What’s better than enjoying a well deserved craft beer after a long hike? If you’re in for this combination of activities (or just one of them), read on! Bodegraven is a small town in Zuid Holland province. It houses one of the best Dutch craft breweries, De Molen. It’s also a perfect starting point for a long hike through almost stereotypical Dutch landscapes: polders, windmills, water and birds in abundance.
Finding hiking trails around Bodegraven
The trail I describe in this blog is the Groene Wissel Bodegraven. This is a 22 kilometer hiking trail that starts and ends at the Bodegraven railway station. You can find the GPS track for this route on the Wandelzoekpagina website. Most of this trail follows paved roads and bicycle paths. The sections along the lake and the windmills follow unpaved footpaths through the fields. These may get muddy when it has been raining.
Note that you can’t hike this trail between March 15th and June 15th. Sections of this trail will be closed off during this period because it’s the breeding season for many birds. Another thing to keep in mind is that you will be walking in open landscapes. For that reason I wouldn’t advice to hike this trail on a hot or extremely windy day.
This hike is pretty long. That’s because it combines the railway station in Bodegraven, the Nieuwkoopse Plassen (lakes) and the windmills of Aarlanderveen. If you’d like to go on a shorter hike, you’ll miss out on at least one of these highlights. You could compose your own hike using the route planner on Wandelroutenetwerk.
This hiking trail starts and ends in Bodegraven. Bodegraven is a small town of about 20.000 inhabitants in Zuid Holland province. From a touristic point of view, it’s not an interesting town. It’s a good base for hiking and cycling tours in the surrounding area though. The land is flat here, with lots of ditches, canals and lakes.
Actually, Bodegraven has a long history. It already existed in Roman times, as one of the small towns at the northern border of the Roman Empire. Unfortunately, there’s nothing left to be seen of that. To make matters worse, a huge fire destroyed much of Bodegraven in 1870. So what you will see here is a quiet and rather modern looking town. People live here because it is a quiet place with a rural feel, yet close to bigger cities such as Utrecht and Leiden. To me, the only attraction is the presence of my favorite Dutch craft beer brewery: De Molen!
If you think of a typical Dutch landscape, you’ll probably think of low lands, green fields with cows, windmills and lots of water. That’s exactly the kind of landscape you’ll see during this hike.
The first part of the trail follows the Oude Rijn river. This is the original Rhine river. Nowadays, most of the water of the river Rhine is diverted through other rivers and canals.
At a roundabout the trail turns right towards a small village called Meije. The village has the same name as the narrow curving river that streams along the road towards it. It’s about 5 kilometers hiking to Meije. You’ll come along some cute houses and you probably won’t believe that this area is right in the middle of what is the most densely populated area of the Netherlands. It’s quiet here.
A special water tower
Just before Meije village the trail turns left along a rather specific water tower. Locals call it Pietje Potlood, which translates as Little Pete Pencil. It has the shape of a pencil, more or less.
I thought this was a fun part of the hike, because the trail goes right through the fields and in the end leads you to the lakes of the Nieuwkoopse Plassen. Or better: right through them, on a narrow piece of land. These lakes are man made. From the late Middle Ages onward, people dug peat from these lands, to use it as a fuel. In this way they created the rather typical landscapes of this area, with lots of water. Nowadays the Nieuwkoopse Plassen is popular as a recreational area. It’s also a habitat for many birds. If you are lucky you may spot an otter!
The windmills of Aarlanderveen
Once at the other side of the lake, you’ll reach the village of Zuideinde, that has at least one bar that’s open year around, in case you need a drink or a small bite. In Zuideinde the trail turns in southwesterly direction along the Ziendeweg and later on turns right on the Achtermiddenweg towards the four windmills of Aarlanderveen. These windmills form another highlight of this trail.
This is a system of four water mills, and the only such system in the world that still works! Together, these mills move the surplus water from the polder into the Oude Rijn river and keep the polder dry. You are standing 5.4 meters below sea level here! Pretty amazing!
Passing along the four mills is quite an experience. It is nowhere near as crowded as the famous Zaanse Schans for example, or the windmills at Kinderdijk. When I hiked there, it was desolate! If you want to read more check out the website of the mills. It’s mainly in Dutch, but it has a lot of pictures, and shorter route suggestions.
After passing the mills the trail will lead you back towards Bodegraven. You’ll first pass by the village of Zwammerdam, where you’ll need to cross the Oude Rijn river on a bridge. From here on it’s a straight and (honestly) rather boring 30 minute walk towards Bodegraven. If you need a break try restaurant ‘t Zwaantje, that has a lovely terrace overlooking the polder.
Craft brewery De Molen
Do you enjoy craft beer, and specifically strong dark brews? Then Brouwerij de Molen (Brewery The Mill) is the place to be. They excel in dark beers such as imperial stouts and Baltic porters. They barrel age some of it, on all kinds of old whisky, rum and wine barrels. Be careful though: most of these beers are high in alcohol. Brouwerij de Molen is one of my top 10 Dutch craft beer breweries.
For those who are more into lighter beers or don’t like beer at all: this place is a restaurant as well as a brewpub and serves all kind of beverages including lighter beers, wines and non-alcoholic drinks.
The De Molen brewpub is right along the hiking trail that I described. You can recognize it easily, because, as the name suggests, there is a (white) mill on top of this brewpub. In case you aren’t into hiking, just 10 minutes walking from the Bodegraven railway station. It is a pleasant place to hang out. They have a nice terrace along the Oude Rijn river. And in case you’d like to drink more: they have an excellent beer shop attached to the restaurant.
How to get to Bodegraven by public transport?
Bodegraven has a train station, which makes it easily accessible. There are direct trains from Utrecht and Leiden (both about 20 minute train rides). Coming from Rotterdam or The Hague, change trains in Leiden. Coming from Amsterdam you’ll have to change in Woerden.
Check your schedule on the public transport website 9292.nl and read my tips about using public transport in Holland. Mind that there are extra rules for users of public transport during the COVID-19 pandemic. For example: you have to wear a face mask when using public transport.
What to do next?
You can easily hike this trail around Bodegraven and visit Brewery De Molen as a day trip from for example Amsterdam, Utrecht, The Hague or Rotterdam. If you’d like to hang on in this area, consider staying in the historical city of Gouda, which is pretty nearby, or the much smaller, yet historic town of Woerden.