The Netherlands

It’s a small place

Holland_Windmill.jpgWhen it comes down to it, you have to admit that compared to other countries, the Netherlands is really, really small. If you travelled from the smallest island of Rottum, which is the most northerly point, to the southern border in Limburg, you would have covered only 310 kilometres in distance, a car journey of just under 4 hours. And from Hoek van Holland in the west to the German Border in the east is little more than 200 kilometres, about 2.5 hours travellling time. So we’re not talking about a big place here.

2008 January - May 038.jpgFlat

It’s pretty obvious when you get a first glimpse of the Netherlands that the country is flat. Very flat. In fact, you can often see for miles. And what’s more, a quarter of the land is below sea level. So if there was no protection from the sea, 25% of the country would be covered by water. That’s quite a scary thought and you can imagine that the threat of global warming and rising sea levels is making the Dutch very nervous.

Dutch Alps

The highest point is in the south, where the borders of the Netherlands, Belgium and Germany meet. The Vaalserberg is 323 metres above sea levels. The Dutch optimistically call this area the ‘Dutch Alps’. Not exactly an Alp, or even a mountain for that matter, but positively huge compared to the rest of the country.


Dublin and Holland May 2009 134.JPGThe landscape of Holland is dominated by water.  Three big rivers flow from the south and east and their estuaries form a huge delta as they meet the North Sea in the west.  These rivers, the Rijn, the Maas, and the Schelde are not only the biggest rivers in the Netherlands, but also Europe’s most important waterways, which gives the Netherlands access to the rest of Europe.  As a result, the rivers have all had a huge impact on the development of the Netherlands.  But there is more water in the Netherlands than just these rivers, far more!  There are countless man-made canals and lakes all over the country.  With so much water everywhere, you can imagine just how many bridges there are, and they too come in all shapes and sizes.

Dublin and Holland May 2009 757.JPGDunes to the rescue!

With all that low-lying land and water, the Dutch have always struggled to survive, and large parts of the country used to flood regularly.  In fact, 1000 years ago, the Netherlands as we know it now, didn’t even exist at all!  Really, the country was formed when wind and water together started to produce sand dunes.  It worked like this: The North Sea brought lots of sand to the coast.  The sand was swept up by the sea at low tide and formed little lumps.  Eventually tough tall grasses started growing in these sandy lumps.  The grasseDublin and Holland May 2009 697.JPGs then caught and held on to more sand, so that the sand lump grew bigger, so that more grasses could grow, so that more sand could get caught, so that….. You’ll see where this is going.  You end up with big sand dunes.  For centuries this carried on and on, until, eventually, these dunes became tall enough to become barriers against the sea.  This whole thing is still happening today – and just as well for the Dutch really!   These pictures will give you a good idea of a sand dune landscape and how it is formed.

Islands on the move

On the north coast of the Netherlands you’ll find 6 islands which together are called the Friesian Islands.  The sea around these islands is very shallow, so that at low tide you can actually walk to the islands.  The Friesian Islands are said to be “walking eastwards”. They constantly lose land in the west, where the sea undermines the island until eventually it caves in.   Fortunately, new sand is constantly building up on the east, which the islanders manage very carefully until eventually it is strong enough to build on.  In this way, the islands are slowly moving from west to east – and if current progress continues, the first Dutch Friesian Island will reach German territory in about uhm…500 years from now!

This text is taken from the introduction to ‘My Travel Kit for the Netherlands’.  If you would like more information, please contact me.