“It feels as if we were next to the sea”, says Marta. But we are not. We are in the middle of the biggest sandpit in the Netherlands at the border of two Dutch provinces over 50 km away from the nearest shore. And this sandpit is part of the Drents-Friese Wold National Park, which is the second largest area of woodland and heath in the country. But unlike some other national parks, which can be exemplified by one particular type of landscape, this one cannot be so easily typecast as the diversity is the most common feature of it. And this makes it an interesting and exciting place to visit.
Marta walking in the biggest sandpit of the Netherlands, also known as the ‘bold’ dune (‘kale duin’ in Dutch)
And, indeed, this is our second time at the D-F NP. A few years ago, we came here by bike, stayed at a Natuurcamping (a special type of camping in the Netherlands that is characterised by their beautiful natural settings) and visited ancient dolmens on the southern edge of the park – this area has been inhabited since the prehistoric times and boasts a rich and diverse cultural landscape, which is another unique selling point of this national park.
Rich diversity of Drents-Friese National Park
This time, however, we only had a few hours in our disposal, but we still wanted to enjoy some ‘wild’ nature and ‘peace and quiet’ away from our city lives. And that was just the right place to come.
The tired face of a ‘city-dweller'(on the left) and local ‘wildlife’ (on the right)
Located at the boarder of Friesland and Drenthe (attesting to which are the black and white posts scattered around), this place is at a comfortable 45-minute driving distance from Leeuwarden and it offers a welcome change to the monotony of the Friesian ‘platteland’ (this word means ‘countryside’ but it always makes me think of flat land, ‘plat’ meaning ‘flat’ in Dutch). And, indeed, there are elevations of more than just half a meter. That is why, this place is rather popular among local mountain bikers and there is a well-marked trail specially designed for them.
Small hills (on the left) and a boarder post (on the right)
Besides this trail, there are also trails for horse-riding and, of course, hiking. And we walked part of one of such trails. Why only part? Well, because there were so many inviting side-trails that we could not help but wonder off the main track to explore the ‘real wild’.
Hiking the trail…
… and exploring side-trails
Talking about wild, most of the wildlife that we spotted on our short visit were sheep. Lots and lots of sheep. Mostly white, a few black and all ‘wild’. Some of these sheep also thought that they were invisible, when they hid behind a tree. It was actually very entertaining to observe them hiding from us this way.
Sheep. Lots and lots of sheep…
Other forms of spotted ‘wildlife’ included beetles, wasps, omnipresent birds and a dead shrew that we found in the middle of the path. We also suspect that there were other animals lurking in the bushes, but during our short stay we did not have a chance to spot more of them. So, on our nature quest, we had to ‘settle down’ for assorted plants and fungi. The latter were in abundance, especially the puffballs that were scattered around the forest edge.
The local ‘fauna’…
… and ‘flora’
Besides that giant sandpit of sand dunes, the open area was covered in grass and heather (unfortunately it was not the right time for viewing it, even though we still found a few flowering bushes) and some clusters of trees.
Giving an impression of a rather dry place, it still has a couple of small lakes, which seemed to be rather shallow. And in the middle of it all, there is a three-storied wooden viewing tower, which offers a much appreciated vantage point from which one can see most of this part of the national park. We also climbed it to have a better view of the surroundings (and to take a couple of pictures) and could not help thinking that it would be a nice place for staying overnight. Unfortunately, that would not be allowed, which, however, did not stop other people from doing it as there were some traces of bonfires in the sand next to the foot of the tower.
The observation tower
On the whole, even though we were there just for a few short hours, this was enjoyable time for us and we are looking forward to coming back to this diverse national park in the near future. And maybe even to the same giant sandpit again.