Wandering around the Rijsterbos woods
On a microadventure in Gaasterland
Wiepkje Hoekstra is crazy about Fryslân, animals and the great outdoors. Together with dog Yfke, she’s regularly out and about in Southwest Friesland. As a blogger, she writes about her adventures for Waterland van Friesland.
Some people hop on a plane to Ibiza. Others book a luxury cruise. I drive to Gaasterland to take a break from my daily routine and enjoy my own microadventure there. Gaasterland is a 'land' where you can forget time, where you never tire of rolling landscapes and green vistas, where you feel tiny between the age-old beech trees, where the shores of the IJsselmeer lake bewitch you and where the soft moss invites you to enjoy 40 winks in the sun.
“ The perfect spot for an outdoor adventure that you won't forget in a hurry. ”
So close and yet far away for a while
The concept of a microadventure was devised by the Brit Alistair Humphreys. Experiencing something new and special: it can also be simple, inexpensive and close to home. Gaasterland is an important part of the National Landscape of Southwest Friesland. The perfect spot for an outdoor adventure that you won't forget in a hurry. Only a 90-minute drive from Amsterdam or Groningen.
Origins of the woodland in Gaasterland
Gaasterland was given its shape in the last but one ice age. The shifting glaciers produced 'cliffs' on the shores of the IJsselmeer lake and contours in the landscape. Sandstorms added a thick layer of sand to the ground, a good foundation for the mystic primeval forests. Nowadays, Gaasterland woods are cultured woodlands, mainly designed by large landowners. For example, the Rijsterbos woods were created in the baroque style by Amsterdam Regent Hiob de Wildt in 1676. This would have been the setting for ladies parading in bustling skirts along star-shaped wooded lanes.
A tobacco plantation was unsuccessful, but the oak coppices became a good source of income. De Wildt built Huize Rijs, a spacious moated keep that would eventually become the property of the Van Swinderen family, who resided there until 1939. Its location is now only marked by low stone walls showing the contours of the building. The surrounding gardens with pond and orchards, home to Frisian species of fruit, have been restored to their former glory.
'Hip and happening' again
A few centuries on, Gaasterland is once again 'hip and happening'. Editor-in-chief Iebele van der Meulen of the magazine LINDA.wonen bought a second home in Gaasterland together with his partners. They have set an example of how to alternate a busy Amsterdam lifestyle with the tranquillity and beauty of the countryside. In their barn conversion, they offer holiday accommodation for lovers of art, design and nature. An ideal location for a weekend away from the rat race, according to newspaper Het Financieele Dagblad.
And it is indeed true: Gaasterland really is quiet. In the Rijsterbos woods, you can wander to your heart's content along the stately, wide sandy paths and the narrow diagonal connecting paths of De Wildt without seeing another living soul. The only one to cross my path today was a friendly pake (grandad). He was out for a walk in the woods, wearing his clogs. With his trouser pocket full of dog biscuits, it's easy enough to strike up a conversation with any dog walker.
Wandering around the Rijsterbos woods
There's room to park in Rijs behind B&B Rijsterbosch, close to the ‘Wildtskuorre’ managed by It Fryske Gea. ‘It Fryske Gea’ is the provincial association for nature conservation in Friesland. From here, you can follow the red or blue routes or even the 'Hip witches and mushrooms route'. But perhaps even more fun is simply to wander along the old paths and suddenly be surprised by the panorama of a brightly illuminated IJsselmeer lake. And don't forget the winding path along the Sudfinsterpolder that offers amazing green views.
A peace temple and other exciting stories
But first, you'll encounter the neoclassicist Peace Temple. After Napoleon's departure, this little temple was built at Huize Rijs in 1814 to celebrate that fact. In 1944, the German occupying forces fired around 70 missiles from the Rijsterbos woods in the direction of Antwerp and Great Britain. A number of the launches were unsuccessful, and the temple was destroyed in an explosion. It was later rebuilt at a different location, with the caption (English translation) ‘Peace, great gift from God, may you remain the country's enduring fate. Let us be grateful for your presence, and always flee from dispute and vengeance.’
A little further along, you'll suddenly stumble across a stone coffin, an archaeological find dating from the Funnel Beaker Culture, and accidentally discovered in 1849. When compared with Stonehenge for example, the difference is that this tomb is underground. While it may be less impressive and famous, it is nearly as old.
Many paths converge at an elevated glade, known locally as 'the Spoekenberch', which the old legends claimed to be haunted ground. There is a legend about a white horse that appears during the night. This is also home to a beautiful old beech tree hosting a collection of tinder fungus. Having been struck by lightning, the tree is hollow; an El Dorado for birds, bats and insects.
Time for a selfie at Gaasterland’s cliffs
Just a short walk away and you'll catch a glimpse of the blue waters of the former Zuiderzee between the trees. There's no need to travel to Ireland for cliffs; more modest examples are right here in Gaasterland. And there is plenty of opportunity for a selfie without worrying about toppling over.
These cliffs used to be steeper and more rugged, but the construction of the IJsselmeer Dam (Afsluitdijk) reduced the impact of the waves. The Red cliff near Skarl is the highest nowadays. This is where the Frisian and Holland peoples fought in 1345. ‘Leaver dea as slaef’ (rather dead than enslaved) on the large stone at the viewpoint suddenly reminds you that you are indeed in Friesland. The Frisians were victorious by the way, which is still a cause of celebration on 26 September each year.
The less spectacular Mirnser cliff is also a lovely place for a visit. This airy open space on the waterside contrasts beautifully with the sheltered nature of the woods. It has a sandy beach, once created as the cliff began to crumble. Ideal for lazing around, playing games, kite surfing, paddling, enjoying an ice cream or snack, and birdwatching. Due to the water being so shallow here, the Mirnser cliff is a popular kite surf location, and is a firm favourite with visitors from Germany. Part of the beach is cordoned off, so children can splash around in the pool created by nature.
Enjoy other microadventures in Gaasterland
Besides the Rijsterbos woods, Gaasterland offers many more woodlands with beautiful pathways. Enjoy a walk or kite surfing, and also mountain biking, running or horse riding. Other ideas for microadventures include: sleeping outdoors, stargazing or finding a beautiful location to enjoy the sunrise outdoors.
All in all, Gaasterland is a beautiful area for fantastic adventures, where hills alternate with woods and water. While it's certainly worth the effort on a sunny day, I think the Rijsterbos woods actually make me even happier in the rain because of the glorious smells all around...
For more information on this area, check the It Fryske Gea website.