THE LONGEST BICYCLE BRIDGE IN EUROPE
But we wouldn’t be a cycling magazine to still have some form of curiosity. Seen from Belgium, the bridge is not next door. We have to go to the northeast of the Dutch province of Groningen for it. Globally, from Antwerp that’s over 320 kilometers. It could just be a nice vacation destination for a multi-day cycling holiday trip. The province of Groningen has a slogan: “Nothing beats Groningen”. Why not accept such an invitation?
Strawboard in Oude Pekela
We start our bicycle bridge ride at junction 86 in the village of Oude Pekela. There is plenty of parking in the immediate area. What immediately stands out is a statue standing near the bridge with the simple mention of Fré Meis (1921-1992) on the pedestal. One then wonders who this was. Born here, Meis was the foreman of the Communist Party of the Netherlands (C.P.N.) in the province of Groningen during the second half of the 20th century. He represented the party both in the Provincial States and as well as in the Lower House.
Meis is best known as a strike leader. The factory workers and men who worked for the gentleman farmers were collectively members of the party at the time. Barely on our bikes, we ride past an old factory complex where the birches are now growing on the roof. Immediately we dismount to take pictures. Someone who is working on the closed area immediately walks up to the heavy fence and asks if we want to take a look inside. One thing led to another and a moment later we were standing in front of a beautiful Stork steam engine from the beginning of the last century. The person is one of the volunteers of the Pekela Industrial Heritage & Cultural Development Foundation, SIEP &CO for short. The buildings housed the Steam Strip Carton Factory v/h Free and Co from 1904 to 1979.
Now the foundation repairs and manages old machines and other heritage from that period. In the industrial heyday in Oude Pekela there are nine strawboard factories stood. Due to more competition, low cardboard prices and high straw prices, the demand for strawboard decreases and in the sixties gradually switched from straw to waste paper as a raw material for production of gray cardboard. All that remains in the village are a few empty factory buildings, but in the one factory, where we stepped off for a moment, work is still going on so as not to completely forget the past. After a cup of coffee, we really do head toward the bicycle bridge. From junction 88, a bike path runs through a beautiful nature reserve towards Winschoten. With about 18,000 inhabitants, the town in the eastern corner of Groningen fulfills a regional function. Via junctions 98, 96 and 94 we arrive at the bridge because, after all, that’s what we traveled to North Groningen for.
Eight hundred meters
In the distance we can see the Oldambt Lake and the houses of Blauwestad. We’ll cycle there later. First we read the information about the bridge on an information panel. Here we go: the length is 800 meters and the width 3.5 meters. The entire bridge is made of African tropical hardwood from Gabon with an expected life span of at least 80 years. The bridge railings are not made of iron but of aluminum because then no coat of paint is needed for protection. LED lighting was installed because it does not affect animal life.
On the underside of the bridge, nesting boxes for birds hang in several places. Bats have also been considered. The bridge crosses their flight route. Therefore, trees have been placed in strategic places, So the bats can also reach the hunting grounds on the other side of the bridge. Having read this, we can step up to pass the bridge under the wheels in bits and pieces. The whole thing consists of four bridge sections. First over the Winschoterdiep, then the passage of the A7 freeway, then the ecological zone and finally the Oldambtmeer with a clearance of 3.75 meters.
The section across Winschoterdiep can be raised for the passage of shipping. What is special is that the bridges over the water and the highway have their own character. They are just two real bridges but one behind the other. From the parallel road along the freeway, you can also get to the bridge with a not too steep staircase with a bicycle chute. If you want to enjoy the expansive view a bit, it is best to take your bike by the hand. Take your time. In an arc the bridge continues. In front of you is Blauwestad and the Oldambt Lake. The pictures tell more! Work is still in progress to give it even more allure. The bridge was partly built to open up Blauwestad to reach Winschoten via a much shorter route.
Until recently, the Nescio bicycle bridge between IJburg (Amsterdam) and Diemen was considered the longest in Europe at 780 meters, but that has changed since February 2021 with this twenty-meter longer bridge!
Oldambt Lake and Blauwestad
Created artificially since 2005, the lake is about 800 hectares in size and is part of the Blauwestad residential and recreational project. The 130 centimeter deep lake, holds 14 million cubic meters of water. With the construction of Blauwestad which consists of three villages: The Meadow, The Park and The Reed is still under construction. All three are different in design, atmosphere and location. Almost all of the homes are architectural masterpieces. In addition, the homes in De Hei all have jetties. The Blauwestad project was conceived to give the area an economic boost. At the end of the 1980s, the area was struggling with a strong aging population, high unemployment and young people moving away due to the lack of employment opportunities. Agricultural land lay fallow as subsidies were provided to leave it fallow due to overproduction. With the construction of the lake, natural areas, tourist recreational facilities, construction of housing and attracting people from elsewhere to come and spend their money here, the aim is to give the area an economic boost. At the time, the arrival of the lake upset much of the region’s population. Homes had to disappear and large tracts of farmland were bought up for this project. Many people found it absurd that land that had once been reclaimed by their great-grandparents was now being flooded again
From the lake and Blauwestad, which has now become an independent village, we cycle via Finsterwolde, Beerta and Ulsda to the old fortified town of Oudeschans. In the center you immediately notice two buildings. On the right is the fortress church from the seventeenth century and the presbytery from the eighteenth century, brought together under one roof, which is a rarity in the Netherlands. On the left is the Vestingmuseum where a historical overview of the fortifications in the east of the province of Groningen and just across the German border can be seen. Enjoy the vast Groningerland. From junction 97 we ride in the opposite direction as earlier in the day through the beautiful nature reserve back to Oude Pekela.
Strocarton Factory Oude Pekela:
Open Monday and Wednesday afternoons
13.0017.00 hours or by appointment