Route finding

After yesterday’s experiences on the road, I was keen to take some proper cycle routes today. With Google maps ready and loaded in the morning, I set off along a recommended river route straight out of the campsite. It was really lovely – pink wildflowers blooming on the banks, the cycle path full of cheery weekend riders, the river carrying the occasional canoe past.

Riverside cycle route

Riverside cycle route

After about 20 km I had to leave the riverside path, so I stopped for an apple on the banks to soak it in for five more minutes before heading into the woods. It was a good route in the end, all sign-posted and paved. I went through farmland, woodland and through villages. It was so nice and easy, I got a bit bored again.

Forest trail

Forest trail

Then, as if on cue, my cycle path ran out at the side of a country road and I had my work cut out for the last hour on the way to the campsite.

I arrived in one peace, pitched up, showered, laundried, ate the rest of my lunch and headed to the cinema! On the way there, I found a huge bramble bush by the roadside, untouched, berries glistening in the evening sun. I gorged myself on the sweet fruits, enjoying the flavour and the opportunism, but lamenting coming into the last weeks of summer. Then I got to the cinema and sat back for a few hours with a bag of popcorn to watch a predicable chick flick and forget about it all. Ahh.

Back at camp, I cooked up my pasta pesto and chatted to the other tourers – a Dutch couple on their 10th summer tour and a guy on his annual 4-day escape from work and family. My cough got so bad that I couldn’t talk any more without aggravating it and the Dutch lady kindly gave me some sweets to calm it down before bed.

It’s nice in this part of Germany. The riding is easy, the people are friendly, the scenery is pretty good. But it is a bit dull. I mean, it’s not exactly Canada. I’m ready to arrive at the next project and meet up with Dave again! Still, 3 more days to go… and only 100km to the next stopping place! So I’m going to take a detour and visit a nearby National Park on the way, lest I arrive early.

– Anna

Mountains shmountains

I slept fabulously and practically bounded out of bed when the alarm went off at 7am. Undoubtedly that was the result of my cakey dinner. I had a leisurely breakfast and took my time over packing up, but it was still all done in an hour. How is it quicker by yourself?

Unfortunately my swift exit was then stifled by the lack of internet. I diligently looked up the route for the day in Google maps last night, but this morning it was gone and I couldn’t get it back. So I had to try and look through my offline maps and figure out a route for myself. It didn’t go that well.

Nice roadside cycle path

Roadside cycle path

I left town en route to the next town, taking a busy country road that had a cycle path alongside it, which was fine. There were a few gentle inclines to contend with, but nothing major. After 20 km I stopped for a break beside a quiet, leafy roundabout on the edge of town, ate half my pretzel and cream cheese and talked to numerous passers by.

“Where are you heading?”

“Eschershausen.”

“Oh my, you’ve got a few mountains to climb!”

“Oh yeah?”

“Oh boy, they’re steep! One of them is 12%!”

“Wow that is pretty steep.” [Thinking yeah, whatever, I’ve been over the Rockies, the Picos, the Pyrenees and the Alps. I think I can handle the ‘mountains’ here.]

I headed through town and took a cycle path alongside a main road. Then, at a junction, the cycle path ran out. I took the side road and the cycle signs pointed in a lot of directions, but none that I wanted to go in! A man who’d parked up his company truck for a cigarette break chatted to me about route options.

“Where are you heading?”

“Eschershausen.”

“Oh, you’ve got a few mountains to get over between here and there!”

“So I’ve heard.”

He recommended me a side road and off I went again to look for the mountains. And soon enough, there was my first one. It crept up on me, gradually at first, not even looking like an incline but slowing my down none the less, then steeper and steeper until granny gear was engaged and I was chugging up at 6kph. It was so muggy and I was sweating like crazy! I had to stop a few times on the way up for water breaks and to get my breath back. But really, it only went on for 2 km maximum – definitely not a mountain! Perhaps something bigger is coming, I thought. Then I remembered having to walk up the tiny but insanely steep hills in Exmoor and thought I suppose they don’t have to be that high to be really bad.

I zoomed down for a bit, then started climbing again. And then after a few ups and downs were done, I stopped for a little rest to eye up the next hill. This one was the biggest of the day – and whilst it was far from a mountain, it was still enough to have me working after a few weeks of beer festivals and beach holidays!

