Holy Boat! The Cool Waters of Rural North

There’s nothing like the still waterways of Waterland to cool down on a sweltering summer’s day, according to Jeroen Kleijne, author of the Discover the North-book. In the tiny, picture-perfect village of Holysloot, you can rent a ‘whisper’ boat, decked with a quiet, electric engine that won’t scare the birds away.

My girlfriend and I set off from Holysloot on a warm Wednesday afternoon, and passed cows, black-tailed godwits and centuries-old barn-style farmhouses as we glided to Broek in Waterland. The cycle route to Holysloot, the most remote village of the rural North area, will swiftly usher you out of the city into an unframed vista of polder countryside.

Schoolhuis restaurant
On this particular afternoon, my girlfriend and I travel there by car to save time. We park outside Het Schoolhuis restaurant and walk past the white-painted church up to the boat rental shop, Holyboot (or ‘Holy Boat’), located on the waterside. The owner, Peter, gives us a warm welcome, and leads us to the two aluminium ‘whisper’ boats we’d reserved. “Unsinkable they are”, he claims.

A grebe dives
In no time, we’re plodding through the creek known as Holysloter Die. The electric engine is indeed barely audible, and the sophistication of the city seems far off. A grebe dives out of the water beside us, a fish firmly ensnared in his beak. A screeching oystercatcher ploughs a cloudless sky above us as we take a bite of cake. A blacktailed godwit perches patiently in its nest. A coot keeps us company, swimming at the stern of our boat. In the distance, a farmer driving a blue tractor waves to us. We greet him back.

Broek in Waterland
We’ve decided on the Broek in Waterland trip today. The route is clearly explained in the small guide which Peter has given us, complete with illustrated map. Quick, duck! No, not a grebe dropping headlong into the water: it’s a case of Bend Down Now if you want to dodge the low lift bridge at Poppendammergouw. Accident averted, and no more obstacles to take our breath away for the rest of the trip…

We cross Bozenmeer, with its gentle waves lulling us into a slower pace. On the lakeside overgrown with dandelions, cows follow us with their gaze as we sail past. The barn house farmhouses or ‘stolpboerderijen’ peculiar to this region come into view on the horizon – their pyramid roofs once stored grain and hay – while the churches of Zuiderwoude, Monnickendam and Broek in Waterland get closer and closer.

A lake in the centre of the village
After three quarters of an hour in our ‘holy boat’, we arrive at Broek in Waterland, a burg in the heart of the Waterland region, wooden houses lining its banks. There’s a man painting his shed in the burning sun. Two women are deep in conversation in their back garden. Then the tip of the aluminium boat touches the branches of a weeping willow. We turn the engine off when we reach ‘Havenrak’, a small lake in the centre of the village. We’re taking in the sights and sounds around us: children playing in the water, the 17th-century church dedicated to St Nicholas, the patron saint of seafarers. We decide not to complete the round trip today through Overleek and Monnickendam, but to return to Holysloot. Another time.

Silver heron
On the way back, three boys with a fishing rod overtake us. A silver heron, usually perched so motionless by the polders’ ditches, flies overhead towards the IJsselmeer, the old Zuiderzee. Some ponies graze in the pasture, while freshwater pearl mussels clutch the water banks. Maybe it’s a bit too early to start on the white wine, but at least the cool water packed by my girlfriend is refreshing. Once back on the waters of Holysloter Die – that grebe still frantically busy with his piscatorial hunt – we feel our water trip has come to an all too abrupt end. Next time, we’ll sneak off for longer, and pack the picnic basket.

Renting a whisper boat
Whisper boats can be rented at Holyboot from April to October, open Wed-Sun. The price is 50 euros for the first two hours, 5 euros per 15 mins after that, special day price of 85 euros. Reservations by email info@holyboot.nl, or by phone +316 425 022 76.

Discover the North
This story appeared in ‘Discover the North’, a book about all the nice things you can see and do in North Amsterdam. Available for € 6,95 in bookstores and through www.discoverthenorth.amsterdam.

Words: Jeroen Kleijne