Veere’s picturesque harbour is filled with pleasure boats, here to sail on the Veerse Meer, a lake created by the construction of the Veerse Gatdam in 1961. Part of the Delta Works flood protection scheme, the Veerse Gatdam blocked Veere’s access to the sea, its fishing fleet forced to relocate to the village of Colijnsplaat just before the completion of the dam. The town is now officially landlocked.
Veere’s direct access to the North Sea has long gone, but there was a time when it was an important centre for the very profitable wool trade between Scotland and the Netherlands. In the 17th and 18th Centuries, the harbour would have been packed with ships loading and unloading their cargoes, and the name Veere would have been well known on the streets of Edinburgh.
Scottish wool merchants eventually established a permanent community in the town, and there are still traces of the Scots influence. This includes a couple of former Scottish merchant houses that are now a museum to the Scottish wool trade. In 1541, Veere was awarded ‘staple-rights’ to Scottish wool, which gave the town first call on the wool before it could be sold elsewhere.
The relationship between Scotland and Veere dates back to the marriage, in 1444, of Mary Stuart, the daughter of James I of Scotland, and Wolfert VI van Borssele, the Lord of Veere. The marriage created an enduring relationship between Veere and Scotland. Mary’s dowry included the exclusive rights for Veere to trade with Scottish wool merchants, and Veere’s wealth was built on those rights.
Trade with Scotland declined sharply after the 18th Century, as did Veere’s wealth, but the connection didn’t stop there. It is fitting that 500 years after the marriage of Mary and Wolfert, it was Scottish troops from the 52nd (Lowland) Division that liberated Veere from German occupation during Operation Infatuate in 1944. I can’t imagine that happened by chance.
Veere’s past wealth can be guessed at by the array of glorious buildings that make it one of the prettiest towns I’ve visited in the Netherlands (and that is saying something). Veere also owned substantial shares in the Dutch East India Company, which brought significant additional prosperity. Even then, it is remarkable to discover that in the 16th Century the population of the town was ten times larger than the 2,000 or so people who live here today.
What Veere lacks in population is compensated for by the number of tourists who visit the town. I cycled the 10km from Middelburg and arrived early in the morning, but even then there were plenty of tourists milling around. By the time I left a couple of hours later, coach loads of visitors had arrived.
Veere deserves the attention, it’s a fabulously attractive town with a lovely self-guided walk around the old city walls that tells you a bit about its history. There’s an enormous church, so completely out of proportion to the town’s size that it could only have been built as a statement to the rest of the world. The old town is full of wonderful old houses and narrow lanes, but all roads lead to the harbour and the waterfront.
After a leisurely walk and a quick bite in one of the many cafes, I was back on the bike and heading towards one of the Modern Wonders of the World, the Delta Works…