10 Okt Northwest by North: Texel
“Texel is sheeper than therapy.”
First: It’s pronounced Tessel not Texel. As in – don’t Tessel the Hoff.
I once saw a documentary about this Dutch Island in the North Sea. About the Lighthouse in the far North. About the beachcombers who collect souvenirs from the sea. About the views and seasalt potatoes. About the friendly sheep all over the island. And the beer. Texels beer. Half of which is downed straight on the island. I saw the horizon and the calmness and I thought that I would very much like to go there. Two years later and I find myself on a sailing boat, heading straight for Texel Waddenhaven.
For two days we docked at Oudeschild, trespassed on another sailing boat to get to shore and went from there: riding along the East coast, walking across the mudflats and admiring seals being nursed back to health.
Looking to structure this blog post, I realized that our points of interest resembled a compass rose. And that’s how I’m taking you around the island – in a clockwise direction, from South to East.
This is the second part of my Wadden Sea Experience, which is all about Texel. Read my story about Harlingen, the first part, here.
Welcome to Texel
Province: North Holland
Also known as: Tessel
From Coast to Coast
Texel belongs to the West Frisian Islands, the Waddeneilanden along the Dutch edge of the Wadden Sea. The five major islands are Texel, Vlieland, Terschelling, Ameland and Schiermonnikoog (from West to East) and they may or may not have been the actual coastline of the Netherlands from thousands of years past.
But how to get to this one West Frisian Island today?
Texel being Texel, a dainty island in the form of a tilted egg, the choice of transport is slightly limited. Needless to say that it’s absolutely worth taking a ferry or a historic sailing boat as the trip itself will already be adventurous. And you’ll just love the scenery, the first glimpses of the coast.
So what will it be? The boat or the water taxi? Or even the plane?
There’s a ferry (TESO) leaving from Den Helder to Texel every hour. You can check times and fares right here. If you’re off schedule you can also charter a water taxi, which allows you more flexibility to get to the mainland and back, but costs a bit more.
And, of course, there’s the International Airport close to De Cocksdorp in the North.
During the summer months it is also possible to do some island-hopping as the boats will sail to and fro the five major islands. You can bring your bike on all of them, but it is best to book your trip beforehand. Due to the fast changing weather, the schedules are frequently adjusted and edited.
Welcome to the Island
If you sail to Texel, you’ll probably arrive at the Waddenhaven close to Oudeschild. If it’s just you and your backpack you may head straight to the end of the harbour to rent one of the bikes at De Bevoorrading. If you feel rather Dutch on that day – go for the shiny orange ones! Oranje!
De Bevoorrading is not only a bike rental, but also a cute corner shop with lots of Texel specialities.
If you brought luggage unsuitable for a bike (or simply too much of it) and want to go to your apartment first, charter the Texelhopper. That’s right :) Give this public transportation a call and get picked up at one of the many Hopper stops across the island.
However, if you take the ferry from Den Helder, you’ll step off in the port of ‘t Horntje, which lies further south. In case you didn’t bring your car: rest assured – there are also bike rentals and small shops nearby. By the way: The ferry crossing takes about half an hour.
Once you’ve settled in you should get back into the saddle as the bike would always be my transportation of choice on that island (don’t mind the head wind).
Equipped with a map and a photographic device at the ready, follow the coastlines, the cross-country trails and ideally – the wind. There are several suggested bike trails across the island and little signposts will guide your way.
Stop by the dyke and smirk at the flocks of sheep. It’s the least you can do since Texel has its very own famous breed – the Texel Sheep!
Once you leave the sea view trails you will inevitably be led through one or more charming villages. Keep your eyes open for hidden gems such as local cafes in someone’s private backyard or spontaneous flea markets in someone’s barn. Soap made of sheep’s milk and woolen clothes are always close!
Yes, seals do melt my heart. Frequently. Even when they could do with less smelly water and less bullying sometimes (as seen in San Francisco). So I was prepared. Prepared when we called the Texelhopper (see?!) and drove west to De Koog, heading straight for the sea life centre called Ecomare. Prepared that I would be undone in a second. If a seal clapping its fins isn’t enough for my chin to start quivering, a blind seal finding shelter in this sanctuary certainly is.
There’s an emergency number as well as an emergency box in front of the entrance in case you find a stranded, abandoned or wounded seal. Needless to say that it’s always safer for both parties to call when you don’t know how to deal with seals.
Ecomare is the centre for nature and marine life on Texel. Visitors learn everything about the North Sea, the wadden region, local nature and man’s influence on these areas. The centre is made up of various disciplines that complement and reinforce each other. Ecomare is not just a point and squeal museum with a live aquarium, but first and foremost a seal sanctuary since 1952 and a place that raises awareness for the famous nature area and a sustainable sea life. Every year, Ecomare cares for and releases 50 to 70 seals. Most of them come to the shelter as sick or weakened animals found on the beach. Every seal has a name and a story and it is communicated well to the visitors.
You can also become a sponsor to one of the seals and observe its health progress and be present when your adopted seal is ready to be released out into the sea again. Free Willy revisited. Or maybe Free Seally?
Apart from the well-established educational factor, there’s also lots of entertainment to be found at Ecomare. The many coloured and manifold species of fish are found inside, whilst all the seals can be found in various pools outdoors. While strolling outside we happened upon a live feeding of the porpoises with two of their coaches/caretakers. One of them talked us through it in Dutch and German until it was time for the Frisbee game.
