Thursday September 27 to Monday October 1, 2018

After leaving the Amsterdam area I headed south with no fixed course but with a general destination of Zeeland. This ride took me through the “Green Heart” of the Netherlands, and into the vast delta formed where the distributaries of the Rhine meet the North Sea. I was especially interested in how the province of Zeeland has been shaped both by the flow of mighty rivers and the rise and fall of the sea.

While the Rhine’s branches have allowed easy trade access with much of Central Europe for centuries, the twin forces of river and sea have made this region particularly vulnerable to flooding.

The Netherlands’ most devastating recent flood occurred here – the North Sea Flood of 1953. The flood killed 1800 people and left 9% of the country’s farmland under water. In Zeeland alone scores of dikes were breached, and the long-term result was one of the most ambitious flood control projects anywhere in the world.

My ride followed a zig-zag course south to Utrecht, Rotterdam, and Middelburg, and through the provinces of Utrecht, South Holland, North Brabant and Zeeland.

The Rhine Canal just south of Utrecht

Just outside Utrecht I passed over the Rhine Canal, and I then followed the Lek River (a distributary of the Rhine) for several hours.

Village on north bank of River Lek

The bike path high up on the dike beside the river afforded a view of flat fields and orchards, a shocking distance down from the top of the dike; plus close-spaced villages facing each other across the busy waterway on which long, low freighters were carrying their cargoes in both directions. There weren’t many bridges – the river was too wide – but ferries were frequent.

This riverside route also took me to the UNESCO heritage site of Kinderdijk, where 19 huge windmills were kept busy for centuries pumping water out of polders.

Windmills at Kinderdijk

Acting on a tip from one of my cycling hosts that the ride into Rotterdam is a dreary mess of stoplights and industrial suburbia, I got on the Waterbus at Kinderdijk and took a swift passage right into the heart of the city, to a dock at the foot of the Erasmus Bridge.

Erasmusbrug and Rotterdam skyline

South side of Rotterdam harbour, viewed from Erasmusbrug

Going south and then west from Rotterdam, the countryside seemed on a different scale. Some of the farms seemed huge by Netherlands standards, reminding me of the midwestern US – except that in any direction you looked, you could see the laser-straight line of a dike above the fields.

The dikes, too, seemed higher and wider – and in some cases they are protected with a wide sloping pavement designed to dissipate the force of waves.

Dike with sloping and paved sides

Finally, the windmills too seemed bigger – for scale, here’s a shot of my bike against the base of one of the windmill towers.

At the base of a tower

But the landscape was not all given to farming and industry – far from it. I rode through extensive “nature territories”, some with the sulfurous stench of tidal flats, some looking like scenes from the American west with apparently wild herds of horses roaming a sandy, brushy landscape.

Even biking against a stiff breeze, I knew I would finally reach the North Sea coast.

Recreation is big business here, with camp grounds, resorts and beach-front restaurants sprinkled along my route.

But I was here primarily to see the Delta Works, a series of dams and storm surge barriers strung across the gaps between the islands of Zeeland. That will be the focus of the next journal entry.