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May was out and we cast out clouts and sure enough summer came to northern Holland as we arrived in Gorredijk at the start of the Turf route. This is a network of small canals which were dug during the 19th century to transport the peat being dug in the area. We are among the largest boats that can navigate the Turf route and were met by a friendly bunch of Turfies who put us through the first lock, sold us a €15 permit and a €7 flag, presented us with a load of literature in a Turfroute bag and directed us to a nice mooring, all moorings are free on the Turf route. Now that summer was here, a new case of beer was called for so we located the local Aldi and traded in a case of 33cl empties for a new one of full ones, all for about €5! It's cheaper to drink beer here than water!
The next day saw us meandering very slowly along the canal, lots of turning footbridges which we had to work ourselves and a couple more locks before arriving at Hemrik where we even had electricity to plug in to. Lovely weather for cruising through this nice green countryside with lots more woodland than we had seen elswhere in Holland.
Amongst the literature we were presented with in Gorredijk was a notice telling us that the bridge in the centre of Oosterwolde was being replaced and air draft was limited to three metres which was too tight for us to risk so we decided to turn south again down towards Meppel and then travel north to rejoin the Turf route. We were told that this was known as the big Turf route. We arrived at Oldeberkoop where a sign directed us up a 1km long narrow dead end cut to a harbour which we were too big to enter so we had to reverse all the way back to the main canal where there was a mooring and then cycle in to the village. The next day we passed the last Turf route lock and suggested to the nice Turfie lady that they put a sign up warning that the Oldeberkoop harbour is limited to 15m length boats!
We crossed over the provincial border from Friesland into Overijssel and arrived at Ossenzjil, parking in a really nice harbour where we replaced a gas bottle and nearly bankrupted ourselves with the mooring fees. This was the entrance to the Weerribben National Park, and the largest area of wetland in Northern Europe, a heritage of the peat digging and now a water tourist playground. We cycled over to Oldemarkt for supplies then back through the park and the little village of Kalenberg (pictured top left above), full of narrow waterways, thatched cottages and boats of every description. We elected to miss out this navigation and took the canal towards Steenwijk, finding a nice quiet mooring bankside for a spot of painting and BBQ-ing.
We filled up with water at Steenwijk then cycled into town for provisions before cruising down to Giethoorn and mooring in the visitor harbour. Giethoorn must hold the title of the prettiest village in Holland, full of thatched cottages, tiny canals and little wooden bridges it is known as the "Green Venice". We cycled around and found it full of little pubs and restaurants so decided to eat out that evening. Unfortunately the weather changed and a thunderstorm threatened so we decided not to cycle but to walk in with a brolly. We selected an Italian restaurant and as we arrived the heavens opened but by the time we had eaten the storm had abated. We had good food and wine at this old Sicilian family business at a reasonable price and can heartily recommend Fratelli's.
Giethoorn was founded by refugees from the Mediterranean area in the year 1200 who found goat horns there from a previous catastrophic flood, hence the village name.
Our next destination was Vollenhove, (pronounced Follen-Hover), a village with a similar history where we visited the Tuin van Marxveld, the garden of a 16th century noble with a tree and gardens dating from that era. A sculpture of three fishermen overlooks the outer harbour who survived in the mid 18th century for 14 days on an ice flow in the Zuider Zee before being rescued by a Vollenhove boat.
You can see Harmonie moored in the harbour beyond the sculpture. As we moored up our stem just touched the bow rail (with peeling white paint) of the cruiser moored on the same pontoon. The Harbourmaster noticed a small piece of curly white paint stuck on our bow and called the cruisers owner who asked for €20 to repaint it! We paid him, grudgingly, and vowed to be more careful when mooring next to "Noddy" boats in future!
We sailed on through the Kadoelermeer and Zwartmeer into Zwartwater and up the Mepplerdiep to Meppel in the province of Drenthe where we bunkered and bought a new gas cylinder and deck paint, then through the Mepplersluis where the Harbourmaster welcomed us and directed us to a mooring behind an old clipper ship serving as a floating pancake restaurant. Unfortunately a barge being used for work on the bank restricted the space for us to get past and, as the mooring was in a dead end, we turned around and came past astern. I failed to notice a heavy iron hook hanging out over the stern of the clipper on a derrick which collided with our wheelhouse and then caught up underneath the wheelhouse roof overhang so we were stuck fast!! No damage done, we were eventually able to free it and managed to creep past without further incident.
