July 22 – Zuid-Kennemerland National Park
After the crowded and noisy visit to Amsterdam yesterday, today we decided to leave the hustle and bustle of the built environment behind and get us some nature, with a trip out to the Zuid-Kennemerland National Park.
Are you up for another tour? We’ve done a few walking tours together, of various towns and cities we’ve visited, but this national park was so great, I thought you might like to share a tour through this amazing natural reserve, that has many stories of its own to tell. So let’s go on another tour together, but a little different this time, let’s tour through the great outdoors and pedal around National Park Zuid-Kennemerland. Are you ready? Let’s ride!
This national park spans over 3800 hectares (9390 acres) but what’s amazing, is it’s only 4 km out of the centre of the city of Haarlem. So we can be riding along beside traffic and then the path turns into the national park and we are here, amongst forest and sand dunes and lakes and a spectacular variety of scenery, on the doorstep of the city, but a haven of peace and tranquility for almost 10,000 acres. Amazing!
Today was sunny and warm, but the wind was absolutely howling. Without the added weight of a fully loaded bike though, it was more of an annoyance than a full-on brutal slogfest. So we’ll ignore the wind and enjoy the sun and start our pedal through the park. First things first though, there’s a perfect seat, in a shaded spot amongst the trees, so let’s have elevenses and then hit the path.
Elevenses over, we’ll pedal off down a perfect, sealed, paved path, through forest, with the sun shining through the trees. Now, we’ll just pedal off the path about 150m to go up a track to Oosterplas. This is a little dune lake that’s a haven for some of the park’s birds, but today we’re lucky enough to come across some of the national park’s wild ponies. They’re just standing around under the trees, having a roll in the sand, a scratch on the trunk of a tree, having a tussle amongst themselves and not bothered at all by our visit.
Back onto the path we go, through the forest, with the bright green mingling with the darker shadows as the sun throws dappled light through the trees.
As we round a corner, over in the distance we can see Brederode Castle. The edge of the dunes was a strategic spot during the Middle Ages and Willem I van Brederode chose this place to build a castle in 1282. The sandy ridge offered a good foundation and the peatland around the area provided a good natural line of defence. Over the years, the castle has experienced a fairly tumultuous life. In 1351 it was damaged and then demolished and then rebuilt, only to be destroyed again in 1573 during the Spanish War. The drifting sands engulfed what was left, covering it for many years. In the 19th century, the ruins were uncovered and partially restored and here it is, for us to see today.
Back into the forest we go, pedalling along under those beautiful trees, giving us a little shelter from the blowing wind. Not far along the path, through the trees, we can just glimpse a little of Duin en Kruidberg Estate. This area, along the dunes, was favoured by the wealthy and many country houses were built here between 1600-1700. This estate Duin en Kruidberg was developed in the 19th century, when the two estates Kruidberg and Duin en Berg were combined and the house we can just see through the trees, was built between 1907-1909.
As we ride through the forest, you might see signs like this every now and again.
Don’t be alarmed and think, as we did the first time we saw one, that there’s a gang of rampaging poultry lurking around, ready to mount a rear guard attack! This is a sign alerting us to an upcoming livestock grid across the path. Just be sure to ride across it nice and straight so you don’t get your wheels stuck in between the rails.
We’re leaving the forest behind now and the landscape is changing. We’re beginning to see the dunes and more open grassland. Then, just beside the path, we can see a remnant of history that’s quite incongruent with the peaceful environment we’re in. Sitting in the grass are the remains of German concrete practise bombs from World War II. Concrete practise bombs were the same size and weight as the explosive bombs being used. These practise bombs had rectangular cut-outs around them containing a number of glass tubes, covered with a thin layer of plaster and a strip of wood. When this concrete bomb hit the ground, the tube, which contained a chemical substance, burst open and, on making contact with the air, created a cloud of smoke in the place where the bomb had fallen, enabling the pilot to see if his aim had been accurate. This whole area was a significant location for the Germans during the occupation. The nearby port city of Ijmuiden was important strategically for the Germans because from there they could monitor the allied forces. The area was set up so it could be defended for three months without extra supplies and had to be defended to the last fighter and the last bullet. These concrete practise bombs are a piece of this national park’s story from a period in history when it was a significant player in the Second World War.
Back along the sealed path we go and we’ve got a few hills to climb now. The path from the beginning has been undulating, with some flat stretches and then some uphills. As we ride into the dunes, we have to go up a few times, but it’s worth it to see the changing landscape, with the white sand spreading out amongst the grassland and set against the blue of the sky.
Down a hill we go and look…just up ahead…this is pretty special! There in front of us we can see a small herd of Konik horses grazing alongside a small herd of Highland cattle. These are wild here in the national park and play an important part in the park’s ecology. These grazers help to keep the grasses and shrubs in check and without them, the national park would be overgrown with this sort of vegetation. So to maintain the varied habitats and allow the variety of plant and animal life to thrive, the ponies and cows roam wild, grazing on the grass and young shrubs. This creates open spaces in the sand which allows new sand drifts, slowly creating an area that can be home to many species of plants and animals.
The Konik horses are pretty special and quite rare. The Konik is a Polish breed related to the now extinct Tarpan and they are a breed that has been brought back from the brink themselves. Here, as in other parts of Europe and in special reserves, they are allowed to roam free, to replicate the life they would have led as “European wild horses” as they were known. The aim is to both continue to boost the population and at the same time the horses contribute to restoring and maintaining ecosystems, by keeping the environment habitable for other species. The cattle too, have been introduced and roam free, helping to keep vegetation under control, to maintain the habitats needed for other animals. They were all completely unfazed by us as we rode past, continuing to graze or lie around or simply stand and watch us. None of them moved as we went past, we were “welcome intruders” into their home.
On we go, up and down some more small hills and then, in front of us, the landscape changes again and we’re looking down on the wet dune valley. The wet ground and clean dune water enable many species of plant to thrive. The watery environment also attracts amphibians and insects, which in turn provide food for bats and birds, just showing us how the various ecosystems within the national park are sustained through the interdependence of species and habitats.
We’re almost to the end of our ride now and we’re right beside the coast, with the wind absolutely howling around us, which makes the sand blowing off the dunes sting and gives the skin a bit of an exfoliation job, but it’s worth it, for what we can see just around the corner.
If we stop here beside the path and they’re a bit hidden from view, but if you just stand up on that small bank there, beside the path and look down into the trees, you can see a small herd of bison. These are European bison and were introduced to the national park about twelve years ago. They eat the grass, herbs, buds, leaves, young twigs and bark on the trees. They also root around to eat the roots of grasses and shrubs and at certain times of the year their diet also consists of acorns, beechnuts and berries. Their grazing also helps to create open spaces where new grassland, trees and thickets can grow and develop. This small group here are reaching up into the branches of the trees, eating the leaves and moving through the undergrowth to forage around the trunks of the trees. The national park is also home to many other animals such as squirrels and deer, but we haven’t spotted any of those today. The bison were a pretty special find though, an animal I hadn’t seen before and made more special to see them free and wild.
On we pedal, out of the dunes, back along the path and out of the national park, to end our cycle tour today. A little different from a walking tour around the cobbled streets of a town or city, but Zuid-Kennemerland National Park was an amazing place, with such varied landscapes and ecosystems, variety of animals and plants and a fantastic path to cycle through, to explore this incredible environment. It was the perfect antidote to the city experience of yesterday and I hope you enjoyed coming along for the ride, on a tour with a difference!
Distance ridden: 46.6 km
Time in the saddle: 3 hours 1 minute
Weather: warm, sunny, very windy, 23C