Category Archives: Holland

The Story of an Aussie in The English Fens (Part Four)

The Fens Map

From the village of Donington and the birthplace of Matthew Flinders we travelled east towards the coast and the North Sea.

This area was once marsh and fen but has been successfully reclaimed from the water to turn it into a highly productive arable farming industry.  Driving on the roads takes great care and undivided attention because it isn’t so difficult to slip off the tarmac and into one of the roadside drainage ditches.  People who move to the area to live are only ever really accepted into the community after they have paid a visit to the bottom of a ditch and become a member of The Fens ‘Dyke Club’.

South Holland Dyke

This was an area of wetland for two reasons, first it is barely at sea level and high tides would swamp the land and secondly because four major rivers flow into The Wash, The Witham, The Welland, The Nene and the Great Ouse, all of which drain the English Midlands into the sea.  At times when there was too much water there was inevitable flooding.  The East Coast Fens are simply former marshland.  This was a place where you almost always needed to wear wellington boots.

The Romans came to The Fens and built the first sea defence wall about ten miles inland and which stretched for thirty miles or so.  It is still called the Roman Bank.  Beyond the Bank they maintained salt pans.

For several hundred years a battle was fought to reclaim land from the sea and the prize was access to very valuable fertile farming land.  Several walls and enclosures were built in the late nineteenth century and many thousands of acres reclaimed for farming.  During the Second World-War Britain was short of food so more farming land was required so at about this time the final and present sea wall was built to provide even more arable farming land to feed the nation.  It is doubtful that they will ever build another one because with modern methods of farming there is enough land now for the time being.

After leaving the A17 and driving north there are miles and miles of absolutely bugger all.  A couple of small villages, some isolated farm workers cottages and modern industrial scale farms where there is rarely any sign of life.  It is a ‘Slaughtered Lamb’ sort of place where local people look at strangers with suspicion and wonder if they are not driving a mud caked Land Rover or a Massey Ferguson Tractor pulling a plough just what they are doing there.

This is a remote place without visitors.  There are no tourist signposts and I wasn’t sure after ten years away  if I could confidently remember exactly how to reach the place that I was trying to get to.  With the help of the SatNav (working again now) a huge slice of luck and a fading memory I found the road/track that leads to the sea wall and we made it to our destination.  A narrow pot-holed track and not the sort of lane that you want to meet mud caked Land Rover or a Massey Ferguson Tractor pulling a plough coming in the opposite direction!

The orange arrow indicates approximately where we were…

Lincolnshire Sea Wall

… just farm fields at the edge of the World before the marshes and as close to the sea as you can get without wellington boots.

This part of Lincolnshire can be inhospitable and bleak but on a blue sky day like today it is absolutely magnificent.  We parked the car and climbed to the top of the wall, not a brick or concrete structure but a stout earth wall decorated with concrete Second-World-War defence bunkers.  To the north-east we looked out over the marshes and the North Sea and behind us we stared out over acres and acres of patchwork farm land just waiting to leap into Spring.

John and I walked along the wall and swapped tales and stories from our lives separated by fifteen thousand miles or so geographically but what seemed to me now only as thin as a cigarette paper.

It occurred to me that John lives so far away in Australia and a thousand years or so ago someone may have stood in this exact place (in his wellington boots of course) and thought that it must surely be the edge of the World. Travel and friendship is so important in personal development and exploration and education.

On the way back we drove through the village of Moulton which has the tallest windmill in England (this part of Lincolnshire is full of surprises) and then to Cowbit, John thought it was a strange name and I told him that it is not pronounced how it looks on the sign but as ‘Cubit’.  Friendly sparring now, John told me that Melbourne is not pronounced in the same plummy way as Lord Melbourne but as ‘Melbun’.

It had been a very enjoyable and satisfying day.

Click on an image to scroll through the Gallery…

Almost forgot to mention that this is where I lived in The Fens for ten years, 2000-2010…

Pipwell Gate

Kim joined us and we spent a convivial time in the bar, drank more than we planned to and had an enjoyable evening meal.  I saw John again in the morning as he prepared to return home to Melbun in Australia…

South Holland Sea Wall

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The Story of an Aussie in the English Fens (Part Three)

Matthew Flinders 01 (2)

The really big thing about visiting the obscure village of Donington is that this is the birthplace of Matthew Flinders and Matthew Flinders is a really big thing for Australian visitors.

This is what I find fascinating about travel, every now and again I come across an amazing story.  Flinders is one of the most important explorers in history and his home town was the tiny village of Donington in the south of Lincolnshire.

