Cycling Holland, Germany Denmark

On April the 9th, I arrived in Den Haag, Holland, to start my journey; the same journey taken by the Harris family in my book, All 4 Love. If you’d like to buy a copy of the book, contact me for more details. Here you can read about what happened on my journey. Before you start… Here’s a quick quiz…

1. What temperature do you think it was inside my tent in Holland?

a) – 17 Celsius b) 1.7 Celsius c) 17 Celsius.

2. What animals do you think I saw on my trip?

a) coypus (like big rats) b) camels (like a horse with humps) c) storks (like, er, storks)

3. Who did I meet on the trip?

a) a friend of the Queen b) a German popstar c) Elvis Presley

Day One

I arrived in Den Haag at 13.27 and it took me forever to find Kringloop where they sell second hand bikes. I finally found it and a woman called Ruth was very helpful. I bought a wonderful Koga Miyata for 150 euros.

koga miyata

Here it is outside an excellent bike shop just outside Den Haag. I fitted a front rack and bought a handlebar bag. Was this bike going to carry me and 26 kilos of stuff all the way to Esbjerg in Denmark?

Michael and Sylvie Oettli

After buying the bike and fixing it up, I pedalled out to the Dutch coast to meet up with my old juggling partner (Captain) Mickey and his wife Sylvie. Mickey and Sylvie looked after me for two nights, letting him sit in their warm van (it was 1.7 degrees outside!). After a beer (or was it two) I cycled up the coast to Wassenaar, to a campsite attached to a theme park.

Hilton Hotel

Here we see my bivouac. Very light, just 1.3 kilos, but also very small and not exactly waterproof. I also took a max/min thermometer with me to see what the temperature was inside and outside the bivouac. When it was time for bed, around midnight it was 1.7 degrees outside. But inside the tent it was, er, 1.7 degrees. Fortunately, I have a good sleeping bag. Unfortunately, it rained during the night…

Day Two

loaded bike

Dutch cycle lanes were amazing and I should have raced along them. Unfortunately Mickey ‘fixed’ my bike which left the front brake on all the time. I averaged about 8km per hour and old ladies raced past me. Was I really going to get to Esbjerg at this speed?

bulb fields

It was on day two that I saw my first bulb fields. They are an amazing site and I took loads of pictures. This one was near Nordwijk and gave me a good excuse to stop and take a picture – and have a rest from cycling. I covered a miserable 30km on day two making a grand total of just 45km. At this rate it would take two months to get to Esbjerg. Something would have to change…

Day Three

With my brakes fixed, I said auf Wiedersehen to Mickey and Sylvie and set off at 25km p/h – and promptly got lost in the dunes North of Zandvoort. Finally back on the right road – or rather cycle path – I set off through great countryside, trees blossoming on either side of the path, birds singing and plenty of sunshine. What more could a man ask for?

Through the lovely town of Bergen, I continued northwards towards Den Oever. This picture was taken on a straight road with an amazing tunnel of branches. As you can see, the sun was still up, throwing long shadows across the beautiful countryside, full of bulbfields, windmills and canals.

bowing trees

Bowing trees? The strength of the south-westerly winds can be clearly seen in this picture. Which way would the wind be blowing when I set off to cross the Afsluitdijk, 32 kilometres of very straight – and very flat cycle path?

dutch canal

Many people think of Holland as a featureless landscape. While there are no real hills, there are still plenty of amazing views. Thousands of canals criss-cross the country, a haven to thousands of wild birds and animals. To enlarge the picture (and all the others in the series) simply double click on the image.

Day Four

big dijk

I was lucky! The sunshine continued and the wind was blowing from the south west – helping to blow me across the Afsluitdijk at an average speed of 28 km p/h. Hats off to the Dutch engineers that produced the impressively large dijk (insert your own joke here) – and particularly for having the brains to put a cycle lane in next to the main road.

