Sunday, July 13, 2014

Alkmaar, Egmond binnen en aan zee

On the beach at Egmond-aan-Zee and it's about as nice a beach as any on the North Sea coast: broad, flat expanse of sand dotted with transparent jellyfish, backed by high dunes, a line of trailers as beach housing. This 32 km tour in the north of Noord Holland takes in the terrain west of Alkmaar, a melange of coast, dunes, farmlands and woods. A nice rural/beachy fietstocht.

Anyone out there who can identify these purple spherical blooms?  If so, please comment. 
(original date of this entry: May 19, 2014)
When I got to Alkmaar station, I went looking for the standard bike rental/parking facility. It was housed in a temporary building round back. Mag ik een fiets huren? I asked cheerfully of a bespectacled girl at the desk. Yes, but I needed an ID: passport, driver's license, etc, none of which I was holding. Damn. I did of course have my NS rail pass, which features a portrait photo. "They have computers these days," I protested mildly. "Can't you find me on the network?" Nothin' doing. I asked if there was another bike rental outlet nearby. She didn't know. "You live in Alkmaar but don't know?" I asked incredulously. "I don't live in Alkmaar, just work here." Grrr. The surly mechanic said there was one across the railroad bridge, "but they won't let you rent one either without ID."

I ended up renting an OV-Fiets, one of those clunky city bikes offered by NS rail, from the station outlet. Not a pleasurable ride but ok if casually holding handlebars with one hand.

Alkmaar to Egmond
I headed for pt 6, west of town. (Behind Alkmaar's cathedral are the exits to both points 33 and 6, so you can head south to Heiloo or west to Egmond.) I went under some freeways and rode through flat fields grazed by spotted cows and sandy-maned horses. Then I was riding on the suburban edge of the coastal resort called Egmond and found a trailhead for a dunes walk with a turnoff for the beach. I parked the bike at a corral and hoofed it. Here was a 3 km loop walking trail. Up on the dunes it's still and tranquil and you can see sand hills receding in the distance covered in grass and low scrub. Swallows, jackdaws, shells.

I rode along the beach promenade of Egmond-aan-Zee. Quite boring. Lots of new brick development, an old white lighthouse: mini-Zandvoort. Finally toward point 30 I enter the coastal dunes, back from the shore, greener and hillier. Purple flowering plants fringe a brick path like a country lane, flocks of black birds swooping around green bowls. Low piney trees protrude from grassy humps. Very nice.

That's just a link to the main "road" at point 30, then I head south to 29. The brick lane runs level through more open countryside, piney woods on my right, birds twittering in the trees, rural fields to my left, moving from shade to hot sun, breezy. Here I encounter a trailhead for two walks, both heading east to Heiloo; one bypasses the old abbey of Egmond. This area has long been significant for the water purification function of the dunes. 

'De Bleek' trailhead
I could've kept going down the LF-1 toward Duin en Bosch ("dunes & woods," that sums it up), then toward Castricum and caught the train there, but I had to give the bike back at Alkmaar and anyway my ass is protesting so I'll keep the trip short. Turning east toward pt 28, the landscape immediately changes to vast fields dotted with haystacks or etched in furrows. This is pleasant to ride through as well. Then south of Heiloo the trail skirts the village west along a wooded corridor to pt 32. So peaceful with sun rays beaming through the oak trees that I had to stop and take a bench--but then the mosquitos started bugging me.

Fertile ground
One advantage of renting a bike at the station is I have till 1 am to return it, so I'm in no hurry and am deeply appreciative of the summer evening effect, that lingering dusk, when the light dims slowly till as late as 10 pm. Blonde lasses and ladies on horseback galloping along a trail behind me.

The trail segues into deeper woods, then turns to go past some swampy pastureland and I find a lovely lagoon to pull up a bench to. Only 3 km to Alkmaar. Then it opens further to become a beautiful park with a larger lagoon where some boys are swimming; on the far bank a farmhouse with a slender brick silo. It's a blissful spot. 
Alkmaar Hout, the city park
Suddenly, turning toward pt 73/Alkmaar, the trail narrows to a strip through the forest, completely avoiding the road, and the varied birdsong could be a melodious segue in an Antonioni movie. Then, in  a clearing, I see a hill like an unexcavated pyramid crowned by a very old tree. Winding wooden staircase to the summit, where there is a rude bench, then another staircase down the other side, to the road. This patch of old woods feels like an estate.

Even the entry to Alkmaar is pretty and thoughtfully planned. You come in along an old thoroughfare, now the shopping district, but then jog over to the left and you're skirting old brick houses down a curvy lane. This is a nice glimpse of old Alkmaar. 

I found the church and felt in a dreamlike state as I cycled behind a teenage girl in rebel clothing--jean jacket and thrift store skirt--singing in counterpoint to the church bells. It's an ancient, sturdily constructed, very large church. I turned left toward the station, rode by a park/canal and saw a shiny doner kebab hut by the entrance. Evening was now setting in but I was hungry and thought, what better spot for dinner? So walked in and ordered a durum doner. The staff, a Dutch teen boy and middle-aged Turkish  man, were kind and almost curious. I took my durum, loaded with pieces of hacked-up chicken, onions, tomatoes, to a bench and chomped contentedly and watched the cars go past on the far side of the canal. Few people except the odd dog walker were out this evening and I felt relaxed. 


  1. The purple spherical blooms are on top of an union, called alium (in wikipedia)