Here we are, moored in Bolsward, a Friesan City famous for being the start and finish of the Cycling Elfstedentoch. We are comfortable in the shade of an avenue of Lime trees, listening to the hourly tunes (updated every year) from the carillon and hiding from the fierce sun.
These chaps were a welcome disturbance to our ‘on deck’ dinner last night.Shanty Choirs are ‘a thing’ here and this one progressed along the moorings, singing all the time and stopping by each boat, so we could enjoy the music. We heard them approaching from afar and it put me in mind of the Rotary Club’s ‘Santa Sleigh’ which comes down our street, blasting out Christmas Carols, on an evening each December The first time I ever heard them, I did wonder quite what was going on! But it goes to show how different places do slightly different things in a similar way.
We’re only here for a few weeks more, which was an incentive to visit the oldest working Planetarium in the world. It’s in Franeker, designed and built by Eise Elsinga, completed in 1731 and it’s still accurate. You’d imagine he must have been a scientist or mathematician to make such a thing but no – he was a Wool Comber by trade, intensely interested in and gifted at mathematics. He wrote his first maths book when he was twelve. He made the Planeterium to explain how the known universe worked and reassure his fellow citizens that the phenomenon of planetary alignement which was then visible, did not mean that the world was about to end. His inventivness, industry and commitment to a project still thrives in The NL. We’ve seen a working model of a fairground, complete with roundabouts and music made by a lorry driver in the 1940s, using old cigar tins and other rubbish. He loved fairgrounds but as a child was forbidden to visit them. I suppose he got his revenge on the grown ups! These days, arts and crafts, textiles and of course, restoring and maintaining old modes of tranport such as boats and tractors are all still popular and I expect many people send the long winter evenings doing this sort of thing instead of watching TV, or oiling their ice skates for the Elfstedentoch, seeing as the canals haven’t frozen enough for this race since the 1990s.
Another sort of music and restoration was happening in Harlingen. They are building a replica of the boat which Willem Barentzs set out in to find the North West Passage.
Sadly, he died on the return journey in 1597. He’s highly regarded as an Arctic explorer and navigator. The Barents Sea is named after him. A group of enthusiasts have been making their boat for over a year and last week they installed the mast. Of course, such an important stage in a boat’s creation deserves a celebration, so there were sea shanties and tomfoolery provided by this group of musicians.
They were believable as salty sea-dogs,, but I expect they all have normal jobs during the week: dentists, nursery nurses, shop keepers and so on.
I often wonder where writers get their inspiration from and this sports ground in Franeker, the home of the Friesian sport of ‘Keats’ put me in mind of Quidditch. I have no idea whether JKRowling sent any time in The NL, but this game suggests she might have done.
There are many, many cats here and one made us feel at home by snoozing on the mooring stage next to our boat. There really is nothing new under the sun.