HOT AND LONG: EUROPORT TO ARNHEM

What is there to say about cycling in the Netherlands? It is all true, infrastructure, law, landscape and attitude all encourage cycling. Ninety-eight hot miles from Europort to Arnhem, and there was not a lot to complain about. Two cars parked in the cycle lane, half a dozen tree roots breaking through the surface, one driver cutting in dangerously. God, the Dutch must hate cyclists.

That was a clumsy attempt to summarise the attitude we adopted - desperately trying to find things that were wrong, rather like the way I once rejoiced quite loudly when a German tourist office rep got the bus timetable wrong. The fact is that for years the people and the government of the Netherlands have accepted that pedestrians and cyclists are as important - more so - than motorists; and they have driven investment through political willpower. It should be good, but they bothered to do it.

Enough of that.

The Hull ferry claims to arrive in Rotterdam. It does so with a touch of the Ryanair. Rotterdam is a good thirty kilometres form Europort where the ship docks. Yes, the ride by the rivers, the ferry at Maasluis, the fascinating industrial landscape and the slight hint of sulphur make it an interesting trip; and there are old towns such as Scheidam on the way.

Signage is excellent, everywhere thoroughly reliable. The cyclist often has priority and the continuity of the infrastructure is everything it is vaunted to be. True, for the newcomer form the UK this is unnerving and disorientating. One slows down where every local knows there is no need to, checks the signs, and is consequently overtaken by an elderly lady with a basketful of cabbages on her bike, or some gnarly old Dutch racer, or a school kid ambling reluctantly to school. If it weren't such a frequent occurrence, I’d be embarrassed. By he time we reached Arnhem I was rocketing across the relevant junctions with the rest of them. You soon get the hang of it.

The gem of the day was the Blauwe Duif cafe in Schoonhoven, one of the many charming old towns with a former harbour for a main street. they are a real antidote from the newness of so many towns - such was the destruction between 1939 and 1945. Mind you, the Dutch squeeze a lot in to a crowded country and they still give cyclists plenty of space.

Apart from cycling, one expects windmills - well we saw some - and rivers. What a delight to ride along the Lekdijk by one of he rivers the Rhine divides into. we even went near Gouda, but saw no-one in coogs offering buckshee cheese.It seems to me that the greatest things about the Netherlands is that it is here; the engineering that holds-back, diverts and uses the water is magnificent. It has to be. I can marvel at the huge locks of the Amstedam-Rijn Canal for ages. I even attempted to race one of the great river barges.

In many ways the Netherlands was born out of ingenuity and cussedness, fighting nature and foreign powers. Yet the people are friendly and they all seem to cycle. Everyone has to be more relaxed on the road when cyclists and pedestrians are given priority.

We ate cherries and strawberries bought from roadside stalls. I’d like to say that this was the main reason we arrived at Arnhem late in the evening, but it wasn’t. We had a long hot day on the road and enjoyed it all. There's even hills - small ones - around Arnhem. Wow. Tomorrow on to cross the border into Germany.

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