#14 Resuming my walk, a brush with danger on the Pieterpad

Pieterpad,  Nijverdaal to Vorden

For the introduction to this (hopefully)490 km journey, please click on the heading,’Walking the Pieterpad’ in the black bar above.

(Well, it is now June 2017. First in June 2015 I broke a bone in my foot, that put an end to long distance walking for awhile. Then at the end of 2015 I went through  major abdominal surgery. Healing from that and the complications (which I’m still dealing with) have stopped me from resuming my walk. But with 290 km to go, I love having that as a goal now, I can walk for an hour and will be building that up until I can manage a whole day. Thanks for reading my Pieterpad posts so far.Wish me luck.)

Ah, it is spring, time to get out on my long distance walks again. And after perusing the long-term weather forecasts, I grabbed a 3 day window of fairly clear weather and set out.
For accommodation and distance reasons, I skipped the 5 km between Hellendoorn (see post #13) and set out from Nijverdaal.

The weather was cloudy but reasonable. But, this time, from the beginning, things were going wrong.I got lost several times, and finding  accommodation for the night was more challenging than usual. It was late in the day when I approached one of Holland’s rare high elevations (Holterberg, ‘berg’ is the word for mountain- well I guess everything is relative 🙂 ) -60m. Below is what you don’t want to see coming toward you when you are alone, without shelter and on an elevation. I took the picture, knowing I was in for something memorable, then I put my poncho on and tried to think of what to do.

approaching storm

approaching storm

One of my women friends is walking the Camino right now,and we’d spoken of my comparatively easy jaunts on the Pieterpad- no climbing, short distances, and of course 3-4 days at a time instead of a month or more of steady walking!

Still, this trip wasn’t without risk. The storm did hit in full fury. I found a grove of young saplings where I hunkered down while the thunder and lightning raged almost directly above me. My position didn’t offer much protection, but it did make me feel less exposed. I think those were the scariest 15minutes I’ve spent in along time. I emerged soaked from the waist down while the thunder was still grumbling in the distance and continued walking.

The sun eventually dried out my trousers, I felt great at having survived it all, and then managed to get turned around, and 2 hours later found myself at the same spot as the photo above!!! It was at this moment I realised that I can’t rely on my lousy sense of direction anymore. I have to learn how to orient. I do have a detailed description of the Pieterpad with me, and the paths are marked, but this section was very badly indicated, and combined with my own lack of navigating skills… well, it was a bad moment.

later, I was in the woods,finally going in the right direction and the rest of the storm front hit but this was milder, and getting soaked no longer bothered me quite as much. Next time bring the rain trousers!

This section of path took me 6 hours instead of the  2-3 it should have taken. I haven’t built up good condition yet, so I was well beyond my physical limits by the time I got into Holten. The only B&B  I had been able to book was 5km further. No way. I took a taxi, luckily there was a company operating from here.

Later I heard that tragically, two twenty year old girls had sheltered from the hail under a tree in a park not far from where I had been, in the same storm, and they were killed instantly by lightning.

This overshadowed the rest of my walk. The next two days were dryer, though with aching muscles, not what I would call easy. I finally hit my stride in the afternoon of the 3rd day, but by then it was time to take the train back to Groningen.

Here is a visual impression. Vorden is the midpoint of the Pieterpad, I am now in Gelderland, having left the province of Overijssel. And ready to start the second half (about 290km to go).






What’s next? Everything.

Being in the ‘place between’ stories can get (too?) comfortable.

Place between stories

Place between stories

After several years of discomfort and kicking the constant quest for meaning and recognition via one’s profession, something settled. My life led me gently back to basics, and fulfilment came from simply doing things that came naturally. Walking, gardening, drawing and painting, writing, cooking, tending the home and relationships. That was all going on when I was focused on my work as well, but it was my work which established my rhythms, and now it is the day itself, the earth’s cycles, and my body.

The long periods of deep uninterrupted focus needed to progress on my book resulted in new insights and excitement as previously unrelated areas began to reach out across ideological space and contact each other. The book is also an excavation of sorts, and I am undertsanding better where I’ve arrived and how I got here.

In the meantime, I joined a neighborhood traffic action group and worked with them for 2 years. Our successes led to the town council wanting to work with us, and now several of us are involved with plans to take what we’ve learned to other villages. Added to our weekly meetings are also planning meetings with the municipality.

