Since it was such a nice day, not too hot and not too cold, Ryu and I decided to visit one of the numerous national parks, by bike. The day was not too sunny, which made me think it would be the perfect weather for a bike tour. For those who do not know me, I enjoy riding the bike to go shopping and I prefer biking to being stuck in traffic. Furthermore, here in the Netherlands the biking roads are great and, since everything is flat, you do not break out in heavy sweat while biking. One more reason, I think it is more eco-friendly and, most important, it is cheaper – no expenses for gas.
Well, back to our trip. We decided to be prepared and checked how far it was on Google. It seemed to be 1h and 5 minutes from Breda, which seemed doable for two people who do not bike professionally. Actually, I have an old mountain bike that is doing its job, but Ryu only has a rusty city bike, which, ironically enough is branded “Merdina“, which means “shitty” in Italian. Now that you know what gear we had, we can move on with our trip. We printed out the route, packed two apples, two bottles of water, raincoats (you can never know in the Netherlands), a jacket and off we went.
The road to the park was ok, we did not get too lost and enjoyed some nice scenery, from the Dutch urban areas, to the canals and the traditional villages. At some point, we realised we had come to a small village with few foreigners riding by, because people greeted us and frowned a bit puzzled.
We managed to get to the park, without major issues and, most importantly, without being too tired. However, it took us over 2 hours to get there, so either we were slower than Google had predicted or Google lied to us.
In our Dutch course we have been working on some texts about Dutch national parks. The Netherlands are working on a long term projct to establish several new national parks by 2020. De Loonse en Drunense Duinen is one of them. This national park was designated in 2002 and its surface covers 35 km². It lies in the South of the country, between Tilburg and ‘s Hertogenbosch.
A plunge into history
The park has a surrealistic appearance. It is mainly covered by sand dunes and conifer forests.
The sandy dunes look unreal, since there is no sea nearby and you have a slight feeling of having been beamed to a Southern desert, even though you had been in a Dutch landscape only a few moments back.
The dunes seem to have first appeared in the Middle Ages. Farmers and shepherds used to let their herds graze in this territory. The animals’ dung gave the soil some nutrients and prevented it from drying out. However, in the late Middle Ages, people started to gather the dung, in order to fertilise the crops and fields, thus taking the much needed source of nourishment. Furthermore, more and more trees were felled for their wood.
Since the soil is low in nutrients, it quickly dried out and the sandy earth is blown away by the wind. The roots of the trees dry out and the sand is not blocked by the roots anymore. Entire villages are covered by sand. The Medieval towns of Efteling and Westloon are still buried beneath the sandy dunes. Since the 14th century, trees have been planted to stop the growth of the dunes. These are now under control and this unique landscape is now protected, in order not to lose the only sand drift in Northern Europe.
What to see
The landscape nowadays presents dunes up to 24 m high, conifers and deciduous forests. Towards the outer rings, you can also find meadows and water landscapes.
As for the animals dwelling in the park, apart from a great variety of insects and some birds, unfortunately we were not lucky enough to see any of the badgers, foxes, stoats, weasels or roe deers we were told to be roaming around the woods.
However, we were lucky enough to see the meadows in bloom. The whole looked like a colourful patchwork duvet.
We have also been told that if you enjoy birdwatching, there are several species you can gander upon. My knowledge of birds is very limited, though. For more information, you can always check out the website or contact the personnel – they do speak English.
What to do
Even though we came by bike, you can also experience the park on foot. There is a nice hiking trail you can follow that leads you through the park or just stroll around or walk your dog. Otherwise you can experience the park by horse, that would actually interest me a lot or do some crossroads on your mountain bike.
All in all, even though we arrived home with very tired legs and I was nicely sunburnt (well deserved, since I underestimated the Dutch sun), it was a nice experience to spend a day outdoors and a surprising sight to see a desert-like landscape in the otherwise rainy Netherlands.
Have you ever been to the Loonse en Drunense Duinen or to any other National Park? I’d love to hear your stories.