Cycling to the ‘Dutch Sahara’

billet en français

This is the fourth and final report of the longer rides I made on my free Wednesdays during the first month of the Corona crisis. After four such rides I stopped making them for no particular reason. I had cycled to the West, East and South but for this last one I didn’t cycle north. To the north of ʼs-Hertogenbosch we find the large river Maas (Meuse) and there is only one bridge to cross it which make the rides north a bit predictable and boring. There is a ferry a bit further away, but that stopped taking cyclists who weren’t making essential rides. So that limited my options north even further. I also don’t really like the landscape to the north: meadows and cows. I’ve seen too many of those in my life already! When you see what I found now that I cycled west again you may understand. Because I indeed cycled west again. This time to a national park, “the Dunes of Loon and Drunen national park” to be precise.

The Sand Dunes of Loon and Drunen are sometimes referred to as the Dutch Sahara. But these 35 square kilometres of sand are surrounded by pine forests.
The sand areas are clearly visible on an aerial picture such as this one from Google Earth.
Just north of the park alongside the canal an impressively large number of sheep were grazing.

The Dunes of Loon and Drunen are very special. This national park is about 3,500 hectares in size and it is situated in a triangle formed by the cities of Tilburg, Waalwijk and ʼs-Hertogenbosch. The park has the largest drifting sands in Europe and it is sometimes called the Sahara of the Netherlands. That’s right you can find a desert-like area in the middle of Brabant. It is one of the Netherlands’ largest natural areas and also the largest sand drift area in western Europe. The sand dunes formed about 10,000 years ago.

There are just a few cycle routes at the edge of the sandy areas. The wind seems to keep these asphalt paths free of sand.
Only at some locations there is sand piling up on the cycle ways. In the distance in this picture you see that the path seems narrower because of sand on it.

Contrary to the image many people have of a desert, the Dunes of Loon and Drunen are a very lively area with a great variety of plants and animals. The transition area where the pine forests and heather gradually merge with the shifting sands, with many mosses and grasses, are particularly interesting to see. This national park is home to many songbirds, birds of prey, roe deer and even badgers. The large sand areas have a micro-climate that is different from the surroundings. The temperature can reach up to forty degrees Celsius during the day in the summer and then drop to around freezing in the evening.

Pines grow well on the sand. In the 19th century these forests were planted for the wood industry.
People love to make rides on specific mountain bike trails. These four gentlemen met and had a chat. Even though they observe the social distancing rules of at least 1.5 metres between themselves, I was forced to ride between them…

I looked on the internet to see what was written about this park and found a few visitor’s testimonials on Tripadvisor. A small selection:

Exotic for The Netherlands, someone from Sydney wrote:

Who would expect that there was a desert in the middle of The Netherlands and yet this national park proves there is. An amazing area of sand dunes and open vista’s that are well worth a visit. Be careful with the walking paths though as you can get lost.

Lovely peaceful walk, said someone from Southampton:

We had a lovely walk on a Sunday morning through the forest and across the dunes. I would imagine it gets very busy in warmer weather – cyclists, horses, runners. Finished off with a coffee in the cafe.

Fascinating “Dutch Sahara”, a visitor from Norway wrote:

Really like the wilderness environment. Great walking area, though tough walking on the sand sometimes. Very pleasant to see shepherds leading/driving their quite large flock across the dunes.

Very beautiful, a person from nearby Tilburg said:

For the first time I Mountain-biked in the Loonse en Drunense duinen. It was a very good experience. Did that together with my oldest son of 15 years old. We took the 30km trail. Be aware this is really a challenge. The hospitality of the colleague bikers was great.

Finally You feel as if you are close to the ocean, stated an anonymous visitor:

This nature area is stunning. Wonderful old pine trees surround open areas of white sand. It’s a great place to walk and at the edges of the park you find many quaint restaurants. This area is worth visiting any time of the year.

Although the park seemed empty, this parking lot at one of the entrances was more occupied than I expected.
The moment you leave the park the landscape becomes distinctively ‘Dutch’ again. Green meadows and flat, very flat.

