Kiting on Vlieland

Vlieland Travel Blog

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Where we stopped just before Harlingen, to load supplies

Saturday was to be devoted to kiting and kite-surfing, which had been organised by Rowena. This was an activity for which I had enrolled in spite of not having a clue what it was about, although I suspect that I may have been confusing it somewhat with paragliding, in that I had visions of plunging 200 feet to my doom if I did something wrong. But basically I just trusted that Rowena liked us all sufficiently not to want us to die, or at least not on her watch. Kiting, as it turned out, just involves flying kites at the end of extremely long pieces of string, which tend to whizz about at alarming speeds and, in inexpert hands, quite close to the ground. This could possibly involve the strangulation or decapitation of young children, a possibility which the authorities strangely regard with some disfavour.

TravBuddies milling around in time-honoured fashion
Therefore kiting can only take place on remote and unfrequented beaches - the kind where you might otherwise expect to find little groups of bonkers naturists huddling behind windswept dunes. Accordingly, we had a long journey ahead of us, and a correspondingly early start.

Fortunately there were enough TBs with cars to ensure that everyone had transport to the port of Harlingen; Wendy and Rowena had kindly offered me a ride with them. So at about 7.45 we set off in convoy, with Wendena in the lead and this year fortunately not reliant on the SatNav. Shortly before Harlingen we stopped by a pleasant harbour to load supplies, and a few ravenous TBs bought some breakfast; but mostly we just engaged in the traditional activity of milling around. An additional few minutes drive brought us to the ferry terminal, where we were to meet the kiting instructors with all the equipment, and board a ferry for the island of Vlieland.

Lieke snapping me snapping her
This provided the first surprise. I knew that Vlieland was the smallest of the several islands off the north-west coast, and had rather assumed that there would be just a score or two travellers, and that the ferry would be about the size of a motor-launch. In fact there was a great big ferry terminal, a great big ferry to match, and enough crowds and confusion to suggest that half of Friesland fancied a Saturday on Vlieland.

The ferry was due to depart at 9.00 sharp, and as we arrived at 8.15 we appeared to be in good time. However, some of the instructors were late, and as the time approached at which the gates would close the tension mounted, because tickets could not be purchased until we were all together as a party.

Another boat
Poor Wendy and Rowena had a pretty torrid time, although I think that Rowena was better at concealing her worries! In the event we were all present and correct by 8.55 and Rowena could buy the tickets; we manhandled the equipment and supplies through the barrier at 8.58, and as soon as the last of us set foot on the ferry the doors were slammed shut behind us and we were away. Whew - you could almost see the tension melt away from Wendy's face!

The ferry had three decks, and most of the party chose to stay below as it was cool, overcast and blustery, although dry. However, I stayed on deck, to watch the sea; and although I did get quite cold, I discovered that it was distinctly warmer leaning over the stern of the ferry, as hot air from the two big engines wafted up in quite a pleasant though diesely fashion.

At Harlingen, the first instalment of provisions is unloaded
The water between the mainland and Vlieland is quite shallow, and the ferry had to keep precisely to a narrow channel that is clearly marked by red and green flags; occasionally banks of shingle could be seen breaking the surface less than 100 yards away.

There was also on deck a dog in nappies, probably the most revolting sight in Christendom. Dogs are quite bad enough, but a dog in nappies ... ewch!

Finally we docked at Oost Vlieland (East Vlieland) on the south-eastern shore, which is the only village on the island, and there were scenes of chaos as hundreds of passengers disembarked and tried to find their baggage which, along with our equipment, had been loaded onto trolleys at Harlingen. No cars can be brought over on the ferry: they are allowed only to residents, and there is precisely one bus route that does a Cook's Tour of the island every half-hour.

View of Harlingen from the ferry terminal
Our beach was on the distant north-western shore, and the plan was for all our equipment and supplies to be loaded onto a trailer which would then be hauled to the beach by tractor. We ourselves would make our way as far as we could by bus, after which it would be a half-mile walk to the beach itself.

Almost inevtitably we just missed a bus, and so had a half-hour wait, but this was pleasant enough as the sun had put in an appearance and it became obvious that the weather on Vlieland was distinctly more promising than on the mainland. People-watching was the order of the day as the throng gradually dispersed, mostly on bicycles, surprise surprise: the laws concerning cars on the island left little option, and indeed horse-drawn transport is by no means unusual.

At the ferry terminal
By the bus-stop is a statue of Willem de Vlamingh, a seventeenth-century explorer who was born on Vlieland and apparently sported truly alarming headgear. It was he who, on a voyage to Australia in 1697, became the first European to observe a black swan, and thus put generations of philosophers of science forever in his debt.

When the bus arrived Rowena paid for us all and received in return a ticket about six feet long. The route took us across most of the island through narrow lanes, and it was clear that tourism is the sole industry. Outside the village the only buildings are hotels and holiday cottages, with many of the latter being scattered fairly randomly across the fields, with no evidence that anyone actually owns the land; the landscape and flora often reminded me of the Isle of Wight.

