Flat out to Holland on the straight and narrow

The cycling tracks make the Flevoland polders in Holland a delight. John Watkins stayed on a sheep farm-cum-campsite
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The Independent Travel

Mini-camping P90 is on Stobbenweg, a straight, narrow road that runs through the forests of Oostelijk-Flevoland. P90 is really a sheep farm, but like farmers in many parts of Europe, the Radersmas have had to diversify, and a grassy glade behind the farmhouse has been turned into a small campsite. Mrs Radersma looks after the camping. She has white hair, and wears white socks and black clogs. She speaks a breathless English, and after she'd given us a tour of the farm and shown us the spotless toilet block, she presented us with a lettuce and two onions from her kitchen garden as a welcoming gift.

Mini-camping P90 is on Stobbenweg, a straight, narrow road that runs through the forests of Oostelijk-Flevoland. P90 is really a sheep farm, but like farmers in many parts of Europe, the Radersmas have had to diversify, and a grassy glade behind the farmhouse has been turned into a small campsite. Mrs Radersma looks after the camping. She has white hair, and wears white socks and black clogs. She speaks a breathless English, and after she'd given us a tour of the farm and shown us the spotless toilet block, she presented us with a lettuce and two onions from her kitchen garden as a welcoming gift.

Mrs Radersma jokes that her mini-camping is kamperen op de zeebodem, camping on the seabed. And it's true that less than 50 years ago, these fields were silt under a vast man-made lake called IJsselmeer. Oostelijk (Eastern) Flevoland emerged from the water in 1957; Zuidelijk (Western) Flevoland followed in 1968. The Radersmas' farm was built in 1964. P90 is the name of the original plot.

The Flevoland polders added a large slab to Holland's land mass, and provided much needed new land for housing and farming, but they had a devastating impact on traditional fishing towns such as Kampen, Elburg and Harderwijk. They suddenly became landlocked, their access to the North Sea blocked by the Afsluitdijk which turned the salty Zuiderzee into the freshwater IJsselmeer. The fishermen have had to adapt to freshwater species, in particular eels, paling, smoked varieties of which are a regional delicacy. I'm not a great lover of smoked eel.

To the outsider, Flevoland's rural landscapes have a mesmerising order and uniformity. Regular fields of cereals, beetroot, onions and sweetcorn are interspersed with forests and grazing for sheep and cows. Trucks ghost along the main roads and trees float on the horizon.

But it's the cycle tracks – fietspad, marked by pedal-high stone mushrooms – that really impress. Coming from a country where cyclists have to tough it out with cars and trucks, the tracks make cycling a sheer delight. They criss-cross the polder, running through forests and along the Veluwemeer, the wide freshwater channel that separates Flevoland from the older lands to the east. Because the fields are so flat, even the most unfit cyclist can clock up the kilometres without too much huffing and puffing – or needing a flashy bike. The standard Dutch machine has a black frame and wraparound handlebars. Everyone cycles: matrons in billowing cotton dresses, hirsute old men trailing smoke from generous joints, young lovers holding hands as they pedal.

In the country, cyclists get their own tracks. In the towns, there are cycle lanes, cycle traffic lights and cycle signs.

From P90, a range of Dutch towns, old and new, are within easy pedal range. Elburg is the closest and the prettiest – a 15th-century walled town, with a medieval fish gate and hop house. In the summer months, Elburg's narrow streets are packed with day trippers snacking on doughnuts and cones of patat met, chips with mayonnaise. Wednesday is market day when the whole town is given over to stalls – part traditional market, part car-boot sale, where enterprising children flog off old books and toys, and little girls with recorders busk for euros.

When we finally left, Mrs Radersma gave us a courgette as big as a marrow. That night, we cut it into chunks and barbecued it at a campsite near Amsterdam, under the Schiphol airport flight path. None of us are great fans of the courgette, but we all agreed it was very tasty.

Netherlands Board of Tourism, PO Box 523, London SW1E 6NT (020-7539 7950; www.holland.com/uk)

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