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Summer in the Netherlands 2013 PDF Printable Version E-mail


Travelling with a Sprinter Van, Lunar Caravan and Paul Hewitt Bicycles

Margaret and Barry Williamson
July 2013

Continued at: Summer in Germany 2013  


After a winter inDSCF3142[1].jpg Spain and Portugal, May in England and June in Ireland, in early July we took the Stena Line ferry from Harwich to the Hook of Holland to begin our journey through northern Europe. The initial focus is on cycling the Fietspads of the Netherlands and the Radwege of Germany; later we aim to travel in Eastern Europe with an eye on Bulgaria and Greece.

Harwich to the Hook of Holland

As usual, we had camped at the Strangers Home Inn (www.strangershome.co.uk) in the Essex village of Bradfield, just 8 miles from the port of Harwich. It has a large camping field with electric hook-ups behind the pub and also provides excellent meals. On the first day of July, we drove to the port to take the 'Stena Britannica' to Holland – a magnificent boat which, with its sister ship 'Stena Hollandia', claims to be the world's largest passenger ferry.

A bonus is that caravans go free on daytime weekday sailings, and motorhomes are just charged as a car, if booked through a club (see www.caravanclub.co.uk or www.campingandcaravanningclub.co.uk for details). The queue at check-in was almost all caravans, plus 2 pairs of cycle tourists heading for the Fietspads (Holland's wonderful network of cycle paths). We sailed promptly at 9 am for a very calm crossing, had a reasonable lunch (with a free drink) and arrived at the Hook on time at 4.45 pm – or rather 5.45 pm in Holland. No problems, except the 'free WiFi' on board was out of order.

Hook of Holland to Camping De Krabbeplaat, Brielle – 29 miles

Open 29 March-30 Sept. See www.krabbeplaat.nl. €16.04 with ACSI Card inc 10-amp electricity and showers. WiFi €3 for 24 hrs. N 51º54'36” E 4º11'5”

Our exit from the port was well timed for the teatime rush hour! We made our way on the A20 motorway (no tolls in Holland) east towards Rotterdam, exiting onto the A4 that tunnels south below the New Maas river. Then west on A15 towards Europort, taking exit 12 onto rd 57 for Brielle. Follow signs for Krabbeplaat Camping, where we'd taken the precaution of booking a pitch by email. It's a level grassy peaceful wooded site, grazed by rabbits and chickens – quite a surprise in view of its proximity to the refineries around Europort.

An electronic card (deposit €23) for operating the barrier, both in and out, is also needed for showers. As Reception does not open until 9 am Mon-Fri, 10 am Saturday and an absurd 11 am Sunday, early departure means forfeiting the deposit! Also, be aware that a €10 'administration fee' is charged for booking ahead – and not refunded against the final bill! Only after much argument was this item removed from our invoice. A pity that such a nice site, so handy for Europort, should be so bureaucratic.

Cycling around Brielle 

1.  Ferry into Brielle, return on N57 bridge (19 km): A little ferry for foot passengers and cyclists (signed Voet/Fiets Veer), just 1 km from the campsite, crosses the Brielse Meer inlet to Brielle. It runs every half hour during the daytime, takes 5 minutes and costs €1 (+ €0.25 for a bike) each way. We took the ferry across and cycled a circuit of the ramparts of the old fortified town, complete with moat and a dozen bastions. A perfect afternoon, all very picturesque with typical Dutch waterways, bridges and a traditional windmill. After sitting outside a bakery café in the sunshine, with good coffee and scrumptious apple pies, we looked at the central St Catharine Church – 17thC Brabant Gothic, built of bricks with a tall tower and a splendid organ, giving concerts every Monday evening. Entry €1 included climbing the tower but we didn't need the exercise. Return to campsite by riding southeast along Fietspads (cycle paths) to the nearest road bridge on the N57, which had a separate cycle path on each side. In the Netherlands bicycles very rarely have to mix with traffic and we know of nowhere safer for cyclists.

