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The Netherlands
Border route part 3: from Cadzand to Delfzijl

Cycling along the Dutch coast

After having followed the entire Dutch border with Germany(part 1) and Belgium(part 2) from Delfzijl, we cycle on from Cadzand along the Northsea border of the Netherlands. We won't meet any more border posts on this trip along the Dutch coast - the North Sea on our left determines the route from now on (together with the signs of the LF Coast Route), until we are back in Delfzijl and we have completed the whole trip along the edge of the Dutch mainland. The wind can be a formidable opponent in coastal areas, which is why we choose days with a favourable south-westerly wind direction to ride the stages. That saves an enormous amount of toil, judging by the grim faces of the oncoming cyclists without any support (a minority among all e-bikes).

Having passed the last border post at the Zwin nature reserve, we cycle in a northeasterly direction to Breskens, where the ferry to Vlissingen moors. To the right of the narrow row of dunes we don't see any real villages, but only large bungalow settlements, and thanks to the nice weather it's quite busy on the cycle path with tourists. Judging by their chatter, many Germans and Belgians are also celebrating holidays here. The popular Fritura 't Gemaal at the Roompot holiday park in Nieuwvliet is very busy. They sell excellent fish and chips.

The ferry from Breskens to Vlissingen is the only way for cyclists to cross from Zeeuws-Vlaanderen to Walcheren (apart from the (bicycle) bus through the Westerscheldetunnel, many kilometres more eastwards). The eye-catchers near the Vissershaven in the lively historical centre are the Oranjemolen, a 17th century windmill and a statue of admiral Michiel de Ruyter, the most famous son of the city. Along the boulevard and later through the narrow row of dunes we cycle west to Zoutelande (made famous by the Dutch pop group Bløf) and Westkapelle, where a British landing vehicle on the seafront refers to the Allied invasion in November 1944. To enable that invasion, the dyke (and thus largely the village) was bombed to pieces. As a consequence, Walcheren was flooded and the Germans had to retreat. After the reconstruction in the 1950s, Westkapelle looks remarkably uniform with its red tiled roofs.

Tourism reigns along the Zeeland dune coast; the flags of Landal and Roompot holiday parks fly everywhere. Between Domburg and the Oosterschelde barrier the area is dominated by sprawling bungalow complexes behind the dunes, with only a few scattered villages, like Domburg, one of the oldest seaside resorts in the Netherlands. After Domburg we pass a beautiful forest in the dunes. Because of the persistent strong sea breeze the oak trees here grow only a few metres high and have capriciously shaped, almost horizontal branches, like in an impressionistic Van Gogh.

Our knowledge of all the names of the former Zeeland islands and the various Delta Works is seriously lacking, and this trip is the ultimate opportunity to fill the gaps in our geographical knowledge. We learn that just before the Eastern Scheldt storm surge barrier after the Veerse Gatdam, we pass a small piece of North Beveland and that South Beveland is not only south of North Beveland, but also east of Walcheren. The almost 9 km long Eastern Scheldt storm surge barrier with the former work island of Neeltje Jans, which now houses the Eastern Scheldt visitor centre, is an impressive work of art, where the remarkably blue water flows between the pillars with great force. The slides in the dam, designed to stop the sea water during high winds from the west, are rarely lowered, not even thirty times since 1987.

On Schouwen-Duiveland we pedal through the green polderland around Burgh-Haamstede – along the coast there are only footpaths. This offers some variety for the sand and the dunes. Just before the once infamous youth holiday resort of Renesse we can cycle through the dunes along the beach again, but first we have to climb a bizarrely steep slope. The cycle- and footpath to the remarkably wide beach also runs steeply downwards – it doesn't seem very safe, with all those unexperienced cyclists from the many campsites and holiday parks here.

On the Brouwersdam along Lake Grevelingen many hundreds of motorhomes of all shapes and sizes are parked. We wonder where they all will stay in the evening, because according to the signs it is forbidden to spend the night here. We enter Goeree-Overvlakkee, but we don't realise until the next day that this we just left Zeeland and are now in Zuid-Holland, one of the densely populated Randstad provinces. The 50 metre high lighthouse points the way to Ouddorp, a strange village that seems to consist entirely of holiday homes. The beach is very beautiful, despite the industrial complexes on the Maasvlakte at the horizon, where we will cycle the next day.

