We’re on the Turf Route. Such a contrast to where we were before. No open stretches of water, instead a narrow and shallow waterway, passing through small villages, with a surprising number of mildewed, abandoned boats along the way.
It’s usual for waterside houses to have a slide like this, so kids can propel themselves into the water. We wouldn’t do this in the UK, firstly because our waterways aren’t particularly clean, but also because there can be a plethora of submerged objects, from shopping trolleys to a dead Muntjac deer (just outside Lincoln last year) all capable of damaging you in one way or another. .
The Turf Route is the waterways which were dug to transport turf which was used as fuel. We call it peat. If you’ve ever been to The Hebrides you might have sat by a peat fire. Traditionally they’re never allowed to go out, just ‘banked down’ for the night and revived the next morning. The smoke has an unforgettable smell. The soil here is acidic, which explains the success of the ubiquitous hydrangeas in front gardens.
You could almost believe it’s a punishable offence to have a tatty front garden, litter-strewn streets or dirty windows. Their devotion to keeping the immediate environment pristine means Dutch towns and villages are pleasant places.
And there’s always someone cleaning their windows!
There are lots of bridges. The larger ones are operated by paid employees, all wearing Turf Route sweatshirts. Smaller bridges are labelled as ‘zelf-bediening’- do it yourself, but as it’s the school holidays just now, the bridges are usually operated by children. They work in pairs, one usually about 12 years old and supervising a younger, probably sibling. They open the bridge and wish you a pleasant journey, holding out the clog on a fishing line for your ‘voluntary’ payment of 50c. And it’s a pleasure to pay up. These children save boaters time and effort and by doing this task, they must feel more a part of their community and its economy.
Lots of the mooorings are free of charge even if they have facilities such as toilets and showers. No washing machine at Gorredijk, but there was a mangle. I’ve had some difficulties with the showers… one place charged 50c just to get into the building and a further 50c to switch the water on. Unfortunately, the cold tap was jammed, so no shower possible. At another place, only 50c to switch on the water, but it took all of the time allowed to become at all hot. Good job we’ve got a kettle and a flannel.
The NL continues to surprise and delight and contrast favourably with the UK. Every town and even village has a Bibliotheek – an official amenity, not run by volunteers. In Donderbroek, which wins the ‘biggest and best supermarket – Albert Hein, by the way – not only did the children’s section of the library have brightly coloured tiny chairs and tables, but also massive posters of small boys reading, on their own or with grandparents, displayed in the windows. ‘Make it look cool and they will do it!’
Some of these places might seem dull or ordinary – our standards have risen quite a bit. But if you start to dig below the surface a picture of really coherent communities emerges. Here is a bronze statue at the edge of Donderbroek
which commemorates young boys ringing the church bells to warn the inhabitants of approaching Excise Men. What were the villagers doing which had to be concealed from the Tax Man? The result was a string of arrests , a footpath closed to preserve Public Order and presumably because they had to have a scapegoat, Martien Lammers, who was the mother of one of the boys involved, was sent to jail for 17 years. In contrast, the village has recently planted nearby a ‘Tree of Brotherhood and Peace’ presumably referencing the two World Wars, and an enormous flower container with sides designed as seats, full of herbaceaous perennials.
After a week of motoring past lush green fields and along waterways fringed with trees and wild flowers, I was shocked to see yellow and scorched vegetation in a photo sent from the UK. There has been an unusual amount of rain here -according to the locals. And they say that in the last two years, Spring has been unusually cold, but temperatures of 30C occurred in September. Much of that rain seems to have been directly overhead in the last 48 hours. Hoping for better things tomorrow.