Thieu, Belgium

A great stop-off and only a couple of hundred km from the channel now and we visited the Strépy-Thieu boat lift.  Doesn’t sound that exciting, right?  Wrong! This enormous twin lift, completed in the 1980’s raises huge canal boats (and we are talking up to 100 m long and 12 m wide) 70 meters between the upper and lower canals.  For a decade or so it held the world record for the highest boat lift. It’s bloody huge.

We’ve seen many of the big canal boats around europe – the standard dates back to the 1950s when a new 1350 ton standard was devised. It’s extended from there right up to 280 m long by 35 m wide. So if you ever wondered why Europe can still make canals commercially viable and in the UK it’s cheaper to move boats by road, never mind bulk goods, there’s your answer: infrastructure investment and scale!

The lift replaced a series of four lifts built in the 1900’s.  The old lifts are still in situ and are a UNESCO world heritage site.

Anyway, it was a wonderful 25 km cycle around the old and new lifts.  Parking here is pretty idyllic – it’s free as in speech and beer and is on the banks of the canal.  It would have been an awesome drone shot of the mothership, the canal and the lift, but in Belgium, unless you have taken and exam and have a registered drone, you have a 10 m height limit and must be over private ground.  So it was not to be…

Bourtange, The Netherlands

East, east and a bit more east. So close to Germany, we could spit over the border.  And in fact, the route sally took saw us on 40km of Germany motorway, so we have already fitted in another country!  Remember folks a world without borders is wonderful!

Bourtange is about 1km inside The Netherlands and is a fortress town dating back to the time when the Spaniards controlled the area.  It’s a classic 5 pointed star when viewed from above – as design that can be seen all over the Netherlands.

It doesn’t take long to look around – It’s a tiny town and most buildings are part of the museum.  So our day was mainly a chill out. It was our 26th Wedding anniversary so we decided to take it easy apart for a quick drone flight.

Giethoorn, The Netherlands

We put this on the map about a year ago – not long before we started travelling.  It’s considered the Venice of the Netherlands, but that is not fair at all – Giethoorn is a town built around one main canal, but the houses are large and are set on large plots which are exquisitely manicured.  So, all the gardens are spotless and all of them gracefully curve down to the canal. Every house a chocolate box, every garden a botanical masterpiece.  Okay, that may be overdoing it, but it’s stupendously beautiful.

The few pictures we took won’t do this wonderful town justice.  It’s a small place, so it would be hard to justify a holiday just to visit Giethoorn, but try to fit it in if you are in the area.  Hint: It gets bloody busy – find a quiet day!

We had an afternoon stroll on the day we arrived.  The next day, we cycled over to the quieter sister town and explored that.  Then we came back to Giethoorn for lunch. The plan was to have a small lunch then cycle along the canal for a few KM each way.  That was the plan. We picked a posh restaurant, saw the menu and realised that the day was done. We went for a tapas menu, but stupidly we went for the ‘large’ rather than the medium platter. Luckily there were some fearless sparrows to help us out. As you can imagine from the photos, we were utterly stuffed, and it was a very slow ride back to the mothership after a great big blowout.  Luckily we were paid up at the campsite for another night!

The next day and it was a late start over to out last stop in The Netherlands, just a sparrows fart from the German border.

Delft, The Netherlands

The campsite we have found is wonderful.  It’s along a long narrow road next to a canal.  There is a steep slope down to the campsite but the mothership manages it ok.  (it’s more tricky getting back up the slope when we leave after two nights, but with a run-up and a little wheel-spin we manage it!)  It’s a little disconcerting having the campsite much lower than the canal level, but we soon get used to it. So much of the Netherlands is lower than sea level, it’s just normal here!

We cycle into the town and the first thing we spot when we dump the bake near the central station is a bunch of university students building a house from cardboard.  The doesn’t sound too exciting we hear you cry. This house is a model of a house that will soon be built as part of a regeneration project not far from the station. The model seems to be not far off 1:1 scale and will be over 18 meters tall!  When we arrive in the town they have the roof nearly complete. A few hours later we come back that way to grab the bikes and they have another story finished. It is already huge! But we never did get to see the finished building.

The windmill in the town is also open on the day we visit and we are lucky enough to see it running. This mill is for flour production rather than pumping water. Although the wooden parts have been replaced, they are authentic replacement parts and the mill runs today just as it did hundreds of years ago.

One thing that we noticed about the mill here and those at Kinderdijk is that they are manually steered into the wind.  A large ships wheel type affair is used with pulleys to turn the mill as the wind changes. Our knowledgeable guide tells us that self steering mills were around in the UK at that time that the majority of Netherlands mills were built, but the technology never made it across the North Sea to the Netherlands.

He also tells us that the Netherlands windmills Have non-linear sail geometry that never passed across the North sea in the other direction, so maybe WTO terms would stifle innovation as well as kill national production.

The windmill is particularly tall because it still needs to catch the wind when it comes from the town which was two or three stories tall. The stairs inside are more like ladders and are nearly vertical.  It’s a fun 10 minutes climbing up the inside of the mill to the platform, which is still only about halfway up the windmill!

For our last day in Delft, we go for a long cycle ride and the weather is glorious, so rather than restaurant food, we buy picnic items and have a great meal next to the canal (only a mile from the mothership!)