The cycle path had been coming and going some more between towns and I was missing it on this steep hill. The traffic was mostly good to me, but it’s stressful having to check the mirror all the time, adjust road positioning, thank drivers (or call them wankers, as appropriate), worry about getting knocked off and try to find places to pull in for a rest and to check directions. It was relatively busy and people drive quite fast on the country roads! I did manage to make sure that nobody could overtake me when there was oncoming traffic, and nobody blared their horn at me, so that’s something.

At the top of the biggest mountain, there was a café and I pulled in. When I got off the bike, I felt all weak and wobbly. How long since that half a pretzel? The oppressive heat really stops you feeling hungry! I got a fizzy drink and sat down to take on the sugar. Then I rolled down the other side of the hill and headed towards the campsite. Just one more stretch of busy road to go and I’m done for the day!

It was only 3pm when I arrived and I found myself without much to do in the evening! I showered, did laundry, chatted to some English people who I had zero in common with besides English, ate the rest of my lunch for dinner, finished my book and attempted to do yoga, but it was busy and I felt self-conscious. What do we usually spend our time doing? Thankfully there was free internet and I browsed unenthusiastically until bedtime. Then I didn’t really sleep at all because the tent was pitched on a hill so I kept sliding down my roll mat, and I’ve got an annoyingly tickly cough. At that point I was probably better off on my own with nobody to moan to!

– Anna

Start of solo tour

I left Celle around midday and headed southwest towards Hanover. I only planned to do about 50 km as an easy first day out. And it was pretty easy – no real hills, no real headwind, all on cycle paths. I got a bit bored of the lack of adversity.

Foraging on the way

Foraging on the way

Around 4pm I arrived at a campsite outside Hanover that was on a lake. It was pretty and relatively quiet so I set up, showered and headed out for supplies. It was so hot all day that I didn’t really feel hungry and I was probably quite dehydrated. The thought of eating pasta and pesto for dinner was not appealing, so I indulged my cravings! For tomorrow’s lunch, I got 6 apples, a large pretzel and a pot of cream cheese. And for tonight’s dinner, I got chocolate milk and strawberry cake. Haha!

– Anna

Memory lane

When we left the Dutch dunes, we headed to Celle in northern Germany to spend a few days there. When I was aged 9-12, my family lived in Celle and I wanted to visit and show Dave where I spent some of my formative years! (Who knows whether some of my more Germanic traits are the cause of nature or nurture.)

We arrived to Celle station in the evening and rode to a family friend’s house. Nele, her husband Jost and their two boys were regular visitors to the Heslop house in Celle and Aberdeen (not sure who was following who around). I told Nele we were going to Celle and she invited us stay with her for a few days, although the boys were away. She welcomed us into their beautiful house with open arms, a delicious stir-fry dinner, beers and a catch-up.

We had a great few days exploring where I used to hang out with my family, eating delicious food, drinking some local beers, watching movies, chatting and sleeping in a big comfy bed!! The town is just as lovely as I remember it being. The old town is characterised by gorgeously wonky timber-framed buildings, and there are lots of green spaces. The flat where we used to live has a shared garden on the river and we used to spend our summers paddling a little boat upstream and drifting home.

In town

In town

By the river

By the river

On the last morning, we were just getting ready to go when Jost came home and we got to catch up with him for a bit too! What a delightful visit.

Dave left that morning on a train back to Amsterdam to meet some school friends for a few days. One of the boy’s parents has a boat there and they plan to spend some time hanging out on a big lake, drinking beer and gambling (probably?).

Whilst he’s off enjoying himself with the boys, I’m cycling 300 km to the next project! Second solo tour, here I come…

– Anna

Secrets and beer

On our last day at the park, we arrived in the office at 8:30am to meet Ester and get involved in some top-secret activities. Two of the male bison are being exported to another project on Monday. (This is now Monday in the past, so we’re all clear to let the cat out the bag – or the bison out of the Netherlands!) The movement is being kept hush to allow it to happen in peace, away from press and public. It’s the first time they’re doing this type of transport, so being calm on the day is important. The reason the two males are being moved is to prevent in-breeding in the small herd. In their enclosed environment, with no opportunity to move away and find other females to mate with, the bulls would end up fathering calves with their own mothers and sisters. Eek.

So the two males (which are 4 and 5 years old) were tranquilised two weeks ago and moved to a new holding pen. They spend two weeks in the pen, acclimatising to the environment. There is a narrow corridor that they will have to walk along to be loaded onto the transport truck, and they have been led along it every few days to get them used to it. Ester was taking us for another practice round.

