Mountaineering in Holland: the Highest Peaks
What? Mountains in Holland? Are there any? Yes, because although our country is, understandably, not very popular with mountaineers, there are places that really stand out above the surrounding landscape. Which seems to me the most accurate definition of a mountain.
In the far southeast of the Netherlands, in the province of Limburg, there are peaks like the Vaalserberg, which reaches a staggering 321 metres. But as you may know, the name Holland, often mistakenly used for the whole country, only refers to two provinces in the west. In this blogpost I limit the scope further down to the province of South-Holland.
The mountains in South-Holland are not very tall. I couldn’t find one higher than about 48 metres. But when I started mapping them, I was surprised how many there are. And also how much they differ in origin and age. Some are natural, others are man-made. Some have only been around for twenty years, others for a millennium. And almost all of them can be climbed.
On the map
In this blog post I roughly walk from north to south through the province along the most beautiful of those elevations in the landscape. Interestingly, most of them have names that can easily be translated into English (Lilac Mountain). Or they already have an English name (Chill Hill). Or the Dutch name sounds very cool when pronounced with an English tongue (The Donk). For your convenience, I’ve mostly used the English names with, if applicable, the Dutch names between brackets or in italics.
When checking the correct heights, this viewer of the AHN (the Current Elevation Dataset of the Netherlands) helped me a lot. All peaks are all shown on the map below (zooming, panning and clicking is possible). Yellow mountains have a natural origin, orange mountains are artificial and that one purple mountain is inaccessible to the public.
Head of the Great Plane – 23 m
It is not the highest mountain in South Holland, but it is the one with the most beautiful name. The Head of the Great Plane (Kop van het Grote Vlak) is one of a number of peaks in the far north of the province. They are all just over 20 meters. The landscape here, in the southern outskirts of the Amsterdam Reservoir Dunes (Amsterdamse Waterleidingduinen), is un-Dutch. It has something of an African savanna, although the temperatures are (usually) a bit lower. And there are no antelopes and giraffes but cute deer grazing.
Climbing the Head of the Great Plane is a breeze, also for inexperienced climbers. A brick path leads very gently upwards. The summit, unmarked, is a few dozens of meters from the path.
Flag Dune – 37 m
One of the most beautiful views of the province can be found at the top of this Vlaggeduin, near Katwijk. A view that requires some effort. The climb is steep, over a sandy path, at some places reinforced with steps.
But it is worth the pain because from the top you can see a large part of the province. Noordwijk in, the name says it all, the north; Leiden and friends in the east. And in the south the towers of The Hague, Zoetermeer, Delft and even Rotterdam. In the west the North Sea with its ships and wind turbines. And nearby, you can almost touch it, the seaside resort/fishermen’s village of Katwijk aan Zee.
The Castle of Leiden – 9 m
Like many mountains in the province, the Castle (De Burcht) is man-made. The difference with many of those other man-made mountains is that this one has been around for a long time. So long, in fact, that no one knows exactly how old the Castle is. Some people even think the hill was constructed by the Romans.
But it is more likely that people started raising the terrain in the tenth century. It was a refuge with a wooden fence where the population at that time sought protection against enemies and floods. In the eleventh and twelfth centuries the hill was raised further and the wooden fence was replaced by a stone ring wall.
The Castle is located near the point where two arms of the Rhine meet. Once a strategic location, today the monument is a bit hidden in the city. The surprise is therefore all the greater when you walk through a few narrow streets and suddenly come face to face with a real mountain. A steep staircase leads to the top. From the ring wall, the view over the roofs of Leiden is impressive.
Lilac Mountain – 23 m
Lilac Mountain (De Seringenberg) has also been there for a long time, but not as long as the Castle. In the years 1791 and 1792 the mound was constructed according to an idea of Mr. Adriaan Pieter Twent, the then owner of the Raaphorst estate. Today that estate, like the neighboring Horsts, is owned by the royal family. But the part with the mountain is open to the public. The mountain is, not surprisingly, planted with purple lilacs. The top, with a little shelter, is reached via a path that spirals up through the bushes.
