I had read about Kinderdijk and knew it was a World Heritage Site. UNESCO’s citation for its designation reads as follows: “The outstanding contribution made by the people of the Netherlands to the technology of handling water is admirably demonstrated by the installations in the Kinderdijk-Elshout area. Construction of hydraulic works for the drainage of land for agriculture and settlement began in the Middle Ages and have continued uninterruptedly to the present day. The site illustrates all the typical features associated with this technology – dykes, reservoirs, pumping stations, administrative buildings and a series of beautifully preserved windmills”. It was one of the first places I booked tickets for when planning our holiday.
First, we had to make our way to the waterbus station. F was quite excited about taking this mode of transport, which is commonplace in the Rhine-Maas-Scheldt Delta but a novelty for us. Leaving Dordrecht gave a panoramic view of this small historic city.
We passed a modern-day Noah’s Ark, built by someone who was convinced a massive flood was going to leave the Netherlands underwater. Model giraffes could be seen on deck and there is a petting zoo with a variety of animals inside – 2 of each I presume.
The landscape we travelled through was part urban and part rural, with a mixture of apartments, houses, fields, business premises, and lots of docks. These waterways have more port facilities than anywhere else in Europe. After 25 minutes, we arrived at Kinderdijk. As it was raining and a café was visible from the waterbus stop, S decided that it must be time for elevenses.
I’d heard that Kinderdijk can suffer from overtourism. Maybe the showery weather put people off, but on the August weekday we were present, there were no queues at the entrance and we had no delays at any of the exhibits on site which were free from crowds. This made for an enjoyable viewing experience and it stayed dry for most of the time we were outdoors.
There are 19 windmills on the site, all about 250 years old, although there were mills here long before this. They were built to power waterwheels which drained the land and created polders below sea level. We saw a film which explained more about the history of the area and the windmills.
We learned that about 1000 years ago, hunters and fishermen visited the area in the summer. In 1421, there was a major flood which caused a lot of devastation. Legend has it that a child was found floating in a cradle, which is how the area acquired the name Kinderdijk or child’s dyke in English. Efforts soon began to drain the land but due to the peaty soil, it sank when it dried out. Therefore, water had to be pumped uphill in steps into little reservoirs, until at low tide it could be released into the river the other side of the dyke where it would be washed out to sea.
Nowadays, an electric pumping station does the work of the windmills. After the film, we went into a museum where an old steam pump can be viewed. There were a number of interesting exhibits, but what caught my eye was a map showing the areas of the country below sea level. They amount to an astonishing 33% of the Netherlands.
From the pumping station museum, we walked across a bridge and made our way towards the windmills. They have been built in a variety of different styles and many are still lived in. Two are open to the public as museums. We walked through a marshy landscape of polders and waterways, the latter colonised by reedbeds and waterlilies. Together with the windmills, it created a classic Dutch scene.
Before long, we arrived at the first of the windmill museums. This showed off the working parts of the mill and the accommodation it afforded a large family just over a century ago. F spent a long time inside and while S and I were waiting for her outside, the sails started up. The sight of them in full throttle was spectacular although the speed at which they moved and how close they came to the ground was a little frightening. There had been fatal accidents in the past but now the area below the sails is fenced off. Eventually F came out of the windmill to view the turning sails with us.
Windmill museum number 2 was more focussed on displaying how the occupants lived in days gone by. We looked around the kitchen dining room and the storeroom, where another Dutch cliché was on display.
Outside the mill was a vegetable patch. Livestock, including hens and goats, demonstrated the self-sufficiency of the former residents. F was delighted that the kiosk in one of the outbuildings served ham and cheese toasties. I had been told that when in Holland, it is compulsory to try stroopwafels. When I saw them on the counter, I duly obliged.
After lunch, we walked further. We didn’t make it as far as the 19th windmill – the site is very big indeed and it is possible to save your legs by using a bike or even lazier, on a boat trip.
We walked back on ourselves, past the reed beds and waterlilies, spying cows grazing in adjacent fields, heading towards the entrance and arrived at the inevitable gift shop and café. Our timing was excellent as the heavens opened almost as soon as we were indoors. I find a cuppa is somehow more satisfying when looking out on a torrential downpour, secure in the knowledge that you are completely sheltered from it.
When the shower was over, we returned to the waterbus stop and waited for the boat bound for Dordrecht. With water management on the scale we’d seen, I was confident that the Dutch Noah’s Ark won’t be required any time soon.
Kinderdijk is in South Holland, Netherlands, 24kms from Rotterdam and 14kms from Dordrecht by road
Kinderdijk can be reached in about 25 minutes by waterbus from Dordrecht or Rotterdam. Off season, a change of boats maybe necessary making the journey time longer. Direct “land” buses also run from Dordrecht and there are well marked cycle routes from both cities. A small car park is on site with more parking available a waterbus ride away
Tickets can be bought on the day, but at busy times, it is advisable and also cheaper to purchase in advance online. Click here for more information. Accommodation options are limited to a hotel and a couple of b & b’s in the immediate vicinity. More places to stay can be found in Rotterdam or Dordrecht. There are cafes on site and near the entrance