B2L – Utrecht to Delft (Day 15)

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Friday 11 May 2012

So this was to be my last full day of riding in Holland and my last hotel stop before I returned home.

I did a bit of research online yesterday evening and discovered that The Hague is quite expensive but I found what looked like a nice hotel in Delft for a very good price (and it had some excellent reviews). So I booked that one, thinking Delft would be a nice place to visit. And the distance variation was minimal.

The thing about this tour is that I haven’t been very good at estimating distances before I actually set off. Lots of people asked me how far I would be riding each day and I said about 60-70 miles. This distance was based on a tour I had done a few years ago with Pippa Gardner when that was about the speed we went (the other tours since had been in a larger group which slows you down or were purposely shorter days). My pre-planning showed I did need to do about 60-65 miles most days to hit the towns in which I was vaguely aiming to stay overnight.

There was also a sort-of date to aim for – doing the last day into London on a Sunday (to avoid awful weekday traffic). Working back from that date, 13 May, gave my my 60 miles per day amount and it all looked about right.

However, readers of this blog will know that after Day 1 I dumped the official cycle route which was fiddly, faffy and too off-road and went a more direct route, generally shaving almost 10 miles off each day’s distance. Not only this, I got a bit ahead on the first two days (scheduled for 40 days and I did 60) so I was quite ahead of schedule right up till Münster. If I hadn’t had the Sunday date for my Colchester to London day then I might have done some more mileage and reduced the tour by a day or two.

That was very much noticeable today. I was riding past signs to the Hook of Holland and it’s less than 15 miles away. I could easily have got there and got the ferry home a day early but it would have meant a day at home before the last day, which would have seemed a bit odd, and I wouldn’t have had the chance to visit Delft, which would have been a shame (as you will see below). It’s a good feeling to have had an enjoyable series of cycling days without overdoing it (except on the very hot day in Germany when I went to Nachterstedt) and to have had plenty of time to look around places that I have visited. My only concern is that my cake consumption has been on the understanding I’d be riding 60 miles and I’ve been riding 45. Let’s hope the scales aren’t too badly affected when I get home!

So anyway, to today’s report. In summary this has been a lovely day’s cycling and I’ve even used quite a fair portion of the official route!

Anyway, I set off from Utrecht a bit later than usual (at 9am) as I knew today’s distance wasn’t too taxing and I felt like a bit of a lie-in. I headed out along one of the many canals – a rather traditional view.

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I also passed loads of these bridges today – dozens of ’em. They were all sorts of designs, sizes and levels of complexity but showed the Dutch people’s different ways of coping with a rather watery landscape.

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I really liked this little footbridge (just steps) that I saw as I passed along Oudenrijn, briefly joining the official route before turning off on my own shortcut (less faffage).

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I cycled through de Meern, finding the really strong headwind quite tricky at times. The wind was very gusty and it was quite a hard slog pretty much all today which explains why my moving average was 8.5mph.

I cycled through Harmelen and Haanwijk, most of the time alongside a canal. I continued through Breeveld where I joined the official cycle route – and stayed on it for a fair while as it guided me along a canal to Geestdorp and then to Woerden.

Woerden is quite a big place and I was feeling like having a cup of tea (I had done 12 miles into a strong headwind) so pootled into the main pedestrian precinct and, lo and behold, found a bakery.

This is Woerden high street:

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This is some of the choice of cakes in the bakery:

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I mentioned in yesterday’s blog that I was slightly disappointed by the cake choice in Holland compared to Germany. There is actually a very big choice, particularly of various iced sponge cakes, but what I miss is the sort of large doughnut that the Germans do so well (often filled with apples), or a Nußecke, or a Schweineohr or many other biscuity/pastry/carbohydratey unhealthiness. I had to really choose from an iced sponge so I went for one which was very tasty and very light (but had lots of cream).

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From now on I had decided to follow the official route to Zoetermeer as the route looked nice, relatively unfaffy and the main roads might have been a bit busy. So I meandered out of Woerden and followed a canal for what seemed like miles. I have a funny feeling the canal might actually be a bit of the Rhine! This sign is a clue.

