Are you familiar with them? Those delightful narrow little paths along the waterways? They are our towpaths. Boats were pulled forward along these paths, and this was known as ‘jagen’. This was commonly done with horse and guide (the latter was called ‘jagertje’), but people also did the pulling, with relatives or servants disembarking to pull the ship using human muscle power. This was called ‘yn ‘e beage rinne’, or walking in the rigging to pull the boat. Most of the towpaths have been preserved and are freely accessible. Sometimes they are paved to form a path for cycling or walking. Nowadays, nobody needs to pull boats. On the contrary, these paths invite you to relax and enjoy the outdoors.
The ‘tug-boat’: yesterday’s bus and train
The waterways in Waterland van Friesland were the highways of days gone by. Because the connections over land were often difficult, due to the land being too marshy. With the arrival of the tug-boat and the fixed departure times introduced by local authorities, this type of vessel became a very popular means of public transport. You weren’t dependent on tailwinds or headwinds. You left on time and you arrived on time. And that gave travellers a lot of very welcome certainty. When you wanted to go from Workum to Leeuwarden, you first went by tug-boat to Bolsward. There you could switch to the tug-boat to Leeuwarden. It seems quite ordinary to us, but in those days it was revolutionary. Foreigners who travelled through the Netherlands were full of praise in their travel reports for the perfect organisation of this transport system.
The tug-boat was also an important meeting place. Games were played on board, newspapers were read, pipes smoked, while some just gossiped and slept. It was not until the end of the 19th century that the steamship, the train and later the car pushed tug-boats out.
“ The boats are drawn by horses, and go off at set hours. You are seated as quietly in them, as if you were at home, and sheltered both from rain and wind. So that you may go from one city to another, almost without perceiving that you are out of the house ”From the travel book of French-British writer Maximilien Misson from 1698
Relax and enjoy
One lovely towpath to cycle or walk along is the towpath at Tjerkwerd along the Workumertrekvaart, where you can cycle or walk directly alongside the water. In summer it is a cosy waterway with boats of all shapes and sizes: spacious cruisers, small sailing boats, beautiful sloops, antique saloon cruisers, paddleboards, rubber dinghies... But one thing never changes: everyone greets each other. Because where there is water, there is always fun and a great mood, and of course laughing children splashing around in the water. But in autumn and winter it’s a lot quieter, giving you a chance to enjoy the vast landscape and distant horizon. Let the windswept vistas blow the cobwebs away. That’s what we call slowing down along the towpath.