Biking, Boating and Walking in and around Giethoorn
National Park Weerribben-Wieden-Rottige Meente
National Park Weerribben-Wieden in Northwest Overijssel is, together with nature reserve Rottige Meente in southern Friesland, the largest continuous marshland area in Western Europe. The tourist highlights are Giethoorn, Wanneperveen, Kalenberg and Ossenzijl. Neighbouring historic towns such as Blokzijl, Vollenhove, Zwartsluis, Steenwijk and Wolvega add extra attraction to a holiday in this region.
This water abundant area is the habitat of hundreds of extraordinary plants and animals (including very rare ones, such as the otter) and of people who have a close bond with nature. The best way to explore this region is by bike, boat (tour boat, electrosloop, rental yacht or canoe) or simply on foot, following well-signposted routes. The variation in the wetland is huge. Here an outdoor cafe; there a bridge. Small farms, meandering rivers, woodland, reed fringes and stacks of reeds, meadows with cows, dikes with sheep. A multitude of cosy hotels, bed and breakfasts and camping sites offers accommodation to tourists from all over the world.
|National Park WeerribbenWieden is a great water sports area with many picturesque towns and villages in and around the various nature conservation areas.|
|National Park Weerribben-Wieden - Canoe-rental and Canoe-routes (Download the map here)|
From the twelfth century onwards, the peat bog Weerribben-Wieden-Rottige Meente has undergone transformation through human intervention. Dikes were constructed, which decreased the influence of the Zuider Zee. The Zuider Zee – saltwater – ceased to exist in 1932. That was the year the Afsluitdijk was completed, which functioned as a barrier between the Zuider Zee and the Wadden and North Seas. The Zuider Zee was renamed IJsselmeer and was partly drained, resulting in land reclamation projects such as the Noordoostpolder (1942), which borders on Northwest Overijssel.
In past centuries trenches were dug in the peat bogs to drain the area and make it suitable for human habitation. The discovery of the use of peat as fuel made peat extraction the most important livelihood from the fifteenth century on.
Peat extraction De Wieden
The peat was dredged in long strokes, alternating with strokes where the cut peat was laid upon to dry. These strokes were called legakkers (laying fields). There was a huge demand for peat as fuel, which led to grand-scale peat extraction. The trenches from which the peat was taken grew progressively wider, which helped stormy weather conditions give rise to quite strong wave action. As a result, the relatively narrow laying fields were washed away. This is how the large lakes of De Wieden (the Giethoorn-Wannepperveen-Belt Schutsloot area) came into being. After two big storms in 1775 and 1776 even an entire village, that of Beulake, disappeared into the waves.
Peat growth in De Weerribben
In De Weerribben peat extraction started at a later point in time. Lessons had been learnt from experience in de Wieden. Regulations were set up regarding the minimal breadth of the laying fields. As a result, there was no formation of larger lakes. The name 'De Weerribben' in itself bears elements of the peat bog landscape. 'Ribben' are the narrow strips of land upon which the dredged peat was laid to dry. 'Weren' are the strips the peat was extracted from, which filled up with water afterwards.
The extraction of peat remained very important to the area until 1920. Partly due to the advent of new types of fuel, the process was no longer economically viable. People in the area turned to other means of income, such as small-scale farming, fishing, the production of reed and, at a later stage, tourism. Meanwhile, there was a growing awareness of the natural and cultural-historical wealth of the man-made landscape. Agriculture was extremely labour-intensive in the wetlands because all transportation had to take place over the water by boat. Farmers who stepped out of business sold their land to nature conservation organizations, such as Natuurmonumenten, Staatsbosbeheer and It Fryske Gea. Today, these organizations work together with the local population to preserve the natural and cultural-historical heritage for future generations.