On the hard, flat sand by the water’s edge you can walk for miles, it seems. The bleached yellow sand stretches on forever and the little line of white foam breaks rhythmically on the shore at my feet. In the distance, shrouded in mist, are the chimneys and oil refineries of Ijmuiden, that great wide open mouth where the IJ canal pours into the North Sea, carrying its traffic from the heart of Amsterdam. Behind me, in the distance, the tall, futuristic outline of Scheveningen’s pier and seafront paraphernalia are silhouetted against the sun.
In between is Katwijk. Its quaint little Calvinist church tower is painted stark white but its style is somehow slightly Spanish looking. Its wide open, golden beach demands exploration. We are at the seaside and everything is as it should be. The beach cafes are arrayed with their obligatory stands of glass-topped windbreaks. Sofas bedecked with cushions, sun umbrellas and the aroma of coffee and Dutch apple cake invite you in. Flags flutter in the breeze. It’s time for recreation.
Such a sense of space: the sand stretches onwards. The rows of sun loungers are spread out in the sun. The dunes disappear into the skyline. Blue skies vanish upwards into eternity and I am alone with my dreams.
All at once I am arrested by a huge sign on the promenade. ‘No’, it says! No bikes, no music, no litter, no motorbikes, no spitting, no dogs. It’s the prohibition! This never-ending expansiveness has found its limits. The Katwijkers say ‘no’! Nature has met its match. I may stroll on this vast beach but without my dog. I may picnic but leave no litter. I may walk as far as I like but I must padlock my bike to the fence and leave it on the prom. My lightness of mood may not be enhanced by music. I may chew tobacco but I must not spit. Overhead Jonathan Livingston Seagull soars, on a personal quest for freedom, but down here on the sand the prospects are severely limited.
Nature and the Katwijkers are at odds. The age-old battle between free spirits and the law-givers is pursued here to the bitter end. The spirit soars like Jonathan’s and the law makes war upon it. Even the mighty Rhine is stopped in its tracks by the Katwijkers. The old Rhine is blocked off by a concrete sluice at the point of emergence from its journey through Europe, from its mountainous Swiss heart to its flatland Dutch border. The rest of this vast body of water has dissipated now into a delta of tributaries. If even the mighty waterways of Europe are confounded by the Katwijkers, what chance have I? Only the lonely seagulls soar above their age-old immutability.
If you would like to read further entertaining musings on the ups and downs and thought-provoking quirks of life, check out my blog, Mostly Meditations.