What springs to mind if I say Holland? Tulips, cheese, windmills? Bikes?
That last one. I couldn’t imagine a holiday in Holland without cycling, so we rented bikes and pedalled forth. Cue a day of coastal views, pretty streets and history.
Starting Point: Duinrell Holiday Park
Set out from our base: a lodge tent at Duinrell Holiday park. We’d booked bikes in advance from the on-site rental at €11 per bike for 24 hours.
A straightforward route out of the park and through the outskirts of Wassenaar brought us to…
The Meijendel Nature Reserve
The Meijendel is a vast nature reserve that stretches out between the town of Wassenaar, The Hague and the coastal resort Scheveningen. The landscape is wild, mostly dunes and forest leading to miles of sandy beach. Featuring numerous hiking and cycling routes and abundant in wildlife, the Meijendel is the perfect place to enjoy the natural Netherlands close to the town and city.
I also appreciated that at regular intervals you’ll find rest stations with seating, maps and drinking water taps.
I do love being outdoors and exploring the natural world, but it was a manmade feature of this beautiful landscape that brought me here.
Waalsdorpervlakte: Memorial to the Dutch Resistance.
Waalsdorpervlakte is a spot in the Meijendel reserve where captured members of the Dutch resistance were killed during WW2. This site was chosen by the Germans for firing squad executions.
Today it’s one of most important Dutch war memorials.
Today, it is a peaceful and beautiful place, making it hard to take in the history. It is estimated that over 250 resistance fighters were executed here between 1940-1945, after being held in prison in Scheveningen. Post war, collaborators were executed here.
The Waalsdorpervlakte monument is a simple one. Understated. A concrete banner bearing the dates 1940-1945. Four firing squad crosses. A stone carrying the message, ‘Here many compatriots made the sacrifice of their lives for your freedom, enter this place with due respect’
The history of the site may be dark but the story of how the memorial came to stand is one of resilience. In 1946, surviving resistance fighters spontaneously gathered to hold a remembrance ceremony. They erected four wooden crosses in memorial. Later, these were replaced with permanent bronze versions.
This place wasn’t created for the Resistance, it was created by them.
Adjacent to the Waalsdorpervlakte sits the other part of this monument: The Bourdon Bell. Erected in the 1950’s, the bell is an important part of the annual remembrance ceremony on May 4th.
The Bourdon bell is rung to signify the start of a two minute silence, and is sounded again as those gathered take part in a silent march and wreath laying.
Quick note : I discovered this memorial after researching the story of Dutch Resistance. My interest in the fate of those captured was sparked by an execution scene in The Forgotten Battle. Although set in a different part of The Netherlands, it delves into the story of the Resistance and is well done. Worth a watch, find it on Netflix.
A short cycle through the dunes and the route leads into the outskirts of Scheveningen. A character of a place. Old fashioned seaside resort with young, creative vibe. Lots of history. I loved it.
The sandy beach and promenade made the perfect place to change the pace after the bikes. The area around the pier is colourful, artistic. And super clean, due in part to the litter gathering game set up on the promenade. The ‘Trash-ure Hunt’ invites beach users to gather trash in return for points and hero status.
Seems to be working, who doesn’t want to be a hero?
Beach bars abound, the atmosphere is fun. The pier is home to various shops and food outlets. You can also zip line, bungee jump and ride the big wheel here. Might have been fun on a day with more time and less wind. Next time?
We opted for the more laid back pursuit of hot drinks and comfy seats instead. Found both plus a warm welcome and a stylish interior at Moeke. Loved the cosy atmosphere, views to the pier and the pictures of Scheveningen past on the wall. Smashing hot chocolate with whipped cream, too
Refreshed and rested, it was back in the saddle. Back through the outskirts of Scheveningen and onto the network of cycle paths through the Meijendal to a wilder stretch of coastline.
More cycling through the dunes brought us to our final stop. The beach just outside our starting point of Wassenaar, known as the Wassenaarseslag.
This stretch of coastline is quite a contrast to busy, colourful Scheveningen. Miles of dunes, wild and without facilities apart from a couple of beach cafes and a lifeguard station.
It hasn’t always been so quiet. It’s littered with WW2 bunkers and remains of the Atlantic Wall defences. This was active, dangerous ground. Today, it’s the keeper of a memorial with a mystery.
In February 1944, six French commandos from the Free French forces were sent to Wassenaar to try and pass the German defensive line. The Allies needed to know if resistance fighters could pass through. Commandos were sent to test the theory
The six were trained in and sailed from England. Dropped in Wassenaar with a pick up scheduled for the next day, but none returned. The following night, records show that German forces heard cries from the sea. Sometime later, the bodies of the men washed ashore. What happened to them was never confirmed.
They are remembered today with a neatly kept memorial, cared for beautifully by the town.
Ended the day watching the kite surfers braving the North Sea. I dipped my feet in and that was enough for me.
I’m a convert to cycling, though. Especially in Holland, where cycle paths are defined and cyclist is king of the road. I’ll probably invest in one of those gel seat things next time; comfort is key!