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Now to the coast? Chances are you have the beach all to yourself | To travel

We park opposite hotel Het Hoge Duin in Wijk aan Zee. A former fishing village, notorious for Tata Steel air pollution, famous for the chess tournament of the same name. Where it is not only wonderful to relax in the summer, but also now. Wijk aan Zee only fills up when the weather is very warm, there is enough space for the rest of the year.

When you arrive at the beach, walk to the right towards Heemskerk and Castricum. Bulldozers level the sand so that the pavilions and beach houses can soon be rebuilt. Above the sea an impressive play of clouds.

Paragliders

If you can gauge the weather anywhere, it’s on the beach. Everything comes in here in onshore wind. The cloud mass betrays that Zandvoort will soon receive rain, but Egmond stays nice in the sun.

The sea rolls its waves continuously on the beach, leaving a white head of foam, like a mustache that has been eating a fresh beer. Waders and gulls search the surf for food while paragliders gather on the dune side to deploy their parachutes. They wait for the right wind and a little later slide on the thermals flat over the dune tops towards Heemskerk.

In front of us, a dog runs tirelessly after a ball, brings it back and immediately chases after its owner’s next throw. Mountain bikers, including a striking number of women, pass us on bicycles with extra wide tires to and from the north pier of IJmuiden. Apart from a few scattered fellow hikers, it is empty, wide and wonderfully quiet.

Shipwreck

In the sea, at post 50, lie the remains of the freighter De Vrijheit, which ran aground in 1903. You can see the remaining part of the boiler house, the rest is under water. The ship rests on top of the wreck of the tugboat Achimedes that was wrecked in 1877 and on which the Vrijheit ran aground. Fortunately, all crew members were rescued and the Wijkers were neatly dressed for years after the ship had released its cargo of shoes and textiles.

It is quiet on the beach, but kite surfers have a great time at sea.

It is quiet on the beach, but kite surfers have a great time at sea.

The row of dunes that protects the hinterland from the sometimes rough sea is so wide that manager PWN could dig holes (notches) in it. This is done in such a way that no seawater can enter. It gives the wind free rein so that limestone sand can blow in, which is very good for the nature behind the first row of dunes.

But the notches are mainly there because the water company extracts drinking water here. There were two weak spots in the seawall, which could have caused salt water to enter the fresh drinking water. By creating two artificial, protective dunes from the dune sand excavated from the grooves and dune slopes, the danger is now averted.

Pavilion

At Heemskerk we see the foundation of the beach pavilion De Vrijheit, named after the shipwreck. The beams shine like the bleached ribs of a skeleton in the winter sun. If it is hopefully rebuilt in the spring, the pavilion can only be reached by bicycle or on foot.

No lounge sofas or WiFi, but yesterday’s newspaper and the atmosphere of years ago.

From the dune entrance two amazons ride their horses to the surf where they can have a nice paddle. You can walk back to Wijk aan Zee via the dunes, but because the beach is never boring, we prefer to go back along the surf.

At sea, the ferry from Newcastle sails towards the north pier of IJmuiden, from where a tanker sails out to sea. The sun is still shining behind us, but on the horizon the white plumes of smoke from the blast furnaces of Tata Steel now contrast against dark rain clouds.

When we returned to Wijk aan Zee it started to splash a bit. Two tough guys don’t care at all. Dressed only in bathrobes, the gentlemen step towards the surf without batting an eyelid to take a refreshing dip.

Unfortunately we cannot relax with a nice cup of hot chocolate, but hopefully that will be all right later.

Hidden History

One of the seventy bunkers that can be found at Wijk aan Zee. Most are underground.

One of the seventy bunkers that can be found at Wijk aan Zee. Most are underground.

The Atlantic Wall is the line of defense that the Germans built along the Western European coast in World War II. Much of it has been demolished, buried, hidden away. About seventy bunkers are hidden under the sand at Wijk aan Zee.

In the Low Countries alone, the Germans built four thousand heavy and over forty thousand lighter concrete bunkers and masonry structures. The entire coast is still littered with it. Sometimes, when their empty gun openings protrude above the dunes, they are clearly visible. But they are much more often invisible, such as in Wijk aan Zee.

After the war, entire buildings, such as hotels and apartments, rose along the coast of the village on top of the former fortifications. A well-known example is hotel Het Hoge Duin, which was built on an old German command bunker. The bunker now serves as a storage cellar.

Bunker tours are normally run from the hotel every 4th Sunday of the month, but these have been suspended until further notice due to corona.

Dune card compulsory

If you choose to walk through the dunes back to Wijk aan Zee, you will pass just before entering the village, the enormous complex of Heliomare rehabilitation center. People who are no longer able to live independently due to an illness or accident are helped here to return to their old life. Heliomare was initially founded for lung sufferers and frail children. Incidentally, it is mandatory to buy a dune ticket, which can be ordered online via pwn.nl.

A day ticket costs 2 euros.

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