The last ten days in the Netherlands were kind of a summary of what we had seen and experienced until then: Beautiful dune landscapes, long beaches, impressive dams and barriers, and the cutest little towns along the way. We had our energies restored during the break in Amsterdam and hiked an average of 25 kilometers a day, often close to 30. As it could be expected in November, we had to make use of our rain gear quite often and sometimes walked against the storm, but we were lucky to have pleasant sunny days in an equal number. Our time in the Netherlands ended at the Belgium border, where we had a dramatic change in landscape.
Day 200 of our hike saw us back in Katwijk, where we met a very special hiking companion. Rob Franssen, secretary of the Dutch hiking association Wandelnet and former board member of ERA (European Ramblers Association), joined us on our hike that day. He was sharing many impressive hiking experiences, a lot of useful advice, and freshly brewed coffee with us. We crossed a huge dune area, before we reached Den Haag, seat of the government of the Netherlands. The rain, which had held back almost the entire day, decided to pour down heavily just when we were arriving in the city, so our farewell picture came out a bit wet.
Den Haag is definitely worth a visit. In the afternoon of our arrival and while we were crossing the city the next day, we saw some of its beautiful buildings and places where history is made, but we will be back for more some day!
We moved on and soon reached the coast, where a pleasant path led us through the dunes from one beach resort to the next. We ended the day with a wonderful dinner with Hagay, a former workmate of José, based in the Netherlands.
On day 202, we had an easy hike, mostly on flat paths through the dunes and passing by a huge number of greenhouses – those Dutch tomatoes and cucumbers have to grow somewhere, after all! We arrived at Hoek van Holland in the early afternoon, so we still had time to observe the huge cargo ships leaving the port of Rotterdam, have lunch in a Chinese restaurant in the ferry terminal, and study the variety of European long distance paths leading through the town.
During the next three days, we were mostly walking through agricultural areas, along and over waterways (thanks to ferry services, bridges, and dams, which saved us a lot of kilometers!), and through picturesque towns, with their little canals running through the center or outside their fortifications, protecting them from the enemies in times past. When we walked at the open sea, dark and heavy clouds were often towering above us, making us calculate how quickly we would be able to grab our rain capes and throw them on. With some practice, it would take us about two minutes to get both of us covered. As quickly as the rainy clouds appeared, they went away again, making space for the sun to create wonderful light effects. It was at one of those sunny moments, after an especially heavy downpour, that we noticed a hiking group in front of us and managed, speeding up considerably, to catch up with them. They are a joyful group of four ladies, taking some days off every couple of weeks to hike together parts of the long distance trails. We enjoyed chatting with them, having a break together in a warm and dry café at the middle of the way, and crossing the Browersdam as a group, while facing extremely strong winds and some more rain. Our final picture shows well the happiness and energy of these ladies, no matter the weather!
Day 206 started with beautiful sunshine and with a good walk on the beach, what more could we ask for? We continued through a natural reserve in the dunes, with excellent cycle and walking ways, until we reached the first part of the Oosterscheldekering, a massive storm surge barrier, which is part of the Delta works, built to protect the Netherlands from floods for many years to come. Here, we had to make a decision: Our hotel was on the mainland, only 2 km away. We could just call it a day and retreat to our room, or we could walk five more kilometers on the barrier, take a bus back into town, and start at the same point again the next day. As we counted on the dark clouds to behave, we chose the second option.
The clouds did behave, and the bus really showed up at the bus stop in the middle of nowhere the evening before, so we had five kilometers less to walk on the following day. The weather had taken a turn for the better, and we could get some beautiful shots of the barrier, where we had a whole fenced off lane for ourselves, and enjoy the views from the other side of the bay. Close to Domburg, our destination on that day, we passed by a well-preserved medieval castle. If we only had been there on a weekend, we could have spent the night in the castle, which is used as a … youth hostel!
At the end of the day, we had a special visitor: Piet, an old friend of Moiken, had driven over 200 km to join us for a beer in Domburg!
When we left this nice beach resort the next day, we didn’t really have a beach feeling. The day started grey and cloudy, and soon rain came pouring down on us from all sides – thanks to the wind. We continued walking bravely along the coast, but when we reached the next village, we were more than happy to find an open café and enjoy some hot tea, while our gloves and jackets were drying on the heating. As the rain grew lighter, we left the café and climbed up a seawall we had planned to walk on. It didn’t take more than two minutes with the storm almost blowing us away to make us change our minds and come down again. Protected from the wind by the same seawall, we could go ahead in the direction of Vlissingen, the penultimate stop in the Netherlands. Fortunately, the wind became a bit weaker in the course of the day, so we could appreciate the view from the beautiful cliffs of that part of the North Sea coast.
If you notice something different in José’s face, here is the explanation: We were two days away from crossing the Belgium border and we expected to be stopped this time – there had been terrible attacks in France, and the terrorists were suspected to come from Belgium, so all borders were closed for security checks. With José’s wild beard, checks could be more thorough, so he decided to shave it off.
On our last day in the Netherlands, day 209 of our trip, the sun was shining bright as we hopped on the ferry to the other side of the estuary of the river Scheldt, which is a pretty good way to begin a hiking day. We were approaching the Dutch-Belgium border and once we reached it, we followed the old and new border lines for about 10 km, until we were in Sluis. This Dutch town with a Belgian soul is a little gem, surrounded by a perfectly preserved fortification, which we had to walk in its entirety, of course. It is also known for its first-class restaurants, but we tried not to get carried away and picked a simple and good place. Over a nice glass of wine, we could share our memories of the month we spent in the Netherlands as well as our expectations of the next country in our walk.