The trouble with the Netherlands is that it’s so nether – so unerringly flat. In one of the most densely populated countries in Europe, there are wide open spaces, but they’re cultivated spaces, managed land. Polders are cute and pretty if you dash past them in a car, but even whizzing by on a bike they soon become monotonous.
The longer I live here the more I am homesick for rolling hills, like the Peak District with its boggy groughs.
It is real landscape; though it’s not high mountain wilderness, it’s easy to lose your bearings in the peaty groughs, get thrown off course by too much bog hopping or mist and snow. It’s not the most dangerous terrain I’ve been in not by a long way, but off the beaten track it’s rugged enough.
So this weekend I went in search of something more like home, some undulating land, some rolling hills.
It is hard to find, and it took a while and a certain mastery of the Dutch language to interpret the hiking guidebooks, but there are areas that, though not quite the same as the rolling hills back home, at least do undulate, get the legs moving and the heart pumping.
The Dutch dunes take a certain level of perseverance. Sure, you could walk right in off the beach but what good would that do? It would be like picking the icing off the cake and finding that the inside is made of fresh air. The best way is to save the beach for at least mid way.
Most walks start in forests full of gnarled oak trees interesting for a minute or two but soon monotony sets in. But just when you’re about to give up on the walk as a dull trek through some shrunken woodland you reach a point when the trees thin out and the sand takes charge. Trees and shrubs hug the ground and grasses wave in the inevitable breeze.
Turn a corner and you’ll find ponds where if you’re lucky birds fly overhead, and in summer insects buzz across the surface. And wherever you go there are bikes whirring past.
Off the paved bike baths, walking is more hard going, more like real hillwalking, and the paths following the rise and fall to the sea are reminiscent of soft afternoon snow in the Alps. It’s wild country on small scale, a secret natural landscape that at home I wouldn’t bother to explore. And all the more interesting for that.