Spotting seals at the Westerschelde

Autumn, start of the packrafting season. Little rain has fallen this autumn causing low water levels in the Ardennes rivers. Plan B is flat water in the Netherlands: the Westerschelde.

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Saturday we’ve explored a part of the Verdronken Land van Saeftinge (“the Lost Land of Saeftinge”), on Sunday the Plaat van Ossenisse. Small packrafts floating among big ocean-going vessels.

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Eastern winds cause low temperatures. People we meet on the beach ask if it’s not too cold for sailing and if we’re taking the currents into account. They seem to think packrafting in these conditions is extreme?

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Back on the beach we find a more extreme activity. A man undresses and goes into the water in his swimming shorts. On the beach he leaves behind a pile of clothes and his shoes. After a minute of adjusting to the cold he dives into the water. No dry-suit, no wet-suit, no beer-belly with insulating fat. Fifteen minutes later he’s back on the beach, still healthy. Amazing.

And the seals… they choose swimming over sunning on a breezy sandbank. We’ve counted around ten seal heads appearing out of the water. Are we curious to see seals or are the seals curious to see these inflatable intruders?

Photographs

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Eating like a caveman

The grass is wet with dew. We’re walking in the Flevopolder, where numerous snails cross our path. Slugs, snails, that’s a far as our knowledge of biology reaches. Later we find a snail on some kind of plant. A familiar plant, but we’re not able to name it.

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We’re going to meet Bill Jonker for a workshop edible, wild plants. We’re five students each with his own reasons to join. We’re welcomed with tea made from yarrow and a snack, a piece of young growth of a den. Locally sourced of course, at less then ten steps from the camp fire on which the tea is being brewed. The tea is surprisingly tasteful, as well as the snack.

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The fire pit is our class room. The theory consists of example plants and a card with explanation of those plants. How to recognise them, what to use them for, what to watch out for.
Soon we’re moving as it time for practice. Bill shows what edible plants can be found in the nearby area. And maybe even more important: we can taste the plants. The forest we’ve just entered  slowly morphs into a well stocked super market. Various flavours, shapes and textures are widely available.

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Time flies and before we know it it’s time to prepare lunch. Bill explains how to recognise burdock and what to pay attention to not to confuse it with the poisonous foxglove. Then we’re on our way to dig up a few as the roots will be our lunch. While we are busy digging, Bill finds a parsnip. It’s well rooted in the solid clay, but we’re not able to resist taking this tasteful root with us.

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Lunch consists of a stew of burdock, parsnip, cep, nettles and lichen. It tastes very well and the small meal fills our stomachs surprisingly well.

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As extra we practice twining rope made of nettles and we build a seat made of reed. Slowly the thunderclouds roll in. When the first drops of rain fall, we say our goodbyes. In retrospect we’ve learnt a lot today. It is a pity that it took only about a century for this kind of knowledge to disappear.

We walk back the same way we came here this morning. This time we recognise a lot of trees and bushes and we can tell their names. If only our biology lessons in high school had been like today …

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Photographs

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Via Gulia

The Geul springs from numerous small sources in the German speaking part of Belgium. A few sunny days are forecast, a good opportunity to go and run through the valley of the Geul.

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The zinc violet occurs naturally in the valley of the Geul. Humans helped the violet by mining the zinc that occurs here and returning the waste into the Geul. We’re too early in the year to see the zinc violet, we settle for pastures full of dandelions.

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Practical information: The complete trail measures 53 km. We’ve run 18 kilometers on the first afternoon and 32 the next one. We slept at campsite Kontiki near Sippenaeken next to the Dutch border. Despite this trail is said to be well marked, we’ve often neede to search for the right way, sometimes even quite long. On a few occasions the arrows are pointing to the opposite direction or they disappear for a few kilometers. They are not positioned at logical places. The searching notwithstanding the trail itself is beautiful, certainly worthwhile hiking/running.

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Photographs

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Bibliography

Description of the trail.

IGN Carte Topographique, 1:50 000, No 35-43: Eupen

ANWB/Falk, 1:50 000, 41: Zuid-Limburg

Monkey climbing over the Swalm

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Sunday afternoon, halfway through October. 23C has been measured at de Bilt, the highest temperature since people started to jot down this list in 1901.

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It’s a beautiful afternoon to raft on the Swalm. One of the few patches of nature in the Netherlands with the least amount of human intervention.

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The Swalm feels like monkey climbing in elementary school. A high level of flexibility is desired.

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Route
It takes forty-five minutes to get from the railwaystation in Swalmen to the border with Germany. Expect a lot of fallen trees, you’ll need to get out of your boat quite regularly. The sailing will take longer than expected.
The water level was 37 cm when we ran it.

Packrafting Biesbosch

On Whit Sunday we inflate our packrafts at the marina Vissershang. We’re not the only ones enjoying the beautiful weather in the Biesbosch. Accompanied by a young family of geeze we cross the Middelste Gat van het Zand. We continu through smaller creeks to the Gat van de Zuiderklip, where we don’t share the water with ships anymore, but canoes and longboats. And of course the many birds: mostly gulls, grebes and coots. We pause at the Gat van de Zuiderklip, where we see Highland Cows graze in the distance.

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Gat van de Vloeien.

After the break, we search for the smallest creeks in the Biesbosch. The wind increases, when we go on in the direction of our stopover at the Bevert. Enroute we get a lot of attention, many types of boats are common in the Biesbosch, but packrafts are not known at all apparently.
We arrive at the stopover at around four and see the water level drop throughout the evening. Funny, a freshwater area with tides, though only 10 cm of difference.

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Campsite at the Bevert.

At night it starts to rain, but in the morning only a bit of drizzeling remains. We have breakfast, pack our things and leave. We continu our way through the Bevert and cross the Ruigt. A few ships are anchored here. Apparently a lot of people spend the night in the Biesbosch in their own boat.

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Biesbosch, the Dutch mangrove.

At the other side of the Ruigt we enter a creek, nice and quiet without motor boats. Now we understand why Frank van Zwol calls this area the Dutch mangrove in his article from the Oppad magazine. The willows appear to be standing in the middle of the creeks at some places.
When we move through a smaller creek, we suddenly hear a loud bang on the water. Beavers… This one has seen us earlier than we saw him, but a hunderd meter down the creek, a beaver drowsily walks near the waterside. He doesn’t see us and splashes into the water. Only when he hears the click of the photo camera, he shies and dives. Wow! We’ve never been that close, at most two meters.

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Beaver near the Steurgat.

We’re almost back at marina Vissershang. What a beautiful route.

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Grebe.

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Film

Bibliography
Walking map Biesbosch (Nr 27)
Staatsbosbeheer
ISBN: 978-9-02871-260-7