A 4-day Tandem Tour in South Holland

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This is our third tour in the Netherlands (see September 2007: Lille to The Hague via Gent and Maastricht and A 4-day cycle tour in North Holland for the others).

We planned a five day tour starting and finishing in The Hague. We planned to follow part of the Rhine Cycle Route which runs through the river delta and east towards Arnhem before going on to the source beyond Lake Constance.

As far as we could tell, the part of the route through the Netherlands isn't yet defined, so we selected some attractions from their website (Kinderdijk, the Kromme Rijn, Leerdam, Loevestein castle, Biesbosch, Dordrecht and Rotterdam) and then designed a circular route passing through most of them.

The weather forecast for our first day threatened a mighty wind and when the day dawned, there was indeed a gale, so we decided not to set off. We spent some of the day re-jigging the route to fit into four days. So we didn't get to the Kromme Rijn or Leerdam.

Some of the names of the Rhine and its branches in the Netherlands

At Arnhem the river is called the Waal, but as it flows westward it has different names. On passing Gorinchem: Boven Merwede (e on the map on the right), by the Biesbosch: Nieue Merwede (f), at Dordrecht : Beneden Merwede (j), at Kinderdijk: the Noord (k) and at Rotterdam: the Nieuwe Maas (n). It reaches the sea at the Hook of Holland. Note (d is called the Waal)

A southern loop called The Oude Mass (o on the map) runs round the triangular island of IJsselmonde which is bounded on the east by a channel called Noord (k). The river Lek (l flowing from the top right on the map) joins the Noord at Kinderdijk.

The map also shows other islands and land areas: 11) Part of province of South Holland; 7) The island of Dordrecht; 8) The National Park of Biesbosch. 9) IJsselmonde

Day 1: 25th September: The Hague to Kinderdijk via Delft and Rotterdam

We started just before 9:30 am and travelled south through the Hague via Rijswijk on cycle route LF11. We found good cycle tracks on the footway and the signalled cycle crossings are always taken away from the junction on the side roads. They always allocate plenty of space at junctions so that it is possible to do that. We arrived in Delft at 10:30 where we stopped for a warm up inside a coffee shop. Nearby is the Stadhuis (Town Hall): a very attractive 13th century renaissance building covered in red shutters – the facade is divided into rectangles containing windows and decorations. At the other end of the big square is the New Church (Nieuwe Kerk): a church with a high tower. Children were roller skating between the two.

Rotterdam. We followed a canal most of the way from Delft to Rotterdam. Then we entered streets with older houses, good cycle tracks inside parking or sometimes on an access road. We were astonished to see several fietshangars (secure bike parking sheds that hold 5 bikes and take the space of a single parked car) in the same road.

We rode over river Nieuwe Maas on the Erasmus bridge which is wide enough to allow for a good footway, a cycleway and a vehicle carriageway on each side with trams in the middle. The Erasmus is an asymmetrical bridge with a big pylon towards the southern end; the remaining wider span appears to be held up by cables. The southern end can be lifted to allow very tall ships to pass.

Too cold for eating out so we stopped for lunch in a pizza place. We then followed cycle route LF2/11 beside several more big roads with good cycle tracks and junctions, following the bank of the Nieuwe Maas until we reached the junction with the Lek and the Noord for the ferry to Kinderdijk.

The ferry was waiting, so almost immediately we were taken across the Noord and into the river Lek to the Kinderdijk mooring. Once moored, we rode quickly off to see the spectacular long line of windmills, for which Kinderdijk is famous.

After exploring the windmills, we went to find the nearby B and B Kiwok; you go down a drive to the side of the house; the room is off a courtyard at a lower level and the breakfast room is opposite. We walked down the road to find somewhere to eat. Decided against hotel so went to a pub bar. It was deserted and we were the only people eating there and we can't recall what we had to eat!

Day 2: 26th September: Kinderdijk to Gorinchem

At breakfast our landlady came to look at our planned route, which was close to the River Lek. She said that if we liked looking at cows and fields, then our route would be OK. She recommended that we ride further south, through villages. We took her advice and were delighted by the variety of little villages, farms, canals and old and new houses, many of them thatched.

The last stretch was across fields on top of a big dyke. We then joined a big road (with cycle tracks) – we should have been further east so as to pick upthe cycle route along the river Boven Merwede, but eventually arrived in the suburbs of Gorinchem. Finally after orienting ourselves with the maps on our phones, we managed to find the centre of Gorinchem: a small walled old town.

We had a good lunch in a 'boulangerie', then went to the tourist office where they found us one of the few remaining beds in B and B Gorinchem. A strange old house with ancient crumbling furniture. The owner pretends to live somewhere else, arranges to meet to let you in and leaves breakfast in the fridge. We had to pay €5 extra to leave the bike in a shed in the next street. This B and B was both good and bad! We had a huge room, a bed with black sheets and a cherub over the bed. The other two rooms filled at about 11pm, so it's the line of last resort. The toilet's not en suite. Priced over the top for what it was.

