Blog

Winter(tour) is coming

It is less than a month to go until the Wageningen Winter Tour! On the Friday after Christmas, 27th December, our club will be organising the annual winter tour. You can read about it here. It is is always a great event, so make sure you put it in your diary. 

Yesterday, it certainly felt wintry. We set off with the thermometer a few degrees below zero, which meant that there was spectacular hoar frost coating all the vegetation. After a bit it melted slightly so that there was mist in the trees. I wished I had a proper camera with me instead of my phone, but the photo below at least gives some idea of what the sun shining through that mist looked like. The frozen mist and icy puddles did mean that our toes were getting quite cold by the time we got home, but nevertheless it was all so spectacular that it was well worth it.

I don't suppose we will be lucky enough to have such good weather on the 27th, but no matter what it does, the tour will be great fun. Guaranteed. 

Edsebos

Add a comment

Mountain bike route Texel

Texel MTB

If you read the review of the Texel mountain bike route on MTBroutes.nl, you will find some negative comments. If you are hoping for a technical trail or a lot of elevation, then I can understand that you might find the Texel route disappointing. It is also clearly the case that only about 1/3 of the track (so half the time) is off road. But if you know that in advance, then this is a great track. That also depends on which route you take. The official route is 100 km long, but it is quite easy to take some short cuts and of course to make sure you cut the tarmac, not the dunes. Whichever route you take, make sure you have a GPS; the signs are mostly good, but there are a few missing.

The sections that are off road are really good. Lots of twisting and turning and ups and downs, mostly in a nice species-rich mixed woodland and otherwise in and along the dunes.  A lot of the rest of the route is along the dikes, which either has dramatic views out over the sea, or runs alongside some nature reserves for birds just inside the dike. As one of the Frisian islands, Texel is well-known for its birds, including waders (like the Ruddy Turnstone below), but also things like the Avocet and Spoonbills. The only problem is that as you are whizzing along on your bike, there is no time to look properly at the birds, so I had to go back later with a proper camera and tripod to take the photo below.

[Text continues under photo]Ruddy Turnstone

The dune slacks are full of all sorts of interesting plants. We visited Texel in September and, to be honest, I had not really expected anything to be in flower. But I was pleasantly mistaken. Not only was there quite a lot out, but we even saw some really quite rare plants like the Erigeron acris (Blue Fleabane) below, which I had never seen before. Very exciting! Like with the birds, it was a matter of going back later to get a decent photo.

[Text continues under photo]

Erigeron acris, blue fleabane

In summary, if you are expecting a fair quantity of tarmac, then the dramatic landscapes, diverse plants and animals and wonderful track through the dunes means that this is a great track. 

Add a comment

Posbank remade

A few years ago, the Posbank route (a.k.a. Rheden or Veluwezoom) used to be one the the most popular and challenging routes in the country. The combination of the beautiful landscape and a good quantity of height-meters made it one of the most attractive places to ride. However, in recent years, nearby trails (like on the Utrechtse Heuvelrug and near Ede) have been revamped and greatly improved, whilst the Posbank route gradually got eroded and overcrowded. As you have to pay to use the route, it was definitely time to do something about it. And they have certainly done that. The southern loop has been completely renewed. On the southwest part it now goes a completely different way than the steeper parts that were getting badly eroded, with some great open views over the heathland, albeit at the expense of some of the more challenging hills. This is made up for by a number (three as I write, more promised later) of extra loops which are extra challenging. I did one by mistake as unfortunately someone forgot that red and green arrows look identical for the many people who are colour-blind, but it was a fun and enjoyable mistake. 

[text continues under photo]

Posbank

The southeast part is where it has been most improved. Parts of it were with a lot of very loose sand (a colleague of mine even managed to break his collar bone there) and other parts were rather straight and boring. They have made it much more twisty and challenging, in a similar way to the other new trails in the region. They are sufficiently technical that sometimes you need to stop and look at the views, as otherwise all your concentration is taken up in staying on the trail, not to mention that you might want an excuse to get your breath back.

[text continues under photo]

Posbank woods Rheden

It is worth mentioning that the new routes mean that you go past the café at the top of the hill (the Paviljoen) rather than the visitor's centre near Rheden. That does give a more spectacular view (that's where the first photo in this blog is from), but unfortunately you cannot buy the MTB permit from there, which means either taking a diversion or buying it online beforehand. If you buy it online, you have to buy it for the whole year, you cannot buy a day-permit online. 

The northern loop has not been renewed (August 2019). That is a pity as it is rather boring. A large part of it is straight, flat, broad gravel tracks, which could quite comfortably be driven in a family car. There are some height meters, so the most fun is to be had going fast down some stretches, but otherwise it has to be seen more as a recovery (or warm-up) for the real route to the south. I do hope that sooner or later the northern loop will also be 'modernised' as well, as it is now, it is a bit of a cheek to ask money for riding it. 

