Those who have
toured with their caravan through Europe will almost certainly
have come across the Dutch - intrepid campers for whom (unlike
the French) distance seems to be no object, and who have been
called the 'Nomads of Europe'. But what of camping in
Several times we had travelled through the Netherlands en
to Germany, spending a day or so there. Perhaps, we
thought, two weeks in Holland would explain why the Dutch are so
keen to go elsewhere, whilst we took advantage of their flat
countryside and cycle-friendly road system for more cycling and
less time in the car than usual. We decided to find out.
Our trip - with none of the sites booked in advance - would take
us north in stages from the Hook of Holland, across a long dyke
encompassing what used to be the Zuidersee, and into Friesland.
From there we would return south for a final stay before heading
back to the Hook.
The daytime crossing from Harwich to the Hook - as one of a
number of caravans travelling on what is otherwise a freight
ferry - was excellent. With free meals in both directions and all
of the important ferry facilities on board we decided that we
preferred it to a more regular crossing!
The first two nights were spent at a site an hour or so north of
the Hook, at Duinrell. Arriving there late in the afternoon after
our crossing we realised that all was not exactly as we had
expected - the caravan pitches were located within a busy
pleasure park, not unlike a small version of Alton Towers! In the
event this turned out to be a very well equipped and run site;
site fees included free admission to the various attractions
and a discount for the swimming pool complex, so we stayed
on for another day to take advantage.
The local area provided several attractive places to visit - Den
Haag is close by, and we particularly liked Haarlem with its old,
central square and church with a magnificent wooden lantern tower
looking down over the city.
This is one of the principal bulb growing regions of Holland, but
for us it was the wrong time of year to be able to see all those
wonderful colours. We paid a fleeting visit to the world's
largest flower auction at nearby Aalsmeer - an immense building
open to visitors early in the morning - but we were too late, it
had closed for the day!
Holland is one of the most densely populated countries of Europe
and this is particularly noticeable around the major towns and in
the south. Soon we were continuing our journey north towards what
we hoped would be a quieter part of the country, heading for
the town of Hoorn.
Like many caravan parks in Holland the site on which we stayed at
Berkhout, near Hoorn, is mainly a location for static caravans
used for holidays or weekend getaways. The overall appearance is
very different from that of similar sites in this country, and we
pitched in an area reserved for tourers, well secluded from the
more permanent residents.
Hoorn proved to be an excellent touring base for several days.
Nearby Edam, famous for its cheese (pretty town, but a little
touristy in parts), Vollendam (with a beautiful harbour and many
tall-masted boats), and Marken (a former island now connected to
the mainland by a long causeway with numerous boats in and around
the harbour) were all worth a visit. A short drive away at
Enkhuizen the Zuidersee Museum shows the local way of life in
times past, and the effect of the building of a twenty mile long
dyke (or dam) to enclose what, up until then, had been a
large expanse of sea. Prior to the building of this Enclosure Dam
(the Afsluitdijk) in 1932 to protect the north of the country
from flooding, Enkhuizen had been a prosperous port on the
Zuidersee. Suddenly, finding itself on the 'wrong' side
of the dyke and cut off from the sea, traditional ways of earning
a living, like fishing, were a thing of the past.
The museum is reached by boat, crossing what used to be open sea
and is now an enclosed (but very large) fresh-water lake. We
toured old cottages, shops, and streets and watched
demonstrations of trades and crafts such as the cooper (barrel
maker) and blacksmith. People dressed in traditional costume
added a touch of colour. An excellent day out - tiring though,
with plenty of walking required to see everything.
Our other excursion from Hoorn was to the island of Texel, one of
the Wadden Islands strung along the north-western coast of
Holland. A little over an hour's drive took us to the car
ferry at Den Helder. Here we left the car and wheeled our bikes
onto the ferry alongside many, many others (remember - this is
Holland!) for the twenty minute crossing to Texel. The Wadden
Islands were formed originally from sandbanks in very shallow
water, and provide a natural haven for many types of wildlife -
Texel is one of the major bird habitats of Europe.
