Return to Tiengemeten
One of the best outings in the wider area of Rotterdam is a trip to Tiengemeten. A place that you can only reach by boat has something attractive by definition. It is not a coincidence that world traveller Floortje Dessing, when she couldn’t go to the ends of the earth for a while due to the pandemic, immediately traveled to Tiengemeten.
My first vist to Tiengemeten was on a Sunday in December 2006. The transformation from farmland to nature reserve was in full swing at that time. Road plates lay over muddy plains, excavators were on weekend mode, surveyors’ instruments were on display. The hole in the southern dike had not yet been made so we could make a nice hike all around the island.
We were the only passengers on the ferry that day, on both crossings. There were less than a dozen visitors there all day. Okay, the season also played a role, but nevertheless: Tiengemeten was still undiscovered. On subsequent visits it became a little busier every time; also, the island appeared to have become a little more natural at each visit.
Roffa’s own Wadden Island, that’s what you could call it, after the string of peaceful islands in the north. Earlier I made that comparison with the Eiland van Brienenoord, but it may be even more true for Tiengemeten. If only because, just like on some Wadden Islands, there are no cars driving here, apart from some local traffic. It is the domain of the hiker. And it’s only 20 kilometers from the Coolsingel in downtown Rotterdam.
The name Tiengemeten refers to the dimensions of the sandbar it was in the 17th century. A gemet is an old surface measure equal to about 0.4 hectares. The sandbank was ten gemet at the time so that must have been approximately four hectares in size. Over the centuries, Tiengemeten has grown considerably due to siltation and land reclamation: it’s now over 10 square kilometers. But the name remained the same.
Over the years, many plans have been made for Tiengemeten that I am glad were never carried out. Sludge depot, bungalow park, nuclear power station, second national airport. And if the Rotterdam 2000+ Plan had become a reality, it would probably be a small city park now between residential neighbourhoods and industrial areas.
In 1990 it was decided on the national level that the island would become a nature development area. Since 1997, Tiengemeten is owned and managed by Vereniging Natuurmonumenten (the Association of Natural Monuments). They drew up a plan in which the area was divided into three zones, with the poetic names Weemoed, Weelde and Wildernis. In English, you’d probably say Nostalgia, Abundance and Wilderness. Or in more factual descriptions: cultural history, swamp and tidal area.
The transformation did not go very quickly because funding had to be arranged and farmers had to be bought out. That is why, during that first visit in 2006, it was still a work in progress.
The preservation of the farmhouses, barns, shelters and other heritage has been a point of discussion, but fortunately it was decided that they could stay. They have of course been given a different function: visitor center, catering, museum, care farm, holiday home. And in some cases those structures became ruins where nature itself provides new functions.
Wild and abundant
Of the three zones, Weemoed/Nostalgia stands out the most. This small area on the eastern tip, the oldest polder, was transformed into a pretty, small-scale agricultural enclave. With an inn in an old farmhouse, the terrace of which is a favorite pit stop during hikes.
The distinction between Weelde/Abundance and Wildernis/Wilderness is less clear. I understand that in the first area humans still push a few buttons every now and then and that in the second area everything is left to nature. But in practice it all seems both wild and abundant to me as a layman.
In total I visited Tiengemeten about ten times, under very different weather conditions, as the photos in this blog post show. But the last time, my photo archive showed me, was already five years ago. Well, of course the pandemic didn’t help. The island has even been completely closed to visitors for some time. I would like to nominate that decision for the award of the most nonsensical action of the entire covid crisis. Because if there’s one place where you can practice social distancing, it’s on this virtually uninhabited patch of swampy ground in Haringvliet estuary.
In any case, it was high time for a return to Tiengemeten. This took place on March 5, in the company of traveling companions van D., van D. and van D., with whom I also undertook most of the previous expeditions. Van D. and van D. were always a bit critical of the whole nature development project, especially van D., who could remember well what the island looked like when it was still agricultural area. And I’m willing to believe that it was already a beautiful and peaceful oasis back then and that most farmers left here with great reluctance.
Still, the two critics seemed to be changing their mind a bit on this visit. And I was also surprised by the developments of the last five years. Nature is giving substance to the created conditions in an exuberant way. Plants, flowers, shrubs and bushes are popping up everywhere. Tiengemeten is getting wilder and more abundant. And this was in early spring; that holds a promise for the coming seasons.
Some people say that is’s not possible at all, that it’s a contradiction in terms, developing nature. But the Tiengemeten case proves them wrong.
Nevertheless, I’d like to add a small point of criticism. Or call it a suggestion for improvement; do with it what you want, Natuurmonumenten. But a simple bridge or trekpont (manual micro ferry) across the channel on the south coast would be very nice. That would make the 10 mile walk around the entire island possible once again. And it also solves the problem that the western part can only be reached via one route and that you always have to return via the same path. Hikers don’t like that, no matter how beautiful the area is.
The map shows, in orange, the recommended walk; in gray the walk that is not (yet) possible, at the asterisk the missing bridge. Click here for a full screen version of the map.