Monday, 14 November 2016

Cycling between cities in the Netherlands - Part Six: Hook of Holland to Breda

Last year I took a trip to the Netherlands to cycle between, and visit, various towns and cities and enjoy some Dutch cycling infrastructure. I wrote five posts about the cycle trips I took between those places: Hook of Holland to Rotterdam, Rotterdam to Gouda via Delft, Gouda to Utrecht, Utrecht to Amsterdam and Amsterdam to Hook of Holland via The Hague. This year I decided to return to the country and so will continue a series of posts on my experience of cycling between the different cities I stayed at. Just like last year every mile of this journey was cycled on my Dutch bike, the same bike I use to get around London. I wore ordinary clothes, usually shorts or T shirt (although sometimes jeans if it was a bit chilly) and did not wear a cycling helmet, just as I don't in London. My holiday just happened to take place a few days after the UK voted to leave the EU and so I was still in shock and very annoyed about the result. I decided to keep news notifications on my phone active and as I was using my phone as a sat nav it seemed that every couple of hours I was  picking my phone out of the holder to read about the various fast paced developments that were occurring back home.

I arrived in the Netherlands very early on a Sunday morning having taken the overnight ferry from Harwich. The first 11km of my journey from Hook of Holland to Maasluis was exactly the same journey as the last time I was in the country so feel free to go back and read my experience of that section from last year. It was all very familiar until I approached Maassluis train station where instead of continuing onto Rotterdam, as I'd previously done, I turned off onto a short road which lead me to another ferry portAs I had planned this ride using the Fietserbond routeplanner it gave me several options and all of these involved taking at least one ferry. I was unsure of what kind of ferry to expect and what I discovered was similar to the Woolwich Ferry, except smaller. Nearly a dozen of us were on bikes (more than were using the ferry in motor vehicles) and so we quickly set off from the port for a short ride over to the other side of the water and into the town of Rozenburg where I posted my first tweet from the country


I continued East along a bidirectional cycle track, with a decent buffer zone from the road, watching the various sized ships making their way to and from the North Sea alongside. I then travelled south through a rather bland and ugly industrial area although I saw people of all ages also getting around by bike here. The cycle track crossed over the road a couple of times and had a couple of sets of railway level crossings and was, at some points, a long distance away from the road. I thought back to all the times I had cycled through Industrial areas in the UK, often some of the worst places to cycle, mixing it up with lorries, here I enjoyed a relaxing cycle ride with a smile on my face, barely an hour into my trip knowing I had many, many more hours of this to come. 



I turned off this cycle track and climbed up and over half a dozen railway lines, through a motorway junction, and over a wide body of water, all on dedicated cycling infrastructure without having to share space with any motor vehicles at all. It was a wonderful view from the top of this bridge and I could see cycling routes I would never get to ride on, as well as ones I would be riding on about a minute later. My journey continued along a  nice path through parkland and then an elevated route, where I nosily looked down into the back gardens of houses alongside. The houses all had direct access to the path by bicycle or on foot, of course. I travelled on a road for a short distance on an old tiled cycle track, which was being used not just by cyclists, before a brief food stop at a petrol filling station and another tiled cycle track down to the Oude Mass river. I cycled along the river watching the ships alongside and families cycling past, before turning inland and onto a bike path where dogs were restricted, the first time I'd seen a sign like this. This was a narrow cycle path, and very quiet with the only sound being cows munching on grass close by. I soon returned to a wider path, sharing with dogs and joggers again, before a brief section of cycle track alongside a road, even though the road seemed a very quiet one. I was then back onto another cycle track through some really lovely farmland which then took me onto my second ferry of the day



Again I had no idea of what kind of ferry to expect but as only a cycle track lead down to a very small jetty it was clear I would not be sharing this ferry journey with motor vehicles. Very soon a small boat appeared with only the captain on board with (presumably) his son anchoring it to the jetty. and after pointing on my phone to where I wanted to travel to and paying a euro and ten cents, I was off for my own private ten minute boat trip to Oud-Beijerland. The captain's son was actually steering the boat for most of the journey and a fine job he did too.



Once back on land I continued for the next 3km along a path through countryside and alongside the river. It was here that for the first time ever in the Netherlands I came across a Sustrans style barrier, which must be inconvenient for some, although just as as I would in the UK I used the well marked out and more convenient bypass to the right of the barrier rather than negotiate the barriers themselves. I needed to head away from this path to get to the service road along the N217 road and so travelled along the main road through the village of Goidschalxoord, although this was a stark reminder that as someone who grew up in a rural village in North Wales, that main roads through villages in the Netherlands are designed very differently to how they are in the UK. 



