Holland is a country with its head screwed on the right way: the bicycle rules and dominates all. I’ve recently spent a week cycling there with mum and it felt wonderful to travel from England, the most car-dominated country in Europe, to a land where cycling is fully accepted as a mode of transport. (In the UK it is seen more as a leisure pursuit).

One drizzly night mum and me rendez-voused at the Rising Sun – the local pub – and with heaving panniers followed our bike light beams for 10 miles to the station where we took a late train to Waterloo. A mad-dash bus-weaving ride across London ensued to Liverpool Street station where we crammed onto another train to Harwich to board the night boat to Holland.

Josie Dew

Josie Dew

It was here that I discovered the advantage of travelling with your ageing (but ever youthful, of course) mother. Customs just smiled at us and didn’t want to scrutinize passports and we were waved to the front of furlongs of juggernauts. We were then allowed to roll onto the boat an hour before anyone else.

photograph of Josie DewAfter surviving a hilarious night in our Stena Line cabin during which, amongst other things, I narrowly avoided being folded into the wall by my collapsible top bunk (the loaded spring was a bit dickey), we rolled up the ro-ro’s ramp at dawn to enter a wind-flattening Hoek van Holland. We then cycled 60 miles (mum’s all-time all-in-one top mileage) to Amsterdam where I spent four days giving bicycle (book-flogging) talks and interviews to the ever enthusiastic Dutch.

Equally as remarkable as mum’s pedalling prowess was that we rode the 60 miles on a perfection of car-free paths that skirted seas of sky-reflecting greenhouses, followed high upon the spines of dykes, and ribboned their way beside tufted-duck and mohican-style Great-crested grebe-frequented canals.

Despite the ferociously gusty wind that buffeted us all over the cycle path, I’m glad to say that I didn’t lose my mother to the English-hungry murky depths of a canal. But it was a close thing. (A Dutchman told us that canals claim the lives of an inordinate amount of Englishmen who apparently have a tendency to fall into them when inebriated, never to find their way out).

Amsterdam is just what a city should be – not too big and full of trams and boats and bikes, the latter being cycled everywhere from pavements to up-the-wrong-way one-way streets and are tolerated in that way that the forward-thinking Dutch tolerate so much from soft drugs to hard porn.

We returned to the Hook of Holland via the North Sea Cycle Route that winds its sandy way for miles and miles through the undulating dunes. Didn’t see a car until Den Haag, some 30 miles later. And then, most of the places we passed through were areas of the ultimate traffic-calming scheme: the ‘homezone’. This incredibly well-developed design that the Dutch devised reverses the concept of roads being primarily for motor traffic. Pedestrians and cyclists take priority and cars are either forbidden or have to travel at walking pace, negotiating seating, play areas and trees. By encouraging people to use the streets on foot or by bicycle, homezones reduce car congestion and road deaths (pedestrians and cyclists are more than twice as likely to be killed in the UK as in the Netherlands) and head-grating noise pollution, as well as improving air quality. Children play safely on the streets and neighbours talk again because the quieting atmosphere is conducive to lingering outside your house. Cars are put on the back burner and, to my mind, that’s exactly where they should stay.

PS: After temporary diversions, will be launching forth again on coastal ride around the British Isles in June. Pedals are being primed, knees are being rotated, panniers are being packed. Keep a-tuned for more news soon…