We got in the van and headed into the park, Ester cutting three juicy looking branches on the way to give the bison a break from eating hay. We arrived at the pen and Ester told us a bit about the design. There isn’t a lot of knowledge on the moving of European bison – there were only about 50 animals left at one time! And although there are now around 5,000 across Europe, there are very few that are kept in a ‘natural’ way, so best practice guidelines on managing animals like the ones in Holland are lacking. Many land owners with European bison feed them over winter, so they could be said to be partially domesticated. The bison here in Holland are never fed except when they have to be moved. So the design and use of the pen was taken from North America, and ranchers’ experiences with their own North American bison.

Ester with bison biscuits

Ester with bison biscuits

There is an enclosure where the animals hang out and where they are provided with food and water. From there, a corridor leads around in a semi-circle, leading back to that same enclosure. The bison can be enticed in with tasty treats or shooed in by someone walking towards them. They walk around the narrow corridor, arrive back where they started and are none the worse off for it. So they don’t have any qualms about going down the corridor.

Up close and personal with the bison

Up close and personal with the bison

When they are eventually ready for transport, a gate is moved and the corridor no longer leads back to the enclosure but into the back of a truck. Sneaky!

We put out the branches to entice them into the corridor, then Ester had to gently shoo them in because apparently they weren’t hungry. Once they were in the corridor, I closed a big sliding door and they walked around to go back into the holding pen. I think they were back inside before I’d even finished closing the door! Speedy bison.

Munch munch

Munch munch

Mission successfully completed, we headed back to the office. Dave and I had an appointment with a local journalist, which Yvonne had organised! We had a chat with him, got our picture taken and wondered whether we were going to appear in the newpaper the next day…

Picture with Yvonne before she went home - bye!

Picture with Yvonne before she went home – bye, it’s been a pleasure!

That evening, we were told that the village just to the north of the National Park is in the middle of their week-long annual village festival. Did we want to go along? Dave didn’t need to be asked twice and he convinced me to go even though I was feeling tired and antisocial by the end of the working day!

We cycled through the park, my need for dinner becoming more and more urgent following a day of very little food. “Dave, I’m literally dying of starvation here”, I proclaimed melodramatically, before holding onto his rucksack to get towed along for a bit.

When we arrived at the festival, we locked our bikes to a wire fence, met Ester and her husband and headed straight for a pizza house! One pizza and one beer later and I was enthusiastically engaged in the conversation. A band started playing by our table and we enjoyed watching the singer pour out his soul in a pair of neon pink leggings. Then the rest of the group appeared and took us over to the main stage, where a fantastic covers band was playing. Eight beers later, around 11pm, we were all clustered near the main stage, singing, dancing, bouncing, drinking and chatting with each other. They were such a lovely group of people and it was a fabulous evening.

One of the more exuberant bands

One of the more exuberant bands

Around midnight in the little village

Around midnight in the little village

Just after midnight, everyone from the project got emailed the journalist’s article about us, which was going to press the next morning!  The owner of the Highland cows kindly translated it for me and we got to look at the lovely picture.

HaarlemsDagblad-Anna_and_Dave-August2015

Coming up to 1am, we decided to head back. Ester and Jesus live in the National Park (lucky bastards) about half way back to our campsite. Dave and I didn’t have lights with us, and Ester’s lights didn’t work, so the four of us followed one little wobbly light along the unlit cycle path through the forest. It was cloudy and the moon was nowhere to be seen, but we managed to stay on the trail, mostly. Ester fell off at one point, for no other reason than she couldn’t maintain her balance any longer! Giggling, she got back on and off we went again. When we made it to their place, they invited us to stay over – in a bed, no less! I would have taken them up on the offer, but if we went home, we got to ride through the rest of the park in the dark… and that was an appealing prospect. It was such a peaceful night, calm and quiet and warm. I’d been harping on about a night walk all week and here was our chance to be out at night!

So off we went, away from the welcoming lights of their house and into the dark woods. After a minute or so, my eyes starting to get accustomed to the dark and I could make out the trail and the sky above the trees. Then we emerged from the forest and were out in the dunes, with much better visibility, although everything remained either dark grey or really dark grey. There were some horses on the trail and we managed to avoid hitting into any of them on the way! Then eventually we emerged onto the road at the end of the park and headed to the campsite and collapsed into bed – what a day!

