Coddiewomple: The dictionary definition is “To travel in a purposeful manner towards a vague destination” – I suppose that means we are definitely coddiewomplers!
Unable to travel further afield due to COVID restrictions, we decided to “travel in a purposeful manner” to get to know the Netherlands more thoroughly.
From Overloon we made our way towards a “vague destination” – in other words, somewhere interesting to stay.
The first place we meandered our way to was the unlikely named ‘t Zand, a small hamlet in North Holland.
We had arrived in the dark and had to phone up the owner of the site to get the code to plug into the keypad at the gate. It was so dark we almost ran over a low fence but eventually we found a good spot and plugged into the power.
The following morning we woke up to a magnificent site – a beautiful windmill, just metres away from where we had spent the night.
The elderly owner of the land came to see if we had settled in OK and told us that the windmill, which was originally built in 1631 in the neighbourhood of Leiden, had been purchased in 1865 by his grandfather and moved to ‘t Zand where was used as a flour mill until the 1920s.
It gradually fell into disrepair but in 2011 it was moved to its present position and restored by a team of volunteers.
Sadly because of Covid, we were unable to go inside this beautifully restored and historic building.
Our next destination was to Bergen which sounded lovely in the various on-line travel guides, as since about 1900, Bergen has been the home of many painters, writers and architects.
Unfortunately there seemed absolutely nowhere for a camper van to stop so we coddiewompled our way to Bergen aan Zee, which as the name suggests is a seaside village just down the road from Bergen.
I have to say, the long featureless beaches with the sea seemingly miles away in the distance wasn’t very appealing to us (we have been so spoilt by gorgeous beaches in other parts of the world) so we continued on.
That night we ended up in a campsite in the middle of nowhere on the grounds of what turned out to be a chicken farm.
It ended up as a very peaceful night although while we were out for a walk our tranquility was momentarily disturbed when the farmer’s young teenage daughter drove past – high up on a massive tractor. Probably off to see her friends for the evening, she was going flat out down the service road grinning from ear to ear and looking so pleased with herself!
The next day as we filled our water tank on the far side of the huge shed next to the campsite, there was an overwhelming smell of chicken poo and we realised this was no storage shed!
Longing for some crisp fresh air we decided to head for the sea once more and drove to the town of Middelharnis on the island of Goeree-Overflakkee in Southern Holland. How could it not be a great place with names like that?
To us the name Middelharnis was reminiscent of a location for the Lord of the Rings and Goeree-Overflakkee sounded like some sweet smelling pipe tobacco – so we were curious to see what the town was like.
Middelharnis was, as the name suggests, absolutely delightful. It became a bustling fishing village in the 15th Century. To this day you can still see the original warehouses and the wharf from 1675.
We were able to park right on the banks of the inlet that leads to the sea (a short bike ride away) and it was so lovely waking up to the sounds of ducks quacking each morning and a view of the boats moored just metres away.
We had some beautiful bike rides and walks through the town and enjoyed window shopping in the narrow laneway perched on top of an ancient dyke.
At the end of the Middelharnis Voorstraat (“Front Street”), we found the stunning old town hall which was designed in 1639.
Before heading back onto “the mainland” we decided to have a quick drive around the island (which is actually connected to the mainland by road bridges).
The weather was cold and grey but when we reached the beach at Ouddoorp we decided to go for a walk to see what has been described as an “extended and beautiful” beach.
Well, extended the beach may be (18 kilometres long!) but as we know, big is not necessarily beautiful.
This featureless beach was fringed by massive sand dunes and stretched out as far as the eye could see. The dull grey North Sea was lapping the shores in the middle distance – going for a swim would involve a hike to the water!
Despite not being very impressed with the beach we did like the island and particularly enjoyed Middelharnis.
On the way back to the mainland we saw some of the famous and impressive “Delta works” – a massive construction project built to protect the large area of land around the Rhine-Meuse-Scheldt delta from the sea. The works consist of dams, sluices, locks, dykes, levees, and storm surge barriers (that was the bit we saw).
We were hoping to stop in Middelburg, capital of the province of Zeeland and once one of the great trading cities of the VOC (Dutch East India Company).
The city has many beautiful historic buildings but sadly we were unable to explore as the campervan parking spots near the city centre were all taken.
So we changed our plans and decided to head for Roermond instead where once again, we stayed in a yacht marina – this time very close to the city and right on the wide basin of the Meuse river.
From there, it was easy to walk into the centre of the city which has many listed buildings and monuments and has been designated a conservation area.
It is also famous for being one of the largest and most successful designer outlets in Europe, making it a huge tourist attraction. Fortunately, because of Covid, there was only a tiny percentage of the usual thousands of visitors while we were there!
When you walk round the city it is hard to reconcile the many beautifully preserved ancient buildings with the fact that 90 per cent of them were damaged or destroyed by the time it was liberated from the Germans in 1945.
Not only that, but in 1995 the city experienced the strongest seismic event in Western Europe since 1756 – a magnitude 5.4 earthquake – at which time further heavy damage was inflicted, especially to the older buildings.
In the past, Roermond was occupied by the Spanish and the French and became part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in 1814.
In 1840 the city almost became part of Belgium and during World War 2 it was occupied by the Germans for five years – in fact the border with Germany is only minutes away by car.
With all these external influences it wasn’t really surprising when we heard locals speaking in a language that sounded French in accent but with words that could have been a mix between German and Dutch. Apparently they were speaking “Limburgish” or a “in between” dialect which combines standard Dutch with the Limburgish accent and some of its grammar. Which ever it was, it sounded extremely odd!
While we were in Roermond, we made a sneaky incursion over the German border on our e-bikes.
We cycled through absolutely gorgeous national park and farm land before finding ourselves safely back in the Netherlands later that evening.