17. Final weeks in the Netherlands (Late August/September)

After weeks of unsettled weather it had finally calmed down and the temperatures soared to the mid 30’s.

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A walk and a beer in Vreeswijk.

We left Vreeswijk after once again reversing out of the port and headed to nearby Nieuwegein where we were pleased to find space on the quay by the shopping centre. This enabled us to re-vittel the barge at the nearby ‘Jumbo’ supermarket and also use the trolley to bring our purchases back to the barge.

Laura compiled a great video which covers the trip through Amsterdam to the beginning of the HollandschIJssel. Click on the link below.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=039Kyf1MdY4

The HollandschIJssel is a pretty, fairly narrow river with some attractive towns on its banks. The distances travelled each day were short enough for me to be able to return to collect the car every few days on foot, by bike or by bus.

We stopped at Montfoort for two nights and Laura and I spent an afternoon at the local Lido where it was great to cool down in the pool.

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A sign along the way that made us chuckle!

Our next stop was Oudewater, famed for its rope making and witches. In fact they even have a museum of witchcraft! Another pretty town and the one and only occasion when we paid for passage through a bridge by placing the 2 euro fee in a clog suspended on a pole!

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Clog suspended on a pole.

Then onto Haastricht for one night before finally reaching a free 3 day mooring near Gouda, where the river was wide enough and empty enough to run our genie and top up the batteries which had dropped to 50% charge, the lowest to date.

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Outside the Witches Museum and weigh in. (they used to weigh women to see if they were light enough to fly on a broomstick!)

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Celebrating having fooled the adjudicators !

On Laura’s final day, we drove into Gouda and had a walk around before finding a restaurant in the Markt for lunch. We had enjoyed a fabulous couple of weeks together, but it was time for her to leave and all too soon we were saying ‘au revoir’ at Schiphol Airport. In just over a month Laura would be travelling to New Zealand to follow her own dream.

 

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Historic Port at Gouda.

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The main square.

We decided to remain in Gouda for a few more days as my friend Karen would soon be joining us. Carol and Jeremy (Anthonia) arrived in the ‘Historic Port’ and we spent a pleasant evening with them celebrating Jeremy’s birthday in the centre of the town. The next day was the final cheese market of the season, so we arranged to meet them again and watched the rather unusual trading spectacle which is finished off with a strange handshaking ritual. We concluded the morning with several beers in a local bar followed by a light lunch on board Anthonia.

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“50 euro’s ! You are avin a laugh.”

Karen arrived bang on time and we enjoyed catching up over a couple of beers in the centre before returning to the barge. The next morning, Peter liaised with the lock keeper to let us into the very short lock, rather than wait for the tide to equalise the water either side of it. It was a bit of a squeeze and the front lock gates just grazed our anchors as they opened, but we were soon through. Apparently not all of the lock keepers are willing to give it a go, so we were fortunate.

We moored a short distance beyond on the town quay and plugged into the electrics. Karen and I set off to explore some more and visited the cheese museum which was quite interesting.

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That evening we all took the ferry over to the ‘Culifeest’ – a food festival on the opposite bank. We had to prepay for food and drink on a bespoke credit card, which was annoying as we didn’t know how much we would spend. However we had a tasty barbecue selection and couple of beers and enjoyed the Frank Sinatra Set, despite the drizzle, which arrived that evening to dampen all outside entertainment.

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Food, beer, Sinatra and drizzle!

The next day we set off for Dordrecht and had a pleasant cruise to the free mooring at Riedijkshaven. The only slightly tricky part was avoiding the ferries that whizzed in and out of the adjacent quay.

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Out on the main river we pass this huge replica Ark. (click on ‘Ark’ for details)

The giraffes on the bow and stern are full size!

Karen and I set off to explore the town with its numerous harbours and streets, while Peter enjoyed a well deserved rest on board. After another day sightseeing locally, Karen and I took a train to the pretty town of Delft.

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Delft street art.

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View from the top.

We had coffee in the main square, wandered the streets, lunched in another shady square, climbed the Church tower, enjoyed an ice cream and then visited the excellent Vermeer Centre.  So two artistic visits for me this year and I just might be getting into some art now…

Karen’s departure from Gouda fitted in with me collecting the car, so we headed back by train together and said our farewells after a light lunch.

