96km and total to date is 545km.
The failed battle is obvious as we ended in Arnhem but the 10m red aardvark only makes an appearance at the end of this blog! So read on or aardvark only fans will have to skip to the end.
We woke about 7 after only 10 hours sleep. I had forgotten quite how much we sleep when travelling. The only visitors in the night were mosquitos and, when I whapped a few, they came out all red – not a good sign. However there is little malaria in Holland and neither of us were bitten too badly. Must close the mosquito cover next time (the clue is in the name).
We got going soon after 8 after a healthy breakfast and then changed the tyre of the trailer which had changed from a slow puncture (pump it up occasionally but can’t be bothered to change it) to a fast puncture (no choice now).
The track was tarmac along the top of the dyke, with mist in the morning air. We stopped to take photos of stalks sitting on their nests on top of poles which householders had set up just outside the house. I suppose it stops them building nests in the chimney and also assists with the birth rate. Close up they are graceful, beautiful birds with a wing span of well over 1m. Not to be messed with!
The Dutch do cycleways so brilliantly. This one was wide enough for a car but cycles had priority. 50% of Dutch journeys are by bike compared to a paltry 16% in the UK. It is flat here of course but cycling is just part of the culture. We started to see more and more touring cyclists, and ceased to feel abnormal (well at least abnormal for taking a cycling holiday, even if we retained our paranoia for all other areas).
After more waterways we got to the totally unpronounceable Wijk bij Duurstede. Not a name I would like to have to get right after a few pints of the excellent lager they serve here. Lovely town with the only drive through windmill in the whole of Holland. Don’t say that reading this blog is not adding to your education – you can now quiz your friends and neighbours by asking them to name the only town in Holland with a drive through windmill. The only flaw in this ruse is that, when they get it wrong or feign indifference at such a stupid question, you will have to say the unpronounceable Wijk bij Duurstede to prove you know the answer.
We had coffee and shopped for lunch in the wonderful but unpronounceable Wijk bij Duurstede and then continued along the dyke heading East. Cycling east all the time has one problem. The right hand side of our bodies is in the sun and the left is in shade, so we have an uneven tan. Not as uneven as the bits that are covered by cycling shorts (pure English white or should I say pink) with the bits below (tanned to a brownness than usually indicates a summer in the Bahamas).
We passed loads of distinctively Dutch architecture in both old and modern homes – the curving roofs and plinths are part of lots of houses. Then we got to a series of little villages and town around the main river and eventually got to Oosterbeek where we paused to visit the museum to the battle of Arnhem in 1944. This is immortalised in a “A Bridge Too Far”. It was September 1944, the allies were making progress across France but the major concern was crossing the Rhine, so airborne troops were landed behind German lines to take control of a series of bridges. The most advanced was at Arnhem and a series of disasters meant that the British, American and Polish troops were not supported by land forces, were out gunned by the Germans, and a strategic retreat turned into a rout.
The museum was sobering but brilliantly portrayed the hopes of the local population being raised then dashed. The bridge finally fell in March 1945 as the advance continued but the failure added 6 months to the war. It is right not to be judgmental. Intelligence was faulty, technology failed but the troops were pursuing a significant strategic aim – but a series of assumptions were wrong and many lives were lost as a result. To call it a heroic failure would be to simplify a complex situation but many were heroes. The local population suffered terribly as a result of a battle in their area, but have been steadfast in support of the attempt to liberate them.
So we pressed on in a sombre mood to Arhem itself, and saw the new John Frost bridge, named after the leader of the failed airbourne assault. We could not camp as there were no local sites so holed up in a Holiday Inn which seemed to be full of proper cyclists in lycra and astonishingly without trailers! Outside there was a statute of red 10m aardvark which was part statute and part children’s play site.
The aardvark is the symbol of the Arnhem Zoo (which we did not visit) and the statute was built to commemorate 100 years of the zoo. It was quite a sight and should prompt another quiz question “Which city in Holland has the largest statute of an aardvark?”. The answer to this is fairly easy to pronounce.