Elburg, Harderwijk and Amersfort
After a few dreary days at the end of our stay in Almere, with its happy reunions with our Dutch friends who even invited us to use their shower and helped us with re-bedding our leaking aft cabin windows, we set off on April 25. We took the Hoge Vaart back to the northeast. It’s a boring 5 hour journey to the small, isolated mooring before the lock that lifts you 5 meters into the Wolderwijd, the body of water that separates Flevoland, the polder upon which Almere is built, and the old land masses to the east and south and where you find historic towns versus those born in the last century. The next morning we entered the very narrow, one or two boat lock.
It was cold but sunny as we navigated under the cover of our rainhood. It is a 20 kilometer trip to Elburg, a small and very old village. The earliest residents left behind Neolithic stone tools and pottery shards. There are pottery shards from the Roman era. The earliest written record dates from 796 CE.
At the end of the 14th century they built a city wall and a mote, laying out the city on a grid, with improvements coming late in the 16th. In 1367 Elsburg joined the Hanseatic League. The railroad passed Elburg in 1863 due to the high price of land, which left the town in the backwater in which it remains. It remained a fishing and farming center until the end of WWII, dying off after the construction of Flevoland. Now it is a strictly for tourism, for which the intact medieval town serves well.
Hardewijk dates from 1231, its defensive wall from the end of that century. The Grote Kerk (Great Church) came in the next century. The wall is largely gone and only one gate remains., the Vischpoort (Fish Gate). Harderwijk was also a member of the Hanseatic League.
Like Elburg it was once a fishing village. They still celebrate Aaltjesdag, Eel day. Today people come for festivities and the Dolfinarium. Larger and less medieval than Elburg, it is nonetheless quite charming, filled with old brick houses with steep roofs and bright red or black shutters. The plaza inside theVischpoort is lined with traditional houses, another voyage into the past.
Continuing to the southwest, we come to Amersfoort. The city’s name means the ford (foort) in the Amer River, now called the Eem. Records date from the 11th century. The city celebraed its 750th anniversary in 2009. Of course human occupation dates much farther in the past, with evidence of settlement to 1000 BCE.
The defensive wall was finished circa 1300, demolished late in the century to allow for expansion. The famous Koppelpoort is in the second wall. The houses on Muurhuizen (Wallhouses) Street sit on first wall’s foundations.
The Onze-Lieve-Vrouwentoren (Tower of Our Lady), nicknamed Lange Jan (‘Long John’), is 98 metres (320 ft) in height. It was the middle point of country when it was started in 1444. The church was destroyed by explosion in 1787, but the impressive tower remains with us. It is now the reference point of the RD coordinate system, the coordinate grid used by the Dutch topographical service. There are several buildings noted as national monuments. In the Middle Ages it was was an important for its textile industry its many breweries.
Of the three towns, it is both larger and generally more interesting, with more to do, although Elburg could easily serve as a medieval film set with not much effort.
Amersfoort is nicknamed Keistad (boulder-city). The Amersfoortse Kei is a a 9-ton boulder that was transported into the city in 1661 as a result of a bet between two landowners. The nicknaming embarrassed the town, so they buried the boulder in 1672. It was re-discoverd in 1903, then turned into a monument. Boulders are rare in the Netherlands.