  • Anna

With the researchers

This morning we went into the reserve with Tariq, a student who is doing an internship with PWN over the summer. The task for the day was to find the bison herd, identify the female who wears the GPS collar, and record her activity throughout the day. The GPS collar has an accelerometer in it, which records the movements of the animal’s head. Tariq’s research will match up the data that the collar records with the actual observed behavior, so that in future the researchers will be able to tell what the animal is doing just by looking at the data from the collar. This will let them build up a good picture of bison behaviour and feeding patterns when they are not being directly observed.

Tariq told us his special method for finding the bison, which is to “follow the shit” (ssh, don’t tell anyone). We were walking for about 20 minutes when we stumbled on them lying in a small copse. They’re so hard to see! Unfortunately they were surprised to see us too, and soon moved off. This was the pattern for most of the morning, us catching up to them, and them moving off within five minutes! It was hot so they wanted to stay in the trees, but when they are in the trees they are more wary and you can’t get as close.

Bison hanging out in the woods

Bison hanging out in the woods

The woods were nice for us to give us some shade, but the ticks there were insane! Anna’s trousers were covered, and a few time Tariq stopped to pull off his wellies and search for ticks on his ankles. It’s awful, they’re individually easy to brush off, but there were so many, a proper swarm. If they bite you they bury their heads in your skin, so they’re a pain to get rid of. They also have a habit of climbing up your clothes or legs until they find a nice soft bit to bury themselves in. Nice. They can also give you Lyme disease, which is treatable if you catch it early, but still not exactly on the bucket list. (You can find out more about ticks and Lyme disease here: http://treesforlife.org.uk/forest/species-profiles/deer-tick/#.)

Eventually we managed to get a good view of the bison at a distance that they were happy with, so we settled down for some observation. Tariq heard something overhead and we all looked up to see a pine marten carrying some prey through the treetops. It went right above us and settled down for lunch in a tree close by. It was awesome to see it, they are pretty rare in the Netherlands (and in the UK), I’ve never seen one before, so I couldn’t believe my luck. We managed to snap one decent picture of the slippery bugger.

Pine marten!

Pine marten!

The bison herd finally moved out of the forest, but they were too quick for us to follow so we decided to stop for lunch. After that we went back to the office to swap guides. Dario is a volunteer at the project, he has done three internships with PWN and is now hoping to get a job there, so he is volunteering to keep in touch, and spend time in the reserve. He’s also running his own gardening and renovation business to make money. Such dedication!

We went back into the park with Dario to check some camera traps. These are cameras that can be left outside and are activated by heat or movement (or a combination of both). This is another brilliant way to get great data on the fauna of an area without disturbing them. In the Faia Brava reserve in Portugal they got a positive identification of the first roe deer in the reserve using a camera trap. Dario showed us some of the footage that has been captured in the reserve, we saw badgers, foxes, fallow deer and several bird species. It’s different from seeing these animals directly because they don’t know they’re being watched so they behave naturally.

The job for the afternoon was to go round and change the batteries in the camera traps. It was another good excuse to walk around in the sunshine and chat to someone who loves the reserve!

Dario at work

Dario at work

One of the camera traps was positioned right next to a massive tree that had come down in the storm last week; it had a lucky escape! Sadly the camera didn’t capture the tree falling, but it had recorded a few up close and personal visits from the Konik horses and fallow deer!

When we’d finished in the park we had a quick shower then went to the beach for dinner and drinks with some of the team. We chatted to Esther, who is Yvone’s colleague on the bison project, and Ruud who is one of the rangers in the reserve. He’s worked in the park for 30 years, and obviously loves it!

When we got home we had to have one last tick-searching session in the tent. Anna found two on me, but she was clean, which is good. You need to remove ticks within 24 hours to minimise your chance of contracting Lyme disease so it’s important that you check yourself thoroughly after a walk in the long grass or bracken!

It was amazing to meet so many people today who are absolutely loving what they do! Dario likes it so much he’s prepared to stick around and volunteer in the hope that a job will come up. I hope it does, he deserves it.

– Dave

Introducing Bison in the Dutch Dunes

After a week of anticipation in the dunes, we were excited to go and meet Yvonne and see the bison herd! Yvonne works for the European Rewilding Network and was the one who said that we could go ahead with our rewilding cycle tour. She has been really enthusiastic about our trip and helped us organise it by getting in touch with projects on our behalf.

We arrived at the office to meet her for the first time and she greeted us cheerily with open arms, inviting us in, introducing us to colleagues, telling us stories and asking about our journey so far. She’s exuberant and her enthusiasm is infectious! So off we went into the field together to try and find the bison, chattering about rewilding all the way.