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I pootled my way through Bekenes (lots of houses with gardens backing on to the canal – lots of livestock such as shetland ponies, sheep, goats, llamas, chickens etc) then arrived at Niewerbrug where I saw their smart new bridge. There was a toll to cross it so I didn’t bother!

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I felt the signage for the cycle route (LF4b) was a little more successful today than on previous days. Although I did often find I was referring to my Garmin at junctions where the signs weren’t evident, there did seem to be a higher proportion of them than on some of the earlier stretches in Holland.

When speaking to James last night on Skype he commented that a friend of ours, Grace, had said she’d seen signs sticking out of the ground ‘like mushrooms’ (although James wasn’t 100% sure he had remembered this correctly). Anyway, I did see a few signs on posts low down – perhaps this is what she meant. Mind you, if you’re going fast you haven’t got much time to read all the different options!

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Affter Nieuwerbrug I passed through several more little hamlets before arriving at the fairly large town of Bodegraven. I had just passed over the large bridge in the centre when the alarm started going and the barriers came down, so I stopped to watch. This is how you get a large boat under a low bridge.

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It was all done very quickly and the bridge was soon down again. I headed off, still following the official route, still into a shocking headwind.

This bit of Holland was very picturesque as it was festooned with canals. They were everywhere – huge numbers of ’em – which did mean a certain amount of up and downhill to get over lots of little bridges. It was interesting seeing that people had mini bridges from the main road to their house as there was usually a canal running between the road and the house. Lots of people had little boats as well, some had larger boats (which must have been a challenge to get anywhere).

Here’s a view of Boskoop/Westeinde.

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From here I was very quickly at Benthuizen which was the point where I was going to deviate from the official route (which was heading for The Hague) in order to go more southwards towards Delft.

I saw this lovely windmill in Benthuizen:

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However attractive the scenery was, my stomach was rumbling as it was 13:30 and I hadn’t had that much breakfast. However Benthuizen seemed to be singularly short of food establishments. Or perhaps my food-finding mojo isn’t as good in the Netherlands as it is in Germany.

The main road I needed to take was being dug up and the workmen advised me against using it but a local dogwalker suggested an alternative cycle path route on which which I headed off.

I saw a restaurant and stopped there. I walked in and realised it was really posh – candlelit tables with wine and business people. I was hot and in high-vis with windswept hair so I beat a hasty retreat.

A mile later I found another restaurant. I went in and asked the lady if they did snacks and she said yes, but there were no prices on the menu and she eventually admitted they were probably a bit ‘elegant’ for me. So that’s two posh restaurants and no cafés or bistros – this is a newly-built suburb of Zoetermeer and it’s clearly posh!

I stuck a waypoint in the middle of Zoetermeer in the hopes that I would find something to eat there and let my Garmin choose me a route. It supplied a nice, cycle path route which took me to where I had put the waypoint – which looked like a load of multi-story car parks, posh office buildings and casinos. Zoetermeer is clearly hip and trendy. I eventually found a shopping mall with a fried chicken place by the door and grabbed a mystery chicken curry hot sandwich thingie.

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All the bikes were heavily locked up outside so I didn’t want to leave Alfie for more than a minute or two. This meant that I couldn’t have a loo stop I had been looking forward to; still, only eight miles to Delft.

I asked my Garmin to plot me a route to the hotel in Delft and off we went, wending our way through the weird warren of tall buildings and multi-storey car parks, eventually getting onto a nice cycle path through what I think might be some posh office buildings.

And then I was faced with a motorway that I needed to cross. But no road bridge!

The Garmin had directed me here and seemed to think I could get across. I followed the little purple line and arrived at a railway platform. But I could see a walkway suspended across the top, presumably to get to the other platforms, but it clearly continued on over the motorway. A bridge, perhaps! But how to get there?

I turned round and behind me was a rather smelly lift. Fortunately it was big enough for Alfie so up we went, up and up and up it seemed, and then I was disgorged into this very wide bridge thingy. Which had a cycle path down one side, complete with the red painted tarmac. So I cycled along it, above the motorway. Weird!

