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 inlet the Zwin in region Flanders to the river Ribe Å, near the town of Ribe in Denmark. A town once founded by Frisian merchants, and the oldest town of Scandinavia.

Total length of the trail is about 2,300 kilometres, about 1,400 miles. When the trails crosses the modern border between Germany and the Netherlands, you’re 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’re a thru-hiker about 100 days of walking.

Many surviving region toponyms, from the west in the Netherlands to the northwest of Germany, still remind the hiker of the (former) Frisian heritage and culture of the whole area: 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’s not. Every hiker knows a flat surface for long is taxing on (certain) muscles. There’s a Friezenberg, part of a nature conservation area, which translates as ‘Frisians mountain’. However, this mountain is located off track in the region Twente in the Netherlands, and only still 40 metres high. Of course, part of Frisia is the isolated rocky island Heligoland, or Deät Lun ‘the land’ in Halunder speech (which is a variant of the Frisians speeches) far out at the North Sea. Here you can climb the red rocks up to 61 metres high. It’s not on the trail, but you can make this side trip, and the island is part of the Frisian heritage as well. Maybe even the thing-site of pan-Frisia was located here.

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. Frisians were the Marsh Arabs of Europe, so to speak. An amphibious species. The coastline is essentially a delta. The Nile Delta but in a more humid climate. Yes, Frisia is a huge delta. Where sweet meets salt. An environment consisting of rivers, creeks, rivulets, dunes, islands, inlets, bays, sandbanks, dunes, barrier beaches, (former) peat lands, (former) woods, and tidal marshlands. A delta so huge that it drains a large part of the European continent. It therefore spans several countries. When you rotate the map of Europe 45 degrees clockwise – top pointing northwest – you’ll see Frisia is in fact but a big pimple on the southern fringes of the North Sea.

This itinerary of the Frisia Coast Trail developed in 2017 is, in fact, not the first. Credits for the first itinerary of Frisia goes to a Welshman of Flemish descent, Wizo Flandrenis. Wizo fitz Walter, son of Walter, was born in Wiston Castle in Pembrokeshire around the year 1135. He hiked through Frisia in the year 1157. Purpose of his travels was to return the relics of Saint Odulf to the monastery at Stavoren. In 830, Saint Odulf had founded a church at Stavoren. The relics were sold on the market by Vikings in London in 1034. The Vikings, however, solemnly declared that 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, region Nordfriesland) who wants to create an Europäische Straße der Friesen ‘European way of the Frisians’ or Friesenweg, and challenged his students of the Fachhochschule in the town of Heide to make a business case. Domain is still (2023) available and for sale for the highest bidder, however. With his book De Friezen. Een geschiedenis ‘the Frisians. A history’ writer Van Doorn (IJlst, province Friesland) describes the history of Frisia in the form of eleven journeys he made through the landscape (2021). In the year 2023, extraordinary professor Zef Hemel (Emmen, province Drenthe) walks the coast of the northern Netherlands to find a new, exciting story for the North. He walks, because, in the spirit of Goethe, you should never trust a thought that isn’t born out of motion. Very wise guys always, those professors.

The trail requires constant maintenance. Through time the landscape was exceptional 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 in 2017, adjustment had to be made at inlet the Zwin in Flanders, where the Internationale Dijk ‘international dike’ was demolished and the sea was give much more space again. Furthermore, the tidal marshlands of Noarderleech in province Friesland have been reshaped after building a new pumping station near the village of Hallum. In region Nordfriesland, terps on the Hallig-islands are being heightened, because of the still rising sea level. Currently (2020), the thirty-kilometers-long Afsluitdijk ‘enclosure dam’ is under construction for a heavy makeover. In addition, a brand new river will be created connecting lake IJsselmeer with the Wadden Sea. And, of course, we’re 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, Groninger Borgerpad, and many, many more.

Have fun walking and reading!

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