#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).

 

 

 

 

 

#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:

 

 

 

 

 

#7 Passing a threshold

Pieterpad, Rolde en route to Sleen (via Schoonloo)

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

Sign along the Pieterpad

Sign along the Pieterpad

This leg of the journey I was accompanied (figuratively) by Robert MacFarlane and his, ‘The Old Ways’. I’m in the middle of reading it and it is a delight. He writes of his own wayfaring, always with an eye to how walking is linked with meaning creation, local myths,and personal stories.

I was on this section of path for 3 glorious warm and sunny  days. Time to sink deep into one’s own rhythm and thoughts. The path wound through several nature reserves, and while I love wooded sandpaths best of all, I have to admit it got a bit repetitive.

Still, there was variation- going over streams, the path breaking out into open fields, heather bogland with wide peaty ponds, and the occasional paved road. Being late July the birds are very quiet. I didn’t see many in the woods and missed their songs. Actually I was feeling quite starved for other signs of life by the second day, and was so pleased to find a young cat on the path near Schoonloo (Dutch pronounciation – double oo is pronounced like our long o in ‘snow’). And once when I stopped by a field with cows in the distance, I looked up and they were all coming toward me, all curious and snuffly. One got close enough for a nose kiss- what a big, black, WET nose! The horses were being boarded by a friendly stables I passed at the end of my second day. The place I was staying was 2km off the path and I did 16km that day.

An important part of this experience is surely the encounters with people on the way and those in whose homes I rest at night. There is a network of private homes which host only hikers and cyclists for a low fee. The one I stayed in this time couldn’t be beaten by a 4 star hotel in my eyes. I had a little private suite in their beautiful home, and they were very kind. Here was the breakfast served in ‘my’ sitting room overlooking the garden. And I got a packed lunch for on the way.

bed and BREAKFAST!

bed and BREAKFAST!

While I walked, I mused on a Joseph Campbell quote I have in my travel journal:

Whether small or great, and no matter what the stage or grade of life, the Call rings up the curtain, always on a mystery of transfiguration- a rite, or moment, of spiritual passage, which, when complete, amounts to a dying and a birth. The familiar life horizon has been outgrown; the old concepts, ideals and emotional patterns no longer fit; the time for the passing of a threshold is at hand.

Joseph Campbell in conversation with Michael Toms,‘Notes from an Open Life’.

The walking seems to have a lot to do with this kind of life stage. I can’t explain it concretely, but it is in itself a ‘Call’.

Here is what Robert Macfarlane has to say about walking as a way of creating meaning:

 …it seemed that every month I had been walking the old ways, I had met or heard tell of someone else setting out on a walk whose purposes exceeded the purely transportational or the simply recreational, and whose destination was in some sense sacred. Thousands of these improvised pilgrimages seemed to be occurring, often unguided by the principles of a major world religion, and of varying levels of seriousness and sanctity.

-Robert MacFarlane, ‘The Old Ways’

I’ve covered 100km now, on my own two feet, one step at a time. And encouraged by an account of Robert MacFarlane’s-  some of it done barefoot. The first thing you notice is temperature, after that as he notes as well, there is a feeling of reciprocity you get the second your skin directly touches the Earth’s skin.

barefoot

 

 

 

 

 

 

#6 Walking the path of passion and heart

Pieterpad, Glimmen to Rolde

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

Beautiful wooded sand-paths through trees and fields.

Beautiful wooded sand-paths through trees and fields.

It has been quiet here but after a month taking care of the house while Rende was away, I’m back on the Pieterpad.

travelling light

travelling light

This time was different. After being housebound I was wild to just get going, so I threw a few things in a daypack, waved to hub and dog and took off- without any real idea how long I’d be gone. This is so uncharacteristic of me- the list maker and planner, and worrier par excellence:  ‘what if I can’t find a place to sleep! I’ll end up being a bag lady’, etc.

It is true, in high season the few affordable accommodations are usually booked, and they were. But in those cases, I was lucky to simply bump into people who directed me to a private address where, in need, the owner would provide a bed and hearty breakfast for a reasonable price ( from around 25-30 euros). Some of the chiquer B&Bs were asking €70!
Influenced by my immediate surroundings after living in caution for so long, I need to learn to trust more and not try to control everything. This risk-taking suits a part of my nature which has been dormant for years and reminds me of my youthful hitch-hiking trips through the western US.