2. Via N57 bridge to Brielle and Oostvoorne, return along Oostvoorne Meer and Brielse Meer (32 km): Guided by a free leaflet Fietsen op Voorne-Putten-Rozenburg (from campsite Reception), signposts and instinct, we circled over the bridge, through Brielle, then north and west to Oostvoorne, an area of dunes, dikes and beaches. Ice cream was welcome, at a beachside stall that also sold chips. Following the Brielse Meer Fietspad we came within 3 km of Europort and all its industry, though most of the ride was through woods or alongside waterways, busy with leisure craft on a hot Saturday afternoon. Chocolate melted in our bar-bags and England had similar weather for the Wimbledon finals. 

Brielle to Minicamping Smids, Giesbeek, Nr Arnhem – 93 miles

Open all year. See www.rhederlaag.nl/smids.html  €17.50 (cash) inc electricity, showers and free WiFi. N 51º58'51” E 6º3'41”

An easy journey, mainly on orderly motorways, brought us to a friendlier simpler campsite on a dairy farm, run by the helpful Smid family. See www.vekabo.nl for listing of such smaller CL-type sites (no membership or reservation fees).

It was 2 miles back to the A15, which we followed east past Rotterdam for 76 miles. The motorway ran across a wide flat landscape of crops and Friesian cattle, shared with a railway on our left and the Waal, carrying huge barges, to the right. The minaret of a small mosque rose above the roofline as we passed the large town of Gorinchem, signifying Turkish Guest Workers. Near Nijmegen we turned north onto A325 towards Arnhem, exiting at 84 miles on N325 eastbound. Then joined the A12 until the next junction, exit 27, onto rd 338 for Giesbeek. The Minicamping is signed down a lane on the right, shortly before the village.

Cycle routes and paths run in all directions and the campsite WiFi is excellent. All it lacks is a washing machine, though there are sinks with plentiful hot water and a free spin drier.

At Giesbeek, Minicamping Smids

After lunch, the temperature soaring above 30 deg C, we had a short cycle ride (20 km return) into Giesbeek and northeast along the Ijssel River to the old town of Doesburg. Giesbeek village has a Spar shop/post office adjoining the lovely windmill. In the centre of Doesburg the 15thC St Martin Church rises above the market place. Sitting in its shade, enjoying ice creams, we admired the brick-built tower which was restored in 1965, 20 years after collapsing under bombardment. 

Next day, using the Sprinter van, we had an excursion to the famous Obelink camping and caravanning superstore, 30 miles away near the German border at Winterswijk: www.obelink.co.uk. In what claims to be Europe's largest, with 3 vast floors selling everything from clothing to tents, caravans to toilet blue, we actually couldn't find anything we needed! But we did enjoy lunch in their self-service café, going on to shop at Lidl in the town centre. We returned to Giesbeek via Doesburg, using the free car/motorhome parking we'd noticed by the harbour, an easy walk from the centre. At the Tourist Office we bought a cycle map (Fietskaart) of the Veluwe area, scale 2 cm=1 km, published by Falk. These cover the whole country in 20 maps, though if touring widely, a Fietsatlas would be better value.

Cycling by Numbers

Throughout the Netherlands, there is now a numbered network of Knooppunten (junction points), shown on maps for cyclists. Out on the Fietspads, there is an information board with a map at each Knooppunt, as well as regular direction signs and distances for both local and long-distance cycle routes. In theory it should be impossible to get lost on two wheels, though in practice the system is not so good within towns, where a good map or sense of direction is needed. But what a joy to ride in safety, in the company of other cyclists of all shapes and sizes, without being regarded as a nuisance (at best) or target (at worst) for impatient motorists.

1. Giesbeek to Westervoort along the Ijssel, down the Pannerdenschkanal and Lower Rhine to Millingen, return via Zevenaar (43 km): The cool breeze was deceptive and we returned sun-burnt from an excellent ride on Fietspads and minor lanes. First we rode west, along the south side of the Ijssel to its junction with the Lower Rhine opposite Arnhem. Turning south down the Pannerdenschkanal, we joined the long-distance Hanzaroute LF3-2, pausing for a picnic on the way. We passed a couple of popular foot/bike ferries across the canal before reaching its confluence with the mighty Rhine at Millingen-a/d-Rijn, almost at the German border.  

We returned via the town of Zevenaar, and a break for waffles topped with warm cherries and whipped cream in the café there. It was interesting to see a Halfords store on the main street, with a selection of Dutch bikes for sale, though we were not tempted! Apart from a few athletic young men on racing cycles, everyone rides the heavy sit-upright style of city bike.

