This was my first ride with my brother-in-law Hans. His prowess on the bike is legendary. Family and friends speak in hushed tones of his achievements in the mountains of Crete. I’d always feared riding with him would be a recipe for my first heart attack.
But a couple of years ago he sold me the second hand Giant touring bike I’m riding now, I’m very happy with it, and I promised to ride with him some day. That day finally arrived this week. ‘With an overnight stop? A meal and a beer?’ Hans suggested, ‘I’ll come down from Emmen, you get the train out from Amsterdam and we’ll ride round Overijssel.’ ‘Fine,’ I said, and went to look up the atlas to find out where the hell Overijssel was.
Readers of RT’s LOTR may not be familiar with Overijssel either. I can now tell you it’s a province in north-east Nederland. A few Overijssel town names…Olst, Wijhe, Heino, Dalfsen? They don’t ring a bell? How about Zwolle? That’s a fair-sized place with a pretty good football team, but not mega-famous by world standards. Okay then…Deventer, where they make Deventerkoek (Deventer cake) – ever heard of it? No?
Zwolle is about an hour and a quarter by train north east of Amsterdam. The rain started splattering on the window ten minutes after I’d hoisted my bike into the compartment and by the time I changed trains at Amersfoort it was pelting down. Holland should be used to this sort of weather, but trains were cancelled and others delayed.
I was late. Hans was waiting on the Zwolle platform, wheeling a battered mountain bike. ‘Had long to wait?’ I asked. Then I noticed he was soaking wet. He’d ridden down from Emmen – 90km. Not a bad effort before lunch, on fat tyres, with a headwind and thunderstorms.
The rain was easing a little, so we agreed to ride down to Deventer. Just a gentle 40km – I wouldn’t have wanted Hans to get tired. It was easy going, roughly following the Ijssel River, through the villages of Wijhe and Olst and into Deventer.
Deventer now rates high on my “Best Towns in Nederland” list, with its beautiful old gables, a pleasant town square and a good selection of antique shops and bookshops.
It was a place where lots seemed to happen too. We were too early for the Deventer Book Fair (held each year in August) and we’d missed the Deventer Stilt Festival by just one day. The world needs more festivals of stilt-walking; the photos looked terrific, but ‘You should have been here last week, mate,’ could be the motto for my life.
Next morning we got away early, to weave around a loop that would take us back to Zwolle. Overijssel is a farming province, with fields of corn and cows and patches of forest. Old farmhouses all had gardens with hydrangeas in bloom, thatched roofs and colourful shutters. Particularly attractive was the section perched on the dyke above the Vecht River, and beside the Ijssel itself. The sun was back and the cane chairs were out on every cafe terrace.
With a creditable 80km on the clock, we reached the outskirts of Zwolle, and a railway crossing. Hans stopped. ‘You can find your way to the station from here, Richard?’
‘Sure.’ There was the train line to follow – how hard could it be?
‘Do this again next year?’
He turned his bike towards Emmen.
Hans was tactful enough to say that he sometimes needed a rest too