This hike will provide you with plenty of fresh Zeeland air as well as with insights into modern engineering. An interesting combination, that you don’t usually encounter when hiking. The coastline of Zeeland province is protected by a series of dams, dikes and barriers. This hike will take you across (part of) the most impressive and ambitious of the lot: the Oosterscheldekering, a 9 kilometer long flood barrier that connects the peninsulas of Schouwen-Duiveland and Noord-Beveland.
A little background info before you go hiking in Zeeland
Water. That’s the theme of this hike from Neeltje Jans to Vrouwenpolder. It is also one of the central themes of the Netherlands as a country. The Netherlands is situated in the delta of the Rhine, Meuse and Schelde rivers and borders the North Sea, so there is no escaping the water.
The relationship of the Dutch and water is pretty ambivalent. On the one hand, water has brought great prosperity to the Dutch. Think of the fishing industry. And of the central position of the Netherlands on trade routes. On the other hand, it has also brought great misery. There have been countless floods wiping away entire towns and taking the lives of many innocent men, women and children.
The flood of February 1st, 1953
A date that many Dutch people still remember, especially older people, is the 1st of February 1953. It was a restless night. A northwestern storm was raging and pushing the North Sea waters in the direction of the English Channel. Water levels were high anyway; it was just two nights after the full moon, low tide just didn’t happen and high tide was coming up.
There were dikes in the Netherlands, of course. Dutch people seem to have been building dikes since time immemorial. However, there had been a crisis in the 1930’s and a war in the 1940’s. Maintenance of the dikes hadn’t been good for quite a while. And they were too low, as worried engineers had been saying for years.
This combination of bad dikes and bad weather led to a horrible disaster: the dikes broke, the land flooded. 1835 people in Zeeland province lost their lives, thousands lost their homes. This was the starting point for a new era, the era of the Delta Plan.
The Delta Plan
The Delta Plan is sometimes called one of the most revolutionary hydraulic engineering projects in the world. Basically it aimed to prevent future flooding by shortening the coastline by 700 kilometers. Dikes were built between the most western points of the Zeeland peninsula’s, all the way from Rotterdam down to the Belgian border. Work started in 1954 and didn’t finish until 1997. This was no small feat! Imagine building dikes right in the middle of a sea, in the currents of rivers and tides.
Through the years the times were changing. In the early years of the project the only goal was to protect the people living in the area from the water. Later on, environmental issues started to play a role as well. Land and waterways behind the dikes were closed off from the sea, which had a huge impact on marine life and plants. This is one of the main reasons why the newer dikes (for example the Oosterscheldekering that this hike will take you across) are no traditional closed dikes. The Oosterscheldekering is a flood barrier that is usually opened and can be closed if necessary.
Downloading the trail: hiking in Zeeland, from Neeltje Jans to Vrouwenpolder
The hiking trail I describe in this blog is the Groene Wissel 281: Vrouwenpolder. This is a 14 kilometer hiking trail that starts at the artificial island of Neeltje Jans and ends in Vrouwenpolder, a tourist village along the Zeeland beach. Though the route description is in Dutch, you can easily use either the GPS track or the map in the route description (option: “bekijk routebeschrijving“). Both are available on the wandelzoekpagina-website.
The starting point: Neeltje Jans
Neeltje Jans is an artificial island that is more or less part of the Oosterscheldekering. It used to be a sandbank that got its name from a ship that was once stranded there and/or from an ancient goddess called Nehallennia, protector of sailors and fishermen. When the Oosterscheldekering was built, the engineers used it as a midway point for this flood barrier.
Neeltje Jans now houses a theme park that is a fun place to visit with kids, I guess. The theme park has an information center providing background info on the Delta Plan. However, you’ll need to pay the full entrance fee for the theme park if you want to visit that. That’s why I skipped the park and started hiking immediately, along a mussel farm and a dune lake, across some beautiful Zeeland dunes straight to the beach. A nice and quiet beach, at least, when we were there. Once on the beach follow the shore line in southerly direction all the way to the Oosterscheldekering.