Harlingen

After the dijk, I headed north to the lovely town of Harlingen. As you can see the weather was wonderful and the great Dutch bike lanes continued. There was a slight click on the occasional turn of my left pedal but surely that wouldn’t stop me getting to Leeuwarden, would it?

No. At ten past four, not long after seeing this heron, I cruised into Leeuwarden. In the centre of town there was a sign indicating a campsite so off I pedalled…and pedalled…and pedalled… ten kilometres later I was not a happy bunny. The signs to the campsite continued – along a road (financed by the EU) along which bicycles could not travel and there was no cycle path! I tried to follow the road but ended up in an industrial estate. Grrrrrrrrr.

Day Five

Here are some of the students from Pieter Jelles school having fun with one of my exercises. After a quick lunch with the Headmaster, I set off again. Should I pedal up to the North coast to visit the Seehondencreche (seal hospital and orphanage) – as visited by Emily in the book, All 4 Love. This would be longer but would follow more of the North Sea Cycle Route and offer far more in the way of culture and natural beauty. The shorter route, due east towards Groningen would simply follow the main road. Which route should I take?

mural

I arrived in Groningen at about six o’clock. (If you had a bronchitic chest, sunburn, and very tired legs, would you have cycled an extra 150km to see a few sick and orphaned seals?). This is the mural painted on the wall of the room in the hostel I stayed in in Groningen.

Day Six

Pedestrian crossing in Holland

Ah, the joys of cycling in Holland! Here we see a cycle/pedestrian crossing, clearly marked – and the cars actually do stop! Can you read this, French Transport Minister? You probably can’t, but at least you can look at the pictures…

sign

Surely not far to go to Esbjerg now…. A sign not far outside Groningen. An interesting historical aside. Most people know that Adolf Hitler was an evil man but did you know that he was so evil that when he invaded Holland, he confiscated all their bikes? Nowadays, when the Dutch beat the Germans at football, they still chant, “We hebben het fiets terug!” meaning, “We got our bikes back!” Thanks Mickey for that one.

soused herring

Great food in Holland! Soused herring with raw onions on a bed of white bread – a snip at one euro eighty!

German canal

Into Germany and, a pleasant surprise, the great cycle lanes and canals continued. I went north and crossed the Elbe on a small ferry, ending up in the Ostfriesen town of Aurich and my first youth hostel on the trip.

Day Seven

German breakfast

What a breakfast! An amazing buffet spread – much better than some fancier hotels offer. Aurich also had a swimming pool where I showed off my sunburnt legs to a bunch of old ladies.

canal path

Heading west from Aurich, I followed the cyclepath next to a canal. Great weather and just the occasional cyclist to say ‘moin’ to. (Moin is a local word which seems to be like ‘hi’).

loaded bike with solar panel

Here is my bike loaded up. Note the solar panels hanging from the side of the bike. My helmet is also on the path. After I was knocked off my bike in 2003, I don’t leave home without it.

coypu

Common in the canals in North East Germany, I was able to photograph what I presumed was a ‘water rat’. My French friends told me it is a ‘ragondin’ and my dictionary tells me that is a ‘coypu’. Apparently, along with the better-known frogs’ legs and snails, they are eaten in France. Bon appetit!

So after the first week of cycling, I had covered 541 kilometres, less than half way to Esbjerg. With legs the colour of an Egyptian sunset, a sore backside, sore hands, weak chest and very tired legs, would I ever make it? I contemplated this over a delicious Doner Kebab near the station in Norderhams before going to the youth hostel and sleeping for ten hours.

Day Eight

Ravin

A gruelling 19 km ride up the Weser and a ferry ride over to Bremerhaven was the only cycling I did on day 8. There, I met Ravin, an Indian businessman, stunt bike rider, linguist extraordinare (13 languages and counting…) and good guy. After a quick lunch I locked up my bike and went in Ravin’s car down to Bremen (fortunately no wheelies on the way).

And it was a feast worth travelling for. Ravin’s wife, Shanta, is an excellent cook.

