If you have been wondering why there has been more than a two week gap in this blog, it is because the Vole has been going places, firstly on a bike tour in the New Forest, genially hosted by Colin Waters (previously of Harrow Cyclists, and before that, Tower Hamlets Wheelers, but now living in Sway, Hampshire), and, secondly, and more importantly, on the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain study tour in the Netherlands. Of that, there will be much more on here in due course. At the moment I will merely remark that the landscape of Drenthe, the north-eastern province of the Netherlands, where the tour went, is, in its wilder parts, remarkably similar to that of the New Forest. We often think of the Netherlands as a crowded country, the land intensively cultivated if it is not built on, but here, in the "Dutch highlands", the least densely populated part of the Netherlands, there is forest and sandy heathland dominated by gorse and heather. Several National Parks have been established here. Here we can find the hunebedden (Dutch for "giants' beds"), the remains of megalithic burial sites constructed from large stones, where possibly an original surrounding earth mound has been eroded away. These are similar to the dolmens of Britain and Ireland.
|Hunebed near Assen, Drenthe|
|The traffic calming used in the New Forest. Nobody asked the horses if they wanted this dangerous job.|
The Dutch, of course, have a different approach. They have designated areas of the Drenthe heathland and forest as "quiet areas" where there is no intrusion of traffic. Neither is overflying allowed. The Dutch have decided that peace and silence, or at least, freedom from most human-generated sound, is a valuable natural resource to be conserved in such places, along with the rest of the natural environment. So these areas can only be visited by a substantial walk, or on horseback, or, more practically, by a short bike ride.
Video by David Hembrow demonstrating how quiet it is cycling in a Dutch quiet area
The quiet area we visited on the first day of the Cycling Embassy study tour with David Hembrow was located in the Drenthe Aa National Park near Assen. It was accessed on the path shown in the photo below, a sandy bridle path with a hard edge for cycling.
|Bridle path with hard edge for cycling in the Drenthe Aa national park|
|Gasterenseweg, Loon, near Assen.|
|Traffic calming on the edge of the village of Loon, Assen. This is just south of the road shown above. Cycle paths take cyclists round this obstruction on both sides, and the road beyond is shared.|
|"Bicycle road" near Assen. This leads nowhere for cars and only gives access to a few houses, but for bikes it is a through route|
In contrast, I know that very few of the residents of Southampton, Bournemouth, Christchurch, New Milton and Lymington ever visit the New Forest by bike, and, if they chose to do so, they do not experience the kind of relaxed journey the cyclists of Assen enjoy. They mostly visit their local National Park by car, on the fast roads that our local authorities and Highways Agency provide, in so doing, reduce the subjective safety of the few cyclists using those same roads. And these days, those cyclists will virtually never be unaccompanied children. Those days of my youth are gone.
|When you cycle through a village in the New Forest, you are restricted to a narrow strip of road not occupied by large numbers of speeding cars. Or, if they are not speeding, you are caught in a traffic jam. Beaulieu, Hants.|
To discover what Dutch policies actually are, and how they work out in practice, was the purpose of the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain visit. There is no substitute for finding out by going there. And, perhaps, in the past, the Dutch have not been as proactive as they might have been in spreading information about what they have achieved in cycling, and how, with the result that many misunderstandings and myths have grown up amongst the British, and other foreigners, as to what Dutch cycling is all about.
So it is very welcome that the Dutch have just launched their very own Cycling Embassy to spread more widely the expertise they have gained from 40 years of consistent policy of promoting the bike. The concept of a "Cycling Embassy" was pioneered by the Danes, so it is great to see the Dutch, who actually have a rather more successful cycling policy record, now adopting this tactic as well. (The Cycling Embassy of Great Britain is a slightly different concept: we are an embassy to our own people and government, while the Dutch and Danish embassies are from those places.) The first production of the Dutch Cycling Embassy is the video below, which I highly recommend watching. I think it strikes exactly the right note: inspiring, upbeat, clear, factual and professional; Cycling for Everyone indeed shows what the Dutch approach is all about. If you really want "cycling for everyone", believe me, the Dutch can tell you exactly how to do it.
Cycling For Everyone from Dutch Cycling Embassy on Vimeo.