Slot Loevestein. We took a ferry across the river Boven Merwede to Slot Loevestein: a moated castle on the opposite shore. This trip was the 'school run' : scores of kids with bikes got off at Woudrichem (opposite Gorinchem on river Boven Merwede). We went on to the next stop up river. The castle is a very tall red brick building originating from 14th century surrounded by defensive ramparts and a moat. It's history includes wars against the Spanish, William of Orange and Napoleon. It formed part of the 'Waterline' - a defence against the above invaders. We arrived too close to closing time to spend time inside, but the person at the desk gave us a lovely little book about the castle. We walked round the ramparts and looked in the museum. Finally we took the ferry back to Gorinchem. Found "de Knijp", a very pleasantly situated canalside bar/restaurant for dinner, where we were almost the sole patrons and had a table with a great view.

Day 3:27th September: Gorinchem via Biesbosch to Dordrecht

We planned to take a route along the southern bank of the river Boven Merwede and then cross into the Biesbosch after Werkendam. The day started by taking the ferry to Woudrichem: a very small walled town almost totally surrounded by water.

We followed a cycle route out of the town and along the south bank of the Boven Merwede and on to Werkendem where we had coffee and bought some things for a picnic lunch. The recommended cycle route on LF12 into the Biesbosch enters via a ferry across a small bounding channel (at node 12) and then goes along the south side to the museum which is at the south west corner. After the museum it continues round the border to the another ferry over to the island of Dordrecht. This route didn't work as the first ferry wasn't running, except possibly at weekends. We had been warned and another faster cyclist who had passed us earlier came back and confirmed this problem. The same cyclist got ahead of us at each of the blockages so we were warned before we arrived. Instead we crossed into the Biesbosch over a bridge near to Werkenden at the northern side (node 22) and rode on route LF12 down the east side – again there was a blockage. Some extensive construction work seems to be taking place along the southern edge. We eventually found a route across to the south west corner and then arrived at the museum.

Biesbosch and the museum. The area round the museum is the 'real Biesbosch' – marshy, many willow trees, broken trees, reeds and water. We were very lucky to arrive at the museum just as a heavy rainstorm began; we sheltered in the picnic room where one can sit by a window overlooking the marshes, eat sandwiches and get warm drinks from a machine. The content of the museum is about life in the Biesbosch over the years – the main jobs were reed cutting, e.g. for chairs; and osier cutting to make hoops for barrels. Life here during WW2 involved hiding boats and hiding people including quite a few British airmen.

We took the ferry from the north western corner of the Biesbosch across the Nieuwe Merwede to the island of Dordrecht. (Crossing from node 02-43). Dordrecht is at the northern end of this island. We continued to follow the LF12 which runs south skirting the eastern shore of the Nieuwe Merwede, a lovely track passing through wild countryside (similar to Biesbosch). We eventually turned north onto the LF2/11 and rode right into the pedestrianised centre of Dordrecht.

Dordrecht. B and B Blom aan de Gracht We had booked this accommodation in advance as it's in what looks like the best spot in town in Grotekerksbuurt. We had a room in a flat across the street: self contained and a good breakfast left for us to do for ourselves. Cycle storage nearby is included.

As implied by the name of the street, a giant church stands at the end: the Grotekerk. We walked round the old pedestrian area which is another island at the north west corner beside the Oude Mass and separated from the rest of Dordrecht. Grotekerksbuurt runs close to the canal along the south western corner and then runs into Wijnstraat. At the top end (the north weetsrn extremity of the island) is the Groothoofspoort: a big gate. We chose to have a meal in a cafe on the waterfront with a view across the Oude Mass, watching enormous barges slowly passing. We wanted to visit the art gallery, well-known for it's collection of Dutch Masters, but it doesn't open until 11 am, so we will have to return.

Day 4: 28th September: Dordrecht via Schiedam to Den Haag

We took the ferry across the Oude Maas to IJsselmonde (a land mass with Rotterdam port on the northern shore). We then turned left and followed the LF12 along the north bank of the Oude Maas. Most of the way we were on a dyke with a polder on the right (mostly agricultural land) and reeds and willow trees on the left. We passed a gigantic golf course on the right. At one point we accidentally took a special bike tunnel to the other side of the Oude Mass, but were compensated by experiencing the impressive access facilities (lifts and escalators). When they built a new tunnel for the motorway they modified the old one for use by bikes and motor bikes.

The bike route LF12 continues past Hoogvliet and then follows quite close to a motorway as far as the big crossing of the Nieuwe Maas into Schiedam. As we approached the north coast we began to see docks, cranes etc. Unfortunately some road works prevented us from following the intended route and we had some scary moments trying to get back to it. We had wondered about the arrangements for crossing the river, but were delighted to find a dedicated bike tunnel, the Benelux Fietstunnel while the main motorway was in a separate tunnel. Users have a choice of escalator or lift to go up and down at both ends. The tunnel was custom built for cyclists with a pair of wide lanes and good lighting right through.

In Schiedam, the complex traffic management catered well for separation of bikes from other traffic through Schiedam and into Schiepluiden. After Vlaardingen we skirted the Isseerl, a little canal with boats at a higher level than the road.

The last stage of the trip was an easy and calm ride into the Hague via the Zuider Park and along Fahrenheitstraat to Anna and Greg's house.

Copyright: George Coulouris & Jean Dollimore, December 2012

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