A few hours before school reopened for the Autumn term I was floating across the North Sea with Molly and Daisy and Jack. We were on our way home from the Netherlands where we had just spent 5 weeks cycling 410 miles around this lovely land of dykes and bikes.  Holland was the first foreign country I ever cycled in (back in 1985 on my way to Africa) and since then I have ridden over 4000 miles across this beautiful wind-raked flat low land as my wheels keep returning there again and again.

We’re off! Cycling across the port of Harwich.

In line waiting to board.

Entering the giant jaws of the ferry.

On board. Jack trying out the porthole for size.

Earlier this year mum’s Geordie friend from Newcastle (who is very into family histories) delved into mum’s past and found out that she has Dutch ancestors who in 1656 emigrated from Texel (a little wind-blasted island that lies just north of Den Helder) to the equally flat land of the American prairies (I have 5 generations of dead relatives lying in a cemetery in Normal, Illinois). These Dutch relations had the surname ‘van der Hoff’ which is good to know as I like vans (camper vans, transit vans, Dutch vans – my best Dutch friend is a van der Leest). So with my van der Hoff ancestry maybe it’s no wonder I love cycling so much – I’ve got Dutch clogs and windmills wedged in my blood.

Arrival! Feet and wheels have landed on Dutch soil.

This year’s cycling line-up was 11-year-old Molly (who turned 12 in Noordwijkerhout) riding her own bike, while 8-year-old Daisy and 4-year-old Jack (who turned 5 in Egmond aan Zee) and the-wrong-side-of-50-me rode the triple-whammy 14-foot-long school-run mount. Loaded down with full camping regalia the weight of this unsteady behemoth bike-contraption was a bit silly and cycling it felt on the verge of impossible. But not impossible enough not to do it. Even if I did have a large inflatable crocodile strapped on my rear. Essential travel kit (according to the younger pedalling party) for bouncing over the breaking waves of the cold jellyfish-riddled North Sea. On a beach near De Koog on the island of Texel I regally launched our large reptile into the sea and thereby declared it named Gary – our 5th member of our Dutch-land cycling team (the real Gary we’d left back at base camp in England as he had been a bit busy with work – and engine-tinkering – to join us).

Straight off the ferry we were confronted with bike paths like this – smooth, straight car-less wonders (the one of the left is for walkers).

Paths so smooth and quiet you can even sleep on them very comfortably (Jack did).

This bike path is this wide. And it’s all ours.

This one was good for running races.

This one is as wide as the M25 and good for North Sea wave spray.

This one is good for balancing tricks.

This one ended in a ride on a ferry across the Noordzeekanaal.

This one south of Zandvoort came with passing cyclists.

This one near Noordwijkerhout was hot.

This one south of Ijmuiden might make you say, ‘Oh snow! Is that snow?’ To which I’d say, ‘Snow way! It’s sand! (And Daisy’s shadow).

This one near Den Helder comes with a lighthouse.

This one near Juliandorp came like most Dutch bike paths come, with useful detailed bike-path maps.

This one came with the touch-and-feel seaside option.

This one had more snow-like sand.

There’s that lighthouse again. This one was so fun we went back to do it again.

This one came with woods attached.

This one near Bergen aan Zee came with undulating dunes.

As for weather, we had everything hurled at us. First it was too hot (mid-30s heatwave) then it was too wet – storm after explosive storm with biblical rain that drummed on the tent so loud we had to shout to each other to be heard. Then we got caught in a hail storm that resulted in hail-drifts and floods. It was barmy – after sweating away in the tent for two weeks dreaming of cold we were suddenly freezing and dreaming of heat. Didn’t put us off wanting to live there though.

A lot of the time though the weather was cloudless like this…

…or with a few puffy clouds like this – perfect for launching Gary-the-inflatable-crocodile into the North Sea. (Though the frisky currents weren’t so handy).

But sometimes, to hit the steamy air on the head, we had black monster clouds like this impinging upon our seaside frolics which sometimes resulted in this…

…turning it from hot to arctic within a matter of minutes.

It made good hailstone balls though.

And the white stuff around our tent gave camping an interesting edge.

But whatever the weather the birthdays always went down a treat.  Here’s Birthday Boy Jack in present-opening action.

And here’s Birthday Girl Molly about to launch into her packable, foldable, stowable gifts.

And here’s Molly’s packable foldable birthday cake.

In Noordvijkerhout’s Dirk supermarket Jack kicked up a bit of a commotion as he wanted a big furry cuddly ostrich the size of a kangaroo that was for sale. I said no – because for one thing it was expensive and for another there was no room on board due to Gary-the-Crocodile filling the last space.  To calm the scene I spotted a pink mop head for sale and for only 1 Euro who could say no? I couldn’t. I felt it would not only help to clean up around the tent but double up as fetching headwear. Jack wore it for the rest of the holiday. He got a few odd looks though.

Hoek van Holland. Our last hour on Dutch soil/sand.

Harwich! Fresh off the ferry and onto Gary (the real one).