Tales From The Cycle Trails - Northern Holland
‘Holiday of a Lifetime’ is a rather hackneyed expression and one I never thought I would use. However – it is the only description that does justice to the Wheel2Wheel trip we did from Amsterdam around North Holland in September 2016.
There were 10 of us in the party – all retired but still youthful and regular cyclists who do a ride together each month. We chose September for two reasons – the School holidays are over and as most of us had worked in schools or colleges we knew all too well that the weather always takes a turn for the better once term has started!
We all live in the north of England and all preferred to use our own bikes on this venture so we explored the possibility of getting our own bikes to Amsterdam. This proved very simple – the DFDS Ferry from Newcastle sails to Ijmuiden which is only around 18 miles from the Amsterdam Centraal Station where we embarked on the MS Serena for our trip.
We left cars at the Ferry terminal at Newcastle. This is quite pricey at £12 per day but Hobson made the choices! We were classified as ‘Foot Passengers’ which reduced the cost – the Ferry accommodates bikes and you just have to get on with securing them with the ratchet straps provided.
The weather was amazing all week – clear sunny skies and warm breezes and dry so that sets the meteorological scene and will not be mentioned again!
Arriving in Ijmuiden at around 10:am we were soon off the ferry, through Customs and on our way.
Top Tip – when you come out of the port – Turn sharp left rather than following the traffic around the houses in Ijmuiden and keep the main waterway on your left all the way into Amsterdam.
We arrived at Pier 17 around 15:30 hours having explored Amsterdam – Top Tip – the Google Maps app on my Samsung phone was brilliant and took us right to the spot and in cycle mode, chose a route that threaded its way through lovely countryside and avoided traffic – apart from Amsterdam City Centre but then bikes are in the majority so even though it was teeming – it was easy riding.
MS Serena carries around 100 passengers and has enough hire bikes to cater for everyone – both e-bikes and conventional pedal cycles. All come equipped with a pannier bag and a handlebar bag so this is a really well thought-out operation.
The crew lift handle the bikes on and off the ship and this again is a very efficient operation and no need for anyone with their own bikes to worry about damage. We think it takes around 10 minutes to load or unload all the bikes.
We were welcomed aboard by the Skipper and her Hotel Manager who introduced the crew. The crew are split into Ships crew – the ones who handle the lines and get us from place to place and the ‘Hotel’ staff who cook, clean and provided excellent hospitality throughout our trip.
Key to this is the Tour Manager who was brilliant giving comprehensive briefings each evening and this combined with the excellent booklet of route maps that are given out, really did ensure a trouble-free week and excellent information about the land we were travelling through each day.
Holland is a beautiful country, completely devoted to cycling and with an infrastructure and network of cycle routes that we know, despite the best efforts of all manner of activist groups and the UK Government, can never be achieved in Britain.
Cycling lies deep within the psyche of the Dutch people – the attitude is so different and you really need to experience that to understand what I am saying.
The Trip really involved circumnavigating the Ijsselmeer and so we set off from Amsterdam and dined our way out towards Hoorn – from whence Cape Hoorn gets its name.
Sunday morning dawned bright and clear and after breakfast and the making of packed lunches, the first day of proper riding was Sunday and we cycled along the coast from Hoorn to Enkhuizen – just a fairly short hop to get us acclimatized of around 30 km.
Much of the architecture dates back to the 17th century and there is so much history to the area that it really does take some concentration to take it all in! There on her reserved berth was our ship – The Serena and the prospect of showers and changing was very welcome – did I mention that it was hot and sunny? Debrief of the day, followed by briefing for tomorrow, a cold beer in the bar and then dinner – which became our routine for the week
A wonderful day beginning with a sail across the Ijsselmeer to Lemmer then we had a circular trip with options on the routes giving us from 32 – 45Km depending on choice – again the route card was invaluable and with the notes we had taken in the briefing we were able to identify some of the key features and buildings along the way.
A fascinating ride of some 35 km through woods which provided some wonderful shade -did I mention the hot sun? We passed the Mokkebank which is a nature reserve and on past the Roode Klif – yes, fancy that – a cliff in Holland – at Stavoren where we met up again with the Serena and another lovely shower and a cold beer. (or two)
We then set off to leave the sheltered waters of the Ijsselmeer and head out through the Lock to the port of Oudeschild on the Island of Texel. We had been advised that this leg of the trip might have to be curtailed if the weather was bad but sailing over on glassy seas it was clear that the weather gods were on our side this week.
Texel is the biggest of the line of North Sea Islands that sit off the coast of Northern Holland. The full tour is around 70Km and there are various options – we set off to go around clockwise – with every good intention of doing the full circuit. Just as the Road to Hell is paved with good intentions – so the road round Texel can be sabotaged by the white sands on the beaches along the west coast (Rather like Scotland).
Well – we stopped for lunch – the sandwiches were delicious, we found a bit of shade and looked out at the clear blue North Sea waters – someone suggested a paddle which developed into a swim – well, it was very hot – and the Northern Half of the Island of
Texel is just going to have to wait another year. The ship – we were advised – would be leaving at 17:30 hrs and with tales of families being left stranded on Texel we made sure we weren’t going to be amongst that number and so we sailed back to the mainland arriving in the port of Den Helder in time for dinner.
That evening a local Folk Group came and entertained us all and some of us took it as an opportunity to develop International Relations by encouraging our fellow voyagers Swiss, Danes, Belgians and Germans to get involved in a bit of community singing and syncopated swaying to the music.
This, for me was the highlight of the tour as we cycled from Den Helder down to Alkmaar. The route led us through dunes with wonderful views of the North Sea to our right and the Polders and waterway systems to our left.
We had a choice to re-join Serena at the halfway point and journey down the Noordhollandsch Kanal but the cycling was so wonderful that we kept going and covered the 55km very comfortably patronising the odd café and just taking it all in.
Very different landscape today first sailing from Alkmaar – having visited the Cheese Market and wandered the streets of this lovely town – down to Wormerveer.
We then cycled through the Twiske recreational area and into Amsterdam – meeting up with the commuting traffic (cycling) and hopping onto one of the ferries to take us back across to Centraal Station and on to Pier 17 to meet up one final time with Serena.
This leg was so different to all we had done during the week becoming ever busier as we were drawn into the city – just a 35km ride today.
Breakfast, load up the bikes and bid fond farewells to our fellow passengers. It really was the trip of a lifetime and with one final ride awaiting us, we retraced our route back out to Ijmuiden to take the overnight ferry back to Newcastle.
We cannot sing the praises of Wheel2Wheel high enough or loud enough. They were efficient, friendly and helpful throughout the booking process and we felt they worked really hand in glove both with us and their tour partner, to provide us with a wonderful experience.
Think we’ll do the South Holland option next year!