Some fish and fun for the mini-whales, a handmade souvenir coin for me. With an embossment of a seal of course (I started collecting them ages ago and now I can’t seem to stop.)
Yet before you leave Ecomare, you should definitely walk up to the Dunes outside. It’s a National Park which can only be accessed through the centre. There are two trails (a long and a short one) which challenge children (or adults) to imitate animal characteristics. For example, at one station you can pretend to be a seagull. (I’m not going to reveal how;) Nevertheless, both of them lead to stunning views.
What to see, Wadden Sea.
There were some critical moments…
I grew up by the sea, yet I’ve never walked across the Wadden Sea – a living seabed minus the water! So on Texel, I finally laced up my shoes and went looking for a sea controlled by the moon.
The tour took place near De Cocksdorp and took approx. 2 hours. It was held by an experienced Ecomare guide in Dutch and other languages.
It started off well and after all the hardship stories I’ve heard about this kind of tour I almost thought it to be easy. Due to the warm temperatures the sea ground was covered by slippery sea weed, but you quickly get used to it.
Until my feet almost got swallowed whole. Holy cow. At this point I already thought that it would be the end of my walk across the mudflats.
Until it got worse. I was stuck. I felt my feet going in deeper and deeper by the second and the more I tried to free myself, swaying back and forth, the more I was ready (and likely) to fall. What was it going to be? Smelly sea mud all over my back or my front? I was rather fond of the camera in my backpack, so I digged my hands into the wonderfully slick and moist seabed and pulled myself out. Somehow. And in a rather ungraceful manner, mind you. And then I learned the technique: quick and small steps. If all fails, pretend to be an ice skater. I found a rhythm and was finally able to enjoy and take notice of the fascinating details surrounding me.
I could not believe how alive the sea was even though there was no sea. How it gurgled and squelched and shone.
The wind was rushing through the sea grass, the shells were crackling beneath our feet and you could actually taste the salty air on your tongue. You can see for miles and miles until your eyes hit the horizon and then you marvel at the sky’s reflection right before you. It’s an experience that fills all of your senses. One you will most likely never forget. At least I won’t…
So, the problem wasn’t only my inability at first to walk on a would-not-be dry seabed, but also my low shoes. If you plan a walk across the mudflats make sure to wear shoes that reach above your ankles. Because no matter how hard I tried, I could not lace my shoes tight enough to not lose them in the real swampy parts of the seabed (I avoided them later on). And since there are many oysters and other ‘sharp’ organisms hidden in the mud, you can’t walk barefoot. After this experience I highly recommend surf shoes or old chucks. Otherwise the slick is going to suck you right in and swallow your shoes, possibly your socks.
Texel’s Wadden Sea is part of the World Heritage Site that encompasses almost the entire wadden region spreading from the Netherlands to Germany and Denmark: an area of almost 11.500 km² along a coastal strip of about 500 km. The Wadden Sea has had a protected status for more than 25 years, as nature reserves and national parks in the three countries. Whichever part of the North Sea coast or its islands you visit – the Dutch, German or Danish – it holds a true and natural beauty, which is unique in the world. It’s quite the dynamic landscape, sculpted by the constant flow of the tides. Even now, changes are noticeable whereas its biodiversity remains unparalleled.
Come and chillax
If there’s one thing you can do well on Texel, it’s to chill and relax. And there are so many possibilities to do just that. If you’re the type that unwinds while doing sports, Texel has much to offer. Discover the whole island by bike or give yourself up to all kinds of surfing.
If you’re the cosy type, take a stroll through the small towns and villages. Have some poffertjes or chocolate vla (or both, you’re on holiday) in one of the wee but oh-so-cute cafés.
We found the Atelier Oriens, a slightly hidden gem in Oost. Here, you’re allowed to enter the private home and gardens of Ellen de Vries, an artist who crafts wonderful ceramics. We couldn’t take pictures of her art work, but of her garden, which is offered as an open air café.
We had apple and rhubarb tart and freshly squeezed lemonade and possibly the best homemade chocolate fudge cake I’ve ever tasted. Just sitting there, basking in the sun, with absolutely no disturbance in form of cars or planes or crowds was sheer bliss.
If you’d like something a bit more adventurous go hiking along the dunes and have a picnic on a peak while you look out onto the sea.
Or simply sneak back to your sailing boat and soak up the sun on deck, watch the clouds race across the sky and sway with the gentle tide of the harbour.
Simply indulge. You’re on island time. You’re on Texel.
For those of you who really want to travel to Texel now (I do!), I might have a little something to shorten the distance: A self-made postcard with the silhouette of Texel that can also be used as a backround (e.g. on your smartphone) or serve as a reminder on your fridge or on your desk…
Feel free to download (but please refrain from using the illustration in a commercial sense).
All analog pictures taken on film with vintage and instant cameras. No Photoshop, digital filters or anything, just pure and creative film photography.
Exceptions to the above are the title picture and the collage.
Films: Kodak Portra 400 (35mm format pictures) & Fuji Instax
Developing: Mein Film Lab (35mm format pictures)
Scan: Mein Film Lab (35mm format pictures), CanoScan 9000f (instant pictures)
All photographs are displayed in a low resolution.
A huge thank you to the INTERREG program of the European Union and the INTERREG partners who made this wonderful trip possible. A big thank you goes to Stichting RegioMarketing Toerisme for organizing this Blogger’s event and to my new Dutch friends who also modeled for this post :)
Special thanks to my blog and lomo friend Sandra for her Insider’s Guide to Texel.