Getting lost in Holland

Holland has a network of cycle paths that most countries can only dream of. So a four-day bike holiday with my friend Rachel seemed like a no-brainer – especially with the added bonus of no hills.

It was a great trip. We followed the river Vecht between Amsterdam and Utrecht; we meandered through pretty countryside to Gouda; we cycled right through the middle of The Hague and on to the coast; and then we toured alongside the fields of blooming bloemen (we were there in April for the tulips) up to Haarlem before heading to the airport.

In all, it was about 160 miles of beautifully flat and smooth bike paths. There was only one tiny problem – we kept getting lost. Each time it happened, we would study our maps and vow to raise our navigational game … and then a short while later we’d discover we’d gone astray again.

We had planned the whole thing meticulously. But when we’re cycling, I have to admit there’s a lot of talking and not a whole lot of paying attention. That just doesn’t work in a country like Holland for a number of reasons.

1. Landmarks. It can be hard to get the lie of the land in a flat country – especially in a landscape full of fields, canals and the odd windmill.

2. Water. In Holland, the waterways are as important when it comes to navigation as the bike paths. Get on the wrong side of a body of water and you may have to cycle miles to get back on track.

3. Choice. At any given point in the cities there are bike paths going in all directions. We got lost going into Amsterdam, coming out of Utrecht and all around Gouda. Maps are essential.

4. Signage. We had three cycling maps to cover our entire route that marked bike paths and numbered junctions. In theory, we should have been able to memorise a series of numbers at a time and then follow the signs from one junction to the next. In practice, we were spectacularly bad at recalling any numbers at all, let alone a sequence.

Things did improve. On day one we set off for Amsterdam city centre from Schipol airport and within half an hour we were, mysteriously, back at the airport. But by day four, we were getting around like locals.

The only other problem for me (and, I suspect, for Rachel) was the song about living in a windmill in Old Amsterdam that took residence in my head from the moment we landed and didn’t leave until about a week after we got home again.

I saw a mouse, where? There on the stair. Where on the stair? Right there. A little mouse with clogs on; well I declare. Going clip clippety clop on the stair…

Unfortunately for Rachel, my singing wasn’t just triggered whenever I saw a windmill (of which there were many). The words “where”, “stair” and even “right there” pretty much did it too.

Anyway, back to the issue of finding your way in Holland. Don’t let me put you off – it’s a fantastic country to cycle in.

You can find out more about Holland long distance cycling routes on the Holland-cycling.com website. There’s also a handy guide to road traffic signs for cyclists. And there’s an online cycle route planner on the Holland Cycling Routes website.

I would recommend the Falk fietskaarten maps available from Stanfords – a series of 22 cycle maps which mark all cycle paths in the Netherlands including the numbered cycle network and national long-distance cycle routes (LF).

Find out more about where we went and where we stayed.