Pieterpad – Netherlands 500km Long Distance Walk
Pieterpad is the name of a 500km long hiking trail in the Netherlands (official website here). The trail goes from Pieterburen in the province of Groningen up north of the country, all the way down south to Maastricht in the province of Limburg. The trail is split up in 26 smaller parts that range from 12 to 24 kilometers each.
It had been merely a week since my friend Kris had mentioned the Pieterpad to me. Back then, I had never heard of it before. As I have been enjoying walking a lot these days, I did get intrigued.
Not yet fully realizing it, a seed had been planted for yet another mission.
- MISSION: PIETERPAD 22% 22%
PIETERPAD – A SPONTANEOUS START
On the morning of Wednesday 10th of June 2020, I woke up as early as 7:30 and I had this strong feeling of excitement that today was a perfect day to start another new adventure.
It was not just a thought in my mind; more of a feeling through my whole body. I could really feel a loud and clear “YES!!” – moments of inspiration like that should not be ignored. It was a call to adventure.
As I jumped out of bed and into the shower, I knew that today, I would be taking my first steps along the Pieterpad. I did not know how I would do it or how far I would get, but that wasn’t important. What was important, was for me to take those first few steps. Ruby my unicorn pet felt like joining also.
PIETERPAD DAY 1: PIETERBUREN – GRONINGEN
The starting point of the Pieterpad hiking trail lies in a small town in the province of Groningen called Pieterburen. Although Pieterburen has less than 400 residents, it’s actually pretty well known for having a center for seals.
After a 4 hour journey from my home in Amsterdam to the starting point in Pieterburen, I started taking my first steps along the Pieterpad trail by 12:30. By then, I had already met 4 more people who were doing the same, all older than me. After we helped each other out to take pictures at the starting point, we split up and left on our own pace.
1. PIETERBUREN – WINSUM (12KM)
There I went, on my first steps out of Pieterburen and into the flatness of the Netherlands. Farms and arcres of grain all around me. One week ago I had never even heard of this Pieterpad long distance trail, and now I was walking it. On my sneakers. With a backpack around my back, filled with some items that I quickly grabbed with me.
Did I even know what I was getting myself into?
Yes and no.
In my North Face (shoulder) backpack I brought my large Hydro Flask can full of water, a full can of green smoothie leftovers from the day before and a protein shake. I also brought my battery pack, which was only half full.
Taking into consideration that I didn’t know I was going to be doing this the day before, I’d say that my preperation really wasn’t all that bad. What do you think?
Before I knew it, I walked into Winsum, another town in Groningen. With just over 7.000 residents still small but a lot bigger compared to Pieterburen. The trail took me straight by a terrace where several people were enjoying a beer or a coffee. Probably they were fellow hikers, taking a moment to celebrate completing the first leg. Was I going to join them?
2. WINSUM – GRONINGEN (22KM)
With the first part to the town of Winsum being just 12km and friends awaiting me in the city of Groningen, I decided to keep walking into the second part; another 22km. I did not even stop for a cup of coffee.
Luckily I brought plenty of willpower to make up for the lack of training.
Although I walked alone, I had zero interest in putting on my headphones. I much rather listened to the birds, the sheep and the cows. Taking in nature. It also kept me open for small interactions with people passing by, usually just a quick exchange of greetings.
Well before walking into the next city, I noticed a ginger cat in front of me. From one ginger to another, I wondered if it was interested in making contact.
The cat came right for me and after a bit of petting, it continued its way. For a moment I wondered if maybe the cat was lost, but it didn’t look like it. Just another ginger roaming around I guess. I figured I’d keep my eyes open for desperate owners looking for their cats, as well as missing cat posters.
Around 20:00 in the evening I walked into the city of Groningen. Yes, the city; Groningen is the name of both a city and a province. Confusing, I know. With around 200.000 residents this city is the largest city in the north of the Netherlands.
This was my first visit to Groningen ever actually (shame on me). Although the pain took away part of the enjoyment, I could already see that this was a beautiful city. Definitely worth exploring more of some other day.
ENDING PIETERPAD DAY 1
Arriving to the train station, I was tempted to throw in the towel and take the train back home. After a moment of reflecting on my options, I went ahead to meet with my friend Johan anyway.
Already in the morning, I had reached out to Johan to ask him if he was available to meet up / possibly host me for the night. He told me that he would be back home in the evening around 21:00 and that I was welcome to stay over.
With arrangements made and the next day off anyway, I figured I would at least meet with Johan and catch up. That way I was keeping the option open to return home the next morning or, to walk some more if I felt like it. With my phone being in its last 5% of battery, I navigated to his home.
One way or another, those first few steps are behind me now. Not just a few either: after 5.000 steps or so I’m already 34km further away from where I started. Pretty good for a spontaneous start I’d say.