After Ouddorp, the cycle path meanders through the Dunes of Goeree and Kwade hoek nature reserve, a strikingly green dune area that offers the illusion of infinite expanse. "Kwade Hoek' (Evil Corner) refers to the ships that got into trouble here in the past because of the dangerous currents and sandbanks. On our bikes we don't see much of the tidal flats there. The next island on our route is Voorne-Putten, which we reach via the Haringvliet Dam. Voorne-Putten and Goeree-Overvlakkee used to be one island, but a storm tide in 1216 broke through the dune coast and created a channel that grew into an estuary, the Haringvliet. The closure of the Haringvliet has had a major impact on nature, including in the Biesbosch; the tides and the salt water have disappeared.

Rockanje on Voorne-Putten is a busy town with motorists driving around, looking for a spot near the beach entrances. Rotterdam and the Randstad are approaching, and this can also be heard in the accent of the cashier in the supermarket, always a striking phenomenon. A few kilometres difference and you end up in a different world, even in the Netherlands. The cycle route through the small-scale Voornes Duin nature reserve, with its woods, meadows and dunes, is very varied, and immediately after the Brielse Strekdam we end up between the impressive industry and container ports of the Maasvlakte. The transition couldn't be more striking, although behind the artificial dune on the Second Maasvlakte near the Maasboulevard we also see an enormous beach, which is very popular today, thanks to the nice weather.

We cycle to the Antarctica harbour, from where the Fast Ferry takes us to Hoek van Holland. For only € 4.30 (bike free) we make an extensive tour of almost an hour through the Rotterdam harbour area, past huge container ships and impressive loading and unloading installations. We also get a free bottle of drinking water. This is Rotterdam promotion at its best. (You can also make the crossing from the Transferium Maasvlakte, which is a little bit faster.) Unfortunately, the Fast Ferry sails rather irregularly, so check the timetable first. A detour of around 40 km via the ferry Rozenburg-Maassluis is the nearest alternative to cross the Nieuwe Waterweg.

Between Hoek van Holland and Monster we admire the extensive greenhouse area of the Westland, right behind the dunes. A little later, just before Kijkduin we pass the Sand Motor DeltaDuin, an enormous artificial sandbank in the shape of a peninsula, constructed to protect the sand beaches between Hoek van Holland and Scheveningen. The lagoon that was created behind the sandbank is very popular with kite surfers.

We cycle through the dunes again, until the port of Scheveningen blocks our passage and we are forced inland on busy roads. It is hardly conceivable that even in the 17th century Scheveningen was still a fishing village only connected to The Hague by a dune path. Fishing vessels are still sailing into the port of Scheveningen, and there is no better place to eat fresh fish for a good price than at Simonis aan de Haven, an efficient semi-self-service restaurant -- a rare phenomenon in the Netherlands (there is also a Simonis snack bar on the corner in the same street). We order sole and swordfish, both are delicious.

We cycle along the Pier of Scheveningen, now a delapidated attraction, which attracted a few million visitors a year at the beginning of the sixties. The boulevard has been renovated here, with interesting statues from the museum Beelden aan Zee, which is situated completely underground behind the boulevard. In the distance we can see huge cruise ships anchored since the corona crisis. We pass the last houses of The Hague and enter the extensive dune areas of Meijendel and Berkheide.

More than 12 km further on we reach Katwijk, a seaside resort with a rather dreary looking boulevard. The village lies at the mouth of the Old Rhine, which once marked the border of the Roman Empire. This is where the Limes cycle route begins, which runs all the way to the Black Sea. Noordwijk aan Zee, a little further away, has a little more allure and can boast of a few large hotels. A little-known oasis for beach lovers is Langevelderslag, where you’ll find an endless beach and only a few cafés and snack bars at the entrance to the dune area. We have lunch here at Hoogies, where perhaps the best fries in the Netherlands are served – “all homemade". Or maybe we are just very hungry.

The wind still blows firmly at our backs and helps us up the steep small hills. We only make a short stop at the remains of tank barriers of the German Atlantic Wall from WWII. In record time we arrive in the Amsterdam beach colony of Zandvoort. At the race track, fast cars are driving their laps noisily. The Kennemer dunes are also very hilly, but the cycle route largely runs along the foot of the highest dunes, which reach a height of 45 metres. Unfortunately, we cannot cross the locks in the North Sea Canal at IJmuiden because the passage is closed due to a lengthy renovation. We have to make a detour via the ferry to Velzen, right along the vast Tata Steel Plant, better known as the Hoogovens (the cycle paths indicated there on the Open Cycle Map are not open to the public). The industrial environment, combined with the shabby buildings everywhere, is somewhat depressing, especially because it is also starting to rain lightly.