In the overgrown dunes with Yvonne

In the overgrown dunes with Yvonne

National Park Zuid-Kennemerland is the area that houses the bison.  It has an interesting history – and an interesting present – and not one that you’d usually associate with rewilding projects.  When the private owners put the land up for sale, the local government bought it with view to it being used by the water company PWN.  The original plan for part of the land was to use it for storing drinking water in the sand dunes. Thankfully this didn’t happen, and the land was then left as a nature area.  PWN is still the land manager for large parts of the National Park, along with some other companies and individuals.  Interestingly, PWN has a Nature Department and sets aside around 3% of their budget for nature projects, which is brilliant.

The National Park was largely open to the public except for an area in the south that was kept closed off. The closed off area used to be a dynamic dune system, but in the absence of large herbivores and people, the dunes were becoming increasingly vegetated. The vegetation stops the sand moving around and the dynamic dunes were made sedentary. The idea of bringing in large herbivores was to allow the dunes to move freely once again. Highland cattle and Konik horses are already used across Holland for natural grazing, but bison? Bison in the Dutch dunes?! The Director for Nature at PWN at the time was Piet Veel, who was instrumental is proposing and initiating the reintroduction of European bison here.

A local press article about the idea didn’t receive a single negative response, so ahead they went! And the results have been fantastic so far. It has been 8 years since the first animals arrived from Poland and the herd now comprises 24 animals, including 5 adorable calves that were born this summer.

The area where the bison now roam is the area that was closed off to the public.  Not only is it now home to a bison herd, it is also no longer closed off to the public! There is a footpath through the bison enclosure that is open in the winter months, so people can walk along and hope to glimpse these majestic creatures. But don’t bring your dogs and don’t leave the trail! The bison are very relaxed around people who keep their distance and stay in sight.

The bison area is 330 hectares, which doesn’t sound that big, but the animals are surprisingly difficult to find. The dunes have lots of dips and hillocks, so you could be 50m away from the whole herd without knowing it! To help researchers and the public find the herd, one of the females has a GPS collar, so you can go online and track their movements every hour – very cool.

On our search for the bison, we also got to see some of the effects that the bison are having on the area.

The bison enclosure comprises different types of habitat. There are areas of open sand dunes, areas of scrub, some overgrown with trees, and a few patches of planted woodland. The effects that the bison are having are clear and beneficial. Bison love to take sand baths to scrub off insects, and the patches they use to wallow in get freed of vegetation. These sand patches are then used by lots of insects and amphibians – sand lizards even lay their eggs in them!

Bison also enjoy a good scratching post, so wherever there is a suitable branch, a sand patch emerges underneath it and the branch gets polished by bison bodies. When the post eventually buckles under the strain, the post is abandoned and pioneer plants enjoy colonising the free space.

Old wallowing patch growing back

Old wallowing patch growing back

Bison rubbing post

Bison rubbing post

We walked for a few hours through the bison area, seeing where they were on the GPS tracking system and looking for traces of them on the ground. Then Yvonne spotted a small herd of fallow deer in the dunes! They’re shy so it was a pleasure to be able to watch them grazing and playing before they spotted us and bounded off into the distance. Then we crossed a sand patch and saw bison tracks! We could see where they’d walked, where they’d wallowed and where they’d relieved themselves. Onwards, to try and find them.

Fallow deer

Fallow deer fleeing the humans

We headed through low, spiky scrub up a small rise, and looked out onto a sand flat where there was a small lake… and there was the whole bison herd! Neither of us had ever seen wild European bison before, so it was a fabulous first for us. There they were, some looking at us, just standing by the water, not fazed by our presence. They are gorgeous, gentle-looking creatures, with slim bodies, large heads and wide shoulders – oh, and sharp, solid horns! They have big brown eyes and such soft-looking fur. But Yvonne wasn’t keen on having one sedated just so that we could stroke it (such a spoil-sport).

Bison herd

Bison herd

They're looking at us!

Checking us out

Look how cute the little one is!

Look how cute the little one is!

Suckling calf

Suckling calf

We watched them for some time, seeing the calves drink and the adults ruminate. Then they started to move off for lunch and we did the same, retiring to a patch of woodland for a shady spot.

When we got back to the office we bumped into the legendary Piet and enjoyed chatting with him about the project over teas and coffees.

What a fabulous day. We’re looking forward to whatever the next few days have in store!

