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We left our beautiful mooring in the Ooler Plas on Tuesday September 13th and sailed northwards down the River Maas though two big locks for 7 hours to a sheltered mooring at Leuken. There was nothing much here except a large commercial recreation park beside a large lake in the Leukerheide, round which we cycled. Next morning we were off again, through another lock and stopping at a bunker boat for water (€5), we had our first serious wind and rain since we began. On down the river past Cuijk (pronounced "Kowk") to Mook (pronounced "Moke") where we turned sharply to port though a narrow cut with many kids in canoes loving every minute in the pouring rain!
We moored up in the Mookerplas with a nice view of a Dutch 'mountain', the Mookerheide, at least 50 meters high, only to be accosted by a student demanding a €15 mooring charge. He announced that it was free after the season ended in two days so we decided to stay a week and get our moneys worth! It was a lovely spot in a beautiful lake with a wooded island and within easy reach of the shops in Mook and loads of good restaurants in Plasmolen but there was no water or electicity supplied for our €15 per night!
We cycled into Cuijk, we could see the impressive twin spires of its cathedral across the fields from our mooring, one of Hollands oldest cities and of Roman origins. On the way we passed the "canoe kids", riding in what can only be described as cycle go-carts all joined together like a caterpillar, weaving from side to side of the road to loud shreiks of delight. They shouted to us in Dutch and we shouted back in Engels which they understood perfectly. As the Dutch say "who would want to speak Dutch" but we are trying to learn.
The local tourist office had no English publications but a computer shop guided us to the local internet cafe in the 'sticks' who were astonished we had found them. We visited the Commonwealth War Cemetery at Mook and were reminded that this was an area of heavy fighting during the second world war. We cycled into Nijmegen but it was closed. We cycled into Germany but it was closed so we went to Groesbeek, a lovely ride by cycle paths over the Mookerheide (Heide meaning "Heath") through glorious forest and into splended rolling countryside on the Dutch/German border. This was quite the best scenery we had seen in Holland.
Here, and in Belgium, you see many paddocks next to private houses with animals that can only be described as pets.
We see Llamas, Fallow Deer, Shetland ponies, Donkeys, Peacocks and Goats regularly in our travels.
Groesbeek was the starting point of operation Market Garden, immortalised in the film "A Bridge Too Far". It has a large Canadian war cemetery on a hill overlooking the battlefields and a museum devoted to depicting the political build up to the second world war, the susequent German invasion and how the Dutch reacted, the liberation by allied forces and the rebuilding after the war. It also has a memorial chapel to the many allied solders who died during the liberation. They had a large model of the surrounding landscape which you sat around for a detailed account of Operation Market Garden showing the troop movements and battles by highlighting areas of the model landscape. Fascinating stuff, especially when you realised that Harmonie was moored in what was "no mans land" for some weeks whilst Mook was totally flattened.
On then down river through two more big river locks where we were delayed for two hours due to problems with the lock so that we did not reach Den Bosch until 7-30pm. We were now off the River Maas and heading south on the Kanaal Henriettewaard-Engelen. We passed up through two locks and many lift up bridges to emerge at a quay, a stones throw from the middle of the city. Den Bosch is the locals name for s'Hertogenbosch which is a bit special. It has a huge ornate gothic cathedral, a triangular market square surrounded by medieval buildings, a mini canal system reminiscent of that in Brugge called the Binnendieze round which you can take a boat trip, lots of charming little pedestianised streets to walk around and loads of good restaurants and tavernes. On our arrival we enjoyed some of the best ribs we had ever tasted whilst on Sues birthday (23rd September as if I would be allowed to forget) we enjoyed succulent steaks washed down with some excellent red Menatou-Salon, sitting outside in a street full of restaurants round the corner from the post office. Its the place to eat if you are ever there.
A legal requirement in Holland is to carry on board a copy of the waterways reglementen (regulations). These are contained in one of two tomes of nearly 1,700 pages all in Dutch. Nobody ever reads (or can't read) the regulations but you can decipher much of the mass of information like the various facilities along the way and, most importantly, the times the various bridges and locks are manned. We set off up the Zuid Willemsvaart Kanaal knowing that everything stopped at 2pm and aiming to get to Beek-en-Donk by then. We were delayed by the discovery of a FREE water point at Veghel but arrived at the final lift bridge in good time at 1-30pm. Called the keeper on the VHF but no response as he had gone home early so we were stuck there in the middle of nowhere next to a busy road until Monday morning. On Sunday we cycled back into Veghel to find it buzzing with all the shops open, loud music and fashion shows in the square and everyone having a good time. Not what we expected on a Sunday from the good Burghers of Veghel!
On Monday morning we rose early. The canal was supposed to re-open at 6am or so the Almanak told us. Maybe the keeper was joining in the festivities at Veghel the previous day but it was after 8am before I raised him on the VHF and he arrived to open the bridge. We continued south to just north of Helmond then turned right into the Wilheminakanaal towards Eindhoven. We had trouble with contacting the bridgekeepers on this canal. Nobody ever responded to our VHF calls but the bridges would eventually raise. We figured they must have CCTV cameras somewhere and operate the bridges remotely. At one very big bridge at Son en Breugel, when the bridge almost closed on top of us, we resorted to pushing a button located before the bridge which seemed to have the desired effect. We assumed the CCTV camera had failed?
Our objective was the town of Oirschot which is a very pretty place completely ruined on our arrival by the annual fun fair taking over the town centre. We cycled north from Oirschot, through the Kampina Naturmonumenten, an area left completly wild which reminded me of the heathland in Dorset around Wareham. It was one of the few cold days in September and on the way back it began to rain, however, the next day was fine again so we retraced our steps through all those bridges and continued up the Zuid Willemsvaart Kanaal to Weert where we arrived after dark. We had decided not to get stuck in Holland for another weekend. A huge fair was in progress in Weert and there was hardly a street or square that was not taken up with a ride or sideshow. We wondered around the fair, had a Chinese meal and set course for Belgium early the next morning, Thursday 29th September. It had been a wonderful Indian summer in Holland.