Dunes of The Hague – 14 / 32 m
The beautiful city behind the dunes, The Hague, has a whole series of peaks within the municipal boundaries. Too many to handle all of them but I cover a few, from south to north.
The Rubble Dunes (Puinduinen) are located near Kijkduin, at their highest point 24 meters above sea level. As the name suggests, they were built from the rubble of demolished houses during the construction of the Atlantikwal by the German occupiers in the Second World War. On two of the highest peaks is the Heavenly Vault, a work of land art by the American James Turrell.
Remnants of the Atlantikwal can be found on dunes further north, with elevations up to 32 meters. They have illustrious names such as the Hague Peak, the Volcano and the High Nol.
The Lindo Dune is located near the harbor of Scheveningen. It is almost completely wooded. There is of course nothing wrong with that, but all those trees slightly obstruct the potentially very interesting view.
A little further inland is the Hubertus Dune, about 14 meters above NAP. A little bit less high, but a beautiful peaceful oasis, with forest and sand drifts, high above the city bustle.
The Monster of Blood Mountain, it sounds like the title of a mediocre horror film. But it’s not what you think. The name Bloedberg refers to the blood, sweat and tears with which the unemployed built this hill in the 1930s, as part of a job creation project. “They sweated puss and blood,” as people say in the nearby village of Monster. And the name Monster may have its origins in the Latin word monasterium (monastery), but it certainly has little to do with monsters in the Harry Potter sense of the word.
Actually, the mountain was part of a larger project. The then mayor G.W. Kampschoër dreamed of turning the barren dune area into a forest. To this end, a few hundred thousand trees and shrubs were planted. But shortly after the opening, war broke out and the Wehrmacht started using the emerging forest as a training ground.
During those exercises, the German soldiers must have trampled the young bushes en masse. Today, the dunes here are still quite barren. The Blood Mountain itself, however, is overgrown. A cobblestone path spirals up to a lookout point 12 meters above sea level. That northsea is barely visible from there; the mountain is about the same height as the narrow row of dunes that protects the Westland against the elements. The little bench on the mountain top is a nice place to muse on the history of the place. And to enjoy the view: The Hague in the north, the port of Rotterdam in the south.
Mother Earth – 4 m
There are a number of mysterious hills in the Abtswoudse Bos near Delft. Closer examination reveals that it’s Mother Earth (Moeder Aarde), a piece of land art by artist Edith Kieser. She made use of the soil that was freed up when digging the ponds in the forest that was created around 2000.
On the spot, in a large clearing in the forest, the relief seems completely random. But on Google Earth you can clearly see how the hills form a 200-meter long human figure. The arms and legs are wooded, the hands, feet and head are open grassland. At the site of the crotch is a little pond. The highest point is only six meters above the surrounding area; you don’t have to come to Mother Earth for the sweeping views. But it’s an interesting experience to walk up via the left leg, look around on the head and then descend again via the right arm. Other routes are of course also possible.
Ski Slope Zoetermeer – 17 m
There is a striking construction northwest of the town of Zoetermeer (that name could be translated as Sweet Lake City). A slanting building in the Buytenpark that is visible from far and wide. It is one of the artificial ski slopes of Snowworld, opened in 1996. The ski center is located in a hilly landscape with heights of 15 to 17 meters. So in fact there’s not just one Ski Slope.
Like a number of other mountain areas in this list, the Buytenpark has a history as a waste dump. Today it is popular among lovers of adventurous sports such as mountain biking and survival. From the hills there is a beautiful view over the flat polder landscape and to the skylines of The Hague and Leiden and the row of dunes behind it.
Measlant Sea Barrier Hill
The Maeslant Sea Barrier near Hoek of Holland is gigantic. The two doors of the barrier are supported by 260 meters long trusses. As if two Eiffel Towers are lying on their side, right there on the banks of the Nieuwe Waterweg. Well, almost.
