As I’m eating a piece of mum’s Dutch apple pie that was leftover from my birthday celebrations, it’s time to look back on my journey from my home in Wolverhampton to my parents’ home in Warmenhuizen, Noord Holland.
On a sunny Sunday, my colleague Edward and I set off and headed for the motorways of the 18th century: the canal. It was the simplest way to get out of Wolverhampton without having to battle with traffic. Avoiding main roads, we also rode on quiet streets, pretty lanes, more canals and a spot of shared route along a busy dual carriageway (yuk). The last half mile we rode on the footpath along a dual carriageway – it may be naughty, but it beat the alternative.
We stayed at Bonehill Farm, an old school farmhouse Bed and Breakfast near Mickleover which provided a welcome rest after 48 miles of pedalling.
Monday we trundled down the hill on the footpath before joining the Mickleover Greenway (NCN54/68) – a disused railway into Derby. We travelled through Derby and Nottingham but thanks to the NCN we never cycled in traffic. Isn’t the National Cycle Network marvellous? The day was hard-going though, as the picture illustrates – they were 45 tough miles! (Pic by Edward – see more great ones here)
We stayed at the lovely Staunton Arms, where we were allowed to wheel our bikes through the pub into an enclosed courtyard for the night. Dinner was fantastic and the staff were brilliant – even running outside in the morning to take a picture of us before we set off!
Tuesday was the day of quiet lanes and disused railways. We bumped into a Sustrans maintenance team on the disused railway path into Lincoln, and met Sustrans Vince walking a roller racing kit up Steep Hill in Lincoln. There was tea, lunch and ice cream before we joined NCN route 1 which took us to The Limes Country House Hotel in Market Rasen. After our dinner in a nearby pub we saw bats over the fields next to the hotel, and many wild rabbits in the fields too. Another very satisfying 48 miles under our wheels.
Wednesday was a hilly day in the Lincolnshire Wolds, following route 1 on hilly lanes to and over the Humber Bridge. It was a quiet day, with few places along the route, so we stocked up before setting off and had lunch on a tree trunk. After that, the route took us along a field (no, really) before joining yet another hilly lane. We finished the day with fish and chips by the Humber, after which Edward got a train back to the midlands and I climbed the ramp onto my ferry to Rotterdam. My knees didn’t like the hills at all, so after dumping my stuff in my cabin I stationed myself in the on-board coffee shop to soothe my soul with tea (and the chatter of a retired Yorkshireman).
Thursday I met the owners of the other two bikes that were on the boat. We bumped into each other several times after getting off as we found our way to our destinations. I made my way through the industrial port area to a little ferry to Hoek van Holland, where I started following the brilliant LF1 (national route one, also the North Sea Cycle Route and Eurovelo 12). It goes right by the sea and is traffic-free. I must admit I didn’t really appreciate the fantastic views, because I had a very sore knee and strong head wind. My mum was waiting for me in Scheveningen – she got a train with her e-bike. We cycled further up LF 1 to stay with her uncle in Katwijk. Chinese takeaway, painkillers and lots of chat took the edge off this 30 mile day.
On Friday I woke up with the realisation that by the end of the day, I’d have cycled from Wolverhampton to Warmenhuizen. Crikey! I did pop 2 ibuprofen at breakfast though. My great-uncle led the way back to LF1 and off we went on our long, last day. I can tell you that after 50 miles, I’d had enough of brick roads going up and down pretty sand dunes no matter how pretty!
I originally planned to undertake this journey on my own, but I’m so glad I had Edward with me, and later mum! I was truly miserable on my own on the ferry – my knee was buggered, and I was tired and a bit seasick. Still, I cycled quite a distance over the days, with very little training and not an awful lot of special kit. I didn’t have a fancy bike (Dutch Tank and Brooks Saddle all the way). My fancy Vulpine merino jerseys were great though, as was my pair of normal Howies shorts. I did have to buy gloves though as my wrists were hurting too, so I did end up looking like a (shock horror) Cyclist. But that’s okay, because I had a story. I rode my bike 272 miles from the Midlands to The Netherlands. So there!
Using the National Cycle Network
The NCN is quite well signed, although it was very useful to have maps and Edwards GPS. It’s astonishing how far you can ride in peace along these routes – with little fear of being run over. Unfortunately, some parts of the network are not up to standard (like the stretch along a farm track in Lincolnshire) and others are in need of maintenance. It’s often up to the local authority to keep paths in good condition, but Sustrans do own some parts (particularly railway lines) and rely on their network of volunteer rangers and donations to maintain these (please consider a donation!).
Signing the Dutch way
Almost everywhere along traffic-free cycle routes in The Netherlands you’ll find white “mushrooms” with red lettering indicating distances to nearby destinations. More recently a system of ‘fietsknooppunten’ was introduced: each area has a number of numbered nodes and signage pointing towards these points. To navigate, you take a map and make a list of the nodes you need to pass along your route. This works really well for longer distances and leisure cyclists. Similarly, the LF routes are signed well – as long as you follow the route you hardly need your map (bring one, just in case eh?). It was refreshing to see a sign turned the wrong way here too, though!