A motorcycle parked in front of a tent on a pleasant green campsite

Home Travel StoriesThe Netherlands 2016

Curious Distelloo

By Ren Withnell

We're going to head south towards Zeeland. Whenever we've asked people about where to go in The Netherlands most folks seems to think we should be going to Zeeland, isn't that where every tourist goes? That's where the sun always shines, that's where the beaches are and that's where all the wonders of The Netherlands are. Call me cynical but previous experience suggests I ought not to believe the hype. However going to Zeeland fits in with time scales and distances so Zeeland it is. 

The Netherlands is quite a small country and while we could ride from Edam to Zeeland in a day we decide in keeping with our easy pace to go about half way there today. I've found a campsite on my map app in a place called "Distelloo". The site is on the edge of another national park which I hope will mean beautiful surroundings. Between ourselves in Edam and the site in Distelloo lies Amsterdam and Utrecht. Goddam cities, motorways it is then.

2 campervans and their occumpants at the campsite in EdamTara fellow campers of Edam! We're heading south.

It's amazing the difference weather makes. Last time we rode down the motorway from Amsterdam to Utrecht the rain was teeming down and everything looked grey and miserable. Today in the clear dry sun with hazy clouds it looks quite inviting. Instead of daunting and dismal the city looks lively and vibrant. Instead of overbearing and doom laden Utrecht's "The Wall" shopping centre looks stylish, fresh and modern. Instead of flat and uninteresting the countryside is vast and colourful. 

Oh dear, motorways means I have time to think and that's never a good thing. We Brits always want to be living somewhere else, somewhere warm usually. We go in our millions to Spain, Portugal, Ibiza and anywhere else with a good chance of sun. We burn ourselves by the pool, get drunk most evenings and eat far too much junk food for 2 weeks every year. We then come home and complain endlessly about how "s#!t" our country is.

Sharon stands in all her bike gear soaking wet at home in EnglandOld England, the land of soaking summers and soggy winters.

Of course its...erm...rubbish back home. At home we have to go to work. At home we have to go shopping for food. At home we have to go and visit the in-laws. At home we have to put up with warm rain in summer and cold rain in winter. In Spain someone makes your bed and washes your pots. In Spain you don't have to go to work. In Spain everyone is nice to you because they want your money. 

I think it's likely that living and working in Spain would be much like living and working in the UK. The only advantage is that in Spain there's a better chance you'll see the big yellow hot thing in the sky once in a while. I like the big yellow hot thing in the sky. I think I should move to Spain too. Oh. Hang on. Remember when you went to Spain Ren? 45 degrees in the Badajoz desert? It was like riding in an oven. Clammy nights in the tent. Dust and sand everywhere. No meat and potato pies. They did have baked beans though. I wonder, maybe, perhaps, hmmmmm, I should move there and start a business bringing Holland's pies and proper blooming tea bags for the ex-pat population. 

Pickwick tea bags in individual sachetsWhat is it with Johnny Foreigner and his peculiar tea bags? Wurz me Tetley?

Whoa! Steady on there boy, I need to keep an eye on the signs otherwise we'll end up in Germany. Even at 50mph I need to remain alert to the dubious driving antics of the locals and a mind on the next junction. At one point Sharon is separated from myself by trucks and cars weaving across the complex multilane intersections. Damn! I'll have to pull off and we'll have to make phone calls and I'll have to go and find her and it'll be a nightmare because everyone's on the wrong side of the road and I have no idea about the local geography. In a mixture of sheer luck and I have to admit quite a lot of skill on Sharon's behalf a mile or 2 later she re-appears in my mirrors. Well done that woman.

Once past the conurbation of Utrecht I feel confident enough in my navigational skills to come off the motorway network. We take a break at a petrol station and have a drink. I spot another traditional windmill so we stop a while to admire it and the canal nearby. Motorways are a necessary evil to get by the complex cities, now I feel happier riding through the countryside. The car drivers still insist on tailgating Sharon. 

A broad river or canal, a boat and open countryside and trees in The NetherlandsYeah, OK, I admit there's some rather nice places in this here Netherland place.

The campsite at Distelloo is a curious place. Upon arrival it immediately feels different, alternative and much less formal than our previous pitches. Trees line and surround gravel tracks, a couple of very relaxed people slouch upon broad chairs and an old BMW motorcycle gathers corrosion by the entrance. It takes a while to round up anyone who can even decide if we can camp let alone take payment. The price is acceptable, the pitch is better than adequate and the toilets, while dated, are clean and functional. There's nothing wring with Distelloo at all it just has an offbeat vibe to that which has gone before.

A perhaps 1950's BMW motorcycle rusting amongst the bushes at DistellooNot your typical campsite ornamental feature. Someone tell me what year this is from?
An old Unimog fire truck under a wooden canpoyAt least there's a fire truck, not sure if it will start though.

