The Netherland is not the most picturesque of countries: no-one comes here to be awed by the natural beauty of the landscape. Not unless they’re into straight lines and flat fields or are impressed by the fact that you sometimes have to go uphill to get to the sea. (This last not-so-natural phenomenon of the Dutch geography is, admittedly, pretty weird, but stunning? No.)
Yet despite its lack of natural stunning beauty, there is one feature of the Dutch landscape that really does impress – the coastline. I live five minutes from the coast and am always awed by the beach and sea – a beautiful, wide stretch of sand with very few human-made structures to spoil the view. And the sunset behind the North Sea, dipping gracefully into the waves, really is a beautiful sight – there’s not a tropical beach anywhere that can top it.
But there’s more to the Dutch coastline than just sand and sea. What makes it extra special is what backs onto it – the dunes. Developed to form a natural barrier between the sea and the land, the dunes help protect the Netherlands from flooding (one of the hazards if your coastline is higher than your land mass). The dunes form a stretch of tumps which provide shelter and food to a whole host of natural life, both plant and animal. Cycling through these tumps along specially laid cycle lanes you are likely to see rabbits, foxes and, more recently, Scottish cattle brought in to keep the vegetation at bay.
Even in the winter, the beach and dunes are a much-visited area. All the more so if it snows. Because then the dunes, those tumps of sand and grass, turn into slopes perfect for sledging down. On a really good winter’s day (=cold and snowy), the dunes are populated by children and their parents racing down slopes at great speed on just about any contraption that you could, with some imagination, call a sledge (and that includes plastic bags and flattened cardboard boxes). Slopes and paths which are normally used by dog walkers and pram pushers turn into a sort of grand prix of amateur sleighing. And of course, this being Holland, and the Dutch cultivating a civilised disrespect for rules and regulations, there is no waiting in turn, or only using one side to sleigh down to let others walk up on the other, or even worrying about the fact that the tump in question flattens out only as it hits a main road – the whole scene is one of what can only be described as not very organised anarchy in which everyone instinctively knows when it’s their turn and when to swerve to avoid ploughing into a tree/car/person/wall.
So there you have it: tumps – the Dutch answer to both the Alps and tropical beaches!