Hiking in a Dutch Polder
The Noordoostpolder (North East Polder) is a relatively recent addition to the Netherlands; it used to be part of the former Zuiderzee estuary and has been dry land since 1942. With its long straight roads it doesn’t seem like a perfect place for a day trip and certainly not like a great place to go hiking. But of course you’ll never know for sure if you don’t try it at least once. So on October 24, partner-in-crime A. and I travelled to the polder for a trip around three places of interest: Schokland, Nagele and Urk.
To go by public transport from Rotterdam to the polder and back in one day, and also do some hiking, requires careful planning. Because not all bus services in the polder are available on weekends, a weekday trip was the only option. The planning was made even more difficult because, due to work on the tracks, the usual approach route via Utrecht was blocked, which made the already tight schedule even tighter.
The following itinerary appeared to be possible : a bus from Kampen to bus stop Ens Sloefweg, a 14 kilometers hike via Schokland to Nagele, a bus via Emmeloord to Urk and a home journey via Lelystad.
(Surface: Open Street Map)
One needs to have some luck with the weather in such an open area. On the first walking kilometer we didn’t seem to have that luck and we soon had to put on our rain clothing. But after a brief shower conditions improved and we enjoyed spectacular, though sometimes frightening, cloudy skies for quite a while.
The former island of Schokland was the first ever Dutch contribution to the Unesco World Heritage List. The island was evacuated in 1859 by order of King William III because it no longer seemed possible to defend Schokland against the sea. However when the polder fell dry some eighty years later, the island was still there.
The most northern mound of Schokland is traditionally called Emmeloord; later that name was recycled for the central town of the new polder.There is a lighthouse and two little buildings and the harbour has been reconstructed. An alienating sight, those harbour facilities without water. It’s a special place that we had completely for ourselves because is spite of the world heritage status, the tourists do not overrun Schokland.
At the Middelbuurt mound, a few kilometers further south, it was slightly busier. Here is the Schokland Museum, with a catering facility that is always welcome on a hike.
On the west side of Schokland trees have been planted after the reclamation. And so on our trip through the polder we suddenly walked trough a forest. There is also a rock garden there in which all kinds of boulders carried here in the ice ages can be seen. But unfortunately our tight schedule did not permit an extensive inspection.
After the forest a straight road of three kilometers was leading to Nagele. That’s Noordoostpolder as you imagine it: long straight lines, open plains, agricultural machinery and scattered farms. In case of rain and strong wind this is not a pleasant place to walk, I’m afraid. But we were still lucky: the skies became even more dramatic but no rain fell. In the meantime, the autumn colors made the landscape quite beautiful.
Nagele is the only village in the Noordoostpolder that has been designed by modernist architects such as van Eesteren, van Eyck and Rietveld; it therefore has a sort of cult status among architecture lovers. Yet, apart from some churches and schools, the architecture is anything but exceptional. The urban design however is really special. An impressive grove of trees surrounds the entire village, in which the dwellings are grouped in clusters around a spacious green central area. Especially on a beautiful autumn day this looks extremely pretty.
In one place, where a canal enters the village, a vista through the grove of trees offers a view to the open polder. In the distance we once again see the Schokland forest.
On our busride from Nagele to Urk we had twenty minutes transfer time in Emmeloord. Too short to take a good look at the capital of the polder and discover any hidden gems. But long enough to make a photo of the Poldertower. This combined water, clock and observation tower is a national monument, but has been out of service for financial reasons since 2013. Too bad, missed opportunity; I would have loved to look at the polder from a somewhat higher point of view. And what a cool structure this tower is.
The fishing village of Urk used to be an island, like Schokland. But because the village is built on a remarkably high hill for polder standards, the inhabitants were probably better protected against the sea. With its harbor, lighthouse, wind farms, narrow streets and many churches, Urk is a place that certainly deserves a closer look. Unfortunately, at the time of our arrival, the beautiful cloudy skies had been replaced by a uniform dark gray sky from which occasionally some rain fell.
So we’ll return to Urk on another polder expedition, on which we’ll also visit the Waterloopbos at Marknesse, a former hydrological test facility that’s been overgrown by a forest. To summarize: it’s quite possible to do some hiking in the Noordoostpolder and there is even so much to see that one day is not enough. But one has to be lucky with the weather.