Extensive heaths and vast woodlands are probably not what comes to your mind first when you think of the Netherlands, but just like the green meadows with cows they are a local and common type of nature. The Dutch themselves always come back to the forests and the heather fields when they think of a good place to go cycling. Late August, early September the heather is often in bloom turning vast areas into a deep shade of purple. This makes the heath a popular destination for a recreational cycle tour.
Heather needs quite sandy soil to flourish which we have in abundance in the province of Brabant, but also in vast areas along the coast with its sandy dunes, on the Veluwe and up in the north of the Netherlands. You can actually find heather fields everywhere in the Netherlands. The heather hadn’t bloomed in 2018, it had been far too dry that summer. It was feared that also in 2019 the heath would not turn purple, but then we had a few weeks of rain at just the right time. That meant the heather bloomed after all and it made headlines in the news. Add a couple of bright sunny days right after the news coverage and you have many Dutch jumping on their bicycles to ride to the heath closest to their homes.
On Wednesday 21 August I rode south from ’s-Hertogenbosch to the town of Boxtel where west of that town we find the Kampina, a nature reserve with sandy wetlands and extensive heather fields. The area became what it is now due to human destruction of the woods already before the year 1400. After most of the trees had been cut for firewood, villagers started to dig up the landscape for peat. That meant the sand below the peat came to the surface making this a vast sandy dune landscape with small ponds where the peat holes filled with water. Over the years the sand was taken over by heather plants which in turn were used to feed sheep and cows for centuries. Nowadays horses and cows are kept to graze the heath to make sure young trees do not get a chance to overtake the area again, because that would mean the end of the heath as we know and love it.
Even though people warned each other that it was time to go, it was remarkable how many people there were on the heath on an ordinary weekday. Schools had already started, right that week, but the Wednesday is often still only a half school day. That meant you could even see some children cycling with their parents, enjoying their first free Wednesday afternoon this new school year. With the sun shining on the purple heather in full bloom you get a remarkable colour palette that you can only see a few weeks per year. It was striking that the following Sunday it was a lot quieter on the heath of the National Park Loonse and Drunense Duinen. Possibly because everyone thought it would be too busy.
I hadn’t been on the heath near Loon op Zand and Tilburg for quite a few years, but after seeing the beauty near Boxtel and seeing that the Sunday weather was lovely too, I simply had to cycle here again. In 2014 I showed you the heather there, but later in the year when it was no longer so brightly purple.
People really enjoyed the heather blooming again, especially since we now know it isn’t something we can take for granted. Had it not rained for a few weeks we would have had a repeat of 2018. Keeping the heath as it is requires a lot of effort. As mentioned before, animals help graze the grasses that are always almost taking over the fields. The horses and cows also trample over the fresh young trees. Which is a good thing in this respect. The forest is always trying to invade the heath which would make it woodland again. What would be best to preserve the heather would be a mild winter and a not too extreme summer, one of the park rangers said in the press. With global warming that may almost be too much to ask…
A compilation of all the rides, most of which I also filmed in 360 degrees.
The Kampina, riding in 360 degrees Part 1
The Loonse en Drunense Duinen, riding in 360 degrees Part 2
The Loonse en Drunense Duinen, riding in 360 degrees Part 3