Monday, 17 May 2010

Into Holland

We had never intended to go through Holland, but from Brugge I looked at the map and realised that the border was hardly any distance away.  Some of the areas in the Rhine Delta, in Zeeland province, sounded like they were worth seeing in a low-key sort of way, so we decided to take this opportunity.

Into Holland - the islands and waterways of Zeeland province

It drizzled as we left Brugge and headed north-east, back past Damme again and on ever-smaller tree-lined roads across the endless flatness that looked so much like the English fens.  At one sleepy village we rounded a corner and found ourselves in Holland.

The drizzle turned to rain as we took the larger road that led to the tunnel under the Westerschelde waterway.  When we saw the price of over €7 for our van we nearly took the last exit and turned back, but at the last moment we persisted and 6km later (yes, it was some tunnel) were driving in the rain towards the Dutch town of Middelburg, on the island of Walcheren.

We stopped in Middelburg for some shopping, vowing to come back tomorrow for a better look during the weekly Thursday market.  The town had some nice old streets, and a large central square dominated by an ornate stadhuis or town hall, but all in all reminded me of a British provincial town centre, all chain stores and rather bland, with few places selling food or other essentials.  It was, however, surrounded by an attractive ring of canals.

We were sure we would find a campsite somewhere out on the nearby Walcheren coast, and drove first to Veere.  This small port village has an illustrious past, when in the C14 to C16 it traded extensively with Scottish merchants, and two large stone houses are even now referred to as the ‘Scottish houses’.  Today it is a quaint, sleepy place with an oversupply of grand buildings, and lots of tea-rooms for the visitors.

The roads of northern Walcheren led us across flat farmland and through stands of woodland, until we reached the village of Oostkapelle, and found a “minicamping”, or basically a farm campsite.  It was a well equipped place, catering to a mix of caravans and tourers, and for €16.50 with electricity & free showers, it did us fine.

We spent Thursday 13th May – my (Rob’s) birthday – slowly exploring the local area.   We went first along the North Sea coast towards Westkapelle, where we found a stretch of road alongside the beach with a number of motorhomes and cars parked up.  We had a walk by the sea, and noted the place for later.

The village of Westkapelle was attractive, tucked in  a corner of the island behind high sea-dykes, and dominated by a lighthouse that looked like a church tower – in fact it was built on a mediaeval church tower, to which the light was added in the 19th century.    Most of the village had been rebuilt after the war, as Westkapelle had been the scene of an allied landing in 1944, when the dykes had been breached and much of Walcheren flooded.  A small monument atop the dyke recorded all this, alongside a WW2 Sherman tank.
Westkapelle from the sea dyke

As it was Ascension Day – hemelvaart in Dutch – Holland enjoyed a bank holiday.  Despite this, Middelburg’s weekly Thursday market was still on, and we spent much of the afternoon there.  It was a busy affair, and we came away with a chunk of Dutch cheese with cumin, a smoked sausage, some samphire and a green vegetable grown on the salt marshes called ‘lammsoren’. We also partook of the local “fast food” – fried fish in batter called “kibberling” and freshly preserved herring on bread.

To end the day we decided to watch the sunset from the dunes near Westkapelle, and camp wild there for the night – after all, we had seen other motorhomes and the site was quite ideal.   We had a nice meal with aperitifs and cava, and enjoyed the spectacular sunset over the sea – it was a lovely evening.  We noted with amusement that the other campers all drove off after sunset, but when no-one had appeared to clear us off by 10pm we reckoned everything would be OK for the night, and settled down.
Aperitifs on the beach - spot the dog!

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