In Wijk aan Zee the hardships are over. Nothing seems to have changed here in fifty years, the extensive lawn in the middle of the village where beachgoers can park in summer is still there. And it gets even better when we enter the Noordhollands Duinreservaat, after paying € 1.80 entrance at the terminal (bank cards only, no cash). A few elderly e-bikers are in doubt as to whether they should pay, but they decide to play by the rules when we say that there are a lot of forest rangers around. Over a distance of more than 30 km we cycle through this vast area of dunes. Sometimes this reserve offers the sight of a truly unspoilt wilderness. Not far from Castricum we climb a dune with a panoramic view; only the Tata Steel plant on the horizon disrupts the illusion of endless nature.

The further north we come, the quieter and more rural it gets; Bergen aan Zee turns out to be a peaceful holiday home enclave. At 55.4 metres, the highest dune in the Netherlands is located in the Schoorl dunes, but we will not climb that sandy top on our route, because it lies a long way inland near the village of Schoorl. However, we do pass a spectacular drifting dune with almost white sand, which even threatens to overflow the cycle path. The flowering heather forms a nice contrast with all the glinstering dune sand in this area.

The Hondsbossche Seawall between Callantsoog and Petten no longer appears to exist. A few years ago, the dike that was built after the desastrous Sint-Elisabeth flood of 1421 and which was further strengthened over the centuries, was covered and widened with millions of cubic metres of sand from the sea. In this way, a new dune area with the aptly named Hondsbossche Duinen came into being. At Callantsoog we see extensive flower bulb fields, but these are only worthwhile in spring. They are then a less well known alternative for the popular bulb-growing area near Lisse.

In the lee of the narrow, high row of dunes, with the wind still in our backs, we reach record speeds and before we realize it we are in Den Helder, which is plagued by a huge traffic jam of tourists waiting for the ferry to the Wadden Sea island Texel. We do our shopping in the Visbuurt, a desolate neigbourhood you wouldn't expect to find in the Netherlands in 2020.

We cycle southwards until we reach the naval airfield De Kooy and pass the dike of the Amstelmeer, once constructed as a “trial dike" for the Afsluitdijk. The former island of Wieringen, an ice age relic, is still recognisable in the landscape – it is slightly undulating (up to 12 metres above sea level) and the landscape is more small-scale than the surrounding polder. In Den Oever we have to get on the bus, because the Afsluitdijk is not accessible to cyclists for the time being, due to an extensive reconstruction that will take years (until 2024 or longer). It is not that bad, because we have already conquered the always windy and monotuous Afsluitdijk when we cycled around the IJsselmeer a few years ago.

The cycle bus runs as far as Kornwerderzand, where a Kazemattenmuseum has been set up. On this spot, 225 Dutch soldiers managed to stop the advance of more than 17,000 Germans in May 1940 for some days. Friesland welcomes us with the place name sign Zurich, on which a joker has placed two dots on the U. The resemblance with the Swiss town does not hurt the Frisian village, because it is precisely because of this that Zurich attracts a lot of visitors, many of whom come from the Alpine country. A proposal to change the name to the Frisian name “Surch” was therefore rejected by the population.

Via the Wadden Sea dike it is only about ten kilometres to the lively fishing town of Harlingen, where the ferries to the Wadden islands of Terschelling and Vlieland leave. Most of the pedestrians on the quay are carrying suitcases and backpacks and there are plenty of restaurants and cafes for the many travellers. Grand Café Promenade, overlooking the passenger port, serves fine meals at a reasonable price. The centre of Harlingen is certainly worth a visit. Modest fisherman's cottages are interspersed with prominent town houses, suggesting a prosperous past. By the way, the locals don't speak much Frisian here, the Harlingers have always been more Holland oriented.