The new route is very clearly signposted, but it is always a good idea to take a gps track with you. You can get that from mtbroutes.nl.

Add a comment

Mouse

Vole

Every so often when I'm out on my mountain bike in the woods, I see a mouse. Usually it is something like once every couple of months. Most often it catches my eye by running across the path in front of me, but sometimes, if I'm going slowly up a hill or something, a rustling movement in the undergrowth draws my attention. But this year it is different. For the past few months, since the spring in fact, every time I've been out, without fail, I've seen at least one mouse, and often more. I write 'mouse', but actually I don't know, they might be a shrew or a vole or something. The photo above is a bank vole (Myodes glareolus), taken in a woodland just over the border in the Eifel a few years ago. Obviously that was no snapshot with a phone camera, and to be sure that it was a bank vole I remember you needed a good view of its toes (though the small ears tell you already that it isn't a mouse). So when something small and dark scuttles across the path at high speed, I really could not say if it is a wood mouse or something else. Entertaining as that is for the mountain biker enjoying the nature, the biologist in me wants to know why there are so many all of a sudden. I'm seeing plenty of buzzards this year as well, so it is not that there is nothing to eat them.  And anyway, according to the textbooks the food determines the prey population, not the other way around).  Maybe it is something to do with the large amounts of acorns and beechmast that we have had for the past couple of years. Whatever the reason, they are always a delight to see.  

Add a comment

Sallandse Heuvelrug

It had been a few years since I last mountain biked over the Holterberg and Nijverdal routes and having read on mtbroutes.nl that there had been some improvements, I was curious to see what it was like. I got the chance last weekend. There were not 'some improvements'; it had been completely transformed. What was previously a route through an impressive landscape but mostly straight and straightforward paths was now composed of twisting paths making the most of the smallest height differences and requiring enough concentration that in most places if you wanted to take in the landscape, you had to stop. It has been turned into a a superb route, well worth going out of your way for.

From Wageningen, it is not too far out of your way, being only an hour's drive to the North, or 1 1/2 hours by train (there is a station at the start of the route in Holten). However, the flora and fauna is quite different, considering it is so close. For instance, there are some extensive patches of Cowberry (Vaccinium vitis-idaea, 'vossenbes/rode bosbes'), which although not terribly rare is much less common than the normal bilberry (Vaccinium mytillus) that you see everywhere and tends only to be found in the north of the country (both here and especially in the UK).* It makes you wonder how it will respond to the warming climate.

[text continues below photo of Vaccinium vitis-idaea

Arctostaphylos uva-ursi

 Not surprisingly, the area is showing the same signs of suffering from the extremely dry summer as the heathlands closer to home. The bilberries are recovering nicely, but there are still great patches of dead heather where there is a big risk that it will be replaced by grasses rather than heather regeneration. The mountain bike paths are beginning to get very sandy in parts - in some places it is even almost too sandy to cycle, and I was glad that I had reasonably chunky Nobby Nic tyres on to give at least some grip. 

[text continues under photo]

Sallandse Heuvelrug

The loose sand is worst on the Northern route by Nijverdal and Hellendoorn, so doing just the Holten route is always an option. The signposting for both routes is excellent, though I did't see signs connecting the two loops (perhaps there aren't any) and the gps track on mtbroutes.nl was not always 100% the same as the route on the ground. I also found that with a combination of the twisty track and loose sand, it took me longer to go round than I had expected, so that is also worth bearing in mind. All in all, this is a great route now, fun mountain biking, a special landscape and even some rare plants to gaze at as you pass.

*In the first version of this article I wrote that this was Arctostaphylos, which is very rare. The leaves are a bit similar but the flowers are not, so I had no excuse. My apologies.

Add a comment

Many and few

Normally I cycle every Saturday on my mountain bike with a small group from the club. These days, the mountain bikers are split into three groups, so everyone can go at their own pace, which means there is often only a handful of people in each group. But last Saturday it was different, we were helping with the 'Hell of Ede Wageningen' with 8-900 participants. Aside from having to get up at the unearthly hour of five in the morning to get the arrows all set out in time, it was a great event, with a smashing atmosphere and a treat to see so many smiling faces going past.

Today was forecast to be very hot, so instead I went cycling by myself yesterday. Quite a contrast from the hundreds of people last week and even more so seeing it was a Friday, so the trails were practically deserted. It was so quiet and peaceful that when at last one mountain biker did cycle past me, I nearly jumped out of my skin. It was also amazing how many wild animals I saw; deer (too fast to see if it was roe or fallow), red squirrel, wood mouse, and water vole (swimming across the small river Grift), as well as all sorts of birds including a lovely pair of oyster catchers. The experience of being part of a big event or with a small group, or cycling on your own is quite different, and when it comes to it, isn't it great that all that is possible?

Scots Pine near Amerongen

Add a comment