Matthew Flinders was a Royal Navy officer and an English navigator and cartographer of very special talent who led the second circumnavigation of what was then called in equal parts New Holland (named by Abel Tasman, the Dutch explorer) and New South Wales.  The name Australia derives from Latin australis meaning southern, and dates back to 2nd century legends of an “unknown southern land” . The explorer Matthew Flinders renamed the land Terra Australis, which was later abbreviated to the current form.  The name Australia stuck, there is still a part of Australia called New South Wales but there is no New Holland.  There is a Tasmania of course.

Although he was modest enough to never name for any feature in all his discoveries, Flinders’ name is now associated with over one hundred geographical features and places in Australia and after Queen Victoria there are more statues of Flinders in Australia than anyone else.

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In my Dad’s book that he gave to me before he died – “The Boys’ Book of Heroes”, there is Walter Raleigh, Francis Drake and James Cook but no mention of Matthew Flinders. Neither did he get a nomination in the BBC poll of the Hundred Greatest Britons.  Cook made twelfth place, Drake came in at forty-ninth and Raleigh at ninety-third.

In English history he is a forgotten hero.  In web site lists of famous people he never gets a mention, he doesn’t even make it on to lists of famous explorers.

He couldn’t really be included in the poll of Greatest Australians of course because he came from Donington in Lincolnshire in England, but wait just a minute because he was included at number fifty as an honorary Australian along with James Cook from Yorkshire.

I could write a complete blog post about Matthew Flinders but John has promised to do that sometime soon and he knows a lot more about Flinders than I do so I will leave that to him.

We visited the village market square where he was born.  The house is sadly now gone, demolished a hundred years ago or so and then on to the Parish Church with a soaring tower and steeple which is a sort of museum about his life and achievements.  Again, I will leave this to John to explain when he writes his post.

One thing that I will mention is about finding his coffin.  England is currently building an unnecessary and very expensive new high speed rail service from London to the north and during excavations near Euston Station in London the coffin of Matthew Flinders was discovered in a graveyard that had been built over a hundred years or so ago.  The discovery was almost as big a thing as finding King Richard III underneath a car park in Leicester.

Flinders Coffin

The coffin and the remains are currently undergoing scientific analysis but once this is complete the body will be returned to Donington and interred with special rejoicing and appropriate reverence in the church in the village.

Donington is miles and miles away from anywhere that tourists normally go but will almost certainly become a place of pilgrimage for visitors from Australia and I said to John that how lucky he was to be among the first to come and he nodded in agreement.

He agreed again that he would write the story.

“People will come Ray, people will come…”

After coffee we left Donington for the final stop on the whistle-stop tour of The Fens.

Click on an image to scroll through the Gallery…

The Story of an Aussie in The English Fens (Part Two)

Crowland Abbey 05

Crowland is only a small market town (without a market as we had been recently informed) so, with nothing to detain us it was just a short walk from the Trinity Bridge to nearby Crowland Abbey, once a Benedictine Monastery and now, what’s left of it, the Parish Church.

Monks seeking solitude have always sought out remote places to live and the inhospitable marshlands of Eastern England were once perfect for this purpose.  The Fens have been referred to as the “Holy Land of the English” because of the former monasteries and Abbeys at Crowland, Ely, Peterborough, Ramsey, Spalding and Thorney.

The Fens have a special place in English history, here Hereward the Wake led resistance to the Norman invaders and here King John lost the Crown Jewels in the murky waters at Sutton Bridge.

There was a monastery at Crowland because of the hermit monk Guthlac who settled here sometime in the seventh century.  Now, Guthlac was clearly as mad as a box of frogs – this is an extract from his chronicler…

“Guthlac the man of blessed memory began to dwell, after building a hut over it. From the time when he first inhabited this hermitage this was his unalterable rule of life: namely to wear neither wool nor linen garments nor any other sort of soft material, but he spent the whole of his solitary life wearing garments made of skins. So great indeed was the abstinence of his daily life that from the time when he began to inhabit the desert he ate no food of any kind except that after sunset he took a scrap of barley bread and a small cup of muddy water.”

This is Guthlac who seems to have been cleaned up a bit for his stained glass window portrait in Crowland Abbey…

St Guthlac Window

Guthlac became famous for dealing with demons, self flagellation, performing miracles and providing sagely advice and the Abbey was founded and built as a place of important pilgrimage for medieval pilgrims.  It was dissolved in 1539 along with another estimated eight hundred religious houses in England during the English Reformation. The monastic buildings including the chancel, transepts and crossing of the church were demolished and plundered fairly promptly but the nave and aisles were spared and to this day serve as the Parish Church.

