Friday, October 29, 2010

Grebbelinieroute Zuid

Now on the Sprinter to Rhenen, east of Utrecht. Again the weather forecast seems unreliable: showers and wind predicted but it's a gorgeous clear, sunny day.

Later on, I find myself in the town of Veenendaal (veen = peat) at a singularly uninspiring spot: an empty playground amidst bleak beige brick homes and apartment buildings. Late-model cars drift past like the wind. The sun waits behind fluffy clouds, occasionally irradiating the scene. Middle-aged couples out for a stroll.

Grebbelinieroute Zuid (ANWB map)
Waiting on an eastbound train outside Veenendaal
The ride, too, has been less than inspiring so far. Though it was sunny on the train over, a gray squall hit just after I got off to ride through Rhenen alongside a stream of cars. I had to don my rain pants. I spotted the tower dedicated to Saint Cunera, as noted in the guide, a slender gray structure rising above the suburban landscape. Then I turned north up a serious hill, failing to engage in first gear so I had the walk the last bit. North of Rhenen the path is a narrow road skirting the Utrechtse Heuvelrug, an extensive hilly forest. But the road was a pain -- fairly constant traffic -- and I did not find the paths into the forest too appealing: dripping, covered in wet leaves and populated by groups of seniors in synthetic outfits.

Alone at last: de Grebbelinie
Approaching Veenendaal, the path switches to a less-used road, and when the sun breaks through it releases the autumnal scent of fermenting leaves. Then there's a quick section through farms before you arrive in stark suburbia. The path skirts the town for a while, then goes up on the Slaperdijk, formerly a protective barrier, now an elevated road with broad fallow fields below, dotted with solitary trees. But even here it's busy and I cling to the brown band that flanks the road, cautiously moving over to avoid the odd walker.

Back in Veenendaal
Finally, past the railroad tracks (pictured above), the path veers north (toward 21) through a genuine patch of woods. But in this part of Holland you cannot really escape the drone of engines, even if the cheeping birds are in the foreground. Here the path becomes a slender dirt band along a tree-lined rise. This is De Grebbelinie, from which the route takes its name. A weathered poster explains:

"Vroeger was de Grebbelinie een belangrijke militaire verdedigingslinie."

Which means, previously the Grebbelinie was a major military line of defense. It goes on to describe how flooded areas prevented armies from reaching western Holland, but now the networks of dikes and quays serve to protect nature.

Tooling along on this woodsy trail, sun dappling down through the birch canopy, slightly warming the chilly air, cows grazing in a green field below to the left, I never want it to end. Then I hit the road (to 45) and realize this woodsy idyll was just an illusion, an island in the urbanization.
Gelderse Valley

Poplar culture
The route then drops back down into Veenendaal -- entirely too much time devoted to this town -- along a tree-lined road, then traverses an attractive suburban development with modernistic buildings facing broad canals and bike paths crisscrossing the zone. No auto traffic goes through; that is the key to its tranquility.

Then the route exits Veenendaal again to enter its triumphant final phase (to 27) south to Rhenen. It runs beside a long, straight canal fringed by reeds, with peat bogs and cows a' grazin' on both sides. Nice bucolic landscape for the last leg.

In the same vane ...
Now the weather is nice -- chilly with a bit of a breeze but the sun has dropped below the clouds, giving the reeds a purplish tint. I find the right bench for a sandwich and bruised pear. Here the trail skirts the canal through peat bogs, all gorgeously aglow in the afternoon sun. In the distance a few towers pop out of the landscape: Rhenen? I stand by a bridge, hearing only the rattling of a slowly spinning weathervane.
The approach to Rhenen

This whole section of the route is glorious. The canal winds through the landscape, like a scene from an autumnal painting. Geese fly in great V's overhead.

The last stretch to Rhenen (to point 52) is perhaps the loveliest. Here the banks broaden beside the canal, which joins a bigger waterway, the Lek River, to become like a bayou as it approaches Rhenen where it is spanned by a major bridge. Church bells clang from Rhenen's tower at 6 o'clock. The trail through this section feels like a park path -- through a vast park that borders the bayou.

I could have turned at the bridge for the train station but instead opted to complete the loop to point 36, thus hugging the riverbank with the church tower rising up by the town, illuminated against the deep blue dusk. This aspect is a far more flattering one than what I glimpsed coming into town.
Bridge over the Lek

 Didn't make it all the way to 36 but turned back through the glowing but somnolent town center to the station, where a Sprinter to Breukelen was waiting on the track. The conductor, a stern, bald man , was sitting alone in the first-class compartment. He told me it departed in about 10 minutes. I went and purchased a bicycle "dagkaart": 6 euros. 

Rhenen's Cuneratoren (1531)

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