After Harlingen we have two more stages ahead of us, which we want to complete in the last weekend of October. The wind may be strong, but it blows from the not unfavourable southern corner, and it is certainly not cold. Immediately outside Harlingen begins the great emptiness behind the Wadden Sea dike, which seems ridiculously high when you take a look at the calmly murmuring Wadden Sea, but it can be quite dangerous here with storm winds from the northwest, when the sea level can rise a few meters or more. Occasionally there is a house or farm between the vast potato and sugar beet fields, but there are no villages or hamlets just behind the dike. We usually cycle on land conquered from the sea, between the old and the new sea dyke ("Sedijk"), where hardly any new settlements have been built.

In the old hamlet of Koehool we pass the statue of the Waadfisker. It commemorates the herring fishing, which was once practised here with traps from the dyke. From the Zeedijk we have a good view of the Wadden Islands, first Terschelling and later also Ameland and Schiermonnikoog.

Ferries left Zwarte Haan for Ameland and Terschelling until 1948, but with the construction of the Afsluitdijk the channel silted up and the ferry service to Ameland was moved to Holwerd, some kilometres to the east. Zwarte Haan is a starting point of the Jabikspaad, the pilgrimage route that eventually leads from Friesland to Santiago de Compostela in Spain, we read on an information board. This is probably due to the village of Sint Jacobiparochie, 6 km inland. For a long time we follow the sea dike, with the occasional short climb to enjoy the view over the Wadden Sea and the salt marshes, and then in Holwerd we return in the populated world. There we take the opportunity to go shopping at the local Coop. Tip: Check in advance where you want to stock up, because there are few supermarkets or restaurants along the route.

We take the shortest road to Wierum, which means that we don't have the dike on our left for a few kilometres. A welcome change in this rather monotuous landscape. Wierum has a beautiful little church, of which the tuff stone front still dates from the 12th century. Once the church stood in the middle of the village, but in this area the sea has gained a lot of ground over the centuries. Next to the church is a monument to 22 fishermen, who died in a blizzard in 1893.

Moddergat also has a monument to drowned fishermen in the dike slope. No fewer than 83 fishermen from the village lost their lives in a violent storm at sea in 1883. From the dike we have a panoramic view of the Wadden area and the picturesque village at the bottom of the dike, with its many fishermen's cottages. A few of them house Museum 't Fiskershúske, where you can see, among other things, how fishermen lived in the 19th century.

Via the dam along the Lauwersmeer we reach Lauwersoog, which is worth a break with quite a few restaurants and a fishing port. This is followed by a long stretch on a bad road through new nature (partly defence area) on new land, where the Lauwerszee once lay. We spend the night in Ulrum, a few kilometres from the route, and on a sunny Sunday morning we ride for hours eastwards through an infinitely empty landscape, sometimes on the sea side of the dike, with views of salt marshes full of birds, and then again on the land side, where we can look out over the bare fields. Here, too, the settlements are a long way inland.

The birds steal the show along the Wadden coast. We see huge swarms of starlings flying away terrified as we pass and we enjoy the flying skills of the hunting buzzards and falcons, who benefit from the thermals of the dyke. And then there are the flocks of sheep grazing the tens of kilometres long dyke and sometimes blocking the path. Time and time again we have to get off our bikes to open fences, and time and time again we drive over grids, constructed to keep the sheep at bay.

The last stretch to Delfzijl is not easy: first the endless industrial landscape of the Eemshaven, where there is not a living soul to be seen, and then we are forced by the strong wind to cycle in the lee of the dyke. This way we miss the panoramic views over the Dollard. About ten kilometres or so we follow a cycle path covered with the excrements of all the dike sheep. We are struggling to keep going against the wind. We reach the first blocks of flats in Delfzijl and clean our excrement-covered bicycles in a mud puddle before we dare to enter the train station. We have rounded the Netherlands, after more than 1600 surprising kilometres along the German border, the Belgian border and the coast.

Cycled route

Stage Km * Ascent
in m**
Cadzand - Breskens 17
Vlissingen - Ouddorp(camping site Zonnewende) 81
Ouddorp - Maasvlakte(Fastferry stop) 49
Hook of Holland - Scheveningen 22
Scheveningen - Egmond (Heiloo) 101
Heiloo - Den Oever 87
Kornwerderzand – Harlingen 14
Harlingen - Ulrum 85
Ulrum - Delfzijl 60
Total 516 km

* Includes detours for groceries, routes to train station, camping etc.

** Based on corrected GPS data (in our experience these are approx. 25% higher than those of a barometric altimeter)