Holland is flat, flat and low. Most of the land we were walking on today is below sea level, the water kept at bay by dykes and ditches. But today the element most on our minds was not water, but wind. We had to jag southwestwards in order to end up somewhere with accommodation, which took us straight into a headwind across some of the flattest, most exposed terrain that Holland can offer.
This morning we trekked across grey, wintry landscapes, huge vistas of grey clouds sweeping across the skies above us, while we passed humble, unadorned houses and smallholdings of goats, sheep, horses and hens – and even a few deer and rabbits. The terrain was bleak, and we just had to be grateful that it wasn’t raining, as the wind would have hurled the raindrops painfully into our faces. Settlements were few, and lunch was eaten quickly as we hunkered down in the one sheltered spot for miles around, in the lee of a park café closed for the winter.
This afternoon we had to cross a bridge across a dam, a huge feat of hydraulic engineering that left me feeling faintly scared of the gargantuan machinery, and the bridge seemed to go on forever – well, half an hour at least.
After a final stretch alongside a canal lined by leafless poplars we arrived at Goedereede, by far the prettiest place we had been since leaving Breille this morning. Narrow streets lined with old houses led us to our accommodation for the night – the Hotel de Gouden Leeuw, which we recognized by the eponymous golden lion projecting from its front wall.
With relief we dived out of the wind and into its main hall, a double-height room with a minstrels’ gallery, beamed wooden ceiling, iron chandelier, black and white tiled floor, and wooden wainscoting topped by a shelf along which are arranged assorted antique bric-a-brac – paintings of local scenes, a model boat, old-fashioned hotirons, woodcarvings, and a few traditional Dutch tiles. A huge ceramic beer pump dominates the bar. Up the narrow tiled staircase my spartan but clean little room on the top floor has a glorious view across the red roofs of the old town, and I can hear the church clock chiming the quarter hours. I feel like I have walked straight out of the 21st century and into a Vermeer painting.
It’s not easy being green….
One of the challenges of this venture from Big Ben to Brussels has been how to reconcile priorities that occasionally conflict. This morning was a good example.
A few days ago the team was falling apart – physically, not figuratively, I mean. Between us we had a list of injuries including blisters, swollen knees, potential stress fractures of the foot, and a couple of dodgy Achilles tendons. As the instigator of this whole crazy enterprise I had to think hard about how best to keep the show on the road.