We delayed our departure from Sixhaven by a day due to the inclement weather. Finally we we off, across the Markermeer and into the Nijkerkernauw to the old fishing town of Sparkenburg. Both these waterways are wide and shallow to they can kick up a bit of chop, even on a relatively calm day. We had visited Sparkenburg on a previous voyage, with Helen Ward, but this experience was completely different. We are now in the grip of the European summer holidays with boats and people everywhere. It was Sparkenburg day, with a huge market in town.
Although we were still on the same waterway, the next section was the Veluwemeer that took us to the medieval town of Elburg. Now a popular tourist destination we were lucky to secure the last mooring in the port.
Apart from being a beautiful medieval town, where you can still make out the defensive star fortifications, Elberg also hosts an impressive indoor sand sculpture park.
From Elburg we traveled along the Ketelmeer , turning onto the Ijssell and to the town of Kampen. The IJssel is normally a fast flowing river, that flows north from its start at the Neder Rijn. We were surprised to see hardly any flow, in fact a kilometre at the most. It did give us the confidence to incorporate this river in our trip south, but we are yet to see if this route will be possible.
Kampen was a member of the Hanseatic League, a medieval commercial and defensive union of merchant guilds and market towns in central and Northern Europe. So what is there to see in Kampen. Well to start with there a three medieval gates, and now although moved to a park location are still an imposing sight, some lovely old buildings and a wharf full of old sailing ships. Then there is the Kogge, a reconstruction of the first seaworthy cargo ship of the Middle Ages. One of the original Kogges from 1340 was discovered after the land reclamation of the Zuiderzee and the present day boat was built in 1998 using medieval materials and techniques.
Our friends James and Julie on their boat Mimosa were in the local area, so after a FaceTime call we headed to Mepple to meet them. One of our only free moorings for the night, as the haven master failed to come and collect ou mooring fees. We had three great nights with our friends travelling from Mepple to Vollenhove then onto Blokzijl.
Then onto Blokzijl, another peat trading port that was once located on the ZuiderZee. The cannon at the port entrance was never used for defensive purposes, but rather to alert the townsfolk of impending flooding. With the current drought in Europe there is no use for the cannon this year!
We parted company with James and Julie the next day, we were heading north and they were heading south. We now entered the Provence of Friesland, a very popular boating destination , our first Friesland stop being the seaside port of Lemmer. It’s the holiday season and when we arrived in the town the day they were hosting a yacht race and accompanying party
Luckily we found a mooring for the night, just out of town. We escaped the crowds the next day and headed up the canal to our next town, Sloten.
This small, quaint medieval town has a few claims to fame. It was established in the 13th century by a noble family at the cross roads of a canal that ran north/south from Sneek to the ZuiderZee which gave access to the wealthy Hanseatic towns along the IJssel and a road that ran west/east from the port of Stavoren to Germany. Control of this cross road allowed the family to collect hefty tolls and exercise strategic influence throughout the area.
Sloten is also one of the 11 Frisian towns that hosted the Elfstedentocht, the 200 km long distance skating race, through the towns, the biggest skating tour held on natural ice in the world. The last Elfstedentocht was held in 1997. Since then the ice has not been thick enough (it must be at least 15cms thick), to run the event. Yes another victim of climate change.
In 2018 the 11 towns were immortalised by an international group of artists that designed and constructed a fountain in each of the locations. I made it my mission to tract down and visibly record each fountain in the towns that we visited.
Sneek, our next stop is also a member of the 11 towns. We were lucky enough to find a mooring adjacent to the Waterpoort, the defensive gate that is the symbol of the city. We also required power to run the air conditioner, as we were experiencing another heat wave.
We were off again, still heading north to the village of Grou, a popular water sports destination.
The provincial capital of Friesland is Leeuwarden and this was our final stop before we headed back south. I’m sure that it is not news to most that Europe is in the grip of a drought. We had seen rain on 30th June, our first day in Paris, again on 6th July in Amsterdam and now again on 17th August in Leeuwarden. Certainly a long time between drinks!
The most recognisable construction in Leeuwarden is the Oldehove tower,an unfinished leaning church tower in the medieval center of this city. The tower began to lean during construction and despite efforts to correct this, the building project was abandoned in 1523. Sounds like they needed a better engineer! Anyway it has stood unfinished since then but delivers a great sense of pride for the citizens of Leeuwarden.
On our rainy day we took the train to Harlingen, the port city that sits on the Wadderzee. From here you can catch a ferry to the islands off the coast of the Netherlands, but our mission was to go to a ships chandler to obtain some much needed items.
The following day we turned around and commenced our journey south. We were astounded by the bridge at Leeuwarden that seems to twist as it rises to let the boat traffic through.