Nearly a kilometre of sand lies between the beach cafe and the shoreline, I head away from the bodies strewn about in the shade under it’s raised deck and back to the kayak just in time as the tide it coming in. There is a couple on the beach taking a sunset stroll. He has a toned and tanned body, she has a tight perm, is almost wearing a leotard and has high hipped shorts. She hangs off his arm with light footed, sparky energy. Together, they look like they’ve walked out of an eighties movie. The sky turns a strong orange colour and the sea gently licks the shore, it’s romantic. I feel a bit out of place. They’re inquisitive about my kayak and ask lots of questions about what I’m doing. They’re chatty and interested, both Dutch and on holiday here but tell me that most people on Texel are German, there is a ferry every half hour from the mainland so it’s easy to get here by car. After a bit of a chat about sleeping on the beach, Jennifer Gray and Patrick Swayze say goodbye and wish me luck, I watch them walk into the sunset half expecting (and hoping for) them to break into a dance. The sun dips below the horizon and gradually the smooching couples leave the beach so I can pitch my tent and go to bed. Nobody puts Toby in the corner! It’s not an easy night’s sleep as I check the weather for the next few days and my news feed is full of reports of big thunderstorms in the UK. I’m startled by a light shining into my tent and am convinced it’s the beach police coming to tell me to leave but soon remember I’ve camped by a large lighthouse which intermittently pans across the deserted beach. I can hear the rumble of thunder in the distance and pick out the flashes of light that are definitely not the lighthouse. It’s spectacular to watch as the storms pass across the sea northwards along the coast of the UK. The skies light up with forks and sheets and there’s a cool streak to the humid air. I hardly sleep as I worry about the weather. Being in the middle of the sea with a boat made of carbon fibre (a conductor) and a long, pointy stick made of the same, when there’s lighting around is not a good idea. Added to this, I’m nearing the end of this leg of the trip and have some fixed deadlines, mainly a flight to Arctic Greenland, that I can’t miss. My head is full of logistics plans and ‘What if?’ Scenarios. I’ve been invited to speak about my trip at a gathering of Dutch kayakers in Den Helder which is a great opportunity to meet more people paddling these seas. My loose plan relies on favours from others and has very little flexibility. Seeing the thunderstorms and the UK news repots reminds me how close I am to London and I concoct a plan involving planes, trains and automobiles. It’s early morning, around 5am when I reach a decision on this and the sun is starting to come up. The sky is peachy orange with a heavy purple cloud hanging over it, broken in several places where the rain has dropped in streaks. I retreat to the tent and try catch a couple of hours sleep before it’s time to really get up.
The wind has picked up and there is light rain as I launch. I’m pushed around the corner of Texel without much effort. I see a small sailing club, close to the beach and with sheltered spots between the dinghys and catamarans that would have been a much better place to land and camp. I make a note for next time I decide to kayak the Shipping Forecast. A duck egg green timber boat sits alongside a rickety pier as I battle the now picking up wind and rain. It looks more familiar than the flat bottomed barges I’ve been used to seeing. The engine is chugging as if about to leave or just arriving, I wave at the captain in the wheelhouse and pass on by. The coastline of Texel is almost entirely manmade, in fact coastline is a bit of a misrepresentation. The slanting dam walls meeting the sea abruptly with organised areas of marshland for birds to nest, spilling out from the long continuous line. Some structures poke up behind the flood defences and I’m excited when I catch a snapshot of some cyclists on the pathway with a windmill behind, thinking I’ve definitely caught the essence of Dutchness and will be contacted fairly soon for my pictures to be featured in a tourist calendar or Lonely Planet guide. In places, there are repairs taking place to the wall with the arms of diggers perched on mounds of sand, gravel and earth. I’m momentarilly relieved by the more natural appearance of this and remember the wild mountains of Iceland, it soon passes and the wall reappears. I pass the harbour of Oudeschild with several windmills and pretty, old wharf building just visible behind the high defences. I negotiate the entrance to the harbour as the shipping traffic picks up. I see a large ship leaving ahead of me and know that I’m nearing the mainland. There’s a fast flowing tide around a string of yellow buys forming a barrage alongside a construction site, I’m pushed towards them and glide closely past the final one. I can see the ferry route on the map and have decided to head beyond it to avoid the tide pushing me into its path. It’s a big ferry and by now, I am an expert. I can see the two of them crossing over the channel to Den Helder and disappearing into the harbour on Texel. Across the water, I can also see the tall lighthouse at Huisduinen which marks the point that the coast turns the corner and starts to head south. As long as I don’t go past this, I should be fine. I pick a marker on the shoreline, a church spire, and head towards it, aware of the westwards push. I struggle to paddle against it to meet the landing spot that’s been recommended to me. There is another manmade flood wall along this stretch of coast only occasionally interrupted by beach. The tide is relatively high so there are limited options. I swear at the motor boats coming towards me and making me change course, seemingly oblivious to the push or pull of the tide. eventually I make it to Lands End, the final point on my journey along the Frisian Islands. I land, happy and exhausted and fill the hotel with sand.
