The Trail

cabbage fields – region Westfriesland

The Frisia Coast Trail is a long-distance path that, as the name gives away, follows the coastline of former Frisia. It explores the places the Frisians roamed and exploited according to the old sources. The trail does things different. To start with, it goes from Z to A. From the Estuary the Zwin in Belgium to the River Å, near the town of Ribe in Denmark. Total length of the trail is about 2,305 kilometres, about 1,430 miles. When the trails crosses the border between Germany and the Netherlands, you are more or less halfway. The trail is modulated to an average walker, so each day generally is on average about 22 kilometres. Reckon if you are a thru-hiker about 100 days of walking.

Many surviving toponyms, from the west in the Netherlands to the northwest of Germany still remind the hiker of this: regio Westfriesland in province Noord Holland (NL), Provincie Fryslân (NL), Region Ostfriesland (DE), Landkreis Friesland (DE), and Kreis Nordfriesland (DE). With these toponyms most the Frisia Coast Trail is already covered.

Except for dunes, terps and dikes, the terrain is painstakingly flat. So, no climbing or rock scrambling during the trail. That sounds easy, but actually it is not. Every hiker knows a flat surface for long is taxing on (certain) muscles. There is a Friezenberg part of a nature conservation area, which translates as ‘Frisians mountain’. However, this mountain is located off track in the region Twenthe in the Netherlands, and only still 40 metres high. Of course, part of Frisia is the isolated, red-rock island Heligoland, or Deät Lun ‘The Land’ in Halunder speech (a variant of North-Frisians speech) far out at the North Sea. Here you can climb the rocks up to 61 metres high. It is not on the trail, but you can make this sidetrip.

The roots of the people living along the Frisia Coast Trail is what scholars call une civilisation de l’eau. A water people with their own culture and history, different from cultures on the mainland. The Marsh Arabs of Europe. The coastline is essentially a delta. The Nile Delta but in a more humid climate. Yes, Frisia is a delta. Where sweet meets salt. Of rivers, creeks, dunes, islands, inlets, bays, sandbanks, dunes, barrier beaches, (former) peat lands, (former) woods and tidal marshlands. The delta is so huge that it drains a large part of the European continent, and it therefore spans several countries. When you rotate the map of Europe 45 degrees clockwise -top pointing northwest- you will see Frisia is but a big pimple on the southern fringes of the North Sea.

This itinerary of the Frisia Coast Trail is, in fact, not the first. Credits for the first itineary goes to a Welshman of Flemish descent, Wizo Flandrenis. Wizo fitz Walter, son of Walter, was born in Wiston Castle, Pembrokeshire around the year 1135. He hiked through Frisia in 1157. The reason was to return the relics of Saint Odolphus to the monastery of Stavoren. In 830, Saint Odolphus had founded a church at Stavoren. The relics were sold on the market by a Viking in London in 1034. The Vikings, however, declared the relics were sold to them by the monks of Stavoren themselves. Anyway, Wizo reported his travels in the Itinerarium Fresiae.

More recently (2020), the concept of travel through the cultural landscape of historic Frisia is picked up by local politician Siegmar Wallat (Bredstedt, Nordfriesland) who wants to create an Europäische Straße der Friesen ‘European way of the Frisians’ and challegend his students of the Fachhochschule Heide to make a business case. With his book De Friezen. Een geschiedenis ‘The Frisians. A history’ writer Van Doorn (IJlst, Friesland) describes the history of Frisia in the form of eleven journeys he made through the landscape (2021).

The trail requires constant maintenance. Through time the landscape was exeptional volatile because of the interaction of sea, rivers and humans. A process of continuously finding a new or better balance. Even since we started developing this trail, adjustment had to be made at the Estuary the Zwin region where the International Dike was demolished and the sea was give much more space. Furthermore, the tidal marshlands of Noarderleech have been reshaped after building a new pumping station at the village of Hallum. In Nordfriesland, terps on the Hallig-islands are being hightened, because of the rising sea level. Currently the thirty-kilometers-long Afsluitdijk ‘enclosure dam’ is under construction and a brand new river will be created. And, of course, we are awaiting the opening of the sea dike at the village of Holwerd. And so forth, and so forth.

Lastly, when designing the trail, we made use of the trailblazers before us. Like the European Coastal Path (E9), Zuiderzeepad, Groot-Frieslandpad, Floris V-pad, Noord-Hollandpad, St. Odulphuspad, Waterliniepad, Pronkjewailpad, Kromme Rijnpad, Jabikspaad, Trekvogelpad, Romeinse Limespad, Klompepaden, and many many more.

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