This morning I departed Naarden by train, headed for Hengelo station where I was met by my friend Bert Smeenk who drove me to Eibergen in the Achterhoek (literally, ‘back corner’) region of The Netherlands. Eibergen is where my father was born, in 1921.
Part-way through the rail journey, the train was diverted because of the surprise discovery of a WW2 bomb beside a section of track. The diversion added about one hour to the usual journey time of two hours.
Bert greeted me enthusiastically – it is exactly one year since we last met – and we walked a short distance to his car for the 30-minute drive to our destination. In Bert’s home we shared a typical Dutch lunch of cured meats, cheese and bread.
Before my arrival, I’d expressed to Bert an interest in cycling around the Eibergen district. He kindly offered to make arrangements with a neighbour, Bert Westhuis, who is an avid cyclist. Between the two Berts, it was worked out that Bert Westhuis would lead me on a ride this afternoon, using his partner’s touring bike.
He led me onto Zwilbroekseweg, a quiet and straight rural road lined with shady poplars. Verdant green paddocks are all around, often containing Holstein Friesian cattle. As a vehicle approaches occasionally, we move to single file then return to ride side-by-side. I’ve known Bert for barely 10 minutes but the conversation flows easily. I’m again reminded how well the Dutch speak English and how Dutch people are so open to sharing stories with others, even newcomers from across the globe.
We passed through the farmland at Holterhoek and then arrived at Zwilbroek, another farming community. Here we turned left into Vredenseweg, a slightly wider road also lined with poplars. We soon crossed the border into Germany and followed this road all the way to Vreden, a small town in the North Rhine-Westphalia district. Bert W showed me around the town centre where we stopped briefly to take in the exterior of an attractive red-brick church. We returned to Windmühlenstraße which became Windmühlentor and rode back to the roundabout on the western edge of the township to re-join Zwillbrockerstraße which had delivered us to Vreden.
But at its intersection with Ringstraße, a low-key ring road circling Vreden, we turned right and headed north-east for a short distance until reaching Oldenkotter Straße where we veered due north. At Hauptstraße we turned to the east and several paddocks later we arrived at Ammeloe, a village some 6km north-west of Vreden. After passing through the village, we turned west and then north into the Ammeloe road which would return us to The Netherlands at a point more north-east than the previous border crossing.
We stopped at Café-Restaurant Rotering on the Dutch side of the border where the Ammeloe road is known as Oldenkotseweg. Here we ordered a glass of beer (Bert) and wine (me), enjoyed in the shade under the front verandah. Again, the conversation flows.
Refreshed, we resume our cycling along Oldenkotseweg. The River Berkel is now on our left, as it meanders lazily from Germany into Holland. We reach the village of Rekken where the road became Holterweg and took us onto the other side of the Berkel, where the road became Rekkenseweg. Now Bert is keen to show me Piepermolen (Pieper’s Mill).
Built of deep-red bricks in 1796 with an unusual bell-shaped hull, the mill was used for crushing grain. Around the base of the mill is a mound of earth, a so-called ‘belt’, from which the miller could easily reach the blades. The mill is named after Herman Pieper, the last owner to use the mill for its intended purpose. Part of the mill was destroyed by a storm in 1940, and it was no longer used. A restoration occurred in 1972, then another in 1994 and another in 2007.
A striking dahlia garden stood in front of the mill, and we walked criss-cross through it. The year 2018 was the fourth occasion that local volunteers planted out large beds of dahlia here.
In 2010, during the centenary of the Vereniging Rekkens Volksfeest (Rekkens Festival Association), a dahlia garden was created for the first time. Volunteers planted 100 varieties of dahlia at that time. A dahlia garden was again planted in 2014, containing 160 different varieties, and generating great interest throughout the Achterhoek. Another dahlia garden was planted in 2016 to mark the 250th anniversary of the opening of the Dutch-German border between Rekken and Dinxperlo. And on 27 July 2018, a dahlia garden was opened to the public for the fourth time. One week after our visit on 11 October 2018, the garden was to be dismantled, the bulbs unearthed and sold to local buyers.
We mounted our bikes and re-joined Rekkenseweg which took us generally westward through tracts of farmland. Many kilometres on, we moved onto a very minor road, Hoge Diek, and then took a sharp right into Apedijk. This brought us alongside Ramsbeek, a small stream that flows into the Berkel at Eibergen. By now we have completed a loop and ridden 37km in about 2h24m at a leisurely 15.4km/h.