I ended up walking for 3 days and it was the most beautiful part of the route to date. After day 1 the weather was hot and sunny. I mentioned that the landscape would change from our stark northern spaces to a softer, forested environment. There were miles of sand tracks going through several nature reserves. It was so deserted I was able to get relief from the blazing heat and bathe unseen in a pond nestled in the heather dunes of Ballooërveld.

For several weeks previous to the trip, I’d been immersed in Charlotte Du Cann’s book, ’52 flowers that shook my world, a radical return to earth’. And I travelled accompanied by this sense of communion and connection. And with questions about passion and life path brought up by rereading of Du Cann’s own journey to self discovery. One can’t help be challenged by her stark honesty, and bitterness transformed, to confront the parts of one’s own identity that no longer burn true. Du Cann’s stripping down process has brought her to an incendiary core, it seems. Anything false is immediately consumed. And being in proximity with that kind of unflinching honesty forces one to try to locate the same kind of truth in oneself.

Shaded approach to Rolde

Shaded approach to Rolde

I walked among trees and dunes, in quiet, listening to birds, listening to my breath and footfalls, listening to my heart and thoughts, in peace and joy and belonging. I stopped when I was tired, ate when I was hungry, slept in clean sheets in the homes of kind strangers, and took more steps towards inner healing and finding one’s truth.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

#5 Changing landscape

Pieterpad, Groningen to Glimmen

36 km done, 447 to go!

36 km done, 447 to go!

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

Along a city street

Along a city street

Entering a wooded path

Entering a wooded path

You can already see that the landscape I’m in now is different from the wide open spaces of the northernmost parts of this walk.

This leg started in the city then went along a canal. Eventually, the path led through woods, past several lakes and recreation spots, past houseboats, and behind the neighborhood Haren on a sand path.

Below is a common sight in Groningen and the surroundings. Because of all the canals criss-crossing the landscape here, almost everything can be a bridge. Whole slabs of road simply lift up to make way for passing yachts and cargo barges. In the case below, part of the railway rises up-  note the cycling path to the right, which is also in the air.

Bridges up

Bridges up

 

Here they are lowered, the cyclists on the other side are still waiting for the barrier to lift. .

Bridges down in place

Bridges down in place

Open to traffic.

cyclists bridge

I thought when I started this trip that I would keep a journal, and that it would be a time of contemplation and insights. So far, aside from recording the journey in photos, I have not had the urge to take notes during the walks, or share anything other than these basically factual posts.

Maybe it is because I am not yet really immersed in the walking. It is still one activity among others in my normal days. Probably when I’m on the road for several days at time, the experience will be different.

One insight I had this time was that you always end up taking yourself with you. I’ve read different people’s wayfaring experiences, and have been struck by each person’s approach to walking. Some are focused on the destination, others on the achievement, still others on the flora and fauna on the way. I wonder what mine is.

The first sensation I had when setting out on this walk was the sense of freedom- the delight in not having to fill up my day with ‘meaningful’ or productive activity. The realisation that simply walking is enough always fills me with elation.

I am a mosey-er, other walkers always stride past me while I’m looking at the fall of light on a leaf, or stopping to listen to birds. I’ll occasionally catch myself thinking ahead about reaching the destination, then reminding myself it isn’t a contest, even with myself. I just keep being grateful for every painless step- that so far my knees and feet are fine. I guess gratitude is the main emotion as I wend my way through familiar yet new landscapes. As I see the country I’ve lived in for 30 years now so intimately and through totally new eyes.

Here is the last part of this leg: Haren is a well to do neighborhood, what I like best about it, beside the mansions (often converted to insurance companies and social- and healthcare facilities), is that there are wide spaces with fields of horses right in the neigh-borhood. (sorry)

Mansions along the main road in Haren

Mansions along the main road in Haren

horses in Haren

horses in Haren

 

I have a month break while Rende is on his walking holiday in the Pyrenees, but in July I’ll be setting out again all being well.