2. Arnhem via the bridge at Westervoort, return through Veluwezoom National Park and ferry from Rhede to Rhederlaag (44 km): A cloudy dry day was ideal for cycling, with no wind. We rode west along the Ijssel again, passed under the A12 motorway bridge and crossed the river at the next bridge, carrying both train and traffic, yet with a separate Fietspad on each side. We were surprised to see a couple of Storks in the fields, along with geese and other water birds.

In the city (capital of the Netherlands' largest province, Gelderland) we found a large shopping mall, where we bought a new SatNav at Halfords (a 5” Garmin Nuvi). We also had a bit of banter with the toilet attendant, an Englishman married to a Klomper (nickname from the Dutch for 'clogs')! He said he misses having a joke, living among such a serious hard-working people.

Riding on into the city centre we cycled both ways across the John Frost Bridge over the Rhine, rebuilt and named in honour of the British airborne officer who led the small group who actually got to the bridge during the Battle of Arnhem. Injured, he was captured but survived to serve in the army until his retirement in 1968. However, the First Airborne Division lost nearly 75% of its strength and did not see combat again. For the full story of 'Operation Market Garden', visit the excellent Airborne Museum en.airbornemuseum.nl/ in Arnhem, as we did on a previous visit.

After a snack and coffee on one of the busy shopping streets, complete with trolley buses, trams and Fietspads, we took a surprisingly hilly route back – past Rozendaal stately home and through the Veluwezoom National Park, to the northeast of the city. Veluwezoom comprises 50 sq km of forest and heath, with miles of footpaths, bridleways and cycle paths, as well as parking spots – a scenic reserve for the people of Arnhem. Continuing east, in the small town of Rheden there is a little foot/cycle ferry that hops across the Ijssel (€0.90 for a cyclist – or €1 if using an e-bike!) It runs from 9 am to 6 pm, April to September, and landed us conveniently by the Gieseplaas lake, a short ride from our campsite. www.veerdienstrheden.nl 

3. Van-assisted circular ride from Otterlo in Hoge Veluwe National Park (41 km): On a still sunny afternoon, we drove about 20 miles into the Hoge Veluwe National Park, to the northwest of Arnhem, and left the Sprinter on a free parking area in Otterlo. Using a combination of our map, Knooppunt numbers and the sun (the old ways are sometimes best!), we cycled north via Harskamp on woodland paths to Stroe. After an ice cream break, it was east to Kootwijk, passing 'Radio Kootwijk' – a huge and sinister Art Deco monstrosity, built in 1922, that was the short wave transmitter station for the Dutch East Indies. It looked deserted but is still used for concerts or as a film-set. Then back to Harskamp, past a military vehicle museum, and south to Otterlo.

4. Wehl and return (24 km): On the morning of our departure for Germany, we had a last short ride on the Fietspad eastwards from our camp to the village of Wehl and back. An early mist/fine drizzle soon evaporated in the morning sun. The friendly lad who served us coffee in Wehl is studying in Arnhem (Computing – what else!), living at home and commuting by train and bike, the Dutch way.


Giesbeek to Camping Eichengrund, Ibbenburen – 104 miles

Open all year. €19 inc electricity (or €24 with own private shower/WC cabin). No WiFi or internet. N 52.21829 E 7.66502

A straightforward afternoon drive, by motorway to within 4 miles of our next camp. We took A12 north past Arnhem onto A5, then at 21 miles turned east on A1 for Hengelo. Across the border (no need to stop, no tolls) onto the German A30 at 69 miles, to exit 11b (Ibbenburen) at 100 miles. South on B219 for 3 miles (past the sign for 'Camping Dorenther Klippen' on the left), then turn right at the next campsite sign, just after crossing the Dortmund-Ems Canal bridge. A narrow lane leads through oak forest to our campsite, in north Munsterland.

Owned and run by the helpful Stratmann family, it's a community of static caravans with a small area for tourers, where most pitches have an optional private shower cabin – lovely! The communal facilities are basic, though new ones are under construction. There is also a large playground, minigolf and bathing pond, which were taken over by a school party from Ibbenburen one morning on an end-of-term treat. An excellent site; we'd have stayed longer but it was fully booked once school hols began (19 July).

(Continued at Summer in Germany 2013