If you have spent any time in the company of farmers, or perhaps even property developers, there will be sage words about the weather, mostly from the farmers of course. But then there will be a subject on more common ground, and even a conclusion that they both agree upon. “Buy land young man, buy land”, followed by a very small pause for drama, and then the punchline, “they have stopped making it”.
This is of course not true. We had a flat in Leith, just down the hill from Edinburgh. The sea is about half a mile from the door now, but it has not always been thus. I came across an old map of the area plainly showing the sea just in front of our door on the other side of the road. But then the Port Authority employed a couple of Dutch engineers, and now a hundred years later, there are hundreds of properties, a multi-million pound shopping centre and the building housing the government’s pen pushing and budget crunching servants. Given enough time we will not need a bridge to get to across to Fife.
We got to the end of the N302 across the Houtrbdijk Dam and two things happened. The sky parted to reveal a weak, warmth giving sun, which was a pleasure, and ‘Aida Snacks’. It served up one of the worst ‘meals’ we have ever had and was considerably less of a pleasure.
We pedaled into the outskirts of Lelystad and came across a huge crouching figure on the sea defences formed from steel pipes. I think we know enough about modern art to recognise the work of Antony Gormley but we did check the internet later. There it was in the last of the sun that we would have that day.
We entered Lelystand looking for something a little better to eat. The town was founded in 1967, yes indeed. It is laid out on an uninspiring grid and is 5 meters below sea level. It is a bit depressed. This is still Holland and so it had a very nice cafe with a very nice lady serving a terrifying selection of cakes. ” I have been in the area for many years and never known 10 days of fog, no one wants to buy anything”. We tried to cheer here up, “Its sunny 1k away”. I forgot to ask her what it is like to live below sea level.
We stayed in a swanky hotel and ate a swanky meal for some reason that I have now quite forgotten and parked our bikes in the swanky entrance for the night to lower the tone. Next morning we set out along the first road in search of a signpost to somewhere. Within a few meters perfectly nice Dutch people were sounding horns and waving fists from their cars. A perfectly good road but bicycles are banned. We tried again. Down through houses and gardens and then right and right again following the gps. A good wide road signed to where we were going and almost no traffic. We set off and within 30 seconds a car pulled up. A road that would make our top 5 safest bike roads in the world yet again, cycling forbidden.
Thanks goodness for the gps. We were reduced to making our way through a series of housing projects and finally across fields. There may be a better way, perhaps not. On the outskirts of Kampen we were joined by dozens of cyclists. Many were school children pulling stunts and showing off. None were on bikes that would look out of place in a photo from 1967. The bike park outside the school was full to overflowing.
This had been a prominent port, and civic pride and spare cash had combined to produce a beautiful little town. It is still prosperous and can charge market defying prices for coffee and cake.
We had not been doing much in the way of distance but what is the hurry. We had an easy ride in the afternoon to Hasselt. Another little gem of a town, we took a nice B&B. Canal side houses with the usual uncurtained rooms of simple sophistication. It hosts a tall ship gathering and has wonderful bars of character. We went into one and asked for the local beer and the second most local beer, both of which were terrific. The bar it turned out was hundreds of years old. Built on sand with no regard for planning regulations or building codes, it was slowly sinking. “Every ten years we have to put in a new floor to level things up a bit”, informed the owner. A huge man, if not actually drinking the profits he was certainly having a good go at eating them. The room perhaps less than 4 by 5 meters in dimension with the bar its self taking up at least a third. Behind the bar stood a huge tower of amplifiers, preamps and mixing systems. Just three meters away, at the far end huge speakers and lighting rig. We were in on a quiet night and for that we were most grateful.
The sun put in a milky appearance the next morning as we rode towards Coevorden. We went left and right along farm roads, making up the route from the gps. Two fellow cyclists were at the table next to us at lunch. “Go on into Germany, the accommodation and sausage are cheaper there”, and so we did.
An unremarkable night in Emlichheim and then on by first twist and then turn ( Twist is the next town – sorry, that made me laugh), we rode along the bank of the river Ems. In what was now November 25th, we were treated to perfect touring conditions. As I think I have said, I am now on much wider tyres ( 38mm if you want to know ) and we had the freedom to go along the rougher farm trails and woodland tracks. B&B in Dörpen ended the day.
We were in Germany but if you did not order sausage it was hard to tell the difference from the landscape of easy flat roads and dykes. We put in a good performance and got ourselves along early to our first major town, Oldenburg. We had an appointment with Dietmar, a retired Lutheran Minister and our first ‘Warmshowers‘ host in Europe. Before we realised how difficult it is to push heavy touring bikes around a packed Christmas market, we were committed. Wonderful, and so was our night as guests of Dietmar.
The riding the following day was through a prosperous countryside of horsey culture and commuter belt. Bremen is close, but it started to rain and most of the fun of late November touring was lost in stinging cold precipitation. We pulled into a wonderful bar and hotel at Strom, the Zur Octumbrücke, Spille Hotel. “There is of course a discount for rooms for cyclists” and with rain lashing against the window, once more we gave in without any remorse.
Blue sky the next morning and a simple ride in to Bremen through gardens and along rivers. Bremen is a stunning and picture perfect Hanseatic City with remarkable architecture. We failed to do it justice. Quickly out the other side, we were on rural roads through beautiful villages again. This was to be a long hard day. With our recent gps navigational success, we were now finding routes through forests. This was great until a section was blocked, requiring riding two sides of a big triangle to get around.
As is the way of such things, as the light faded, the surface went from bad to soft sand as we neared the seventy miles for the day mark. So close to Hamburg now, we were being picked up by Esther’s folks rather than face the city. This, as always had required a guesstimate of rendezvous point which now appeared to be a bit optimistic. Luckily, any idiot can find a bit extra on the last day of a ride, and so we did.
We ended our ride waiting in a Kebab restaurant in the middle of nowhere. Now, basic animal anatomy would make it quite plain that there is no part of any beast the shape of the slowly rotating specimen behind the counter. This should put you off. It is what in the business may be refered to as ‘concentrated recycled animal protein’, or CRAP for short. I had not eaten anything of the sort for many years. We had made it to 10,000 miles. With a celebratory beer, it tasted rather good.