33 I rode along stately boulevards flanked by poplars through a tranquil stretch of forest, highway converging with this. I meet the highway, skirt if for 100m, then go underneath to emerge at Sluis Panheel (which I realized I'd been to before on my way to Groote Peel national park; it's the broad canal that was then pelted by puffballs like a snowstorm).  To kp 50, I am skirting a peaceful brook, the highway a distant drone to the south. It's clouded over but still warm, chorus of birdsong.

The trail then flanks the road for a ways but that's alright--I get my own road on the left, bordered by forest. After 2km, I turn left through ordinary table-flat farm fields smelling of chemicals. Then by some older farmsteads and I reach Grathem where a teenage party is going on at Cafe Zaal Geraats. Lots of whooping and bellowing. Right in front of me gathered by a tree is a large group of clean-cut white youth on bikes. This is kp 32.

Orderliness next to godliness.

32 -> 44 -> 43 -> 41

This section of the journey back to Roermond less interesting but still warm and it's a relaxing ride. It's mostly through big farm fields and along roads. Perhaps the only feature that distinguishes it from the rest of Holland are the periodic Catholic shrines. The main impression one gets is of an obsessive orderliness, in everything: the rows of brick boxes, each with its manicured front garden, in Baexum. The endless straight rows of spinach. The neatly spaced poplars along the road. Even the knooppunt network is reflective of this orderly mindset that places efficiency before all.

46 -> 45 -> 95
The final stretch of this fietstocht was certainly a highlight. Finally the rectilinear farms ceded to uncultivated fields with bunnies scampering through them, then actual forest, which continues all the way back to Horn. Going back over the bridge at 9:30, dusk falling, I decided to go into central Roermond for dinner and called my hosts to tell them. Continued ...

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