Of course you would prefer to view something so huge from above. A 20 meter high hill has therefore been created on the north bank to make this possible. The effect is a bit disappointing: the construction of the barrier is still higher than the hill. Perhaps a watchtower can be built on the top.
That does not alter the fact that the view over Europoort, the Westland and the Nieuwe Waterweg is very worthwhile. And by the way, the Maeslantkeringheuvel is one of the two mountains in South Holland that are accessible to the disabled. The top can be reached by car; the only other mountain where that is possible is on the other side of the Waterweg, on the Peninsula.
The High Forest – 17 / 32 m
On the northeast side of Rotterdam is a mountain range that did not exist fifty years ago. For centuries this polder land was located a few meters below NAP. But in the 1970s, demolition and construction waste was dumped here and then covered with soil from the ponds dug around it. Since then, the area has been known as the High Forest (Hoge Bergsche Bos)
The Hoge Rotterdamsche golf course is located on the west side of the forest (17 m) There is an official long-distance walking route on the site, the Big Rivers Trail (Grote Rivierenpad). But every time I walk there I am approached by golfers who give you the feeling that you are not really welcome as a hiker. In any case, it is advisable to be wary of flying golf balls.
Further east are some lower hills, with a climbing wall, a lookout tower, a mountain bike trail and a number of sculptures. A little further, in a bend of the river Rotte, is the highest peak, the ski mountain (32 m). The southern slopes are covered with mats on which you can ski. But from the north side, paths and stairs lead to the highest point, with a panoramic view of Rotterdam, Lansingerland, Eendrachtspolder and Nieuwerkerk.
Hillegersberg – 2 m
Two meters above sea level, can you call that a mountain, even in the South Holland context? In its defense I can argue that the area around it is two meters below sea level, which brings the total height to four meters. But what’s more important: the name, and the church on the top, show that the Hillegersberg has been considered a mountain for centuries.
Due to its low height, this mountain is a bit hidden between the surrounding houses. Quite a unique feature for a mountain. But that makes it all the more surprising to suddenly find yourself at the foot of it. In addition to the mentioned church, we also find a cemetery and the ruins of the 13th-century castle Huis ten Berghe on the slopes. All in all a hidden gem in Rotterdam-North.
Rozenburg Peninsula – 24 m
There’s a metro station just 800 meters away, as the crow flies. And yet this is probably the most difficult to reach of all the mountains mentioned in this blog post. On foot anyway. From Rozenburg, it is a ten kilometer hike to the head of the Peninsula (de Landtong). The fact that this walk takes you on a largely straight path is not really the problem. The monotony is more than made up for by the spectacular views over Europoort industrial area and Nieuwe Waterweg canal. And halfway through by the Maeslantkering sea barrier.
But once the mountain is reached and climbed you have to go all the way back. And that’s a bit too much. In the past one could cross Nieuwe Waterweg with a ferry and then continue the journey at the aforementioned metro station. Unfortunately, that ferry has been killed in a recent round of cutbacks.
Of course, there are no such problems when you come by car: you drive those ten kilometers in less than ten minutes. And an asphalt road even leads to a parking lot at the top. In short: this is the most car-friendly mountain in South Holland and far beyond. Well, together with the Maeslant Sea Barrier Hill, as mentioned before. The view here is once again spectacular. There is also a cafeteria at the foot of the mountain, but that has very limited opening hours.
Mount van Gansewinkel – 48 m
Surprisingly, almost all South Holland mountains are publicly accessible, but this highest one is not. It’s no less than 48 meters above the sea, which is located a stone’s throw away.
Seen from above, the shape of the mountain stands out. Four straight lines that form 90 degree angles in pairs. That must be an artificial construction. And indeed, the mountain is located on the property of Van Gansewinkel Minerals. This company is engaged in soil remediation, storage of contaminated mineral residual flows and the supply of building materials.
It is understandable that these activities don’t allow public accessibility of the site. But that’s a shame, because the view over Maasvlakte, Europoort and Voorne-Putten must be phenomenal.