Day Nine

Bremen musicians

Before heading back to Bremerhaven, I spent a quick hour with Ravin, doing the tourist route in Bremen. Here I am with the Bremen Musicians – standing just where Emily stood in the book.

Path to Cuxhaven

After a final drink in Bremerhaven, I left Ravin and pedalled through Bremerhaven docks and finally along the coast in, as you can see, glorious sunshine. Once again, very impressive cycle paths so that I very rarely heard or saw cars so that I could cycle safely – a great place to take children for a cycling holiday.

Cuxhaven forest

Shortly before arriving in Cuxhaven, I went through a forest, one of very few on the tour. Hats off to the designers of the North Sea Cycle route who have an impressive variety of cycle paths to make the journey more interesting.

Day Ten

grass path

Setting off early – and in the rain, I left Cuxhaven and cycled South East, most of the time on great cycle tracks but in this picture we can see a two kilometre grass cyclepath – not easy to cross with 26 kilos of luggage.

Judith

At Krautsand, a little beach on the side of the Elbe, I met Judith, an old German friend that I knew from Ireland. After an ice cream, Kaffee und Küchen and a long walk, it was time to get back on the bike. Unfortunately, a bridge linking the Krautsand peninsula to the ferry was no longer there which meant I had to do an extra 15km – in the rain.

ferry

After taking the ferry across the Elbe, I stopped off in Glückstadt and had chicken and chips in an Imbiss – served by the unfriendliest woman on the tour so far. Back out in the rain, I set off for Elmshorn, 26 km away, but planning to stop at the first Bed and Breakfast on the way.

Day Eleven

Students

I cycled 3km down to KGSE school in Elmshorn where I was met by Oliver Carnehl and the other enthusiastic teachers – one of whom is a famous popstar – apparently…. The staff and students were very friendly if a little shy (the students) but seemed to enjoy the fun and games I asked them to do.

stork

Back through Glückstadt – where I resisted the temptation to have chicken – I cycled north through some lovely villages. On the top of long poles were stork nests and here is daddy looking for a tasty morsel to take back to the nest.

tank sign

On many German bridges there are signs indicating the speed at which tanks should travel over them. So if you’re driving your Panzer through Germany, make sure you respect those signs or I’m sure the Polizei will get you. This sign is just outside St Michalisdon -where I stopped for the night at a very quiet youth hostel.

 

Day Twelve

Day 12: A short (only 50km) ride up to Lunden where I met Ann-Kristen, a.k.a Miss Hokamp, English teacher at the local school. It was AK’s thesis on how she used ‘All 4 Love’ in her classroom that gave me the kick up the backside I needed to cycle the route. Here she is with her friends Beate and Andreas.

As you can see it was now warm enough to sit outside and have lunch. Here’s AK with friend.

 Day Thirteen

Back to work again. After a quick meeting with the enthusiastic head teacher, Mr Beuse (thanks for the books!) I met a younger group of students but a very talented one. They had plenty of questions for me and carried out the tasks with enthusiasm.

me and students

Here are AK’s class, the ones who had read All 4 Love and gave me a very friendly welcome. This picture was taken by Britta Hamann, a journalist who came to see what I was doing in Lunden.

 

Friedrichstadt, between Lunden and Husum. Very Dutch in its architecture and, despite being touristy, a lovely place. From there it was a short cycle up to Husum where I stayed in the youth hostel.

Day Fourteen

I headed out to Nordstrand before heading back to the mainland. I must have continued cycling west for quite a long time – as I got pretty close to ‘home’.

Here is an example of intelligent integrated transport. The children (and adults) cycle to the bus stop, and then the bus takes them to school/work. How much more sensible than ‘the school run’!

I cycled up to Niebüll and from there, took a train to the island of Sylt. (There is no cyclepath or road). Extendable straps keep the bicycle in place in a very spacious luggage van. Apparently it is full to capacity in summer. Are you reading this SNCF? British Rail? Probably not…

Sylt house

An amazing number of houses on Sylt are thatched – even the new ones. There are cars on the island despite an excellent bus service and wonderful cyclepaths. Why do people feel the need to drive everywhere?