Leaving harbour
After about 20 minutes we arrived at the route's westernmost extremity, and alighted for a walk to the beach along a well-made concrete road. There was a slight hill over the dunes but then, arriving at the top, the whole beach was spread out before us, stretching seemingly endlessly both east and west, and with not a soul in sight save some of the instructors who had travelled on the tractor and arrived before us. By now it was about noon.

The equipment was laid out on the sand: kites of various sizes and styles, and kitewings; a kitewing is a large wing which you hold onto for dear life, the idea being that if your feet are strapped to a skateboard the wind will carry you along. Well, that's the theory. But we were to begin with simple kiting, and for this purpose were divided into groups of three for instruction.

Customs shadowed us out of the harbour
Unfortunately this arrangement fell apart after about five minutes, and the instruction thereafter was somewhat disorganised, but eventually I managed to attract an instructor's attention and be intiated into the rudiments of kiting. Suffice it to say that it's not as easy as it looks, and a good deal of time had to be spent in disentangling wet string!

All this time lunch was being prepared, and at around 1.30 the kiting stopped and we descended on the trailer, which had been laid out as a buffet. There was a prodigious quantity of food which was decidedly jummy, and for which I was very grateful as my sole sustenance so far that day had been two pieces of cake purchased on the ferry. After lunch it was time for more kiting, and some of the other equipment was brought into play.

From my warm spot above the engines
I thought that it would be interesting to try a kitewing, but the wind, at about force 3, turned out not to be sufficient, although it was quite adequate for kiting. The reason was that considerable force is needed to overcome the resistance that the sand offers to the four wheels of the skateboard. Advanced kiterwingers use a two-wheeled version, which offers less resistance, and indeed one exponent of the art (not of our party) was making impressive progress up and down the shore. But novice TBs would have to wait for another, windier, day.

Fortunately I managed to find a free kite and teamed up with Sonja, who kindly acted as my launcher for an embarrassingly extended period, claiming not really to like kiting. Finally I insisted that she should have a go herself, whereupon she disclosed hitherto unsuspected kiting skills, putting my own novice efforts to shame.

Primitive sail!
It turned out that she had done a good deal of kiting many moons ago, and on this evidence it appears to be a skill that, once acquired, one never loses.

Soon, however, we had to pack up and leave, as the last ferry left at 4.45 and so we needed to catch the 3.45 bus; the journey back to Oost Vlieland was just the morning's trip in reverse, save only that, far from having to wait for the bus, it arrived just as we did; if we had lingered on the beach for a few more minutes we would have missed both the bus and the ferry. As it was, we had plenty of time to spare at Oost Vlieland and just sat around in the sun, while one or two enterprising TBs explored the village shop in search of beer. It was sunny for the whole return journey, but this time I felt tired enough to sit below, and chatted to Sonja and Eef whilst watching certain TBs fight a losing battle with sleep.

Spot the dog in nappies :(((

Back in Harlingen we enjoyed an excellent and much-needed dinner (and, in my case, cup of tea) at the Zeezicht Restaurant. Then we drove back to Leeuwarden and found ouselves at the Stads Cafe for drinks; but I didn't stay long as another early start was scheduled for the morrow!

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Where we stopped just before Harli…
Where we stopped just before Harl…
TravBuddies milling around in time…
TravBuddies milling around in tim…
Lieke snapping me snapping her
Lieke snapping me snapping her
Another boat
Another boat
At Harlingen, the first instalment…
At Harlingen, the first instalmen…
View of Harlingen from the ferry t…
View of Harlingen from the ferry …
At the ferry terminal
At the ferry terminal
Leaving harbour
Leaving harbour
Customs shadowed us out of the har…
Customs shadowed us out of the ha…
From my warm spot above the engines
From my warm spot above the engines
Primitive sail!
Primitive sail!
Spot the dog in nappies :(((
Spot the dog in nappies :(((
Disembarking at Oost Vlieland
Disembarking at Oost Vlieland
First view of Oost Vlieland
First view of Oost Vlieland
Chaotic scenes at disembarkation
Chaotic scenes at disembarkation
Willem de Vlamingh, discoverer of …
Willem de Vlamingh, discoverer of…
First view of the beach
First view of the beach
Deserted looking west ...
Deserted looking west ...
... and deserted looking east
... and deserted looking east
Unloading equipment and supplies
Unloading equipment and supplies
Femke has the right idea
Femke has the right idea
The trailer with our lunch
The trailer with our lunch
Jessica
Jessica
Kites
Kites
More kites
More kites
The four-wheeled skateboard-thing …
The four-wheeled skateboard-thing…
A skilled kitewinger making progre…
A skilled kitewinger making progr…
Sonja controlling the kite
Sonja controlling the kite
Quicksands! Whatever shall we do? …
Quicksands! Whatever shall we do?…
Heroically saved by me
Heroically saved by me
Sonja
Sonja
Lieke
Lieke
Eefs recipe for happiness: a beer…
Eef's recipe for happiness: a bee…
The crowded bus on the return jour…
The crowded bus on the return jou…
Waiting for the ferry: Wendy and R…
Waiting for the ferry: Wendy and …
At Harlingen: A Dutch boy doing wh…
At Harlingen: A Dutch boy doing w…
This view of the ferry gives a goo…
This view of the ferry gives a go…
Vlieland
photo by: delsol67