The next day Marijn comes to pick me up and take my kayak to Anna Paulowna. It’s really kind, we’ve never met but as his well used paddling car rounds the corner to the hotel and he tells me not to bother about the sand, I think we’re going to get along. Marijn lives in Amsterdam and with Yvonne and Jeffrey is one amongst the younger cohort of the Dutch paddling symposium. I receive a really warm welcome from Fred, Nico, Paul and Axel, who had been my coach on a training course in Cornwall several years ago. I’ve been invited to talk about my trip to the assembled group who are about to start a training week themselves. As I arrive there’s an abrupt and heavy downpour accompanied by thunder and lightning. Its o bit unclear how much paddling there might be tomorrow. Its a relaxed event where everyone arrives on the Saturday and things don’t start until the evening. Its funny to share paddling stories and I realise that many of these are set in the UK, having a really big range of conditions and tidal situations. Axel kindly agrees to be recorded talking about his life in paddling and warns me about the waters around Den Helder with a mixture of tides, currents and shifting sands. Den Helder is the largest naval base in the Netherlands. Traces of previous fortifications, in the form of star forts are embossed into the low lands. Their distinctive geometry colliding with the shifting coastlines of the charts. It is thought that the name means the doors to hell, a reference to the choppy water of the Marsdiep channel or the battery of defence structures that would have made it difficult to get to. Axel is a kind hearted man with a gentle persona and tells me of his love of kayaking related not so much about the places he’s been but the people he’s paddled with. He’s an Internationally renown coach but this is not false modesty, he just loves being on the water and helping others to enjoy it as well. We sit down to what I’m told is traditional dutch cooking of escalope, potatoes and beans made by an ex naval chef. The talk goes well, I think. I have some interesting questions: how do you plan for this kind of thing; how do you prepare for a day of 13 hrs on the water and how do you know when to go. The answer to most of them is ‘you don’t, but you learn along the way’ There is a lot in life that you can try to plan for but a lot that you can’t. I leave the next morning on the double decker train to Amsterdam to get the 30 minute flight to the UK. It’s a short hop, skip and a jump back and forth to London which I’ll cover in the ‘Thames’ section. Before I know it I’m back in Anna Paulowna wondering why the Dutch don’t accept VISA cards.
I stock up on provisions and drive to the village of Huisduinen (house in the dunes) where I’ve been told you can land or launch for a trip to the Noorderhaaks sandbar. It’s a sunny day, the thunder storms have passed, there’s a light wind a bit of swell on the sea. A small Portakabin perched on the sloping flood wall provides changing rooms for a local swimming club. There’s a set of steps and a rope fixed to the breakwater to help people in. I park the car and am relived to see the colourful scattering of a group of sea kayaks near the small beach. It’s obviously the right place but I’m sad to have missed joining them. I unload the boat and get my stuff ready as they all pack up theirs, I’ll miss dinner, but I’m keen to see what the sea is like here. launching from the beach is uneventful save for the uncontrolled barking dogs as I wheel the kayak down. The water is choppy with a back and forth movement to it. I’m launching at low and plan to arrive as the tide comes in, meaning that whatever happens, I should be washed back to land rather than out to sea. The current has different ideas and doesn’t match this plan exactly. Strange shaped boats are leaving Den Helder and the Ijsselmeer beyond. One, shaped like a shoe with a protruding hull seems particularly strange and I assume it is something to do with the offshore gas industry. Another, a fishing boat has its arms fully stretched out and nets trailing like a winged cape behind it. Birds follow its wake as it plows past me. I cross the channel behind them and aim towards the sandbank I can see infant of me, negotiating the marker buoys and landing on the shallow flats in the sunshine. I stop to record the shipping forecast for the area in its actual location, something I’ve been doing since starting the trip in Iceland. The tide is coming in and soon laps against the side of the boat. I decide to paddle on and see if I can make it around. Towards the corner I’m met by an interesting sea which is a combination of tide rushing around the sandbank, a slight swell caused by the wind and the breaking waves in the shallows of the sandy waters. Deep troughs form between steep peaks which curl and roll towards the beach. It makes for a fun play spot and I push against it to get far enough away to surf back in again. After a few runs I’m starting to get tired but decide that I’ll play here for a bit rather than trying to get around. I get washed gradually back eastwards and paddle out to be slapped around by the choppy waters of the channel, it’s a fun paddle and more that the afternoon bimble that I though it could be. I set my sights again on the lighthouse at Huisduinen and aim off to arrive near the portakabin. The tide is further in and the swell has picked up to make swimming seem like madness with the bathers now clinging to the floating rope and staggering, shaken out of the water. The beach has gone so For me, swimming is the easiest way to get my kayak and myself ashore. I clip a line onto the boat and jump into the water, scrabbling up the sea wall as the waves crash against it. I drag, carry and pull the boat up the breakwater to the car and return to camp feeling like I’ve had a true insight into Dutch kayaking. Chatting to my fellow paddlers, it is clear that this area is the most lively bit of the Dutch waters aside from a few smaller tidal races and some surf spots further down the coast. I decide to leave these for another time and the next morning, drive back toward Rotterdam and the ferry to Harwich (Thames).