Crossing the Oosterscheldekering
The complete Oosterscheldekering flood barrier is 9 kilometers long. This hike leads you across the southern part only, which is about 1,5 kilometer long. This is not your regular hiking trail. No sandy winding paths here, but plain asphalt. I am quite sure you won’t mind though, as here you’ll witness the full force of the sea encountering the full force of human engineering. I am no sucker for engineering really and would normally prefer nature over a road. This is quite something else though and I was seriously impressed! I think that if you really want to understand the battle of Zeeland against the water, this is where you should go hiking.
Back on the beach: hiking towards Vrouwenpolder
The final stretch of this Zeeland hike is pretty straightforward. Once you’ve left the Oosterscheldekering, get on the beach and follow the shoreline in westerly direction. After about 1,5 kilometers, shortly after passing a rescue post, leave the beach and climb the dike behind it. Move on in westerly direction across this dike, which is called the Veerse Dam. This dam separates the North Sea on your right hand side from the Veerse Meer (lake) on your left hand side. Use sun lotion on a sunny day, this is the kind of place that can roast your skin!
The first village you encounter after the Veerse Dam is Breezand, a little tourist town that offers plenty of possibilities for a little coffee or lunch break. From here it’s one more kilometer south towards Vrouwenpolder. This is not the most inspiring part of the hike, yet you’ll have to get there to catch the bus back to Middelburg. Vrouwenpolder is situated along Veerse Meer, an artificial lake that used to be a sea, before the Delta Plan. Like Breezand, Vrouwenpolder has many bars and restaurants to relax and enjoy life.
Summarizing, if you plan to go hiking in Zeeland, try his 14 kilometer hike. It provides you with lots of fresh sea air, dunes, sea views and sandy beaches and with an insight into the most impressive bit of hydraulic engineering in Holland, perhaps even in the world.
How to get to Neeltje Jans by public transport?
The entire province of Zeeland is not all that easy to reach by public transport. To get to Neeltje Jans, the starting point of this hike, you should first travel to Middelburg, the capital of Zeeland province. Middelburg has a train station with direct connections to Rotterdam (1 hour and 40 minutes) and Amsterdam (3 hours) for example.
From Middelburg catch a bus to Deltapark Neeltje Jans. The bus ride will take you another half hour. Mind that these buses don’t run regularly. Check the schedule before you set of on this journey! The same goes for your return journey back from Vrouwenpolder. There are buses back to Middelburg, but they don’t run too often.
If you have a car, park it near the bus stop in Vrouwenpolder and take a bus from Vrouwenpolder to Neeltje Jans. This way you will hike back towards your car. There is a car park quite close to the bus stop.
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 after this hike in Zeeland?
Hang around in Zeeland
Would you like to see more of Zeeland province? The best place to stay is Middelburg, the capital of Zeeland. Middelburg is the public transport hub for Zeeland, specifically for the peninsula of Walcheren/Zuid Beveland. Besides it is a pretty and historical city with loads of monuments and some interesting museums.
Do some more hiking in Zeeland
If you’re staying in Middelburg you could decide to go on another hike, for example the one from nearby Vlissingen (Flushing) towards Zoutelande.
Visit the famous Zeeland beaches
If you’d like to spend some days on the beach, find inspiration on the Zeeland Tourist Information website. I’ve only visited the beaches of Zoutelande, Domburg and Breezand. They were really nice, but I can’t compare them to others.
Return to Amsterdam or Rotterdam
You could return to the Rotterdam or Amsterdam areas if that is where you are staying. It is possible to visit Zeeland and do this hike as a day trip. If you want to do this leave town early to make the most of your day.
Visit Noord Brabant province
Move on towards Belgium
Or for a Belgian adventure: take the ferry from Vlissingen (Flushing) to Breskens, and catch a bus from Breskens to the Belgian city of Bruges.