Meppel is a lively town with a great Thursday market in the Kerkplien where you are serenaded with a recital on the Carillon while you shop. We bought fresh fish, a cooked chicken, fresh fruit, speciality bread, lots of licorice, cakes, humus, prawns in garlic mayo and olives before we had to stop boosting the local economy for lack of funding! Added to that our mooring was adjacent to the local Aldi so we stocked up large there as well.
Our guide book told us that at the working windmill on the harbour quayside, you could buy their own stoneground flour, however, we walked gaily in to discover it is now a private residence.
We moored up that night on the main canal and cycled into Assen (pronounced Arsen) about 3km up the old canal which now terminates in the centre at a sparkling new harbour with room to turn a 30 metre long ship but we decided to stay put where we were. As you can see the Assenites have a sense of humour when it comes to the name of their town! It has great shopping and a really good street market.
Assen is the provincial capital of Drenthe and the centre is mostly modern, having suffered much destruction in WW2. The region had a large Jewish population who were deported to death camps from just south of the city.
The Drents museum in Assen was featuring an exhibition of gold artifacts from Georgia dating from 550 BC which was fascinating but a further exhibition of photographs by Archil Kidodze of the Caucasus Mountains was equally impressive. The museum closes in mid August for a face lift which will take until next summer in case any readers are in the area and fancy a visit.
The countryside around Assen is very pretty and abounds with heath land, much like the New Forest in England. It also boasts many Megalith's, ancient burial sites consisting of huge stones forming a grave which were then covered with sand. These people lived some 5000 years ago and are known as the Beaker Folk, named after the pottery which was found here. Drents Museum has reconstructed the head of a woman found in one of these graves and you can also see the mummified remains of a sacrificial victim.
We decided to cycle out into the countryside to have a look at these megalith's of which there are over 50 in the area. This is without doubt some of the most picturesque countryside we have seen in Holland. Cycling across an area of heath land we came across some Highland Cattle. At least that is what we call them but this was decidedly the lowlands. The Celtic tribes lived in this area so maybe they brought these animals to the Scottish highlands? Winters here can be very severe so they would have needed hardy animals to withstand the climate.
We found our first megalith at a place called Gasteren Duinen where we were both bitten by horse flies, then lunch was taken in the nice little village of Anloo prior to returning through the Balloerveid, an area resembling a desert in places.
The next day was spent chilling out watching the Grand Prix and the England cricket team winning the ODI series against Australia by the skin of their teeth. That's us world 20/20 champions and we now seem to have the 50 over game sorted. As current holders of the Ashes I reckon our cricket team is in pretty good shape to defend the Ashes on Aussie turf later this year.
I believe the England soccer team of over rated overpaid pansies were knocked out of the world cup that day by Germany which was not unexpected!
Our next port of call was Appingedam where we berthed in a nice new harbour with its own little cafe and terrace right in the town centre opposite the church. The town is full of quaint buildings, none of them exactly vertical but its unique feature are the hanging kitchens which cantelever out over the canal.
We returned to Groningen and moored in the centre of the city on the Aa. The next day we met our friends Alistair Simpson, Pat Palmer and Pat's granddaughter Daasha off the train from Schiphol.
Groningen was much damaged by bombs at the end of WW2 so much of the city was rebuilt, however, there remain many interesting old buildings of which the Goudkantoor (gold depository), a 1635 renaissance building, and the 97 metre high St. Martin Tower dating from 1496 are two. The modernistic museum, built in 1994, was closed until December for renovation. They don't build them to last these days!
Into the Dokkumer Djip and through the lock at Dokkumer Nieuwe Zijlen where we moored up for lunch then on along the Dokkumer Grutdjip to Dokkum and Daasha gets her first lessons in steering Harmonie, a process that excites her so much, she announces it to the world on the ships intercom!
Dokkum is famous for the killing of the Anglo-Saxon missionary St. Boniface by pagan Frisians in 754. It is the most northerly Dutch city and a very pleasant place indeed where Alistair and myself settled down to some 'bird watching' over a few cleansing ales outside one of the many bars. We ate out at a dubious Indonesian restaurant that evening, having walked in through pouring rain which had cleared by the time we joined the 9am convoy next morning through the three Dokkum bridges for which they demanded a brugeld of €4.50. The daylight robbery continued through the two bridges at the very pretty village of Burdaard on the Dokkumer Le and, still in convoy, Leeuwarden demanded €6 for its bridges and kept us waiting while they had their lunch!
Here we met up again with Peter and Jan on Ebenhaezer and we managed to find a nice mooring right next to them on the banks of the gardens known as the Prinsentuin. We all trooped of to De Salon on the Niewestad and had a late lunch of wraps and tapas sitting on a bridge over the canal.