Once I reached the N217 I cycled along the service road alongside, but was joined by no other vehicles on it. The service road soon ended and turned into a cycle track as it passed over the A29 motorway, just as the rain started. I took shelter from the rain in a cycle shelter of a very large bus station; it seemed odd to have a large bus station in such a rural area next to a motorway with park and ride only being available for those parking their bicycles. Once the rain had eased I continued along the deserted service road for another 5km to the town of Maasdam where I briefly stopped to admire some tree fiets before my journey continued on a bidirectional cycle track to the village of 's-Gravendeel a few kilometres further on. At one point of this journey I passed under a railway bridge and was intrigued to see that the space allocated to the cycle track was exactly the same as the space allocated to the road alongside; I suspect that this was once a dual carriageway and half of the road space has, at some point, been reallocated to a cycle track but I could be completely wrong and the railway bridge was designed exactly like this.



I purposely diverted away from the main road at this point to cycle through the town of 's-Gravendeel to see what it was like. As with many towns the main road into it had cycle tracks but once into the town itself I was sharing the road, although with 30kph (18mph) speed limit and roads designed to slow cars down with pinch points for drivers, not cyclists. It was a very pretty town but it was so quiet with virtually no motor vehicles at all that at times it felt like I was cycling through a film set. I soon exited the town to rejoin the N217 and almost immediately descended into the Kiltunnel under the river Dordtsche Kil. 



Previous Tunnels I had cycled through in the Netherlands included two in Rotterdam, Maastunnel and Benelux, whilst both of these were major road links bicycles were treated to their own tunnel bore and so could pass under the water in silence. Here I did have my own protected lane but it was very noisy with cars speeding through alongside. After a long steep descent out of the tunnel I turned off to head South along a country road with painted cycle lanes on it. These cycle lanes soon ended though and the road just turned into a very British style country lane; I wasn't keen. Hopefully one day soon this road is given painted lanes, or even better, some space is taken from the fields alongside for a cycle track away from the road. I turned off this road and crossed over the wide A16 motorway to then cycle on a path alongside which eventually took me over the Moerdijk Bridge, satisfying me that I had used boats, tunnels and bridges to cross rivers so far today.



I continued on a cycle path alongside the motorway for a short while until I turned off to travel along various cycle tracks on roads very close to the motorway (although as is often the case in the Netherlands it has huge noise barriers so I couldn't really hear it). For the last hour or so I had gradually been getting more and more hungry, having not eaten since the petrol station stop several hours earlier. I had passed close to some motorway service stations but had annoyingly been unable to access them via bicycle. I was absolutely starving as I entered the small village of Zevenbergschen Hoek and was desperately hoping to find a shop selling food when, completely unexpectedly, in the middle of the village was a small hut selling burgers and chips. The owner kindly cooked me a large burger with almost every possible combination on it and I sat outside on the little table eating it when suddenly the heavens opened and torrential, heavy rain pounded the streets forcing me inside where I engaged in conversations on Brexit with the owner and a local who popped by. From here it was a few miles cycle to the edge of Breda along roads with cycle tracks, roads with painted lanes and minor roads right alongside the motorway noise barriers.  It had been raining lightly for most of this section of the journey and started heavily raining again as I made my way over a wide, long bridge which carried me over the motorway and train tracks by Breda Prisenbeek station. I was now on the outskirts of the city and my journey to the centre was a damp one alongside the railway line and onto a bi-directional cycle track past NAC Breda football stadium to the centre of the City. 



It was great to be back in the Netherlands and truly remarkable to be able to cycle such a long distance along using a combination of cycle tracks, bicycle roads and roads filtered to carry only a small amount of motor traffic; a route so safe a child could cycle it.

Distance: Approx 80km / 50 miles
Time: Approx 7 hours
Photos taken: 650
Map of the route
Gallery:  63 photos here

An an analysis of this trip by Jitensha Oni:


Previous posts:

Part One - Hook of Holland to Rotterdam / Photo gallery of this journey
Part Two - Rotterdam to Gouda via Delft / Photo gallery of this journey
Part Three - Gouda to Utrecht / Photo gallery of this journey
Part Four - Utrecht to Amsterdam / Photo Gallery of this journey
Part Five - Amsterdam to Hook of Holland via The Hague / Photo gallery of this journey

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