The weather in The Hague, and all along the North Sea coastline that stretches to the north and south, can change in the blink of an eye. I’ve often looked out of the front window of my apartment and the weather is blue skies and sunshine; meanwhile, a peek out of the back window reveals dark and foreboding rain clouds. Its not so much that you can have four seasons in one day; more that you can have four seasons several times a day.
When the weather is changeable (when isn’t it?), timing and a slice of luck are all important to stay dry should you step outdoors. This was illustrated for me on my recent cycle south along the North Sea Coast to the Hook of Holland or Hoek van Holland (Dutch often seems like badly spelled English). The Hook is the spot where the mighty River Rhine emerges from deep inside Europe’s interior and empties into the ocean.
I set off in windy but sunny conditions. It only takes an hour to reach the Hook of Holland, but riding high on the dunes path into a stiff wind with little protection is still a struggle. I kept telling myself that at least I’d have the wind at my back on the return journey, little knowing that I’d also be racing a tempestuous storm in a desperate bid to avoid a soaking. Amazing how motivational massive rain clouds prove to be.
The journey down this stretch of coast is wonderful. Often you can cycle along the tops of the dunes with views over the beach and North Sea. While the journey takes you through beautiful sand dunes, the view to the south is dominated by the silhouette of the vast industrial complex at the massive port on the Hook of Holland. Giant cranes and wind turbines tower over the landscape like a metal forest; huge cargo ships can be seen from miles away.
On the beach close to The Hague there are plenty of people walking, sailing and kite surfing. Further away from urban centres the people thin out and often the beach is empty but for the crashing waves and wailing seagulls. All the while I travelled along basking in the sun, but could see trouble brewing out to sea.
Despite being one of the most densely populated areas in Europe, once outside the city limits you can find yourself alone for longish periods of time. This is a car free route, but when you think it’s just you and the seagulls a party of enthusiastic and swift moving Dutch cyclists will inevitably hove into view. They do love to cycle in these parts.
At the Hook of Holland itself you can stand on a white sand beach and watch enormous container ships sail out into the ocean bound for distant parts of the globe. It’s a mesmerising experience, one I enjoyed in the company of several dozen other people. The number and size of the ships coming and going along this section of river is amazing; sail a little further up river and you arrive in Rotterdam, still one of the world’s largest and busiest ports.
I cycled a little further along and discovered a series ofWorld War II military installations. This was an important area to defend for the occupying German forces, and the vast Atlantic Wall defensive fortifications that stretched from Norway to Spain are visible here. I was lucky that many of the fortifications were open to visit…but more of that next time.
Deciding that the weather was going to become rough I set off back to The Hague. When I stopped to look backwards it was barely credible that I would remain dry. Terrifyingly large rain clouds loomed, while up ahead I could see the sun illuminating the golden sand of the beach and sand dunes. I cycled in a netherworld between the two and managed to reach home just before a tremendous storm hit. The rain was bouncing off the streets.