Saint Guthlac remains important in the Fens and there are several churches in the area that are dedicated to his memory.

Crowland Abbey 01

We walked around the grounds and through the ruins of the Abbey and then finding the church door open ventured inside.  I was slightly surprised to find it open because these days church doors often remain firmly locked due to the increase in vandalism and theft.  There was no such bother sixty years ago or so when we went on family holiday and my Dad visited almost every church we passed by – he liked visiting churches – unlike other holiday attractions they were free to enter.

John declared the visit to Crowland to be a great success but there was much more to see and do so we left Crowland and drove north to the town of Spalding which was once famous for an annual Flower Parade.

John was surprised to discover that the road we were using was no more than three feet above sea level and the surrounding fields were even lower, well below sea level.  These low lying fenland areas extend over one thousand, five hundred square miles extending through Lincolnshire, Cambridgeshire and Norfolk.  Much of the Fenland originally consisted of fresh or salt-water wetlands. These have been drained and continue to be protected from floods by drainage banks and pumps. With the support of this drainage system, the Fenland has become a major arable agricultural region in Britain for grain, vegetables and cash-crops.

Fens Farmland

The Fens are particularly fertile, containing around half of the grade one agricultural land in England.  Spalding in the area of South Holland is a thriving district at the very heart of the UK’s agri-food sector and it is estimated that a staggering 35% of the UK’s food, either grown, processed or delivered will pass through South Holland at some point in its production cycle.

We stopped briefly in Spalding to visit the grounds of Ayscoughfee Hall a medieval manor house which is now a museum, walked for a stretch along the river and admired the elegant Georgian houses across the water and then continued our journey to our next destination – the village of Donington.

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Postcard From Delft, the Netherlands

Delft

After the cramped alleys and the narrow streets the Market Place was in complete contrast – a vast cobbled open space with elegant gabled houses, shops and bars.  The Renaissance town hall with its red shutters at one end and at the other the Nieuwe Kerk (New Church) with its almost one hundred and ten metre tall spire (the second largest in the Netherlands after Utrecht) rising majestically into the sky like a needle.

Read The Full Story…

Click on an image to scroll through the Gallery…

Thursday Doors, The Anne Frank Secret Doorway

Anne Frank Secret Doorway

It was an interesting experience to go through the hidden door behind the bookcase and to climb the steep steps into the rooms where they lived and hid.

Imagine staying hidden and quiet all day without a mobile device and the internet!

The little guide book calls it a ‘Museum with a Story’ and this sets it out against other museums that do not have the same emotional connection.

Read The Full Story…

Thursday Doors is a weekly feature allowing door lovers to come together to admire and share their favourite door photos from around the world. Feel free to join in the fun by creating your own Thursday Doors post each week and then sharing your link in the comments’ on Norm’s site, anytime between Thursday morning and Saturday noon (North American Eastern Time).

Entrance Ticket – P&O Cabin Key, Hull to Rotterdam

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Once on board we wandered around the maze of narrow corridors on deck ten searching among five hundred and forty-six identical looking cabins until we finally found our inner berth shoebox and after we had negotiated sleeping arrangements in a fair and democratic way I bagged the bottom bunk and let Jonathan practice using the flimsy aluminium ladder to get on top.

One of the rules of the crossing is that passengers cannot take alcohol on board the boat – not because P&O have anything against alcohol it is just that they would rather prefer it if you buy it on board at one of their bars rather than from a supermarket in Hull so without any smuggled on beer or wine there wasn’t a great deal to hang around for in the cabin so we made our way to the Sky lounge and the Sunset bar at the very top of the ship to see the sunset that was dipping down over the River Humber to the west.

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Read the Full story…

European Capital of Culture 1987 – Amsterdam

Volendam postcard

Early next morning I was woken by the rumble of a passing freight train seven floors below which in my half sleep sounded like my next door neighbour putting the wheelie bin at the roadside and for a moment I was transported back home and had forgotten to put the refuse out and in an unnecessary panic this woke me completely.

I lay for a while reflecting on the first day in Amsterdam and planning the second and I began to regret that we hadn’t booked a second night in the city because we didn’t have enough time to do all of the things that we would have liked to.

Amsterdam by Delph

One of these might have been a trip out of the city to see the countryside and I recalled a previous visit to Amsterdam thirty years ago when I had done just that.  As on this occasion that trip was also by ferry crossing but out of Felixstowe rather than Hull and it was on an organised coach tour paid for by exchanging Persil washing powder vouchers and I can only imagine now that I must have done an awful lot of washing to get enough vouchers for two people to go to Amsterdam for a weekend.

