Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Return to Drenthe I - Het Fochtelooërveen

Duivendrecht station
In early June I decided to take a fietstocht to the province of Drenthe for a few days, leaving it open-ended. I easily lined up Vrienden op de Fiets for the next three nights: Appelscha, Dwingeloo, Ruinerwold.

The train's destination is Groningen (I'll get off at Assen). On the way east it cuts through the flat sheep-grazed expanse of Flevoland, then Zwolle, hub of Overijssel province, then north.

Het Fochtelooërveen (you try to pronounce it) appears as a purple expanse on the map: 'what remains of an immense high turf area. The breadth and unspoiled character of the area are impressive, unique for the Netherlands and Western Europe,' says my cycle route guidebook. Unique? Turf fields seem to be a standard feature of the Dutch landscape. 'Traces of prehistoric settlement.' As in other peat mining areas, the cutters removed all of it before long and had to seek other livelihoods. Now they're irrigating the zone so the peat will grow back, supposedly to restore it to its former ecosystem, and some birds (cranes, 'snake eagles') have returned.
(original date of this entry: June 1, 2016)

1 -> 6
Assen seems as staid and provincial as it did last visit (about a year ago). I browsed the street market to find the usual stalls: nut seller (with exactly the same girls as at Dappermarkt near my home), loempias, those greasy unappetizing Vietnamese egg rolls, bike parts, pet things. I spotted the tourist office where I'd inquired previously and noticed that the cafe I had included in the guide for its typical Dutch menu had vanished--replaced by a tony café. How many readers will be disappointed? Not many I suppose, who goes to Assen?

I head out of town and right away find myself along a woodsy road sharing the broad lanes with various cyclists out to enjoy the warm weather. It is indeed warm--hot when the clouds break. The impression is of a grayer demographic here.

Assen to Appelscha
Alternative route (N373, west of Assen)
kp 6 -> 18 -> 19 -> 21 -> 43 -> 84
Outside Assen I rode through the woods, then emerged in the dull suburbia of Klooster, an appendage of Assen. West of 18 it's wide open fields, mostly plowed into rectilinear patterns. Then a lengthy stretch up N373 against a headwind. I pass the Huis Ter Heide, which according to my guide served prisoners once housed in Veenhuizen. I peek inside but it's not a pleasant spot for coffee so I keep going. Shortly after entering Zuidvelde city limits I turn left, through more vast open fields, then suddenly the landscape turns gentler with lots of snowy Queen Anne's lace along the trail, flanked by trees which attenuate the wind and provide shade. Few others on the trail but I greet an old woman out for a ride. She looks happy.

Veenhuizen forest
Doesn't take long to reach the LF-9a, and now I am on a southward trajectory. I now enter the forest of Veenhuizen, planted in the 19th century (by those prisoners?). Lots of ferns. Picnic table at a crossroads, dirt road through forest, greenish stagnant creek. A horse-driven cart rolls across the fietspad, steered by an old fellow who greets me. It could be the 1930s. The breeze is rather strong. I'm about to enter the purple zone. Have no idea what time it is.

kp 63 -> 64 -> 66
Well, this is very nice. At the lower end of the Fochtelooërveen (what that umlaut indicates I haven't a clue) is a bird hide, a little hut from which you may ogle the birdies swooping around a swamp amid the heather. The little viewing windows are at various levels, and you could just sit on a bench and observe the action for hours. There are no people here. I only saw some swallows swooping around and a few of them have built a nest in the hut.


The high turf zone, though 'the largest in the Netherlands,' doesn't take long to cycle through. It is like a desert, not of sand but of low shrubs and swamp, picturesque in spots with little white flowers covering the banks. Though nothing spectacular, it's quite nice to cycle through. If it were further south the heat would be intolerable, here it's a pleasure. Near the lower end I hiked a trail through the heath to a lake and spotted a few birds: slender gray-winged specimens with white heads framed in black.

It's so great to hike around and cycle. It seems there is no greater physical expression of a wandering spirit than cycling. Wisely I did not attempt to cover much ground today. I've almost reached my destination, Appelscha.


kp 66 -> 75
It gets better. Past the bird hide I enter the Campagnonsveld, and a herd of Scottish highland cattle graze around the bogs. No access to hiking trails at this time due to crane breeding. The landscape is still studded with low shrubs but softer and greener. The asphalt strip winds through, then enters lush forest, birches, oaks and cedars rustling in the wind. The place is deserted. It's my forest today. The trail now skirts a rippling brook crossed by wooden bridges.

The ecstatic experience of cycling through the countryside invariably sours upon settling in for the evening in small-town Holland. My host, Ron, though nice enough, holds typically low cultural expectations. He's the sort of guy who spends his evenings sprawled on the sofa in front of the tube. And my meal at a nondescript eetcafé, called De Pruim (The Plum), was not good: a 'carpaccio,' meaning a plate of thinly sliced roast beef garnished with stale pine nuts and mayonnaise. I chose it mainly because they had an outdoor terrace.

Still, I shouldn't complain. At 9:45 pm I'm sitting on my private porch sipping a Golden Batavia tea and looking at the sky, still light at this hour, gray clouds drifting slowly before a pink-tinged sky. It's cooled down considerably. Continued ...

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