The Dutch Canals – Amsterdam to Vlissingen

Sue and I had an excellent couple of days exploring Amsterdam on foot and bike, including memorable visits to the Rijksmuseum and Tulip museum, and some great people watching while eating and drinking beside the canals. We then departed to take the Standing Mast Route (SMR) south from the city. The SMR, as its name indicates, allows a yacht to pass through the canal system without having to lower her mast. There are a series of lifting bridges and locks which allow one to do this.

After returning to the Nordseekanal we headed first west then south, aiming to spend the first night in Haarlem. We soon got used to the routine – most bridges are ‘on demand’, and when they see you come (or when you call them) the lights change to red and green, indicating that they have seen you and will open shortly. There is then typically a bell, the traffic is stopped, and the bridge opens. It is all done very efficiently. Some only open at certain times of day (particularly if they are part of a motorway or mainline railway) or shut during rush hour, so some degree of planning and waiting is required.

A typical lifting bridge

Haarlem was lovely. We arrived in the early evening, and managed to find a slot very near to the town centre. The beauty of Dutch towns is in some way directly related to the degree to which they suffered at the hands of the Luftwaffe – Haarlem and Leiden, in particular, were largely spared, like Amsterdam. The architecture is splendid – small brick construction, beautiful asymmetry in roof lines, neat gardens and flower pots everywhere, and cobbled streets and large and ornate old buildings.

Spellbinder parked in Haarlem, with lock and windmill behind
The Grote Kirk at Haarlem, and (below) typical architecture

After an evening stroll around beautiful Haarlem, we retired for the night and in the morning headed to Leiden, another stunningly beautiful town, in which again we were lucky enough to find a mooring right in the centre.

Beautiful Leiden – a small-scale Amsterdam

We strolled around the Botanic gardens, which were a sort of mini Kew, full of tropical plants in greenhouses and interesting garden designs. Leiden is a university and very multicultural town, and we heard much English spoken.

In these old towns there are often smaller, Victorian era bridges, which are beautifully designed

The next day we were lucky enough to meet up with Sue’s old friend Bijan, who lives in The Hague. He took us to his house, and we enjoyed a day on bikes, having lunch by the sea and enjoying The Hague’s cobbled streets and administrative buildings. It was fascinating and enjoyable – thank you Bijan. We learnt a great deal.

The Hague – in front of the Binnenhof (parliament buildings)

After two great days at Leiden we continued our journey south, stopping for the night just north of Dordrecht at a small marina at a place called Alblasserdam. This was nearest to the Kinderdijk, a UNESCO site renowned for its old windmills. We were able to hire a bike and had an enjoyable morning touring the old mills, which are beautifully aligned along a dyke. Some are thatched and inhabited.

Windmills, lilies, reflections and coots

Sue enjoying the sights

Sadly it was a still day, and the sails were not turning

Continuing our journey, we had a bridge to wait for in Dordrecht, so we found a small pontoon right in the centre to go and have an ice cream and explore.

Spellbinder moored below the Grote Kerk in Dordrecht, which was built in the Brabantine Gothic style

After Dordrecht we crossed over to Willemstad, a beautiful old fortified village, with two marinas which nestle in the marshes below the ramparts. We enjoyed a great walk around the latter, and the ambiance of the place, where we were to leave Spellbinder for a few days to head back to the UK to sup up the atmosphere of the Platinum Jubilee celebrations.

Willemstad marina, in the marshes – it was all quite East Anglian
The windmill dominating the marina

I returned to Rotterdam after the weekend to take Spellbinder down to Vlissingen, and on to Zeebrugge where I was to attend a rally. This part of the voyage took me via Middelburg, another beautiful town where I was able to moor in the middle of town. I had a very rainy day to get there though, passing through massive sea locks and bridges.

Passing through big locks in the rain…
…before arriving in beautiful Middelburg
Moored in the centre of town

In the morning I climbed the 205 steps of the Lange Jan (Long John) tower of the Koorkerk at Middelburg, which was good exercise and afforded great views of the countryside around, and of the remainder of the canal trip south. The town is interesting – it was partially destroyed in the war, but rebuilt using modern materials, but in a traditional style.

De Lange Jan tower...
…and the view south, to Vlissingen

The final bit of the journey was south to Vlissingen, or to give it its traditional British name, Flushing. To do this you join a ‘blue wave’ of yachts all going at the same time at predetermined intervals, enabling the bridges to have synchronised openings. In practice it was Spellbinder and Frenchman in a small boat, and we had to wait a while. On arrival I hired a bike again and explored Vlissingen – an industrial port, with a fishing and ship building industry, but with a beautiful old centre. I had heard of Flushing, like many British schoolchildren, because that is where the children ended up in Arthur Ransome’s We Didn’t Mean To Go To Sea.

Flowered streets in Vlissingen

And so ended Spellbinder’s Dutch adventures for the year. It has been hugely enjoyable. The Netherlands works – we saw nothing but integrated infrastructure, immaculate streets and gardens, and people who seem healthy, happy and anglophile. We didn’t see it all, of course, but what we saw was fabulous. Next stop – Normandy and Brittany, more familiar cruising grounds.

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