Suzanne has long wanted to cycle on the Continent. Holland is civilized, cycle friendly, stuffed full of good restaurants and flat; so the choice of where to go was easy. Gelderland over on the East of Holland is not much visited by the British, which is puzzling, as the cycling is excellent. We hired two local Dutch cycles for the week, basing ourselves in LOCHEM.
We soon discovered that although we were reasonably cycle fit by UK standards, grannies with panniers full of shopping kept overtaking us, and small children too (two to a bike with the pillion sitting on the cycle rack)! By the end of the week as we got the hang of the more relaxed Dutch gearing, the grannies were at least puffing a bit as they continued to tear past us on their way to their fit, active ’90s. The area has a well-marked network of cycle tracks with excellent signage. Junctions are numbered and all route signs point towards the relevant junction number.
On larger roads, cyclists have their own lanes that they share with mopeds and mobility scooters, but not motorbikes. Some suburban streets are marked up as cycle streets with “cars as guests”. Drivers seem more patient than in Britain. All in all, your chances of being taken out by a 40 tonner are far lower than in the UK.
“Yes, yes,” you say, “but what about the button counting?”
In the area that we stayed, it was the custom for various princely estates to display their colours on the wooden shutters. The inner button counter in me was not sufficiently diverted from Grolsch* beer to collect the full set, but here are some to give a flavour:
I can confirm from original source material that Trebian’s Gnome Army uniforms are 100% accurate. Expect an Osprey to follow. This little fellow is just outside Holland’s largest Maze (which is very small and neat).
LOCHEM is the site of a lesser-known 43rd Wessex Division Memorial. Their main one is on Hill 112 at CAEN. I had not realised, or gone looking for, the connection to the Sherwood Foresters in St Mary’s church Bottesford, where I grew up
The Open Air Museum just to the north of ARNHEM is well worth a visit**. We drove along the RHENE, contemplating just how miserable a swim would have been on an autumn night. After an overnight stop in OTTERLO, site of the last large battle in Holland, we visited the Kröller-Müller sculpture park and its collection of bizarre and often baffling sculptures. General de Wet’s statue lives here on a sandy heath in the Hoge Veluwe National Park***.
On our way home, we stopped overnight in GORINGCHEM, another throat-clearing town that still has a medieval town plan and a Vauban style trace****.The picture below illustrates how low the earthen glacis is. It runs from the right of the gate across the base of the windmill. Missing are the willows or poplars that would have been planted on the glacis to stabilise it, then have been cut down to make gabions in an emergency. Sight lines have been eroded since the 18th century.
GORINGCHEM is slap in the middle of the ‘new’ Hollandse Waterlinie, an 85km long defensive area some 3-5km deep combining defensive works and planned inundations. In deference to Chris Ager and Airfix, I posed in front of a cannon. Concrete sniffing accomplished, we came home.
Hallo is the universal greeting. After that it gets difficult very quickly!
Asking politely “Spreekt U Engelsk?” usually elicited the response “a liddle bit,” followed by excellent English. The best response was in a seafront restaurant at the Hook of Holland: “Of course, I went to school.”
Advice is to speak English. German and French are less popular even though German is well understood on the eastern border. Several times people would come up to us to enquire if we were lost as we consulted our map, and we were always at pains to thank them.
Bizarrely, one local told us (in relatively halting English) that he was a retired German teacher. Bizarrely, because he had taken me for German initially, and I had asked him in German where the cycle route out of town was. He quickly worked out that I was not a native German speaker and flipped over to English out of politeness, even though his German was much easier to understand.
My attempts at speaking Dutch were met by bafflement and the encouraging cheerfulness that adults display when children are trying hard. I like the Dutch and plan to continue my assault on their beer and language in equal measure.
* to pronounce the ‘G‘ imagine a Scottish lo’CH‘ starting with a silent G and finishing with all the phlegm in your throat nicely cleared. The ‘sch‘ comes out as a long ‘sss‘. Pointing also works!
** ARNHEM was a bridge too far for us to fit in as well. The open air museum only qualifies as a concrete sniff by virtue of the memorial for refugees evacuated from the museum during the war. It is home to the National Airline Sick Bag Collection however. This is housed in the ceiling of a replica airline cabin. I really am not making this up – look, here’s a picture. Unmissable!
*** de Wet, one of the ones that trounced us in the Boer War. Moving swiftly on …
**** Pronounced gCHorCH’m by the locals. Have a cough drop after getting it right!