– Anna

Summer holiday

We’ve spent the last few days walking in the dunes and hanging out on the beach. The day after we went swimming, we decided to take a surf lesson. Our guide was Johnny, an Aussie surfer dude who is waiting impatiently in the Netherlands for his girlfriend to finish her degree so they can move to Johannesburg and find some proper waves. He was hilariously and explicitly unimpressed with the surf available in the Netherlands while at the same time trying to persuade us we were going to have fun.

Johnny telling us how terrible the surf in the Netherlands is

Johnny telling us how terrible the surf in the Netherlands is

We practiced for a while standing in the shallows and jumping on the boards every time a likely-looking wave came through, trying to ride it lying down on the board. After that we practiced standing up on the boards on the beach, where it all seemed pretty straightforward. Different story in the water though as the board wobbles around underneath you as you try ungracefully to stagger to your feet, usually falling off within half a second. I managed to stand for about two seconds on my best attempt. When Anna came in at the end she said to Johnny “God, I’m knackered”. His response “I’m not surprised, you were getting smashed out there. You get an A for effort if nothing else”. So encouraging!

Surfing - actually quite hard

Surfing – actually quite hard

A for effort

A for effort

In the evening we caught up with one of our friends from our old jobs, who now works in the Hague. Bobby is a triathlete from the Orkney Islands who has competed all over the world while finding time to hold down a full-time job. A proper athlete! It was cool catching up and hearing the news from home, and filling him in on what we’ve been up to!

Me and Bobby squinting into the sun

Me and Bobby squinting into the sun

The following day Anna found she was almost crippled with a trapped nerve type pain in her leg. She couldn’t bend down to put her shoes on, or sit down for any long period. I was very sympathetic obviously, and thought the best thing for her would be to stand on the beach watching me have another go at surfing. For some reason she agreed to this, so I had another chance to ride the barrel! This time I was much more successful, and I can basically now surf like a champ. I’m thinking of taking a trip to Jo’burg myself.

Almost got in the barrel that time

Almost got in the barrel that time

The next couple of days we went for a few walks, Anna did some yoga and we did some planning for the next bit of our trip. We must have had too much time on our hands because at some point we decided we would try to not buy any plastic for a week. We found this made buying food quite difficult, which was a bit sad really. We found a nice Turkish supermarket that sells loose fruit and veg, and does couscous in cardboard boxes. Flushed with success we’ve decided to try to do the whole month plastic free. This means we’re going to need to find shampoo, soap, toothpaste etc. that comes in non-plastic packaging. I think it’s going to be tough, but I’m excited to see if we can do it!

We also met a mum and daughter who are on holiday from Germany. The mum is American but has lived in Germany for about 15 years. They were really interesting – we got talking about vegetarianism and veganism, the girl said she started being vegetarian when she saw a documentary about where meat comes from, and led the rest of the family with her. This later changed to veganism when she realised that everything is over-fished, battery hen farming is awful etc. She is only 15 now, I don’t know what age she was when she started showing such awareness, but it was definitely a lot younger than I was! It was cool to see that she was also able to persuade her family to follow her ideas as well. They also had some interesting stuff to say about the film The Shining, Stanley Kubrick and the moon landings. Apparently The Shining contains clues that Stanley Kubrick worked on faking film footage for the moon landings in case the actual landing wasn’t successful. I didn’t quite get it – but it’s a good excuse to watch The Shining again.

We also stumbled on a nudist beach the other day as we were wandering around. We were looking for a quiet bit of beach, and found one, slowy realising that everyone there was in the buff. So we thought, oh well, what the hell, and stripped off for a swim. We’ve been skinny dipping a few times in the UK, but always by ourselves (apart from once when we were surprised by a hiker in the Lake District – awkward). It was a different experience when there were loads of other people around letting it all hang out, but the water was lovely and it was quite a liberating thing to do. Apparently the world doesn’t immediately explode when you see people you don’t know with no clothes on. Maybe they can let the naked rambler out of prison now??

Swimming naked was awesome, but getting back to the sandy beach and having no towels was an issue. I thought I’d probably be able to dry myself with sand. You cannot dry yourself with sand. I had to walk back down the beach, naked and covered in sand, to wash myself off in the sea. After that we dressed, dug a firepit to keep the wind off and cooked soup on a stove. It was partially successful, our soup got hot, but the silica content became quite high, and there was quite a lot of crunch to it.

Tomorrow we’re going to meet Yvonne, the lady who has made this whole trip happen for us, by co-ordinating our visits to rewilding projects. She works on a project here in the Netherlands; European Bison living in a Dutch dune system. Bring on the bison!

– Dave