Our guests left us here and we walked them to the station to board a train to Amsterdam. That evening we enjoyed a BBQ on board Ebenhaezer and were entertained by a couple of copulating couples on the grassy bank alongside!
Leeuwarden is the provincial capital of Friesland and its claim to fame is that it was the home of Margaretha Gertrude Zelle, otherwise known as Mata Hari. She was executed by the French for spying during WW1 and a museum here features her life story.
On meeting Australians Vicki and Max Cooper on their barge Yavanna, Vicki announced that she had absolutely no interest in sport and she had married Max because he was similarly inclined so though I tried hard to wind them up over the latest England victories I failed miserably. As Australia has recently appointed a Welsh Pommie Tart as their Prime Minister, perhaps there has been a seed change in the Ozzie psyche in recent times?!
We left Sneek and headed across Sneekermeer and down the Alde Wei (presumably "old way"?) where there were lots of moorings but all full of boats. We eventually found one with only two other boats on it and soon discovered the reason why; the local farmer was spreading slurry! The next day we managed to find another mooring upwind then cycled into Joure for provisions. It was very hot so that apart from a brief cycle trip into Terherne the next two days were spent lazing on the foredeck under a parasol watching the constant procession of boats sailing past. Late one night the weather broke with a spectacular and violent thunder storm. Everything that wasn't tied down was lifted off the deck, flower tubs, chairs, satellite dish and even the heavy dinghy was lifted off the aft deck and deposited in the oggie. It is now firmly secured.
Off again down to Lemmer but it was full so we ended up on a lonely mooring on Grutte Brekken 20 metres offshore.
Back in Sneek we met up again with Koh and Rite, as predicted, and dined at the adjacent Chinese. We have yet to find a really good Chinese this trip but it was at least edible. We then cruised up to Grou and found a mooring on the Sitebourster Le about 6km from Grou. After dragging our bikes ashore, under an electric fence, across a field, over a stile and over two fiets ferries we arrived in Grou, a sort of Dutch Carmel with a 'yottie' touch and lots of up market shops with prices to match. On our return we noticed a horse with the markings of a Friesian cow. I promise you that this is not a fake picture and this animal is a genuine horsecow!
That night the weather deteriorated to blow from the south west force eight and we were moored on the north east corner of the lake receiving the full force of the wind and waves. We had no sleep with the movement of the ship and the slapping of water on the hull. The next morning the weather worsened if anything and we were pinned to the jetty until the afternoon when the wind dropped and we managed to get off and up the Kromme Le into calm water and a nice mooring.
We now reviewed our cruising plans for the rest of the summer. We had intended to stay here in Friesland until our friends the Hockeys arrived at the end of July, cruise with them from Sneek to Harlingen then potter about for a further two weeks before meeting up with Pete and Jan to travel south together. We had by now already visited most of the major Friesland towns and there were other places further south that we wanted to visit before returning to Belgium so we decided to change our plans, head south to Meppel to rendevous with the Hoks who can easily travel there by train from Schiphol and cruise with them to Haarlem via Elburg, Amersfoort, Weesp and Amsterdam. We would then return to Weesp to cruise down the Vecht to Utrecht then further south to navigate the Linge prior to returning to Belgium via the Wilhelminakanaal where we plan to arrive early September for a trip by car back to the UK.
We continued cruising up to Burgum then south through the lakes to Drachten and back through some very narrow waterways into Peanster Le. Here we encountered a big green hulled Tjalk with a full crew of about ten, all in blue shirts, under full sail and travelling at about 10 knots. Without slowing she overtook us as we came through the narrow channel into the Pikmar when a motor cruiser came round the corner on the wrong side of the channel. He managed to scrape between us but it was a close shave!
We then headed south west down the Prinses Margrietkanaal before turning off down through Langwarder and Skarster Rien to Tjeukemeer where we moored on a little island and BBQ'd. It was a lovely little mooring among the rushes with the one drawback of being adjacent to the motorway! There were Marrekrite moorings all round the island and we followed a path to complete a full circuit without finding any of the island population apart from the boatswain who had paddled ashore in an empty latrine bucket! (As we walked I kept reciting what I could remember of the Boatswain monologue which annoyed Sue and is much too rude for this web site)
Back in Meppel we reversed between lots of nervous noddy boats and through a narrow bridge to our mooring where we stayed for 3 days to await the Hockeys and experienced Donderdag Meppeldag Internationale Dag (Duitsland)?
The great day arrived and the German theme seemed to consist mainly of a five piece brass ensemble who played an eclectic range of music with some skill and panache but at the same time put on a slapstick performance that was meant to be funny but failed. The old chestnut about the German sense of humour appeared to ring true! There were five sound stages spread around the town where a variety of rock and blues bands performed songs from the Quo to Joe Cocker and we drank our way unsteadily around before collapsing into bed in the early hours.
