Summertime recreational cycling

It’s Summer and for most countries that means there is more cycling than in winter. Is that also the case for the Netherlands? One investigation shows that the total number of trips on a summer day with warm weather (over 25 degrees Celsius) is 30% higher than on a winter day with frost. However, since both these extremes are relatively rare, it is also true that the Dutch cycle all year long. On a Summer day the Dutch do cycle more for recreation and that is exactly what I did for this week’s post.

Around the man-made lakes of Maarsseveense Plassen there are great cycle routes to get to the places where you can sunbathe and take a swim.
Routes to recreational destinations have their own type of signs in Utrecht. Green letters on a white sign. From this location the lakes are just 4 kilometres away.

A lot of Dutch cities have one or more man-made lakes. ’s-Hertogenbosch has three, the largest of which is actually in neighbouring Vught. Utrecht also has a few, just outside the large new neighbourhoods. These urban developments are the reason all those lakes exist. Large amounts of sand were extracted to be used as foundation and as building material for the housing of the cities. I grew up in Overvecht, in the north of Utrecht. Overvecht was built from the early 1960s to the mid-1970s and huge amounts of sand were used to elevate the former polder meadows. This sand came from just north of the area via a pipe line to the building sites. The enormous holes that remained after the sand extraction filled up with water and these new lakes were later developed to be a recreational and nature area. Man-made nature reserves are very common in The Netherlands.

The location of the large rectangular lake is very close to the north edge of Utrecht (Overvecht).
Many people arrive by bicycle to this lake. Most free sunbathing areas are grass. The paid facility has a beautiful white sandy beach.

The new lakes were named Maarsseveense Plassen after the hamlet they were close to. Going to this area was a trip down memory lane. Not only was I told, as a child already, that the lakes were a direct result of the existence of my home, we went there very often. It was less than 3 kilometres from my home and from the age of 12 most of the neighbourhood children went there – unsupervised – by bicycle to swim for an afternoon. That was not uncommon, you could ride the entire route on separated cycling infrastructure and it was only slightly further than going to my scouting group, where I cycled alone from the age of 8.

The information board at the entrance states the area is only accessible during day light hours, but there are not real gates that are closed.
There is this nasty gate to prevent mopeds and scooters from entering. I overheard someone saying they also prevent racers to go there. “When I’m on my racing bike, I find an easier route. I am not going to stand in line here, to hassle my way through!”

The largest lake is rectangular. It is 2,000 metres long and 500 metres wide. The water is very clean and clear. The lake has many sandy shores where people can go for sunbathing and a swim. At some locations the lake is 30 metres deep. That is why some diving clubs can use it too, for training. There are many smaller beaches that are free, but there is also a huge bathing area with supervision and extra nice sandy beaches that is a paid facility. There are also two nudist beaches; one free and one that is private, only for visitors belonging to a club.

Some of the people just run out into the cycleway. But mostly you can easily cycle around the people who are already off their bicycles.
Only the main – paid – bathing area can be reached by car. But even there the bicycle parking is closer to the entrance than the car parking area.
This idyllic but very practical bridge takes you over the connection from the main lake to the surrounding ditches and the smaller waterways.

The lake seemed huge when I was a child. Especially when we had to walk around it every year in a four evening walking event with school. One evening every year, the route took us on the 5 kilometre long path for walking and cycling all around the main lake. I often cycled this route as a child too. This sense of distance was so deeply engrained in my mind that I now feared the route would perhaps be too long to film. I was almost surprised to complete the entire lap in just over a quarter of an hour. Childhood memories are unreliable! But it was fun to see it all again after at least 30 years. Very little has changed. I was very happy to see so many children here. I hope their memories are as fond as mine, in 2050!

My bike ride around the Maarsseveense Plassen.

Close up of the cycle map of the main lake of the Maarsseveense Plassen. All the red lines are separated cycleways. (Routeplanner Cyclists’ Union)



3 thoughts on “Summertime recreational cycling

  1. The areas to west and north are where the peat was extracted is that right? That’s what I recall my dad saying who grew up near Zevenhuizen/Gouda.

  2. In het Noordhollandse poldergebied waar ik woon eist het waterschap iets dergelijks. Als er een nieuwe woonwijk gebouwd wordt moet er ook meteen meer waterberging gerealiseerd worden.
    Door het verdwijnen van de sloten tussen de voormalige weilanden, en door de daken en verharding van het oppervlak, neemt een woonwijk tijdens een grote regenbui minder water op dan weilanden. Die verminderde wateropname capaciteit en verminderde waterbergingscapaciteit tijdens extreme natte perioden moet voldoende gecompenseerd worden binnen dat gebied zelf of in de nabije omgeving.

    Dat is de reden voor het recreatiemeer (Strand van Luna) aan de zuidkant van Heerhugowaard, ter compensatie van de nieuwe woonwijken die de afgelopen 20 jaar aan die zuidkant zijn bijgebouwd.

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