The Netherlands

dykes and bikes

Goede middag van Amsterdam,

      It’s nearly always true that one doesn’t know what to expect of a city/country/destination until you are actually there on the ground. The dykes of The Netherlands are yet another example of the truism. “You can’t go to The Netherlands without seeing the dykes,” mused Linda during our sojourn into the countryside from Amsterdam.

Not really knowing what to expect, we took some directions from Peter and Yolande. I’m still not quite on top of the geography of the dykes, but I will have a go for the benefit of readers who share an interest. 

quintessential Dutch scenery

    For much of the coastline, The Atlantic has created massive sand dunes. Over many centuries, the inland gradually became inhabitable and was settled by farmers and graziers. Today, this is very productive and green. Some of that land is actually below sea level. (Amsterdam’s international airport is five metres below sea level.) The Zuider Zee is a very large body of salt water in the north of the country. (Amsterdam is at the southern-most point of it.)

Some buildings at a slight angle, but still standing – Amsterdam

      When sea storms are big enough, the coast and the fringes of the Zuider Zee are susceptible to inundation with salt water, with obvious consequences. To ward off the encroaching sea, massive dykes have been built in two different places.

The ocean is higher than the sea.

At the mouth of the Zuider Zee a huge dyke of rock, sand and soil has been built to separate the sea from the ocean. This must have been a massive construction effort (about 80 years ago). It is about 40 kilometres long and wide enough for four lanes of traffic. (Yesterday we drove out to the café at the halfway point and returned after a short stop for refreshments.) This means that on one side the Atlantic Ocean is higher than the Zuider Zee on the other. Without this barrage, much of the country – including the airport – would frequently go under.

ten Olympic pools per minute

With rising sea levels, the barrage is now seen is insufficient and a new pumping station is under construction: powerful enough to pump the equivalent of ten Olympic pools per minute (from the Zuider Zee to the ocean ). 

   South of there, and parallel to the coast, giant dykes have been built, strengthened and raised to withstand the big storms. (1916 and 1953 were two years in which the dykes were breached.) These dykes are huge barrages of sand which often have roads or bicycle paths along the top. Huge sand bars are also created out to sea to slow down the tides when storm seas are threatening. 

dykes constructed to stop the sea encroaching

   These dykes are much bigger than expected. They are testament to the ingenuity and industry of a determined people. The Dutch have acquired a great body of knowledge on the subject of low-level habitation. Incidentally, the Bangladeshi government is one of The Netherlands’ best customers these days.

      This is a great example of not quite understanding the sight until you are there on the scene. It’s not just in the classroom that the memory is going to be worth having. The Netherlands is a truly beautiful country. And it’s true that most people ride bicycles everywhere. There are more bicycles than humans in Amsterdam. The railway stations and tram stops have thousands of push bikes on racks. Every year more than ten thousand are retrieved from the canals.

Tot ziens van Amsterdam


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