Then one of the people I was working with on that project is involved in a regional version of Let’s Gro, an alternative festival held in Groningen. I went to the first meeting for ‘Let’s Win'(short for Winsum, a largish town close by) and suddenly found myself in a group where for once, I wasn’t the only one interested in transition, and alternative forms of art and community building. It was just amazing, inspiring, and the dynamic of the meeting captured my imagination, highlighted my research on my book, and also let me see what my contribution could be as far as facilitating more creative approaches in a number of areas.

So, oops, I have another project to be committed to. All of a sudden, I can’t just take off on my Pieterpad walks, but have to schedule them between ….meetings! My life is suddenly full of meetings! And more responsibility! Is this truly the direction I wanted to move in?

One aspect of the place between is that while you are waiting for what’s next, the possibilities seem endless. I guess one reluctance is that when things start to take form again, I have to make choices, and all of a sudden things get narrowed down again.

So I’m thinking about these things now. It seems that this social engagement is a natural outgrowth of having pulled back out of society for several years. I now feel called to share some of the things that have become clear. And I definitely want to collaborate. So these needs are being filled by the path my life is taking at present. But I am reluctant to let go of the long easy (well,not always) days of doing what I want when I want, and having time to really listen and reflect.

Let’s Gro- an Inspiration Festival


A vegetable garden for everyone

Last summer,  I heard that Charles Eisenstein would be at Findhorn’s, ‘New Story Summit’ conference. At first I wanted to go, but the idea of attending a conference put me off. I’ve gone to similar gatherings only to experience a few intense days of inspiration, then being unable to maintain the ‘conference high’ back in familiar surroundings. The seemingly promising contacts also water down, and in a few months, I’m left wondering if I couldn’t have spent all that time and money more wisely.

From what I heard of the conference it sounded like I’m not the only one to resist this old way of orchestrating knowledge-sharing – despite positive feedback there were serious rumblings of rebellion and dissatisfaction throughout the week.

Mailing briefly with Charles after the conference, he understood my concerns, yet noted that this form of gathering was still precious in that it created a space where diverse people could meet and exchange experiences. But he, too, has been feeling the urge to explore more open-ended ways of doing this.

Well, last week I was very lucky to experience a fantastically successful alternative to the old conference form. And I didn’t have to go abroad to do so. I’m privileged to live just outside of Groningen- a culturally rich university town in the northernmost end of Holland. It has always been on the progressive side despite the Calvanistic influence, but now, things are really starting to hot up.

The Let’s Gro Inspiration Festival was a perfect platform for exploring transition. There were 122 events planned over 2 days in or around the centre of Groningen. The theme was ‘The future of the city Groningen’. All the events were geared to exploring alternatives to existing forms. The scope was huge: community greening initiatives, socially engaged art, repurposing buildings, recyling, upcycling, social work, new energy alternatives, rethinking transport in the city,exploring community in various forms, etc.

Here is a small selection of what was available to do, most of it free!

  • a masterclass in self organisation in the city, how to initiate citizen actions
  • a pop up restaurant using locally produced organic products
  • a talk about creating community green spaces by residents who did so successfully
  • a presentation on the ‘home of the future’ featuring new technology to enable the elder home-owner to remain at home longer
  • panels and events for young entrepreneurs in the creative industries
  • a guided tour around a garden started for low income families, to give them work and enable them to grow their own food
  • a ship container with a display of cradle to cradle projects, and a room where oyster mushrooms are being raised on coffee grounds collected from the huge Internal Revenue building’s restaurant.
  • a café run by volunteers, serving free meals, using only donated food slightly past hold by date, or surplus from restaurants and local farmers
  • a nature hike in the city’s green spaces
  • a vintage clothes swap event
  • a party for internationals- students and young entrepreneurs

There was music, dance, partying, art, theatre, film, and this water sculpture on the main market square. There were seminars on urban beekeeping, on providing a basis income for everyone, creative strategies for the city, safety in neighborhoods, sustainable entrepreneurship, a mini Maker’s Fair, and more.

What I loved about it was the free form way you could put together your own program. You could meet or not meet other people, you could choose where to linger, when to go, what to see, taste, hear, experience. The knowledge gained could be applied locally, which was the intention. And the people one met lived nearby enough, had enough common interests and networks to make keeping in touch realistic.