THE 12 provinces of the NETHERLANDS
We have a total of 12 provinces in the Netherlands. Only 2 of those have “Holland” in their name and the Pieterpad route doesn’t pass through either of these. When you call the country “Holland”, you pretty much ignore the existence of 10 more provinces. As you can see, there is so much more to see in this country beyond just Amsterdam. I myself am rediscovering that too by doing this long distance hike.
The 12 provinces of the Netherlands are: North-Holland, South-Holland, Zeeland, Flevoland, Utrecht, North-Brabant, Groningen, Friesland, Drenthe, Overijssel, Gelderland and Limburg
PIETERPAD DAY 2: GRONINGEN – ROLDE
When my friend Johan left for work, I left for the city center of Groningen. Unlike the night before, going home didn’t even cross my mind anymore. Instead, I got myself some coffee and an Icelandic yoghurt for breakfast. Together with the green smoothie that Johan had made us earlier, I was all set to start walking again.
3. GRONINGEN – ZUIDLAREN (21KM)
Before leaving Groningen, I made sure to make up for yesterday and enjoy some of the architecture of this beautiful city. Clicked some pictures and kept my eyes open for some of the things Johan had told me about. The city was still barely waking up, so I do still have to come back some day when things get back to normal.
Then my walk to the town of Zuidlaren started. Not just leaving the city of Groningen, but also the province of Groningen. Drenthe to be the second province that I pass through on my Pieterpad hike. Meanwhile it started raining a bit, but I didn’t mind it at all.
As I left Groningen, the Pieterpad route took me into a forest for the first time. After all the farms and countrysides from the day before, I was happy to walk between the trees.
On the other side of the forest, I walked into some dolmens (hunebedden in Dutch) – graves of over 5.000 years old (!!!). We all know about Stonehenge in England, but I was not even aware that we had these prehistoric monuments in my country as well. Apparently Drenthe is known for having them: 52 dolmens in fact.
By the time I walked into Zuidlaren, both the clock and my body told me that it was lunchtime. Herring (haring in Dutch) had been on my mind since I passed a fish truck the day before. So when I saw a fish store in Zuidlaren, I knew what I was going to get. Yes, some typical Dutch raw fish with some chopped onions. Two of them together with a well deserved cup of coffee; part 3 of 26 complete.
4. ZUIDLAREN – ROLDE (18KM)
With the day still young, my feet still eager and my mind still inspired by my talk with Johan, I decided to continue walking some more. The fourth part would be another 18km; still a long walk to go, but I felt I could do it. Besides, it seemed like it had stopped raining for the remainder of the day so why go home anyway.
The fourth part took me through some gorgeous looking scenery. Like the esdorp landscape of the Drenthsche Aa nature reserve. Cows and sheep just roaming around freely. Probably many more animals too- I was on the lookout for spotting a fox (but didn’t see any).
Getting closer to the town of Rolde, I figured I’d start looking up the public transportation schedule. Trams and busses in Amsterdam might go every 10 minutes or so; here in the countryside it’s common for busses to go only once every hour. And sometimes, they stop going around 20:00. I knew that I wanted to get the train from Assen, but I wasn’t planning to walk another 8km from Rolde to Assen.
ENDING DAY TWO
The time was 18:50 when I looked up the bus hours. It showed me that there was a bus not so far from me leaving at 20:15 and 21:15. I figured that there was one at 19:15 too, but that Google didn’t think I could make it. Well, as you know I like a challenge. Increased my pace and stopped looking for the white/red markings for the Pieterpad route.
My only mission now was to make it for that 19:15 bus. Gladly I did, and it was a great little victory to end these first two days of walking with.
After sitting in the train for 2 hours, I could barely get up anymore. The next day at work, my legs and feet made me feel like a old man. Yes I pushed my limits, but not in a bad way. It has been an awesome first two days and I will soon continue where I have left off.
When was the last time you went on a proper walk?
GETTING READY TO RETURN
I’ll be honest; it took some days for my legs and feet to recover from the ordeal of walking 4 parts in just 2 days. It got me thinking that perhaps, just maybe, my footwear wasn’t ideal for long distance hiking. Aside of me doing not one but two parts in one day of course.
I had walked my first 73km on my “just do it” sneakers, but I figured I should at least drop by the store and inform myself about hiking shoes before continuing along the route.
My return to the Pieterpad would be in the summer solstice weekend of June 20th and 21st – sunset in the Netherlands around 22:10 and rising again around 5:00 in the morning.
As you may or may not know, I like to explore differently. So I started thinking; what if I would walk between sunset and sunrise. Yes, into the night and then into the day again. That sounded awesome, and once again just thinking about doing it gave me this body sensation that felt like I should just do it.
DAY 3: MIDSUMMER NIGHT HIKE
Saturday June 20th, I traveled back to the town of Rolde, making sure to get out at the exact bus stop as where I had left off nine days ago. Arriving there around 20:30 in the evening, I quickly checked out Rolde’s church and the two nearby dolmens.
5. ROLDE – SCHOONLOO (18KM)
As I walked out of the town of Rolde, the sun was still pretty high up in the sky. According to my weather app on my phone, today’s sunset would be at 22:06. It still offered for some lovely views, and I made sure to take plenty of pictures to track the sun going down.
