Marion’s previous reports here > (part 1) (part 2) (part 3)
This final report contains many links to images, reports and video clips. It would be impossible to cover everything seen and experienced in just over 4 weeks without boring the pants off everyone. Speaking of which, I think the funniest incident occurred while riding through some woodland. Seeing a woman disappearing into the bushes on one side of the road I judiciously looked the other way; only to be confronted by the huge bare bottom of someone who obviously wasn’t expecting another cyclist to come along. I nearly cried laughing!
If you don’t have time or the inclination to follow any other links do enjoy the Vimeo film at the end.
After leaving Texel I cycle through more familiar areas of the Netherlands, the polders of Noord Holland and the dunes of the west coast. On the way I spent a night in Heemskerk Stayokay Hostel. 45 euros for dinner bed and breakfast in a castle!
I spent a day in the surprisingly large city of Haarlem and finally made my way down through the dunes near Egmond and Katwijk to Scheveningen on the outskirts of den Haag. I will always associate Egmond with Allium Globemaster, which was bred there and the dunes with their fascinating landscape.
The journey back on the ferry was smooth but arriving home was a shock to the system after getting accustomed to the cycle friendly nature of all the countries I visited!
Arriving at Harwich railway station the only lift to the platform was out of order and no running strip on the stairs. Several touring cyclists made it down onto the platform by helping carry each other’s bikes. On the train to Cambridge another cyclist had the mudguard smashed off his bike by an impatient woman barging through the train. From Cambridge to Nuneaton was a nightmare on the train with 3 ‘supposed’ cycle spaces. It turned out to be the Stansted Airport to Birmingham service of only 2 coaches. I would be prepared to pay for a cycle ticket if I knew I would get a space. Here, on Virgin Trains, which I frequently use, you must book a free space but the National Rail computer system is not up to counting how many have been booked so you can still find them all full and be ‘put off’ the train, as I have in late evening at Lancaster on route to Lichfield. When will we ever catch up?
I arrived home having cycled a very interesting and enjoyable 1780Km door to door and with the germ of an idea for next year, health and finances permitting, already forming in my head.
Everywhere I visited: France, Belgium, Germany and the Netherlands, utility cyclists were well provided for and part of everyday life rather than being seen as eccentrics or a nuisance on the roads. There was also provision for sport cycling or mountain biking but, to an outsider, there appears to be a much more emphasis on the bicycle as transport. On the negative side smoking, not drugs but normal cigarettes, is commonplace and very unpleasant on station platforms, in the street and outside all cafes; here permitted inside the yellow lines painted on a station platform.
While we, in Britain, often cite the Netherlands as cycle heaven all is not perfect. An increase in ‘anti-social cycling’ there was reported in the British cycling press in 2014 and, there are cycling deaths.
Also, although seemingly this causes few accidents, mofas/bromfiets (mopeds) are allowed on or in some cases must use cycle paths in all the countries visited. This may seem madness but you always hear or smell them approaching; check the details in this article by David Hembrow.
So, enough of all the bad points.
My friends always say, “Well it’s easy to ride in Holland or Belgium because it’s flat.” Although this is not strictly true and there can be ferocious headwinds directly off the North Sea, it is pleasanter for these reasons: I feel safer than here, there is an extensive linked up infrastructure making cycling a quick and convenient method of getting from A to B, signage and the knoopunte system are excellent, traffic signals do not favour motorists over cyclists and pedestrians.
With reference to traffic signals there is, almost always, mutual respect between motorists and cyclists and equal compliance with the signals. Often cyclists and pedestrians have different lights at the same junction and they do not necessarily change colour at the same time. Why should a cyclist ‘nip across’ a red light on a Toucan or other crossing because there is nothing coming? We would not expect a driver to do the same. Also be aware that a bell on your bike is a legal requirement.
With reference to journeys being quick; this is partly due to priorities where property entrances or minor roads join more major roads. Cyclists on paths running parallel to a more major road have the same right of way as a motorist on that road. Therefore you can ride, unlike here, without having to stop at each junction. Vehicles of all types and sizes turning in or out of minor roads wait if they would impede your travel or create a danger. In fact sometimes drivers get upset with ‘foreigners’ who can’t believe this and stop! No stop start journeys for the cyclist. Have a look at this short video to see how neither cars nor cyclists are held up. You will see the angry look from the one woman ‘cut up’ by a car and although in this clip there is an area for cars to wait the same applies where this does not exist but there are stop lines on each side of the cycle path.
Cycling facilities and driver attitude in all the countries I visited is better than here but to see more pictures of Dutch cycle infrastructure, yet another article by David Hembrow.
Although there is anecdotal evidence that fewer children are cycling to school in mainland Europe compare these articles/images; from Belgium, from the Netherlands, from the Guardian.
Also from Belgium and the Netherlands, streets where the car is the guest. Think Tamworth Street, Market Street, Bore Street route and compare; I’ve been on them in Castricum.
Finally be amazed by this long Vimeo presentation, a compilation of short clips from Street Fillms. It begins with some history of cycling in Amsterdam but persevere. I think I’ve seen practically all these situations and more on my travels, some completely illegal here but what fun. It is almost as if, the Dutch in particular, love and are at one with their bikes in a way we have lost here.