I attended several events on one day and though I didn’t come home on a conference high, I was quietly inspired and grounded in my neighborhood and in Groningen in a new way. Possibilities opened up I’d not been aware of before. This is truly a place where people are exploring new ways of building community together. There is so much going on!

As a result of contacts made there, I may be assisting a student project about social initiatives, and have since heard about some other socially engaged artists.

And speaking of community, I learned about the Community Lover’s guide to the Universe, which I hadn’t been aware of until now, were you?

The Pieterpad and its varied paths

Below:  path surfaces from Gramsbergen to Hardenberg

These collages are from my most recent 4 day 50km walk between Gramsbergen and Hellendoorn via Hardenberg, Ommen and Lemele. Travel logs for those days are blog posts 10,11, 12, and 13. But while I was walking, I kept seeing how interesting all the different surfaces were that my feet (said feet make a few cameos in the photos) were continually making contact with. So they are just as important as other visual records of the trip.

Above, you can see that it was rainy, and that the walk was more on roads than through nature reserves and woods.

Below, Hardenberg to Ommen, Ommen to Lemele

And finally, the last leg, from Lemele to Hellendoorn.

#13 Hospitable Holland

Pieterpad,  Lemele to Hellendoorn

305 km to Sint Pietersberg

305 km to Sint Pietersberg

For the introduction to this (hopefully)480 km journey, please click on the heading,’Walking the Pieterpad’ in the black bar above.

I’ve walked about 175km by now. Just 305 to go. But this has never been about competing or achieving anything other than completing the trip at my own tempo whenever that may be.

This was a Monday, the 4th and last day of this leg. I started to have trouble with pain on the top of my foot. I can’t seem to warm up to my new Lowa hiking boots. Walking was doable, but not relaxed.

autumn path by small manmade stream

autumn path by small man made stream

The road was varied and pleasant on a perfect autumn day. I was thankful for the occasional spots to sit and rest. There are sometimes long stretches without them, when not even the side of the road is available to sit safely. Here is one welcoming bench I made use of to have lunch and take off my boots.

welcoming chunky bench

welcoming chunky bench

It is sometimes thought that the Pieterpad is an old pilgrim’s route, but it was conceived and mapped out by two elderly Dutch women between 1975 and 1981. In the 35 years of its existence, about 1,000,000 people have walked it.

So it isn’t surprising that people along the path sometimes offer refreshments or rest stops. So far these have all been charming. In one place, there was a picnic table with a cooler beside it and a long typewrittten message. This family has a dairy farm with happy cows whose milk is used for Beemster cheese as well as Ben & Jerry’s ice cream. They started a ‘dessert table’ on the path, offering fresh dairy products for hikers. You just take what you want out of the cooler and pay in the little box provided. They obviously care about their cows and products and have a ‘Caring Dairy trademark for sustainable dairy farming. You can get yoghurt, cheese or fruit juices from the cooler.

I encountered yet another sign of Dutch hospitality further on. A bicycle parked on the side of the path (in this case a road) was an invitation to pause at this welcoming little rest stop.They didn’t have a toilet (some do) and had a vehement sign asking people not to pee or anything else at the side of the little hut!!!

(I got quite expert at ducking into dense, highly growing corn when I needed to pee urgently and there was nothing else in sight. I always took a plastic bag for my used TP-  it is so disgusting to come across other hiker’s used TP in various out of the way spots. )

This is likely the last Pieterpad post for this year. I’m far enough down into the middle of the country that getting to my next starting point takes me 3 1/2 hours on public transport, (same for getting back after a full day of walking!) . And with the evenings growing dark so early, it is less relaxed for me generally. All being well, I’ll start out again next spring.

I’ve gained so much from this experience so far. Much more self confidence in finding my way, and in solving normal travel dilemmas involving transport and accommodation. I’ve learned that I have to have these kinds of challenges and movement in my life to be happy. And that my world is so much bigger than I’d thought during the years when I felt trapped close to home because I don’t drive here. I’ve also learned a lot about certain parts of the country and the people living there, and how much I need both nature and social contact to feel whole. So I’m really looking forward to the next 305 km.

