23 – 24 April 2018
In typical April weather – cool, cloudy, blustery – we drove the short distance from Bruges to the Netherlands and north through Zeeland, its Westernmost province. A third of it is water and much of what land there is, is below sea-level it’s low-lying fields criss-crossed by water confined in straight channels, ranging from narrow ditches to wide rivers.
We crossed into South Holland where we found we could no longer avoid using motorways to get to our destination. I don’t think we had really appreciated how densely populated Holland is or how much traffic would be on the roads. Just west of Rotterdam we stopped at the camper parking (Aire) on the marina at Alblasserdam, a small riverside town close to the Kinderdijk windmills.
The camper-park was full, packed to the seams with large tour groups of up to 15 motorhomes, pre-booked. We squeezed on to one of the 2 remaining spaces and went for a walk into town – quite unremarkable so we assumed the Kinderdijk windmills must be good.
When the rain let up next morning we set off, walking along the the banks of the river watching the steady stream of barges travelling up a down, and Kate taking a lot of interest in the interior design of the roadside houses. At a gap in the houses we could see inland – windmills, lots of them.
Following the footpath alongside waterways we came to the 19 windmills of Kinderdijk, marvels of their time that emptied the water from the Ablasserdam ‘polder’ in the 18th century allowing the land to be inhabited and cultivated. They are really lovely and appear to be maintained in full working condition. Some have model windmills in their gardens – traditionally for teaching the mill children how to best catch the wind.
At the Blokweer windmill – or polder mill as they are also called – we saw a traditional set-up with a thatched man-shed that Danny really fell for, and some livestock including a couple of friendly goats that reminded him of his small-holding days.
The sails of the windmill were turning fast and strong in the wind, providing plenty of power to turn the water wheel scooping water out of one channel and moving it to another one higher up, from where it is pumped into the river beyond the dyke.In this way the low-lying ground was drained and is kept from flooding. A film at the visitor centre educated us in the methods, and informed us that in the western Netherlands. 40% of the country is below sea level and would flood again if pumping stopped.
In this mill and another further down we saw how people used to live in the mills, the story of one family in particular being told in words and photos. The couple had 13 children only stopping when the mother was killed, aged 42, by the sails of the windmill. Cheery little story. Photos showed the children in the mill and some of their possessions were exhibited. The kitchen for a mill is in a small hut to one side – presumably to reduce the risk of fire damaging these precious constructions.
On the walk back we were treated to great crested grebe and terns fishing, and a marsh harrier hunting. On footpaths though the suburbs we came across some allotments with great views :
In the whole 7-mile stroll we gained only a whole metre in height – they mean it when they call it the Low Countries!
Our heads spinning with windmills (get it?) we then drove to Schiedam where we were intended to visit the tallest windmill and the Jenever museum but lack of parking put paid to that so we moved on to Gouda (pronounced How-da). We found the campsite completely full for the holiday period – we were, of course, completely unaware of this given we sometimes forget what day of the week it is! Instead we found a car park on the edge of town with campervan spaces and squeezed in there for an overnight stay.
Gouda’s cheese market is one day a week – obviously not our day – so we settled on a morning dander round the picturesque town centre with it’s canals, cheese sellers and coffee shops. We admired the old town hall (15th century) in the centre of the big square where the cheese market is held and which was already built when genius polymath & local lad Erasmus was growing up. Bright red & white shutters, ancient stonework, a memorial to the Jewish members of the population who died in the war and some information celebrating Erasmus jostled with adverts suggesting it as a wedding venue. We stood with others and watched the hall clock perform it’s half-hourly show with musical bells and puppets – not quite as impressive as the Trumpton clock for us (both of which are on YouTube) but undoubtedly entertaining for a pre-TV generation.
We visited the cheese museum in the old cheese weighing hall and tasted some of the Gouda cheese – Danny, who is slowly developing his cheese repertoire, approved the vintage 3-year old.
Then to a nice little coffee shop where we had to taste a stroopwaffel as this is where they were first made – there were once more that 100 shops in town making them for the locals. Two rounds of thin, biscuity waffle sandwiching a cinnamon caramel, we followed the local method and placed them on top of our coffee cups to warm and soften them slightly, making the caramel nice and oozy. Delicious. A good way to finish our visit.