It's only when we take a walk do we realise how different. Beyond the camping field and toilet block lies a considerable conurbation of static caravans, touring caravans that have not moved in years and even a couple of beat-up old gypsy style wagons. This is all set in a thick woodland with ramrod straight gravel lanes for access. Some abodes are lovingly tendered, some are hippy wild although cared for and others are almost in jungle ruin. Fascinating, we ponder who might live where, which are residential and how much it might cost to reside here. 

A curious old gypsy style camping wagon amidst a tangle of trees and bushesIt's certainly not your typical campsite.

Before we go to bed we wander to the bar on site. It favours rather like an old English pub with dark wood furniture and heavy patterned carpet yet with a broad spacious room. No matter as the darn place is shut! It's not that late and this just adds to the Bohemian sensation of being here. I guess it's bedtime then.


Prologue - The Netherlands 2016 Why are we going Dutch? What's that peculiar box on Ren's bike? Why are we taking our 125cc motorcycles? Is there even a plan? Find out more...
Disaster The first day of our trip is not the start we would hope for. Yet with some luck and the desire to improve his mindset Ren manages to keep a calm and positive outlook.
Crashing Out To The Netherlands This is Sharon's take on the first day of The Netherland's trip. Oh the best laid plans of mice and women.
No News Is Good News It's an ordinary day of ordinary travelling for our dynamic duo. Sometimes a lack of excitement can be a good thing doncha know.
Helter Skelter Sharon covers the second day of the trip to The Netherlands. She moves from discomfort and bruises through nervous and fear to luxury and comfort. All in one day!
Hades - I Mean Amsterdam Ah The Netherlands, fields of flowers, windmills, tranquil canals and leisurely cyclists. Or is this what the tourist office would have you believe?
Crying In The Rain And Laughing Gonkeys Sharon's first time motorcycling on foreign tarmac is a baptism of fire. What on earth is a laughing gonkey anyhow?
We Are Tourist So what is Ren's take on the popular city of Amsterdam? Will he survive the bicycles? Is he a wild traveller or just a tourist?
The Lost Experience Once again Ren's expectations get the better of him. Once again Ren gets completely lost. Once again the rain is coming down. Is there any hope at all? Actually it's not all bad.
Smiles In The Rain The friendly Dutch folk mean that a rain filled day can still be a worthwhile day.
Bicycling De Hoge Veluwe Will today be a tortuous day stuck in the tent waiting for the rain to stop? For the sake of Ren's mental health let's hope there's some good weather.
Urk? Is That The Sun? A break in the weather brings a positive feel to the day along with pleasant places, friendly faces and new acquaintances.
A Big Dyke With Edam What is the Afsluitdijk for? Why would you name a town after a cheese? All these questions will not be answered by reading this.
Edam, Marken, Tourists and Symmetry Ren and Sharon visit a town named after a cheese. Why would you name a town after a cheese? Weird folks these Dutch.
Curious Distelloo Sunshine, philosophy and an alternative kind of campsite.
Drowning In Zierikzee Philosophy, friendly people, terrible rain and salvation all in one day! Not bad really for pair of wastrels on 125s.
Exploring Zeeland We're chilling out and exploring Zeeland 2-up on a 125. Is this the Dutch Riviera?
A Short Hop To Oostkapelle How do you get lost in 15 miles on a route you already know? How do you upset a German camper? How do you do all this and remain content in yourself? It's called getting old.
Dodgy Dutch Drivers Their last full day in The Netherlands sums up the whole Dutch experience. "The nicest bad drivers you'll ever meet".
Going Home-ish It's time to leave The Netherlands and return to good 'ole Blighty. There's some shocking news that might change things for the future though.
So, What About The Netherlands? After 2 weeks of riding around The Netherlands on 125s what does Ren think of the country now?

Reader's Comments

Ian Soady said :-
Re the BMW - it looks like a bit of a mishmash although could be a German wartime model. It looks like a sidevalve and postwar BMs were all OHV.

The finish is not a military one however, the rear mudguard looks all wrong and of course it has been "modernised" with the battery etc.

I'm not an expert on these bikes at all though.
11/08/2016 04:35:12 UTC
Ren - The Ed said :-
I knew that would tease you Ian. Like an old country house this bike was probably a everyday driver and working tool. As such it likely had adaptations, upgrades and changes long before anyone thought it might be a "classic".

I didn't find out if it ever gets used.
11/08/2016 05:48:26 UTC
Ian Soady said :-
I've been visiting Greece regularly for over 40 years (as my wife is from there) and up until fairly recently there were loads of post-war OHV BMW twins with Steib sidecars attached running around doing general transport duties, and as you say updated / modified / bodged to keep them on the road.

