Sunday, October 30, 2011

On the Old Sand Dunes o' Mook

I wonder if there's a song of the same title, because it seems like there ought to be one....

Anyway, in the Netherlands, the landscape is dotted with patches of forest that people ride and run and walk their dogs in. Sort of a cross between a wildlife preserve and a public park, these spaces are further puncutated by sandy clearings, where heather grows. This is a sign that, in days of old, sheep had overgrazed the land, and the sand dunes had taken over. To give you an idea of how bad the problem got, Jasper (our ecologist friend) recounted sandstorms blowing off of these dunes. Heather is about the only plant that will grow in sands like this, and indeed, the fact that sandstorms are so rare these days in the Netherlands is because the sand spots are covered with it. That, and grazing policies have been changed to reflect the growing collection of ecological wisdom.

The area between Mook and Molenhoek, then, has what's called de Mookerheide, a vast collection of sand dunes with nothing but heather and sand grass growing in it. I call it "vast" because it certain looks that way when you get there, after putzing about through the typically-artificial bos. Indeed, getting there is a bit of an epic, a nice little adventurous jaunt on a sunny day: for me, on my bike, it starts with following the Veolia tracks south, until we reach 't Zwaantje (a little charming restaurant) and turning right. At first there are some pasturelands, but then the woods start to close in and at some point the road becomes a dirt road. Pressing on, despite the risk of a flat, eventually puts you in front of a massive fence, at the foot of a hill. Walk up the hill, and the picture today is what greets you.

But in fact it's not really all that big. You can scramble around the whole thing in about an hour, two if you stop and take photos of everything. And "scramble" here is definitely the right word, because some of the inclines are steep--even worse than the Manayunk Wall, and because the whole place is just a collection of sand dunes, it can be rather treacherous. Supposedly there are also special cows grazing on the land--the kinds of cows that the Dutch use as wildlife management--but I've yet to see one there (they're all over Millingerward and the Bisonbaai).

The Mookerheide is, for obvious reasons, a favorite spot for the people who live nearby. On clear days you can see Cuijk, which has a cathedral with two towers. The whole place is really quite lovely and I'd encourage anybody who thinks that the Dutch are all about polders to come and take a wander. It's surprising how hilly some spots can be.

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