An example of those excellent cyclepaths. Heading south, I pedalled down to Hornum where I stayed in the youth hostel. Shortly after arriving, a sea fog enveloped the island so there were no more pictures that day.

968 km cycled in two weeks. Not too far to the finishing line now and despite all the pains in various places, I was still enjoying myself.

Day Fifteen

Sylt is a wonderfully peaceful island with fantastic beaches and, as you can see, great cycle paths. On the right there’s another thatched roof. One thing I didn’t experience, but would like to, are the strand saunas – saunas on the beach. Sounds like fun!

Ellebogen

Here is the very north of Germany, a small peninsula called Ellebogen at the top of Sylt. The weather was fanstastic when I was there, a great end to a very pleasant ride through Germany. In fact I was enjoying the sunshine so much that I nearly missed the ferry and had to race back to List.

Sylt ferry

As you can see, I made it. I even had time for a quick paddle in the sea before I left! For 7.50 euros my bike and I were able to travel on the 50 minute journey from List to Havneby on the Danish island of Romo.

Just in case anyone thought I didn’t actually get there… I entered Denmark. Fantastic weather and within a couple of hundred metres from the ferry port…

a fantastic cycle path. They must pay someone to come out and clean it every morning – polish it, even. How can they keep their cyclepaths in such immaculate condition? Romo is a lovely island full of great houses – mostly thatched as well.

Ribe

From Romo, I cycled 12km across a dam to the mainland. From there I was fighting against the wind most of the way up to the beautiful town of Ribe. Here I am standing on a bridge over one of the big canals in the town.

ribe cathedral

A room with a view! This is the view I had from the room in the youth hostel – Ribe Cathedral. The old town was very well maintained and yet was a working town, not just full of tea shoppes and ye olde burgere barres. A total of 101km on day 15. Unsurprisingly, I slept very well that night, still, Esbjerg was only 30km away…

 

Day Sixteen

As you can see, everybody cycles in Denmark. What great streets! Unfortunately, I got a little lost coming out of Ribe and ended up heading west instead of north west.

camels

There are wild camels living in Denmark. I was lucky enough to get a picture of these shy creatures in marshland just outside Ribe.

Looking at the map, I noticed I was not far from the island of Mando, 14km off the coast of Denmark. The road to Mando is covered by the sea at high tide but is accessible at low tide. Should I try to get there? Are bears Catholic?

Ladies and gentlemen, Mando number 5. That slight ridge on the horizon is the dam protecting Mando from the North Sea. A population of 80 live there though life can’t be easy for them.

14km each way, that’s 28km of very long, very straight, very gravelly track. The weather was overcast but luckily the sea stayed away until I was back on the mainland.

[Insert your own witty comment here…] Do you remember in All 4 Love, Emily loves a Danish speciality called Romkugle? Well here they are! They are yummy! I bought them from a twelve year old girl in a bakery outside Esbjerg. Strangely, the bakery sold bread, cakes, biscuits and…. cigarettes.

Danish cycle path

Just in case you haven’t had enough cycle lanes. Here are some more, just outside Esbjerg. What a brilliant design. Smooth, straight, separated from the road by a line of trees – what more could a cyclist ask for? Well, he could ask for cyclepaths like this all over the world…

I made it! Esbjerg was a pleasant town with a nice big square. The Youth Hostel was wonderful with a great swimming pool next door.

bike trailer

A common sight around Denmark (and Holland and northern Germany), bikes with trailers – room for two children, which is fine when you’re cycling along cyclepaths but not a good idea when you’re sharing the road with steel boxes on wheels.

beer and book

I spent my last evening in Denmark in the company of Theodor Storm and a bottle of Tuborg. Thanks to them, I drifted off into a wonderful sleep.

Want to see more of my cycling adventures?

Col du Tourmalet

3 days in Western Pyrenees

South West France Coast cycle

Col du Portalet and Spain

Cycling West Coast of France