Those new shoes that I bought definitely did make a difference compared to the sneakers I had walked on before. My feet felt way more supported, and I felt I could easily walk at a faster pace if I wanted to.
Something else that I noticed, was this strong sensation of calmliness. My first two days were too, but for some reason it hit me more now than it had then. I felt excited. Excited for this walk, excited to start heading into the night.
Even with the sun down, it kept being light until as late as midnight (0:00). By then, I was walking deeper and deeper into the woods. Some people warned me to be careful in the dark, to which I replied that I myself would easily be the scariest creature to roam the woods.
I did bring a flashlight with me, but feeling like embracing the darkness and seeing how much my eyes would be able to adjust, I wanted to refrain from using my light as long as possible. Unfortunately though, this lead me to having a little accident by walking into a brench of a tree… directly into my left eye. Ouch!
After a while I got out of the forest, passing by some farms and even a camping site. I walked up to the reception building and noticed the name, “De Warme Bossen”. Although some lights were on, it was obvious that everyone was sleeping. I figured I didn’t want to bother anyone and could just manage the pain for a bit longer.
Then suddenly, the pain came back at a level of 11/10. With no hospital nearby, these people here were my best bet for finding help. Usually I’m not someone to ask for help easily, but I felt that this time, I needed it.
Around 1:00 in the morning, I called the owners of camping site “De Warme Bossen” on the number I found online. After a few rings, they answered and I explained how I needed help. A couple of minutes later, they let me in and allowed me to use the washroom. Looking in the mirror, my eye seemed clean. I figured I’d splash some water in it anyway in an attempt to clean it. Also refilled my water bottle. There wasn’t much more I could about the situation, so I thanked them and continued walking into the night.
6. SCHOONLOO – SLEEN (24KM)
With the night still young, I arrived to the town of Schoonloo and completed the fifth leg of the Pieterpad hike; 18km worth of walking. The next leg from Schoonloo to Sleen would be another 24km, and despite the pain in my eye I kept my mission going. Namely, to keep walking beyond sunrise.
Even with the pain that kept coming back, I enjoyed the nightly hours. Already as early as 4:00 in the morning however, the sun started coming back up. I was still surrounded mostly by trees. To prevent from further accidents, I had been using my flashlight more. Much sooner than expected though, that wasn’t necessary anymore.
With the sun coming back up again, playtime started. Not just with a flock of sheep I happened to come by; with the sun I mean. Still hiking and getting in those meters, I made sure to keep my eyes open for all those photo opportunities that would start to appear around me left and right.
Before I knew it, the sun did come back up above the horizon and started shining through the trees. With the amount of light it brought into the scenery it sometimes felt like it was already daytime, but in reality it was still very much nighttime. People still asleep, nobody anywhere near me. Simply awesome.
With the sun still low enough to shine through the trees rather than above them, the photographer in me got inspired to play around with the light that did come through. Being deep down in the woods, this definitely was a perfect leg to experience the sunrise the way I did. You’d almost think that I had planned it out that way, but I didn’t. I just went with a feeling.
With each step that I took, the town of Sleen got closer. That also meant that I would be leaving these woods. Before I did walk out the forest, I came by two monuments. I was ready to make a stop and relax for a while, but unfortunately a bunch of mosquitoes were doing the same and made me leave earlier than I intended.
The first monument was one to honor the creator of the Pieterpad hiking route: C.E. “Toos” Goorhuis – Tjalsma (1915 – 2004). Between 1978 and 1983 she had set out this route together with her hiking friend Bertje Jens. The name Pieterpad is a reference to both the starting point Pieterburen and the end point Sint-Pietersberg in Maastricht.
The second monument on my way out of the woods was this WW2 monument. Apparantly four friends had gathered the remains of an English bomber that crashed on May 14th of 1943. Directly after the war ended in 1945, the brothers felt that they wanted to create a memorial to honor the 7 men that had died. The monument is made out of the scrapmetal that these friends had collected in the woods.
At 9:00 in the morning, I arrived to the town of Sleen. It was only then and there that I met my first fellow hikers. With me not having slept and hiked around 40km, they were only just waking up and getting ready to start their day. If it wasn’t for the pain in my eye, I might have continued walking even more myself.
Although I had been walking without any pain for the last few hours, it did came back at full force when I was in town and having a chat with people.
This was the sign I needed to decide that I would indeed go to a hospital.
ENDING DAY 3
After a 40 minute bus ride I was back at train station Assen where I had arrived in the evening before. The hospital was just a short walk away, and after passing the corona check-up I was allowed in. The doctor took a look and concluded it wasn’t anything major; just my cornea damaged a bit. They gave me some eye drops and for the first 24 hours I was going to be walking with a eye-patch. Yeah, time to go home and come back another day.
So far I have walked for 3 days and a total of 109km along the Pieterpad, which makes for 22% completion.