The next morning, feeling a little liverish, the packed harbour all wanted to leave at the same time but we managed to get away by 9.30am. We had bunkered on the way in but still needed a visit to the fuel station for another gas bottle, then on down to Zwartsluis and into Zwartemeer, following the very pleasant waterway to Kampen and a long wait to get through the lock onto the big river Ijssel which we followed down to its end in the Ketelmeer. We were now back on the familiar territory of the Randmeren and stopped for the night on an island in the Drontermeer where we BBQ'd. Even though we were on an island, a man appeared on a boat and demanded a €12 mooring fee!
Our next port of call was Amersfoort where, after sailing up the river Eem, we arrived in time for the final bridges to close for tea, however, the nice Harbourmaster came down out of hours and opened both bridges where we snaffled the last spot in the harbour. For our reasonable mooring fee we also received a goodie bag with local information and even an Amersfoort pennant so we have quite a collection of flags flying from our mast now.
Amersfoort is a bit special and well worth the 18km journey up the river Eem. It is a completely unspoiled moated medieval city dating mostly from 1400 and criss crossed by lots of quaint little canals. It is also full of restaurants of every description and we found a splendid Spanish seafood one called Casa de Rosa where we consumed oysters, squid, scallops and king crab cooked to perfection. We should really have stayed longer here as there was much more to see but we had to get the Hoks to Haarlem by Wednesday so we left the next morning in convoy with the Fietsboot. This boat sails every day loaded with cyclists and stops at various places down stream terminating at Spankenburg then returning in the afternoon so you can plan a cycle route of whatever length you fancy then pick up the boat on its way back.
Our journey through what remained of the Randmeren was uneventful then it was out over the Markermeer to Muiden and up the river Vecht to Weesp where the flower arrangements deserved a prize. Here we found a place right in the centre of town tied up to the railings but with absolutely no mooring facilities we were still charged for the privilege.
Haarlem is Hollands eighth largest city. It became a city in 1245 at which time it was Hollands third largest and its residents drank an average of 2 litres of beer a day which was safer than drinking the water! Needless to say it became famous for its brewing industry, which required clean water collected from the nearby dunes, and its linen industry which polluted the brewers water, but its real expansion came in the 17th century as it became the centre of the Dutch printing and bulb growing industries. The present city is a mixture of old and new architecture with the modern representing a "carbuncle on a treasured face etc....". The skyline is dominated by the huge bulk of the Grote Kerk with its ornate watch tower but I preferred the equally ornate white one atop the Bakenesserkerk.
We visited the Frans Hals museum where they had an exhibition demonstrating the different connections between the historical life in the city at the time the paintings in the collection were made. Frans Hals was reckoned to be the first "modern" artist and lived from 1580 to 1666. The museum was created in 1913 from a group of alms houses of which there are many around the city.
Just around a bend in the river from our mooring was possibly the largest windmill in Holland, De Adriaan. It was destroyed by fire in 1932 and only rebuilt in 2002. Directly behind it is a huge dome which looks about the size of the Albert Hall in London. I asked a local what it was and was told it was "a prison but not for really bad criminals". Later one of the bridge keepers told me there are three other prisons in Holland to the same design.
We found a really good Thai restaurant in town which was followed by coffee and Armagnac in the Grote Markt for our last night with the Hockeys (their treat) who left the next morning by train to Schiphol and a flight back to Bristol while we stayed on for four more nights to further explore Haarlem and the hinterland.
When the harbour master came round originally for our mooring fees we only paid for four nights but stayed for six, however, he did not return again so we owed them two nights fees, feeling guilty as we sailed back down the Sparne to the ringvaart, south to Leiden, much of it familiar from when we were here in 2006 then turned up Korte Vvlietkanaal which changes its name about four times to Katwijk. This is where the Oude Rijn used to flow into the North Sea but, after floods in 1953, it was closed off with a flood barrier. The town used to have a bridge with an air draft of only 1.8 metres and barges were built specially to navigate this bridge known at Katwijkers with a collapsable wheelhouse and a horizontal steering wheel. Nowadays three huge trip boats sail regularly from the town which is a sort of Dutch Weymouth!
We visited the weekly tourist market, bought a flag from the local lifeboat men then retreated back to Harmonie in worsening weather. It rained all afternoon and all night but the next day was bright and sunny as we cruised down the Oude Rijn to Alphen where Harmonie was built and moored up on the canalside at the start of the Aarkanaal which heads north to the River Amstel.