The Slufter – 23 m
Fortunately, the mountain next to Van Gansewinkel is accessible, albeit only partially. Is it a mountain? Yes, the model of the AHN shows a kind of ring-shaped elevation with a lower area in between. A kind of crater, but formed by human hands.
De Slufter is a sludge depot that was built in the 1980s. It is used to store contaminated dredged material that is collected when harbors, rivers and other waterways are kept navigable.
Also around much of the Slufter there are fences, but luckily there is a road on the south side that slowly ascends to the highest point and then descends again via a beautiful hairpin bend to Maasvlakte beach. The view over the North Sea and the islands of Voorne and Goeree is astonishingly beautiful.
Chill Hill – 7 m
This striking mountain is a left-over of the WIMBY! (Welcome to my Backyard) event from the turn of the century. In this context, the Lordship Hoogvliet (Heerlijkheid Hoogvliet) was built on a former sports complex. In addition to Chill Hill, the Lordship also includes a tavern and an arboretum. Or, well, a tavern… The postmodern building seems to be used only for parties and weddings. And the arboretum still looks a bit meager. But hey, Trompenburg took two centuries to become what it is today, so give it some time.
Since 2016 there have been bright red seating elements on and around the Chill Hill. From the top there is a good view of the Shell Pernis refinery, of the restructured suburb of Hoogvliet and of the narrow green zone in between.
Old Maas Hill – 25 m
This mountain has several names, because except Oude Maasheuvel, also Gaankensbult, Jan Gerritseheuvel and Barendrechtse Berg are used. The Old Maas Hill dates from the beginning of this century, when the nearby Vinex suburb of Carnisselande was built. This mountain, among other things, was constructed from the soil that was released when lake Gaatkensplas was dug.
The ascent is fairly easy, thanks to two spiraling hiking trails on either side of the mountain. Although the temptation is great to push straight up over the steep grass slope. On the top is the artwork Sky, Moon, Mirror, Environment by Arno van der Mark. This is a large convex mirror in which the viewer and the view are reflected. Sometimes slightly obscured by graffiti and dirt, though. But that view is fantastic. To the north we look over the Vinex neighbourhoods, towards the skyline of Rotterdam in all its glory. In the other directions, the wide South Holland delta landscape unfolds, with willow forests, fields and meadows on both sides of the Old Maas river.
The Donk – 4 m
Many of the mountains in South Holland are dunes. Most of these are of course in the coastal strip, but there is also one far inland. The Donk rises four meters above sea level and six meters above the flat landscape of the Alblasserwaard polder. The small nature reserve to the west of it is, very appropriately, known as the Donk Lowlands (Donkse Laagten).
This mountain, also called Braankse Donk after neighboring Brandwijk, was originally a river dune. And six meters, which is admittedly not much, is still enough to stand out in this flat polder environment.
There used to be a monastery of Cistercian nuns on the Donk. Today only a few farms remain. However, they do provide a surprising village-on-a-hill feeling that you do not expect in these regions.
Vliedberg Tiengemeten – 6m
Not much information can be found about the origin of the hill on this nature island in the Haringvliet. But since Tiengemeten was only a sandbank in the 17th century, it can reasonably be assumed that the Vliedberg was built by human hands.
The mountain is located about a kilometer south of the little harbor where the ferry docks. When Tiengemeten was still an agricultural island, people and livestock sought refuge here from flooding. Today it is a beautiful vantage point for bird watching and admiring the wetland nature reserve.
In fact, there are so many mountains in the province of South Holland that it’s tempting to skip some minor peaks. Also, there are a number of mountains that are still on my to climb list. So here are some honorable mentions:
- Head of Goeree
- Rubble Mountain Ridderkerk
- Vliedpark Middelharnis
- Heemberg Hoogvliet
- The two hills in Park The Two Hills in Rotterdam
And if I missed a bump in the landscape, let me know in the comments below!
By the way, I previously made the Mountain Map of the Netherlands. But on that occasion I stretched the definition of mountain a bit further….