Most seem to have disappeared although you still see the odd one. I've always had a vague desire to bring one back to the UK although I'm not a BM fan myself.
12/08/2016 12:38:34 UTC
Ren - The Ed said :-
What don't you like about the BMWs? Or perhaps what draws you to the Brit bikes rather than the BMWs?

I'm rather fond of the Russian Ural-Dnepr-Neval combos although I doubt I could live with one. They just seem so utilitarian and simple rather than flashy like modern machines.
13/08/2016 10:19:55 UTC
Ian Soady said :-
I don't know.... My brother in law is a great fan and my brother had an R90 which I rode a few times. I always feel as if my feet are trapped under the cylinders although I know that isn't really the case. Perhaps it's the aura of superiority that so many riders seem to exude (a bit like the "bad boy" image Harley riders try to exhibit). Oh, hang on - my brother now has a HD........
14/08/2016 09:37:16 UTC
Doug said :-
The BMW looks like an R71 from 1938, the last of the side valves :-


14/08/2016 02:34:34 UTC
Doug said :-
Lol, if you fancy one, Chang Jiang still make a clone :-)

14/08/2016 02:37:57 UTC
Doug said :-
OK, I read a bit more, ithe Chang Jiang is a clone of the Soviet M72, which was a clone of the BMW R71. And it's no longer available.
14/08/2016 06:17:16 UTC
Ren - The Ed said :-
Oh Doug you tease! I was all ready to buy a 1930's technology motorcycle at 2016 prices and then you tell me they're no longer available. Pffft.
15/08/2016 08:16:43 UTC
Ian Soady said :-
F2 still do the Urals: http://www.f2motorcycles.ltd.uk/ural_compare.html
15/08/2016 09:29:27 UTC
Ren - The Ed said :-
I'm familiar with the F2 site Ian. I've looked longingly at the Urals but I just could not justify the expense. They're a long established brand with a worldwide following, they're simplicity itself and easy to work on. I could get all the gear I'd ever need and more in the sidecar. I could take one to Siberia and know it'll work.

But...11 grand for an ancient outfit?!?!?
15/08/2016 04:18:18 UTC
Ian Soady said :-
I agree, I didn't notice the current prices till I'd posted the link. I remember when they were dirt cheap and I suspect the quality has not improved much.

F2 also sell the Jawa twin which was a dire motorcycle when it first came out in the 60s / 70s. At that time they had a bizarre combined kickstart / gear lever - don't know if they still do.

But if you want a cheap outfit you can pick up a 1980s airhead BM for less than £2,000 and chairs don't cost a lot.

I've always fancied one of these (see pic). When I did pre-65 and long distance trials there were several Norton Wasp outfits and to be anywhere near when they blasted off on a rocky climb was awesome (in the true sence of the word). You did have to be careful not to get too near the rear wheel though.
16/08/2016 09:57:05 UTC
Ian Soady said :-
Don't know what happened to my pic, and I do know how to spell sense......

Ah I forgot I have to upload it.

Norton Wasp outfit
16/08/2016 09:59:02 UTC
Ian Soady said :-
Me on the Enfield......

16/08/2016 10:55:03 UTC
Ren - The Ed said :-
That is an absolute cracker of a pic Ian! You do of course realise that you'll get the bike dirty taking it through big puddles like that though, surely? I hope you don't treat the Sunbeam in the same manner.
16/08/2016 09:04:31 UTC
Henrik said :-
Yes the B/W picture is cool !!!
17/08/2016 08:53:26 UTC
Ian Soady said :-
It is a good shot, taken by a professional (Mary Wylde) who used to photograph all those events in the 90s. I'm surprised how well it reproduces given it's just a scanned print.

I do have plenty more........

18/08/2016 01:56:53 UTC
Ren - The Ed said :-
Whoa there Ian!! You're a man of many skills it seems. Mud plugging on Enfields, wheelies (with no helmet I hasten to add) as well as your mechanical and engineering skills. My inability to wheelie is only matched by my inability to restore motorcycles to a high standard.

Are there any other talents we ought to be aware of?
20/08/2016 09:08:00 UTC
Ian Soady said :-
As someone once (erroneously) said about a predecessor of Jeremy Corbyn: "He's a very modest man, but then he has a lot to be modest about".

Wheelying is relatively easy even on a heavy lump like the Enfield if fitted with trials gears and rearset footrests. Also helped by the terrain in that shot as I was cresting a steep climb. You will note how I'm shutting off the throttle in this picture (so as not to end up in a heap) as opposed to the other one where I'm giving it all it has to fight through the glutinous mud....
20/08/2016 01:47:11 UTC
Ren - The Ed said :-
I once did a wheeie over a humpback bridge. I went 400 yards at totally vertical. My mate later informed me my front wheel lifted about 6 inches for maybe a couple of feet. I suspect my friend is telling the truth.
21/08/2016 05:52:19 UTC

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