We didn’t go very far into the countryside, just twenty-five kilometres or so to the attractive village of Volendam to the north of the city.  Volendam is a popular tourist attraction in the Netherlands, well-known for its fleet of old fishing boats, pretty gabled wooden houses and the traditional clothing still worn by some of the older residents.

The women’s costume of Volendam, with its high pointed bonnet, is one of the most recognizable of the Dutch traditional costumes, and is the one most often featured on tourist postcards and calendars.  As everywhere else as time passes however fewer and fewer young people continue the custom of wearing traditional clothes and I suspect that this is something that is going to be difficult to keep going for very much longer.

Amsterdam Near Miss

We certainly saw some people in traditional clothing on this visit because they were waiting for us as the coach pulled into the car park of a clog making factory for a demonstration of how they are made.

Wooden shoes have been popular in the Netherlands for about seven hundred years and along with windmills, Edam cheese and tulips provide the perfect tourist images of the country.  The Dutch have been wearing wooden clogs or ‘Klompen’ since medieval times.  Originally, they were made with a wooden sole of alder, willow and poplar and a leather top or strap tacked to the wood but eventually, the shoes began to be made entirely from wood to protect the whole foot.

Painting the shoes is an old custom and carved, painted clogs are traditionally given by grooms to their brides and that’s clever because that’s a lot cheaper than a diamond ring and a lot more practical as well.

I seem to remember now that clogs were quite fashionable for a short time in the 1970s (although many will dispute that there was any fashion in the 1970s) and I had a pair of black open back clogs which my boss told me I couldn’t wear to work and were terribly difficult to drive in so I wasn’t going to be tempted to buy another pair here.

Clogs Amsterdam the Netherlands

Close by to Volendam is the village of Edam, where the cheese comes from and there was an inevitable visit to a dairy to try again to see if we could be parted from some of our spending money.  Edam has never been a favourite of mine but I do remember that we left with a bag of cheesy comestibles with a variety of different additional ingredients including one with herbs and another with black pepper corns.

Twenty years later or so in 2004 I returned to Amsterdam with my son Jonathan on my very first Ryanair flight and on this occasion we visited some museums that we certainly wouldn’t be seeing today because we wouldn’t have time, the weather was too good to go inside and museums are not that popular with everyone in our group.

Henri Wellig Cheese Shop Delft the Netherlands

The first of these was the Scheepvaartmuseum or Maritime Museum which was a short walk from our hotel, the Amsterdam, on Damrak and told the story of the Dutch association with the sea through an interesting collection of maps, atlases, charts, paintings and scale models but best of all a full sized replica of the three masted ‘Amsterdam’, a ship of the Dutch East India Company, which in its maiden voyage sank in a storm in the English Channel in winter of 1749.

To sink on a maiden voyage always seems rather wasteful and sad to me, ships like Henry VIII’s Mary Rose, the German battleship Bismarck and most famous of all the passenger liner RMS Titanic; all that money, blood and sweat just for the ship to go to the bottom of the sea in a shorter space of time than it took to build it.

Steering the Titanic

Admission to the museum included entry to the ship and we wandered around the decks and cabins completely alone because this was an early morning in February and the temperature was some considerable way below zero.

In the old town we warmed up when we visited the Rembrandt house museum and visited the reconstructed rooms and historically correct restoration based on the artists own sketches and drawings.  In the afternoon we walked to the Van Gogh museum which is the most visited museum in the Netherlands and contains the largest collection of paintings by Vincent van Gogh in the World.

Together with those of Pablo Picasso, Van Gogh’s works are among the world’s most expensive paintings ever sold and some of the most valuable ever.  Actually, I found the museum rather disappointing because there were lots of gaps where paintings were on loan to other galleries around the World and some of his best known works that I would like to have seen are tucked away in private collections and vaults.

Sunflower Head

I like Van Gogh paintings and the museum shop was full of prints and reproductions but I am not an art critic and have to confess that alongside those I find brilliant I find some that quite frankly are not so good (shock, horror). The sort of things that my children used to bring home from school, I’d say well done and give them words of patronising encouragement and then after they had gone to bed I’d tape it up inside a kitchen cupboard!

While I reminisced about these previous visits the clock ticked on and soon it was time for an Ibis hotel buffet breakfast, which turned out to be very good, to set us up for a second day of sightseeing and walking the canals of Amsterdam.

The Amsterdam, Scheepvaartmuseum or Maritime Museum