Much of the island's past was connected to sheep farming. As
we pedalled along quiet roads and cycle tracks in bright sunshine
we passed many examples of the strangely-shaped Texel barns
(pointed, and facing into the prevailing wind to offer maximum
wind protection to the sheep), and we stopped for a while to
watch farmers shearing their sheep.
We reached Den Burg, the island's main town, in time to
enjoy a quiet lunch sitting outside in a pretty side street
before continuing on to De Koog, a town on the western coast of
the island now devoted mainly to visitors. Magnificent flat,
sandy beaches extended for miles. We cycled slowly back alongside
green fields and under a blue sky, returning on a ferry at the
end of the afternoon (no booking necessary). We felt weary but it
had been a great day out.
Friesland, home (we assumed) of the Friesian cow, was to be our
next area to visit. From Hoorn this meant travelling the length
of the Afsluitdijk, the dyke that had been constructed to contain
the Zuidersee. An interesting drive with the sea on one side and
the lake (which looks much like the sea!) on the other - there is
even a large grassed parking area halfway across where we were
able to stop for lunch and look down upon the dyke from a tall
As we drove the last few miles towards our chosen site at
Tzummarum we were surrounded by some of the wind turbines that
operate in this part of the country. The larger turbines were
usually arranged in clusters of up to a dozen, but smaller
examples were attached to individual farms, presumably to provide
some or all of the electricity for that farm and its neighbours.
Very much the new Dutch windmill for the modern age!
Tzummarum is a village close to the northern coast, surrounded by
picturesque countryside. Cycling on the quiet roads or near to
the sea dyke was a pleasure, the local bar was very welcoming,
and there were several interesting places to visit nearby. At
Sexterium we toured a working, traditional windmill and at Dokkum
we watched the beginning of a festival cruise by several hundred
small boats through the inland waterways of Friesland. We had
never realised that there were so many boats, of all shapes and
sizes, until our trip to Holland! Towns nearby include Harlingen,
with an attractive port area and restaurants alongside the canal,
and Franeker where we watched a road-cycle race one evening that
brought the town to a standstill.
A little further afield lies Giethoorn, originally an isolated
settlement built by a religious sect of flagellants, with many of
the houses (which are still inhabited) on small, man-made
islands. Now sometimes known locally as a 'Little
Venice', it is conserved as a tourist attraction. An
interesting and very pretty place to visit for an hour or so -
visitors can choose to tour the area either on foot or by small
After a few days we travelled south to Noordeloos, a convenient
final base within a reasonable distance of the ferry for the
return trip. This was a very peaceful and relaxing place, one of
an association of farm-based campsites that have all the
facilities of showers, electric hook-ups, and so on but no pool,
restaurant or shop. Fields all around us were criss-crossed with
drainage ditches, used instead of fences to separate crops and
livestock. Livestock here included not only cattle but also
horses - we were surprised throughout our trip by the number of
elegant, sleek horses we saw being reared and trained.
The nearby village of Noordeloos is beautiful, with a narrow
river winding through its centre flanked by pretty houses and
crossed by a series of small, pedestrian bridges. This area of
Holland retains many more of the traditional style windmill than
we had seen in the north, with a number now being used as unusual
but appealing houses.
At nearby Kinder Dijk nineteen large mills, used originally to
pump water out of the low-lying surrounding fields, are spread
for a mile or so alongside a waterway. Although these days the
water level is controlled by modern pumping equipment the mills
are maintained in working order. With their structures kept
freshly painted and some of their sails dressed in canvas this is
a spectacular sight, especially if any of them are turning when
Nearby Groot Ammers is home to a colony of storks. On the day we
visited the reserve it was not open to visitors, but we could see
a number of storks perched on their ungainly and rather untidy
nests and others soared in the sky overhead. A few miles away one
swooped down in front of us as we cycled along - amazing how
large they are close to!
Throughout our time in Holland we saw few others from the
UK, surprising because it is an ideal touring opportunity
for those seeking something just a little bit different! For
those that want to cycle as part of their holiday it is wonderful
- hills are virtually unknown, and cyclists are treated to
protected paths and tracks almost everywhere.
© GDS 2002