Relaxing walks on mud flats
Far from taking shelter from the notoriously bad Dutch weather, Sheelah Gullion relaxes by taking an unusual jaunt through the mud flats on Texel.
An outdoor playground
Many people think that the Netherlands is just one big metropolis centred around Amsterdam, The Hague and Rotterdam. But believe it or not, one of the best ways to beat the winter blues is to get out and explore the countryside.
In the Netherlands, the island of Texel (pronounced “Tessel”) is a great place to start because it’s close, it’s convenient, there is a lot to see and almost all of it is outdoors.
For starters there’s hiking, but with a twist. You can take part in an unusual type of hike on the mud flats called wad walking, in which you move from one shallow mud flat — or "wad" — to another.
Or, you can hang out in the sand dunes with a pair of binoculars and watch the more than 300 species of birds along the shores do their thing.
Alternatively, you can hop aboard a shrimp boat to get a closer look at the marine ecosystem, including the animal at the top of the local food chain, the common seal. The seal population is slowly recovering from an outbreak of the deadly seal distemper (PDV) in the latter part of 2002. The PDV, which does not pose a threat to humans, has thankfully receded.
How to get there
Texel is the closest and largest of the five Wadden Islands in the Wadden Sea. It is also the only one of the islands on which Dutch, rather than Frisian, is the native language.
Texel sits north of the naval port Den Helder in northern Holland and can be reached via a 20-minute ferry trip. The island itself is 25km long and 9km wide. You can get to Den Helder by train, which takes 80 minutes from Amsterdam, or you can also take the car.
The ferry arrives on the eastern side of the island in the village of Oudeschild. If you’re not travelling by car, you’ll want to use bus or taxi to get around or rent a bicycle.
Fishermen have lived on Texel since the 13th century, but excavations have uncovered evidence of occupation stretching back to the Mid-Stone Age (8000 – 4500 BC). It was in the 13th and 14th centuries that small polders and dykes began to be developed and the people of Texel began manipulating the landscape to reduce their vulnerability to the sea.
But the island is still changing; the lighthouse at the north of the island requires protection from the sea, while the south of the island is growing larger as sand from erosion elsewhere is deposited there.
Feathered and furred
Depending on how physically active you want to be, you’ve got your choice of activities on Texel.
Wad walking, for example, is more tiring than simply walking along the beach. When the tide moves out, huge mud flats are left behind, teeming with microscopic life. It looks flat enough, but you’ll sink up to your ankles in the mud and in the expanse of monochrome landscape it’s surprisingly easy to lose your way. Therefore you must hire a guide, but this comes with the added benefit of learning about everything going on underneath your feet as you go.
If you prefer dry land, hop on your bike and follow the 80km-long path that takes you all over the island, across the mud flats, along the beach and through the villages.
But if you would rather watch the activities of the birds, grab your binoculars and head up to the northwestern portion of the island.
For the more adventurous, inquire at the tourist office about the boat trips, on which you can get a close look at the local population of common seals and — if you hop aboard a working shrimp boat — the freshest seafood in Holland.
Plan your trip
The best way to start your trip is by checking the Texel Tourist Office website (www.texel.net/engels). On it, you’ll find info and contacts on all the activities mentioned here and much more. Texel boasts its own international airport offering sightseeing tours, parachuting and motorgliding flight lessons.
If you’re the spontaneous type, you’ll find the local tourist office on Texel in the main village, Den Burg, located 6km from the ferry pier. Should you want to do a boat trip, make sure you book ahead to avoid disappointment.
The Ecomare (www.ecomare.nl), the Wadden and North Sea Centre, is a good place to start if you arrive on Texel without specific plans. They’ve got a wealth of info, a 70ha dune park, seal and bird rehabilitation centres and the Water Hall, a kind of petting zoo for marine life.
Keep in mind that in the winter months, there is no regular ferry service from Texel to the more northerly-situated Frisian Islands, so if you get the bug to go exploring beyond Texel, you’ll have to wait for May.
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