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Walk across muddy tidal flat a unique Dutch experience

Allied escape route also involved ‘Wadlopen’

Tags: Excerpts from the Windmill

Our suitcases were already packed for the return trip home to Vancouver and to our children. But there was still one more full day ahead of us and we were going ‘wadlopen’ — walking across the Waddenzee (also known as Friesian Sea) at its lowest tide — to the island of Schiermonnikoog. “Are you interested in coming along with us?” our sister asked us earlier. “We will follow a guide with a very large group of people. . .” Yes, we were very interested! 

That day had now finally come and with a very early start from Zuidlaren we arrived by 6:30 in the morning in Pieterburen, a small town on the north coast of Groningen. Here we caught a bus that would take us to an outer dike (one of three dikes) where we began this long hike over sand and water. We wore shorts over our swim gear and high basketball shoes, to help us walk more easily through the wet environment, and we carried a bag lunch as well as a change of clothing. 

Standing there on the dike I thought, “I love this small compact country of Holland with all of its warmth and surprises, the land where my parents had lived.” 

When the guides began leading us on the trek across the sand and sea to the island —which we couldn’t even see— we first had to plod through knee-deep mud (yes, sticky mud) for at least forty minutes. Then we walked over hard, wet sand for miles. Some times we were in ankle-deep water, or waist-deep water. We even walked through shoulder-height water channels, at which time we were told to hold onto each other, with our waterproof bag above our head. 

We learned that during World War II this was an escape route for the Allies who needed rescue to Britain (isn’t that interesting!). Also, environmentalists informed us that its water fowl would decline if these coastal islands were to be diked in. Plans for joining all the islands is a future possibility, we were told.

The day became hot. But what a crazy thing this was, finding ourselves on this boring walk, with hours still to go! Although it was all flat we didn’t see any land for miles. And although our legs did get clean again wading through the channels, they still felt sandy and gritty. No gorgeous views here, either. I began to feel that this was a wasted day, and that there was no sense in it. 

Why, I was wishing that we had chosen a pretty walk along a dike, or along a romantic canal in a little quaint village.... Why didn’t we do something worthwhile, to remember our last day? Gerry sensed my disappointment and silence and said, “Just look at all these folk... kids too... following the guide... leading us to that island up ahead somewhere. Sophie, I feel what the children of Israel must have felt crossing the Red Sea.... Don’t you?”

I looked ahead where a colourful trail of people were walking into the distant horizon. I couldn’t help but visualize the connection of the story Exodus tells us, and I laughed. It definitely cheered me, and I walked resolutely for the rest of the 4 hour hike, with Moses and his trusting, obedient heart on my mind! We refreshed ourselves awhile on the island until we could return on the ferry back to Lauwersoog, and our sister’s home again. Now I remember this day as a great adventure and a highlight of my first trip to lovely Holland!

Author Sophie Ensing was born to 1920s immigrant parents and has been to The Netherlands four times since the 1974 Wadlopen-experience. She now resides in Victoria, B.C. with her husband Gerry who had a career in teaching, in the independent school movement and in the Ministry of Education.