#12 Counting blessings

Pieterpad, Ommen to Lemele

public flowerbed in Ommen

public flowerbed in Ommen

For the introduction to this (hopefully)480 km journey, please click on the heading,’Walking the Pieterpad’ in the black bar above.

The third day of this walk was a Sunday, the weather was perfect and everyone was out in nature. The Dutch are fanatic cyclists and there were myriads of brightly coloured bike club members racing by. There were families and couples and groups out walking on the paths and by the river. Normally, walking the Pieterpad can be quite solitary, so I loved all the activity.

Sunday in the Vechtsdal

Sunday in the Vechtsdal

The woman who’d put me up in Hardenberg the day before was sweet. After I returned from dinner in the town we sat talking together well into the evening. She confided to me that she had lost a child of 5 to illness when she and her husband were working in Indonesia, and that 2 of her remaining children were gravely ill, one possibly with the same rare illness that the daughter had had. Her husband had died long ago, there were a few photos of them together when they were young. Despite all this sadness, she was very open and not at all self pitying. She said she had a good life there in the neighbourhood, and she had friends.  I left there grateful to have met her.

When I arrived at my accommodations in Ommen the following evening, and got to talking with my hostess there, in a strange and sad synchronicity, she, too had lost a daughter. Her daughter was an artist who became ill in her late 30s and died soon after. Her artwork was all around the house and it was good. This woman’s husband was there as well, but was dealing with cancer. She told me of the things they used to do together and what they have had to release as far as travel etc. This woman too was grateful for what she still had and not embittered by what she’d experienced.

Needless to say, I left there thoughtful, and counting my blessings that at this stage of my life, my husband and I are both healthy and can do so much together.

This part of the walk was varied and social, as I met a lot of people along the paths. While I was taking a tea break at a roadside café, one of the bike clubs whooshed in, and all these vital 20-30 year old men in their coloured nylon outfits poured in joking with each other and the waitresses. It was a pleasure to be around all that vital energy, you could see these guys were loving their Sunday and the fleeting freedom from family obligations and being in suits at work the next day.

 Below are photos from that day. There weren’t any of the usual accommodations available, but I was lucky to get a whole caravan to myself for a bargain price.

Next post will be the last about the Pieterpad for awhile, winter is closing in and the days are getting shorter. Not a problem until the evening, now dark, when I usually have to go out either walking or a loaned bike to get some dinner in an unknown environment.





#11 The land and the people

Pieterpad, Hardenberg to Ommen

approaching Ommen

approaching Ommen

For the introduction to this (hopefully)480 km journey, please click on the heading,’Walking the Pieterpad’ in the black bar above.

The first part of this walk- Friday, Gramsbergen to Hardenberg, was all done in a constant drizzle. Everything was damp and uncomfortable, but that is part of long distance walking.Saturday, after taking leave of my sweet hostess, I started out in mist, but around 2 hours later, the sun broke through. For the next 3 days the weather was beautiful.

Misty beginning

Misty beginning

Sun breaking through

Sunny path

Each province has its own feel. In my walk I’ve reached Overijssel. There, like in the other parts of the country, is a local pride in the area. The Vecht, more a river than the usual canals, runs through here, and there are several small towns on its banks- Hardenberg and Ommen being the main ones. The river valley is an important wildlife reserve and the Dutch government is active in preserving habitats and managing the river so that flora and fauna can flourish. It is a large recreational area with campgrounds, walking and cycling routes. I like the feel of it,it is relaxed and welcoming and the paths are really well marked here.

on the Ommen bridge

on the Ommen bridge

Ommen street

Ommen street

Where I live, in the north, the people have a reputation for being rather gruff and closed. They are salt of the earth and when you get to know them they are loyal and honest. (Of course these kinds of generalisations are dangerous, and there are exceptions). But I must admit, that the further south I walk, the warmer and more open the people.

One of the main reasons to walk this path was to form my own physical and emotional bond with the country where I’ve lived, but not truly rooted in,  for the past 30 years. And it is true that taking every step of this walk forms a new relationship with the land I pass through. But what I didn’t expect is the new relationships with the people. Because I sleep for the most part in private homes, I get a chance to know the residents in a way that wouldn’t have been open to me previously. More about that in the next post.

Here are a few shots from this part of the walk: