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We found a different landscape and cycling experience on Monday by taking the bikes on the train to Den Helder at the top of the North Holland peninsula and cycling back to Zaandam. Google maps reckoned that it would be just over 75km but by the time we did a bit of detouring and dodgy navigation, we had done about 85km by the time we got back. Quite hard going at times given a headwind and different terrain but so glad we did this one as the views were stunning.

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We had a short coffee stop in Den Helder then headed straight for the harbour, where a regular ferry sails to the island of Texel. The path initially follows the coast and is quite exposed, but after a few kilometres following signs for the North Sea Cycle route we found ourselves on paths twisting and undulating through grass-covered sand dunes. There were ponds and hillocks creating striking views round each bend and where the grass was particularly worn down by the wind, it felt more like cycling through high mountains than a coastline. ¬†We couldn’t see the sea very often, but the sand was much in evidence although the drifting on the paths was only occasional – I suspect a lot of work has gone into this. The endless dunes were not at all what I expected, but I can’t really say what I did expect.

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Being amongst the dunes helped break the wind at least some of the time, and made for exhilarating cycling. There was even a 10 per cent gradient at one stage, which would have felt like home if it had gone on for longer and had a much worse surface. Found a fabulous cafe for a late lunch at Bergen (yes, still in the Netherlands). We knew it had to be good because of the impressive-looking road bikes parked outside and the roadies parked at the tables, and it did us proud – including very tasty vegan warm salad

A few more undulating kilometres after lunch and then we turned inland and dropped down onto the polder for a flat run back to Zaandam. Great views out over the farmland for our slightly elevated position.

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Still into the wind, alas, but I would gladly have taken a stronger headwind if only I could have had a more comfortable saddle (still missing my own bike). We did pass close to a few stations so I could have wimped out but we made it back, teeth a bit gritted near the end. Great fun overall.

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