In the wide open spaces of Waterland the sky is vast, made bigger by being mirrored in the ever present water that gives the region its name. Here, you can truly appreciate just how far below sea level much of the country finds itself. Leaving Marken behind, I cycled along the top of dykes encircling the island: flat pasture land dotted with sheep and cows on one side, the blue-grey water of the IJsselmeer dotted with the sails of boats on the other. The Netherlands does picturesque on a grand scale.
I headed to the lighthouse at the tip of island, then took the causeway linking Marken to the mainland. The causeway is a reminder of how the Dutch have shaped this landscape, just one example of the saying, “God created the earth, but the Dutch created the Netherlands”. After centuries of fighting with nature, much of this land was reclaimed following the building of a dyke to seal it off from the North Sea. The dyke tamed the water, but it also killed off the economic lifeblood of the historic fishing villages along this coast. Tourism has benefited while tradition has been eroded.
It’s a peaceful region to cycle through, and distances between its lovely villages are short enough that you can make detours to explore down the narrow roads that criss-cross it. Every road seems to offer a multitude of photo opportunities of traditional Dutch landscapes. There’s a surprising variety of wildlife, particularly birds that attract a steady stream of twitchers.
I passed through the tiny village of Uitdam, which sits on a thin strip of land wedged between the IJssemeer and yet more water. If you live in Uitdam you should probably keep a floatation device handy at all times. Delightfully named Holysloot was my next destination. I made the diversion based only on the name, but this tiny place set amidst a landscape of polders turned out to be a picture postcard perfect village.
Entering the village you pass a striking white church on the only road into and out of the village. I may be wrong, but anywhere with less than two roads really is a backwater. My map claimed that there was a ferry to take me across yet more water so I could continue my journey. It was closed and I had to retrace my steps down Holysloot’s only road.
The village name is deceptive. I’d assumed it had religious meaning – this region was one of the first to adopt the teachings of Martin Luther, John Calvin and the Reformation – but the Dutch language is perverse in the way it sometimes seems like English but isn’t. Holysloot is a corruption of ‘holleY-sloot’ meaning ‘low lying river’ – everything has a water theme in this part of the world. Villagers are known as Holysloters, all 160 of them.
The village is one of the oldest settlements in Waterland, and for much of its history it was a poor place. Today the village has a prosperous air, but still feels isolated. I imagine that a hundred years ago living here must have felt like you’d fallen off the face of the earth – into a big puddle.
Time may not have stood still in Holysloot but it’s definitely been running more slowly than elsewhere. I’d hoped for a cafe but luck wasn’t on my side; the village does have a restaurant that looks like it caters to weekending Amsterdammers, but it too was closed. The weather can turn on a dime here and the wind was becoming a gale, formidable dark clouds were sweeping across the sky and it was becoming clear that I was going to get wet. Time to move on.
I’m not a fair weather cyclist, but the Waterland is open country with little shelter, and the wind and rain can be terrible. Checking my map, the larger village of Ransdorp was only few kilometres away and seemed to offer the hope of finding shelter…