I am lucky to have such a beautiful area at cycling distance from my home. I have already visited it at any time of the year. I’ve shown you parts of the park when the heath was in bloom, turning the landscape purple. This time I particularly loved the silence. I filmed part of my ride in 360 degrees (and also made an ordinary version for those who like that better). Since the last time I used the camera I could only film about a quarter of an hour on one battery, I now had the camera on a power bank until I really started filming. That seems to have helped. I let the camera run while I was riding east and back to ʼs-Hertogenbosch and it filmed for almost 25 minutes, in the park and while I was riding around the edge of it. I hadn’t really expected it to last this long. Enjoy!

This particular cycle path is not mandatory, the sign with “Fietspad” (cycle path) is only used for non-mandatory cycle ways. It also means that scooters cannot use it.
Not what you’d expect; these ladies walk on the “car-bit” of the road. That’s how quiet it was.
Horse riding is very popular in the Netherlands. You don’t see such horse drawn carriages often though, let alone two!
This is allowed. Cycling on the roadway next to a non-mandatory cycle way is legal.
The road takes a slightly different route. But now we find a bridle path next to the cycle path.
This is normally a very busy restaurant at the edge of the national park. In the yellow box on the right hand side you can find tools for the bicycle. They are free to use.
I don’t think I ever saw this restaurant closed. This was due to the Corona measures.
From this point the cycleway becomes mandatory. This sign is only used for mandatory cycleways. This path is very narrow for two way cycling, but this is a very rural area and most people cycle only for recreation here.
This is now illegal. You are not allowed to cycle on the roadway right next to a mandatory cycle path. But that day many cyclists, especially the racing type, did it.
Not only the cycleway is narrow here. The roadway is also very narrow for two way traffic, as you can see when a car does pass. The number of cars I encountered while filming was extremely low though, so that width is not a problem.
Another reminder that the Netherlands is generally green and flat…
This is a very rural area with only occasional farm houses.
The road is so quiet that this truck driver decided to unload his truck while it was parked in the middle of the road.
The driver of this tractor entered this field from the road. He already started to slowly cross the path when I was very far away, but I really had to brake firmly to not hit the vehicle.
From this location the road goes straight-on while another cycle track leads through the forest. That track is even narrower than this path but I like it better. A few kilometres from here the two meet again and both routes are about the same distance. So it doesn’t make a real difference which of the two alternatives you take.
Interesting choice of signs: “Forbidden for all motor vehicles”. I think the non-mandatory cycle path sign would achieve the same thing, but this is in a different municipality than the sign I showed earlier. This municipality chose this combination.
This wasn’t good for the camera! A bunch of low hanging branches really smashed into the lens. Fortunately, this incident left no scratches.
On the way to numbered junction 83 the battery died. But I think the ride gave a good impression of the type of landscapes and cycling infrastructure you can find in the more rural areas of the Netherlands where people go for recreation.
My entire round trip was 41.4km long. Almost entirely on separate cycling infrastructure. (Map from the route planner of the Cyclists’ Union)

Of that entire route below is the part you can see in the video:

The filmed part of the ride on 14 April 2020.

Ride in 360

The same ride as an ordinary video


5 thoughts on “Cycling to the ‘Dutch Sahara’

  1. The choice of signs between municipalities doesn’t seem to be as much a municipality thing as a rules thing, the signs used in the second example clearly state you are entering a “zone” where these rules apply, I don’t think it is allowed to use the “Fietspad” sign in combination with a “zone”.

  2. “Since the last time I used the camera I could only film about a quarter of an hour on one battery”. This seems to be a new thing with this camera? I would not have thought that you have had, or used this camera for that long of time for the battery to have lost its ability to keep a charge?
    Thank you for taking use with you on this ride to see such a wonderful place.

  3. Not all sand dunes are in dry climates. When I was in the Canadian Army, I spent a lot of time at Canadian Forces Base Borden. This features lots of sand dunes and rain! The government, of course, will establish an Army training base on land that is worthless for agriculture.

    Mandatory Dutch connection: One of my great-uncles trained there during WWII before being sent overseas to fight in the Liberation of the Netherlands.

    1. This area in the Netherlands was also used for Army training.
      After half an hour of cycling, the red flags usually did not stop us. Which once lead to running in front of a tank, chasing us out. Most times we were send away in a bit more friendly way. Military use stopped in the early nineties.

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