Time: 3h 5m
Average speed: 18.34 kph
Song of the day: Respectable Straat!
Click here to see today’s route.
We knew when we planned this journey that, having scheduled it for late summer, the weather could possibly be variable. Breda welcomed us with open arms and then the heavens opened too.
Undeterred we headed towards the Grote Markt, fashionably clad in the lightest rain protection wear we are prepared to carry in our panniers. Nobody sniggered, thankfully, at our amorphous green ponchos, though we giggled somewhat, knowing that we looked like a couple of discoloured Smurfs. We doffed them before entering the restaurant, in case we weren’t allowed in.
When we opened the curtains this morning the weather hadn’t changed much. Still, that’s cycle touring for you – one must cope with the prevailing conditions. So, after a good breakfast we headed to the cycle garage, handed over our one euro parking fee and headed out into light drizzle.
At home we go out regularly on the tandem (though never quite as regularly as we should), and we’re used to how it feels. When we start a tour, though, we’re carrying four panniers which, although packed as lightly as possible, still make an appreciable difference to the handling of the bike. The centre of gravity is much lower – hence the steering feels completely different, a little clumsier (or perhaps that’s just me) and harder to handle. So it takes a few miles to adjust to the way the bike moves.
It all felt smooth, though, after the service at John and Ruth Hargreaves’ excellent tandem shop in Gargrave. Soon the stoker was singing out the instructions from the rear of the tandem. These largely consisted of the next ‘node’ number, as The Netherlands boasts an extremely extensive network of cycle paths, much like those we have previously encountered in Flanders, where, in order to reach the destination, one need only have a list of the relevant node numbers. Sometimes the stoker included other pertinent information – our average speed, perhaps, or the distance we had already covered. Uniquely, here, she also told me just how far we were below sea level – as low as forty-one feet below, at one point.
At first the paths were suburban in nature, with occasional diversions past industrial sites where necessary. Then we moved into cultivated areas – market gardens, usually, sometimes adjacent to maize and wheat. Poplar trees protected the flat fields from the wind, which was gusty today. Looking up we saw some blue skies, some cumulus clouds and, intermittently, some dark grey nimbus. Twice this morning the heavens opened and we cycled through torrential rain. This never seemed to last too long, but we were pretty well soaked by each one. The cycle paths were very well maintained, impeccably signposted and well-used by other cyclists. There were few Lycra warriors though, as most people here seem to ride “sit up and beg” bikes, which are very practical for getting around town and for carrying shopping. They cycled in everyday clothing and wore waterproof jackets to cope with the downpours.
After crossing the Hollands Diep, south of Dordrecht, a most impressive body of water, we started to look out for our chosen lunch spot. We stopped at Zwijndrecht, across the Oude Maas from the more historic part of Dordrecht. The sun was out, and we enjoyed sitting outside and eating sandwiches while admiring the view over the water.
After lunch we wasted a little time trying to circumvent some roadworks which completely blocked the cycle path. Eventually succeeding, we crossed the Noord and arrived at the Hotel Kinderdijk. We paused briefly to offload our panniers before setting out to explore this remarkable place.
Kinderdijk has nineteen windmills, all close together, all built around 1738-40. Some are built of brick, some are thatched, all of them are beautiful but of course now redundant, though the area is a World Heritage site. Two of the windmills still operate, at least in ‘museum’ mode.
We managed to tick off a couple of our ‘icons of Dutch Culture’ in one go:
It was a fascinating visit, more impressive and extensive even than we had expected. We returned to our hotel where, from the bedroom window, we can see most of the windmills – what a fantastic view:
Tomorrow we head North East to Utrecht, upping the mileage slightly. Cycling in this direction should mean that we benefit from a tailwind all day. We shall see…!