Monday 28 March 2011

Holland... in England

The Fens in the East of England have often been compared with the Netherlands. The landscape of the Fens is low-lying and there are very few hills.

Many of the engineers and labourers who drained the Fens and made them inhabitable brought their experience of how to do this from The Netherlands, just 200 km away across the North Sea. Many people of Dutch descent stayed in the area. Not only is the landscape incredibly similar to a lot of the Netherlands, but Fen people actually have a genetic connection with the Dutch.

What's more, part of the area is actually officially called South Holland. The local council of this area has a tulip as part of their logo.

Several years ago, Jonathan Meades made a very amusing programme called "Double Dutch", pointing out (amongst other things) the similarities between Holland and "Holland":

You can also see parts 2 and 3 on youtube.

But, there is also a big difference. While cycling rates in this area of the country are not as low as in some other parts, they are still incredibly low compared with the Netherlands.

When we lived in the area, I would sometimes cycle the 90 mile distance between our home in Cambridge and my in-laws home in a rural Lincolnshire village. On these journeys I'd ride through this "Dutch" landscape past dykes and canals and windmills, with no hills to climb. However, I'd rarely see other cyclists. Such a lack of cyclists would be unthinkable on a similar journey in similar landscape here in the Netherlands.

So what's causes this difference ? As well as not seeing other cyclists there are also next to no cycle paths. None at all on my route, which is entirely different to when I make journeys of the same length here in the Netherlands and have decent quality infrastructure the whole way. As ever, how much people cycle comes down to the infrastructure. Good quality infrastructure creates both actual and subjective safety. There is a reason why you don't see large groups of cyclists out and about by bike, or pensioners or children going places by bike in Lincolnshire on anything like the scale that you do in the Netherlands. The difference comes about because nearly all cycling in this area is on roads and no good alternative routes are provided with cycle-paths. Some of the roads that cyclists have to use are really quite nasty, such as the A16 and A17 with their 100 km/h speed limits. Not everyone gave me quite so much space when they passed as they give the Google Maps car in this image:

View Larger Map

View Larger Map

When I crossed the Fosdyke bridge (in the second photo) this road bridge was the only method for many km across this river, and cyclists had no alternative but to ride on this very busy road. It's part of Sustrans' NCN 1, and the British part of the North Sea Route. Cycling tourists are actually encouraged to come here, and the tourism board even creates Dutch language literature which compares the possibilities of cycling in Lincolnshire (as well as other parts of the UK) favourably with The Netherlands.

The reason why "Holland" and Holland are not the same comes down to the rather more successful policies, campaigning and infrastructure design on this side of the North Sea.

In The Netherlands it feels, and is, safe to cycle even when there is fog.
See also blog posts about the strange and very non-Dutch pedestrianized zone in Boston, Lincolnshire and about how the same traffic calming concept is implemented in villages in Lincolnshire as in Dutch villages, but how it differs greatly in practice from the same idea as actually built in The Netherlands


Mark W. said...

That Holland (UK) is remarkably similar... well the landscape anyway. The humour in the video is very very British indeed.
Please note there is one more similarity between these two Hollands: neither is the name of a country! Holland is part of the Netherlands as England is part of the UK I used to always say. Knowing Holland is part of the UK too makes everything even more complicated! :-)

Unknown said...

Cyclists riding NCN1 over Fosdyke Bridge are supposed to use the footpath. There is a purpose built bike lane well away from the road leading up to the Bridge from the east. I'd say that the facilities are pretty good on that particular part of the NCN1.

The A17 is a no go for cyclists though as there are far too many lorries using this road as there are no other options to the east. Plenty of quiet back roads to use however.

David Hembrow said...

Unknown: The NCN already existed when I rode there, but there was no bike-lane and no choice but to ride on the A17 for a stretch.

Even now, being expected to ride or perhaps walk on a footpath, and then ride along indirect back-roads is far from ideal.