Not long after I arrived in the Netherlands, I heard the story of how the current Dutch King, Willem-Alexander, once competed incognito in the legendary Elfstedentocht speed skating race in 1986. The then Prince Willem-Alexander registered for the event using the name W. A. van Buren, questions of who the mysterious van Buren really was emerged only during the race. In adopting the van Buren name he was continuing a royal tradition, both Queen Wilhelmina and Queen Juliana had used ‘Buren’ to hide their true identities.
The name was adopted as a nod to the royal family’s historic connection to the small, picture-postcard perfect town of Buren, which sits in Gelderland countryside south of Utrecht. Buren gained its royal prestige in 1551 when the then Countess of Buren, Anna van Egmont, married William I, Prince of Orange. Known as William the Silent, he was one of the key rebels to revolt against Spanish rule of the Netherlands, and was the leading military commander in the early years of the struggle for independence. It’s a critical historic connection in the Dutch national story.
My cycle route took me from Utrecht to the town of Houten, and then past several castles, none of which are open to the public, and through small villages to the pretty little town of Wijk bij Duurstede. The town sits on the Rhine, or the Nederrijn as the river is known here, and was a critical junction in trade links across Europe. No surprise then that a castle was built here to protect trade and extract tolls. Today, it’s a ruin, although one that has a cafe inside it. It’s evocatively set in woodland and surrounded by water.
I stopped for a drink and to shelter from the sun, before exploring the town and finding my way to the small harbour. This is overshadowed by a huge windmill which straddles the road into town, acting like a gateway. Apparently, it’s considered to be the world’s only ‘drive through’ windmill. The town was decorated with Dutch flags and orange bunting to mark the day the Netherlands was liberated from German occupation in the Second World War – a recurring theme everywhere on my route.
To reach Buren meant crossing the Nederrijn. On my map it wasn’t clear if there was a bridge, and as I cycled towards the crossing I could see a ferry arriving. I speeded up so as not to miss the boat, and got there just in time. It was only when we were crossing that I realised two things: there was a €0.80 fee for bikes and I didn’t have any money. Embarrassed, I asked the boatman if I could pay with card. I could not. A cafe on the other river bank proved to be my salvation. They were happy to charge €10 for iced tea and give me the change to pay for the boat.
After that close escape, I cycled on tiny lanes through beautiful countryside towards Buren. I could see the steeple of the 14th century Sint-Lambertuskerk in the distance, which marked my destination. It was in this ancient church in 1551 that William the Silent married Anna van Egmont, there’s a bronze statue outside of the couple with their children. Sadly it wasn’t open when I was there, and I had to content myself with sitting in its shadow while having lunch at a nearby cafe.
The town has plenty of lovely old buildings and still retains some of the city walls that protected its inhabitants. Other than the church, Buren’s ‘major’ attraction is the early 17th century orphanage building. Bizarrely, this has been converted into a museum to the Dutch military police. Buren’s not a big place, and an hour after arriving I was on my way again, following the River De Korne to the next town over where I could get a train back to Utrecht.
9 thoughts on “Cycling through Gelderland to Royal Buren”
A lovely tour. Dankje Paul.
You seem to have taken quite a liking to Holland, haven’t you?
Against all expectation Brian, it wasn’t a country that ‘called’ to us, but it has been a real revelation. Sadly, but also happily, that is now coming to an end. In August we’ll be moving to Berlin – new job, new adventure in German bureaucracy! At least it’s not so far away that we couldn’t do a weekend trip to the Netherlands! Hope all’s well, Paul
Congrats on the new adventure. Berlin gave me the shivers when I went. But that’s me. Too much history packed in a small place. But i’m sure it will be a fascinating challenge. How’s your German?
Ich bin ein Berliner … and that’s about it! Berlin seemed oppressive to me when I first visited in 1990, but it seems to have transformed itself into one of the most open and progressive (with some exceptions) cities in Europe. Of course, it appeals to the ‘historian’ in me as well.
Hope all’s well Brian.
It is definitely very much more open and progressive. But the historian in me (too) shivers at the simple name of streets. (e.g. alexanderplatz or Friedrichstrasse, or to see the Reichstag: Dem Deutschen Volk… Too much history for my own personal comfort. But I’m sure you will appreciate it. Viel Glück! 😉
True Brian, there are constant reminders of a very dark past, but I was really cheered by the openness and joie de vivre that seemed everywhere when I was there. It’ll need some readjustment mentally, but hopefully it will be a good experience.
I’m sure it will. The dark “memories” will fade out after a few days or weeks. I did notice the Underground has no… how do you call that? Tourniquets? Ah. yes. Turnstiles. I imagine the Germans expect, naturally, that all pay their ticket. 😉
Thanks. A lovely area for a cycle, despite the weather being unnaturally hot.