We Don’t Really Know Where We’re Going

Emily Woodhouse Adventure Stories, Big Adventures, Cambridge to Plymouth via Switzerland

We carpeted the grass with maps. It seemed the best way to see the bigger picture.

We’d got in fairly early to our campsite in a lovely town called Megen. It had a picturesque church spire broke the evening’s sunset and, of course, a windmill. The campsite could have quite easily been someone’s garden. Specifically, Ed’s garden. A very friendly, casual man who greeted us with a handshake as we arrived – like an expectant host.

It seemed to be custom here to pitch your tent and get everything sorted out before you discussed money. A very relaxed Dutch attitude, but I suppose it’s hard to make a quick get-away when you’ve put the pegs in!

We’d put the tent up and got well and truly stuck into the maps when Ed walked over.

“You planning your route? For tomorrow?”

At least there was one person who thought making it up day by day was acceptable.

“Yeah, well there are various things we could do and we’re trying not to get cut off down here,” Joe waved his hand at the map.

Ed knelt down next to us on the grass and peered at the map.

“Ah yes, I see…”

I felt instantly at home with him. When you’re cycling, suddenly it becomes acceptable to treat the grass like a sofa and he’d just got down to our level.

“Is there anything to see in Nijmegen?” I asked.

Ed paused. “Errrm, there is an old town, lovely old town – by the bridge here,” he pointed it out on the map.

“And the rest of the area?” Asked Joe, “Is there anything else we should see?”

“The bike route, just the route. The scenery is lovely.”

“Oh,” we both say at once. Nobody here seems to go on holiday to visit places. It’s all about the journey.

Ed hands us the registration card and Joe starts to fill in our details.

“We don’t really know where we’re going,” I explained to Ed.

“Ah, but that’s the best part of this type of holiday. You plan and go and then plan again the next day, or not. It’s the right way to do it.”

“Is there a castle in Nijmegen?”

“Yes, a ruin… just here.” He pointed it out on the map for me.

“So we could spend half a day there, if we wanted? In Nijmegen,” I added.

“Oh yes,” he said.

We both looked down at Joe, who was still filling out the form on the grass.

“How long have you been in Holland?”

“What… three days?” I look at Joe for support in this idea. Time flies.

“We got the ferry on Monday,” confirmed Joe.

“We had some others through yesterday,” I assumed he meant cyclists, “also on the same ferry. They went to Maastricht also.

“They must be travelling faster than us,” said Joe.

“Is the weather always this good in Holland?” I asked. You know what they say, when the conversation’s taking a turn for the worse, you’ve always got the weather.

“No. It’s good tomorrow, but we’ve had lots of wet before this. It’s only just cleared up. Our weather is mixed, like you get in England.”

I laughed, “It’s never like this in England!”

We’d had a solid 27 degrees C since we stepped off the ferry. Today it had been unpleasantly hot whenever we stopped cycling and so unbearable at 2 o’clock that we’d had to stop for an icecream in the shade. The second of the day, I should probably add.

“It depends where you live,” said Joe.

“Well,” Ed smiled, “maybe in the south.”

Joe finished our camping form and handed it back to Ed. The Dutch man looked over the details.

“Hereford…” he mused, “that is in the south?”

“Kind of,” said Joe (which is, of course, the British way of saying no), “it’s on the border with Wales.”

“And I’m from Devon,” I added, “which is in the south west.” I have no idea why I felt the need to share this.

“I used to be in the army,” said Ed, “at Salisbury.”

“Oh yeah? Hereford is north west of Salisbury and Devon is south and west.” I guess that explains why his English was some of the best we’d heard so far.

“There’s lots of army activity over there,” said Joe, “Salisbury Plain.”

“Yes, Salisbury Plain.” Ed waved the card in the air, “Thanks very much!” He turned and started to head back towards the house.

“Hey, wait a minute!” I called after him, “Have we paid? How do we pay?”

“In the morning,” Ed grinned, “I take it you will be off at 6 o’clock?”

We all laughed.

“No? Then I see you in the morning.”