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At the other side I could see some escalators (there had been some on the original side but I obviously ignored those). I assumed there would be a lift and I saw a sign to one. A lady came from that direction with a bike and spoke to me in Dutch; I got the impression she said the lift wasn’t working but I had to go and look anyway and it was working just fine. It was even smellier than the earlier lift!

I carrried on along dedicated cycle paths through what looked like University buildings. It soon turned into a lovely straight run through some parkland with lots of people walking dogs (I note the Dutch are far less good at poop scooping than the Germans – you virtually never see any dog poop in Germany but there were a fair few piles visible on most of the Dutch cycle paths).

I arrived in Pijnacker and saw lots of signs to Den Haag and, of course, to Delft (which I think has become a suburb of The Hague). I was finally turning slightly out of the wind’s force which was a relief after 40+ miles of a wind which was apparently 30km/h.

The cycle path was a bit rough on the main road towards Delft and I found myself strangely alone on it. A quick look to the side, across the canal, and there were loads of cyclists travelling parallel with me. At the next bridge over the canal I crossed over and found myself on a nice, smoothly-tarmacked segregated cycle path. Much more like it!

From Pijnacker I entered Delft at Wippolder. Whilst waiting at a crossing someone asked me in English where I had come from and I said Berlin. He said “I see your Help For Heroes flag, it’s a great charity!” and then was off on his bike before I had a chance to hand him one of my leaflets. He had an English accent so was presumably a tourist.

It was then a case of wending my way through narrower and narrower lanes until I found myself at the wonderful hotel Leeuwenbrug which is slap bang opposite the Leeuwenbrug (a bridge), although not one that I can cycle over!

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I checked in, put Alfie in the garage round the back and then located my room – a fantastic attic room with sloping ceilings. I feel like I need to go and find my pearl earring now.

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Not only that, it had a kettle and teamaking facilities! (Although no milk – they supplied me with a jug of milk when I asked).

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It was wonderful to have a shower and not have to wash out my clothes for once, as I won’t need to wear them again before I am reunited with my washing machine! I finally finished my hair conditioner which I never thought would last two weeks (75mls) so that was a bonus!

Delft had looked so lovely as I cycled through it that I went out for a walk to get a good look around.

Delft has lots of tiny alleyways.

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And these wonderful canals running all through it with bridges every 200 metres or so.

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Quite a lot of it is for pedestrians and bicycles only.

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I had a quick look in Halfords. Different branding to the UK one but still bike stuff and car equipment.

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Every corner revealed a new and attractive view.

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The main square was just round the corner from the hotel.

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There were bikes everywhere, including this great cargo bike (I’ve seen loads of these). It seems as though half of the bikes in Holland are made by ‘Gazelle’ although they don’t generally look very lightweight and boingy!

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Anyway, it was lovely to have a good look around and there are clearly lots of nice-looking restaurants so I will be able to find a good evening meal for my last dinner in Holland.

Today vanity won over sense and I didn’t wear a hat or cycling glasses. This was to try to reduce the strange tan lines on my face – white forehead, brown cheeks and chin – and it seems to work. There wasn’t much sunshine so I could ride without my eyes shaded but the fresh air has put a bit more of an even colour into my face. This is in a vain hope that I won’t look completely ridiculous in the various photos of me that will be taken on Sunday. I have a very impressive leg suntan already…

So tomorrow it’s a quick trip to the Hook of Holland, then a seven hour ferry journey, then a speedy ride straight down the A120 to home. There’s nothing like mixing it with the HGVs on UK roads when you’ve been pootling around on cycle paths for days…

Statistics for today:

Distance travelled: 44.85 miles
Moving time: 5 hours 18 minutes 17 seconds
Maximum speed: 19.3 mph
Average speed: 8.5 mph
Average heart rate: 114
Maximum heart rate: 162
Calorie burn (estimate as heart rate monitor didn’t always get a reading): 1,100 calories

 

Oh, and I had another donation today from someone I don’t know – Doug Priest. Thanks very much Doug! Alex Dowsett retweeted information about my ride so perhaps he read it as a result of that. Thanks to Doug and Juliet Whitty and anyone else who has given and whom I don’t know (or don’t know I know!)

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