Peter and I enjoyed a tasty steak meal at the recommended Villa Augusta which grows its own fruit and vegetables. The hotel and restaurant are in an old water works and pump station near the river.

We set off the next day and had to wait over half an hour for the gate to be opened as no one seemed to know where we were despite several radio calls. We hoped to find a suitable mooring in the Brebanche Biesbosch. The scenery was pretty and our only delay was at Ottersluis Lock which was being repaired. In fact it would have been a nice place to stop.

 

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The Biesbosch.

Parts of the Biesbosch were shallow and moorings nonexistent. We could have anchored, but were actually out onto the Hollandsdiep quicker than anticipated. This is the widest stretch of water we have been on to date and was very busy with huge commercial barges ploughing along in both directions.

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Hollandsdiep, very big and very busy.

We were keen to top up with diesel for our planned sea crossing to Terneuzen, and with that in mind pulled into the pretty town of Willemstad having read somewhere that mooring was free if you were buying fuel. It wasn’t as we found to our cost the next morning after fuelling up. Over 32 euros for one night! Had we but known it we would have taken on fuel the night before and tried our luck at the mooring by Volkerak Lock which was where we headed to next.

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Our mooring at Willemstad with the busy Hollandsdiep in the background.

A couple of days chilling there and then a short cruise to the River Dintel where we moored at Stampersgat on an old commercial quay for several days during a late summer heat wave, moving onto the town quay when a space became available.

From there we cycled into Oudenbosch which is famed for its replica of the St Peter’s Basilica in Rome. We left the bikes, caught a train from there to Dordrecht to collect the car then picked up the bikes and headed back to the barge. We then used the car to explore Steenburgen where Guy Gibson of Dam Busters fame and his navigator James Warwick were shot down by friendly fire in 1944.

Two roads are named after them and they are buried in the town’s cemetery.

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With temperatures into the 30s the river became a magnet for youngsters and we marvelled at the apparent lack of concern for the very real danger of children and young people swimming in quite busy rivers.

We drove to Tholen to recce the moorings and then left the car at Bergen Op Zoom before catching a bus back to the barge. We would collect the car when we were nearer to Bruges.

It was time to head back out onto the Hollandsdiep and into the Benedensas where we moored on a detached 10 metre mooring in the middle of the river for a couple of days. Once again our canoe came in useful as we paddled to nearby De Haan for a coffee and apple cake one afternoon.

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Interesting mooring spot in the middle of a river.

With a mooring booked in Tholen we set off once again out onto the main channel. On arrival, we plugged in to get full use of the electrics and topped our water up to the brim.

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Tholen Historic Port.

At 7am the next day we reversed out of our mooring and left the port as dawn broke. We had a long day ahead of us and hoped the wind would be light.

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Leaving just before dawn to catch the tide.

We encountered few vessels until we left the canal through the tidal lock, but then we were out with the big girls on the main sea approach to Antwerp. The wash/bow wave from these vessels was immense. The wave from the first ship that passed us at speed took about 5 minutes to reach us and sent me scurrying below to remove pictures from the walls and any other vulnerable objects.

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Huge and going pretty quick.

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The picture doesn’t do it justice, but enough to lift our bow clean out of the water.

Peter soon realised that the best way to cope with such turbulence was to head at right angles across the waves which reduced the impact, although judging the speed of some of the approaching ships seemed virtually impossible even though we tried to stay at the edge of the shipping lane.
With relief, we reached the lock at Terneuzen and after a longish wait, were back in the relative calm of the Ghent-Terneuzen Canal.

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Our route.

The remainder of our trip back to Bruges took us through familiar territory. A night at Schipdonk lock (and an evening cycle to Eeklo to recce the moorings there) followed by several days at Moerbrugge/ Oostkamp where we were joined by Jo and Tim (Maria) and then Carol and Jeremy (Anthonia).

Finally, we cruised into a fairly empty Flandria Jachthaven at the end of September, which gradually filled up with old and new friends over the coming days. We had enjoyed another interesting and pleasurable year on board our lovely barge ‘Aurigny’ and eagerly anticipated another fantastic winter in the beautiful city of Bruges.

 

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