Living in a city known for it’s ultra modern architecture and tendency to pull down the old to make way for the new means that we sometimes forget there is a wealth of heritage and history in the Low Lands. It’s a common affliction for those of us living within the economic and industrial heart of the country and results in us forgetting we’re wearing blinders most of the time. The irony is the country is so small, and it’s pulsing heart even smaller, that I could literally get on a train and after 20 minutes I’d be in the middle of a nature reserve or an historic town or village. The sad fact is that I rarely get the chance to do this.
However, over this past summer I suddenly found myself holidaying at home again. Downside, no grand adventure off in some far flung exotic location, but on the upside, I finally got to tick a large number of things off of my to do list. The first of these was the balcony garden (the subject of my last two posts), which is still doing nicely and the radishes were delicious. The second was a huge downsizing of stuff which made our local second hand store very happy as we piled their back room high with old clothes and shoes and books I’ll never read again. Lastly, I finally got to see a couple of those interesting bits of the country you always mean to see but never get around to.
Our first foray was up to the forests around the city of Utrecht. We love to walk and this area has a wealth of short, medium and lengthy paths that take you through fields and woodland where, depending on the time of day, it alternates between high summer heat and autumnal shade at each bend. The forest also hides a few interesting structures. About halfway through our stroll we came across a 28 metre high tower built entirely of wood.
Inside was a staircase leading all the way to the top and a stern warning not to go up if it was too windy (they did not specify what too windy was exactly, but we guessed if the tower was swaying that would be a pretty good sign). The breeze was mild, so we acended the tower and after a bit of huffing and puffing, we reached the top to discover a magnificent view of the surrounding area. I felt a bit like Bilbo when he climbs the tree in Mirkwood. The trees around us were just under eye level but in the distance we could see the occasional church steeple and the taller towers of Utrecht in the distance.
A few days later we decided to go for a walk a little further afield. We packed our tent into the luggage on wheels (aka Twoflower, my Daihatsu Cuore) and headed north to the province of Drenthe. For years I have been wanting to visit the dolmens of Drenthe and this was my chance. Dolmens are so very intriguing. There are more than fifty of them in this country and they are found all over the world, with the greatest concentration of them being in Korea, of all places. They are burial sites, probably of important individuals or families, from pre-historic times and in Drenthe, they dot the landscape between wheat and barley fields without much more than a small plaque to tell you which number it is. After setting up our tent at our favourite kind of campsite (very basic, therefore not very crowded), we headed off in search of our first dolmen. Unfortunately, we got a little turned around and headed in the wrong direction, so no sightings on the first day (to compensate I started shouting ‘dolmen’ whenever I saw a large rock), but we did discover that the area was rife with outdoor adventure camps for kids. We also discovered that it is far more fun to walk along the mountain bike paths as these tend to be a litte more adventurous. With no mountains in this country, I have to take my thrills where I can get them.
We fared much better on day two. From the local dolmen tourist centre (where they have a lovely reconstruction of a pre-historic village) we decided to take a long circuitous route that tooks us through about 5 local villages and 11 dolmen sites. The first few dolmens were amazing to see, but I must admit that after dolmen number 5, you pretty much had the idea of dolmens. The walk, however, was lovely. Drenthe is a very peaceful and rural part of the country and we reveled in those local customs that are lost in city environs. People doffing caps to each other. Homemade jams and fruit left out on the roadside with a moneybox to pay for what you take; lazy bumblebees. All reminders that not everyone is part of the rat race.
The last stop on our local tourism trip was a little further away and to the south. It was also in our neighbour’s backyard this time. La Roche-en-Ardenne is a very cutesy, very touristy town about an hour east of Liege/Luik in Belgium and is on the Wallonian side of the line. A little way away from town there is a village called Maboge and it was here that we pitched our tent on a grassy field beside a stream ensconced between two walls of conifers. The first day was glorious and we lay about in the sun like a couple of cats. Now, the interesting thing about this neck of the woods, or rather its claim to fame, is that it was an important part of the Battle of Bulge during WWII, and La Roche commemorates this with a couple of Sherman tanks guarding its entrances. But this is not what interested me.
Another historic trait of this area is that it was also a well known route for the Romans two thousand years ago. At the time, the land was being farmed by Gauls and excavations in the area had discovered a Celtic fort built on a hilltop where the Gauls would seek sanctuary when the Romans came marching through. The fort has been reconstructed to a certain degree and while there are no dwellings, it is a rather impressive site as you reach the top of the path and leave the trees. One can very easily imagine the farmers of Gaul yelling insults at the Roman soldiers from behind the safety of their stone walls.
Unfortunately, the weather turned after our reccy to the fort and we were not able to go on any further walks in this area, but there’s always next time.
And thus ended our disjointed jaunt through the Low Lands. It must be said, however, that while the landscape was pleasant enough and it’s always great to get out into the green, it doesn’t hold a candle to Scotland 🙂