LEFT AND RIGHT OF THE ORANGE CANAL
We went to the province of Drenthe in the north of the Netherlands and biked along the Oranjekanaal that runs through the province from west to southeast and were surprised at what we encountered along the way.
Dug between 1853 and 1858
We started for our tour at the point where the Oranjekanaal connects to the Drentse Hoofdvaart (that is coming from the south just past the Smilde television tower). First we dive into history, for which we have to go back to the middle of the 19th century. Around 1850 a lot of peat had already been dug off in the peat areas of Midden-Drenthe, but there was still plenty of raised bog in Southeast Drenthe. Some entrepreneurs from the west of the country were interested in this and were willing to invest in peat extraction and peat production. An additional issue was the disposal of the peat. They conceived the plan to dig their own canal between the Drentse Hoofdvaart and the peat area. To realize this, the men founded the Drentsche Veen- en Middenkanaal Maatschappij in Dordrecht on March 15, 1853. In November 1853, digging of the canal began. Five years later, the more than 45 kilometer long canal was completed. With the King’s permission, it was given the name Oranjekanaal. Until 1976, the canal was used by shipping. Now it is part of a system of canals that forms the core of the province’s water management. Otherwise, it is the domain of fishermen and the occasional canoeist. Once we have the history of the canal stored in our minds, it is time to mount the “steel steed.”
The road along the canal is heavily traveled by motorized traffic, so it is advisable to choose the “quieter” side where the cycling is relaxed. For this reason we start on the south side. Soon we were surprised by a large field of flowering poppies. Of course we take a few pictures. A little later, as we enter the village of Oranje, we see a colorful building complex diagonally in front of us. It is a former potato flour factory established by the farmers in the region in 1913. Around the factory, the village of Oranje with its workers’ houses emerged. At the end of the 1970s, the factory closed due to small scale and not enough future prospects. We continue (now on the north side) our ride along the canal. After one and a half kilometers there is a sign along the canal with a remarkable legend about the “enigmatic disappearance of the Annigje ll”. How things turned out we won’t reveal. Go bike, look and read for yourself!
When we turn right over the bridge we ride into the café “De Dorpskern”. On the side wall of the building is a beautiful mural of cycling which was painted when in 2009 the Vuelta a España started in nearby Assen. The manager is a cycling enthusiast and at the table we talk animatedly about cycling. As we leave, he calls after me: “Just write that we make good coffee and have delicious apple pie.” On the south side of the canal, we continue eastward. After a few kilometers, at the railroad crossing, we turn north again. It seems complicated but it all works itself out.
Just past junction 15 (after about one and a half kilometers) we turn left towards Kamp Westerbork. Driving through the woods we enter a totally different world, reminiscent of the persecution of Jews in World War II. From this camp, 102,000 Jews were transported to the extermination camps such as Auschwitz and Solibor. 93 times such a transport left. Only 5,000 deportees returned. You are free to ride a bicycle around the camp grounds. The Westerbork National Monument: the railroad line with the curved rails symbolizes the terrible extermination. On the former apple court are 102,000 red stone blocks, one block for each deported man, woman and child. We leave the site via junction 58 and at junction 52 we pass the canal again, which we cross before immediately turning left. Those who still want to cycle over the Drenthe field pebbles can enjoy the woods we have just crossed.
At the sign that points to junction 97 (Veldma) we keep to the right. Then at the junction turn left towards Orvelte. In 1967 Orvelte is designated as a protected village sight. This is to preserve the original character. The village and the farms are restored and arranged as they should have been in the middle of the nineteenth century. Farmhouses were even transferred from other municipalities and rebuilt here in the original style. Now it is one of the larger tourist attractions in the province where you can easily spend a day in attractive stores, workshops, cafes and so on. But the farrier is also doing his job and farm life is revived. Present and past come together here in a unique way.
Without the trips to Camp Westerbork and Orvelte, we have now cycled over 27 kilometers along the canal. At the bridge in Schoonoord, which owes its existence to the Oranjekanaal, we turn left for a moment to the Ellert and Brammert Open Air Museum, named after the two giants who, as legend has it, held their raids in the region. In the museum the past of Southeast Drenthe is relived. Life and living in this area is depicted by the various forms of housing with of course the sod huts in which the peat laborers lived. Through the Odoornerveen we come to the largest town in the region: Emmen with 60,000 inhabitants. (The total municipality encompassing all of Southeast Drenthe has over 108,000 inhabitants).
The best way to describe the village – which came into existence around 1858 due to the reclamation of the peat bogs – is through the lines of poetry we found near a monument by the bridge. After passing through the village, the trip of about 48 kilometers along the Oranjekanaal is almost over. A little further on is the Oranjesluis lock and the canal flows into the Verlengde Hoogeveensevaart.
We turn right to spend the night two kilometers further near Erica at the Charmecamping “Op Fietse”. The name is taken from a song by the band SKIK from 1997 with lead singer Daniël Lohues who has his roots here in Erica. “Op Fietse”: could it be more appropriate after our bike ride?
Text and Photo: Teus Korporaal