As a city slicker who suffers from hay fever, I am not very fond of nature. I prefer the West-Kruiskade here in Rotterdam. Like almost everyone else, I succumbed during the pandemic. Without the delights of the city, you need to find other ways to unwind and relax. Baking sourdough bread was messy and I was fed up with the veggie garden on my balcony after the first harvest, so I finally ventured out into the countryside.
Which is why, during the corona lockdowns in 2020, I stayed with friends a few times at the Dintelse Gorzen, a small nature reserve where the Steenbergsche Vliet flows into the Volkerak, north of the Dutch town of Bergen op Zoom. There are a few walking routes in the area, Scottish Highlanders graze there and lots of butterflies flutter about. From the bird observation hut De Papegaai, you can look out over the water and see ducks, swans, geese or even a great egret. The more experienced birdwatcher will undoubtedly see much more.
Lock keeper's house
The real draw is Benedensas, a lock complex that is over two hundred years old and is located right next to the nature reserve. An old lock keeper’s house stands on a kind of island in the middle of the complex. The monumental building houses a restaurant, and behind it, a tea garden. You can even spend the night there. On one side of the island is a dam that leads to the Dintelse Gorzen, while a footbridge is located on the other side. With the exception of that bridge, the complex is no longer in use.
Even now, on a sweltering hot day in July, I notice how peaceful this area is. That is not so much on account of the scenery, but mainly because of the footbridge. It forces you to slow down and brings the pace of life to a standstill. It is also always open to allow pleasure craft to pass through. Sporadic passers-by, pedestrians and cyclists have to press a black button to signal their arrival and then wait for the bridge to close. This often takes a good ten minutes at least. Waiting on a bench is the only thing you can do.
That peace and quiet also has a flipside, as we discovered when we ordered a pizza from a place in Steenberg during the Christmas holidays. The bridge also brought the pizza deliverer to a standstill. He didn’t feel like waiting, pressed the black button, put the pizzas on the bridge, phoned us to say so and turned around and headed back. Ten hungry and chilly minutes later, the bridge closed and we could fetch the pizza, which miraculously was still warm. I guess I still prefer the West-Kruiskade, and the occasional open bridge.
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Getting there & away
The Dintelse Gorzen is 36 kilometres as the crow flies from Rotterdam, and difficult to reach by public transport. The nearest bus stop is a 45-minute walk away. So, the best option is to hire a public transport bike from Roosendaal (about 45 minutes by bike) or Bergen op Zoom (one hour by bike), which is not advisable at temperatures above 30 °C.
Flora & fauna
Right now, there are lots of brambles and nettles (hello nitrogen crisis!). A herd of Scottish Highland cattle graze the area and the location at the Volkerak makes it an ideal place to spot water birds from the bird observation hut De Papegaai (geese, ducks, swans, redshanks, a great egret and sometimes even a white-tailed eagle). The cycle trip from Roosendaal is also worth the effort. You can see buzzards hovering over the fields and pheasants, and with a bit of luck, even deer in the potato and beet fields.
Landmarks and things to do
The lock complex is the main attraction and draws in a lot of pleasure craft and the occasional canoeist. A little further on, on the other side of the small bridge, is an old German bunker that formed part of the Atlantic Wall. The area also contains other reminders of the Second World War; for instance, several Allied aircraft crashed there in 1944.
Food & drinks
In the old lock keeper’s house on the island, a restaurant (closed on Mondays and Tuesdays) that serves lunch, drinks and dinner. Behind the house is a large tea garden. Visitors can spend the night in the monumental building or on the camping rafts nearby.