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Cycling/henge-climbing biathlon

Another Saturday, another endless trek through the verdant countryside with Sidsel. This time we went south, through the northern and middle parts of Drente, where the dominant species is the potato. I spent 3 years working for a software company supplying database and decision support systems to potato farmers, during which I learned more about potatos than any non-farmer should. They have interesting mating rituals.
Seriously, Drente consists mostly of arable land with spuds, sugar beets, wheat and maize being common crops. There are many winding little paths to cycle on, and some sights to see. Our destination today was Borger, where we'd look at some henges and enjoy the forests.

We had both been out on the town the night before, and although I at least had turned in fairly early, we were both feeling the after-effects a bit. So we started later than originally planned. I arrived at Sidsel's place at 12.30-ish, where I found her all ready to go but not really alert. The first hour or so of cycling, we had some occasions of missing signs, having to retrace our tracks and nearly crashing into one another when she wanted (correctly) to move straight ahead and I (mistakenly) made to turn left.
That improved later on though.

I had made two minor changes to my bicycle. I had replaced the saddle with a new one given me by my old neighbour, and switched to a lighter gear for most of the trip. I normally dislike riding with a light gear, because I like to feel some resistance from the pedal and I don't like pedaling like an idiot when I can get the same speed at a steadier pace, but I wanted to spare my left knee. This seems to have worked; although the knee problem was somewhat in evidence throughout, it never got really bad like it did last week.

About our bikes: last week, readers of the blog asked me if I was into serious road biking (i.e. racing) or just touring. What we're doing right now is touring, at a pace that most road cyclists would scoff at. When they were done scoffing at our pace, they would scoff at our bikes, because we don't actually have 'proper' touring bikes. We ride those long distances on the same clapped-out old workhorses that we commute through town with. Come to think of it, that makes it cooler, really. I am considering getting a road bike though.

Our trajectory took us from Sidsel's place through Eelde, Donderen, Vries, Taarlo, Balloo (where at one crossing, we saw road signs indicating "Balloo" in all directions) , Rolde and the Forestry of Borger, to the town of Borger itself.

The Forestry is, by Dutch standards, a large forest. It's also completely man-made. It was built in, I think, the 1930s as part of a Workfare program. Before then, it was all marshland. Other major Workfare programs of the era included the cutting of turf in other parts of Drente, and the buidling of polders in the very north of Groningen. Sidsel told me that a Workfare program in Esbjerg conisisted of making the recipients dig two very deep holes, which shows that there is a right way and a wrong way to run these projects. You can still see that the trees are very evenly spaced, but I do think it's getting wilder. There's still a lot of human involvement, but trees that have been sawn off or that have fallen down naturally are now allowed to decompose inside the forest, and the regularity is not as obvious as it used to be.
Touching down in Borger, we decided to visit the large henge on the edge of town. The henge, built by the Funnel Beaker People, is the largest in the Netherlands. Compared to, say, Stonehenge, it's still small but on the other hand it's 1200 years older than Stonehenge, and available to the public to get up close and personal with. Despite signs warning of the risk of climbing on the stones, visitors are allowed to climb on them, which I did just to see what that was like. Unfortunately, my camera wasn't working... not that you'd want to see an aging geek sitting on a large boulder anyway. Some other groups of visitors were also clambering on the rocks.

Sidsel then told me that there were two other, smaller henges nearby which were in the open field and not so touristy, so we decided to go looking for them. I bought a map at the museum shop, and took the opportunity to buy two shot-sized Funnel Beakers as well. The full-size Funnel Beaker replicas were nicer, but they were also pricier, I have nowhere to put them, and I wasn't going to carry one home on my bike anyway. These smaller ones will at least remind me what the characteristic shape of the original artefacts were, and will be useful for serving schnapps in.

Armed with the map, we went looking for the other henges. We took a few wrong turns because I stink at map-reading, but finding them wasn't all that hard anyway. And yes, it was different. These two henges were all lichen-covered and desolate - much more like the grave-sites that they originally were, and it was pretty much unthinkable that we'd sit on these.

One interesting tidbit from Borger ("Gee, Professor, I never knew Borger could be so interesting!" -- "Neither did I, Timmy, it was always that crappy little town that the fast bus passed by on my daily communte.") was that the area is home to a Lost City! Legend has it that there was once an advanced, civilised city called Hunslow, that was sacked by the Vikings before the year 1000, who destroyed it utterly. It's never been found, but there are people looking for it to this day. As the writer of a comic set in the era, I find that fascinating. If the Rogues should ever visit the Low countries, they'll be going to Hunslow, bet on it.

From Hunslow, sorry, Borger, we went north again to Drouwen, Gasselte, Gieten, Eext, Annen (where we passed a tiny little henge), Zuidlaren, Midlaren, Noordlaren and Haren and back to Groningen. This looked like a good route to follow on the map, but it turned out that that trajectory, scenic though it was, had some of the worst roads in the country! Endless brick roads, in varying states of disrepair. Soon enough we suffered serious saddle-soreness. Did I mention that we do these tours on clapped-out old wrecks? Sidsel's bike shook and rattled like Old Faithful. Mine was a little better, but these roads put some strain on it as well. In Zuidlaren we paused for a light dinner and to get our poor, chafing buttocks out of those saddles for half an hour, and the final 16 kilometers were uneventful. By the time we reached Groningen, it was quarter past eight. Distance covered: about 90 kilometers, slightly less than last time, in about 5 1/2 hours of actual cycling.

Bird sightings: not as many as we should have had. We passed another stork's nest in Taarlo, a lapwing in a field somewhere,spotted a couple of partridges above Gieten and what I thought was a buzzard not far north of that. Buzzards (meaning a small European raptor resembling a hawk) are fairly common in the area, and seeing only one in the corner of your eye a below-average result. Also, I narrowly avoided flattening a toad in the Forestry. No doubt, readers in Australia will wonder why I didn't run it over, but unlike the monster toads in Oz, these animals are indiginous, harmless and protected. They're also pathetically small and slow. Leave them alone if you're visiting!

Update: Sidsel had been on a henge trip before, and sent me this picture:

hunebed

It's not one of those we saw, but it's a nice one. Drente is packed with these things!

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