Not to toot my own horn or anything, but I’m the kind of person who has an idea after everybody else.
It’s Saturday 7th September, and I am perusing Pinterest at my leisure: one of my greatest past times.
Out of the corner of my eye I catch a hint of purple. A deep, jewelled purple. I click on the Pin and am transported to a world of lilac, violet and mauve, all bunched up together. It’s only the purple heather of the Netherlands in full bloom on my screen before me.
Perhaps you’ve heard about the heather, or heide, as it’s known in Dutch, that blooms for a month or two each year in the Netherlands.
From the beginning of August until almost the end of September, Het Nationale Park De Hoge Veluwe is carpeted with rich amethyst hues and deep royal purples of heather. Everybody flocks there to get their snaps and to bask in the sunshine in nature.
It’s an Instagrammers paradise too, oBvIoUsLy.
I turn to R. Our conversation is short, and to the point, as is the norm with a born and bred Nederlander.
“I really fancy seeing this heather – it’s so beautiful.”
“Ok, why don’t we go then.”
It is sorted. I leave the hotel arrangements to him, as he is far more adept at Booking.com than I am. He’s so good, that he manages to bag us a proper posh looking hotel in a small village for well under 100 Euros. We will be staying in Otterlo, which sits just outside Het Nationale Park De Hoge Veluwe, a huge patch of land covered by forests and beautiful nature.
Sunday morning arrives, and I am giddy. Man I can’t wait to see the heather. Now I’m not dumb enough to believe that it will really be as purple as Pinterest promises, but I’m banking on big things. I’m a dreamer.
We leave just after lunch. This is the most sensible way for us to live, as we pass 7 (SEVEN!) McDonald’s along the way (I have no idea how that’s possible on a journey of 1 and a half hours either, but this country is apparently mad for Maccies).
We arrive as planned, and check into our hotel: De Sterrenberg. It looks well fancy, I’m not gonna lie. Apparently it’s restaurant is *almost* Michelin Star quality. Eesh. And here I am wandering around in my hiking boots like a peasant.
Our bedroom is pretty cool too.
“This is well fancy.” I say, with the vigour of someone who clearly isn’t that fancy. The room is kitted out with all the essentials (including a bath omg yay), and a few added extras, such as one of those coffee machines that you put pods into (I don’t drink coffee so I don’t actually know the name sorry) and, my personal favourite, a stack of bunk beds in their own little walled off corner!
“For when we argue” muses R.
We dump our things and check the map. It’s full of routes that look pretty easy to follow. They’re colour coded, so how hard can it be? We decide to head into the park, as we imagine that’s where the main spectacle will be. The map even indicates heather (we assume) by the spreading pink block of colour amongst the green. We choose a 13km walk, which should lead us straight into the heart of the park. Sorted.
At the gate, we’re charged 10 Euros entry fee each, which we weren’t expecting, but ok, we’re here to see a spectacle, so we’ll let it pass. 10 Euros is nothing if it means I get to play amongst the wonderful bushes of heather we are about to encounter!
Now, our first problem is encountered in the form of the signposting being, well, non-existent. We pull out the map again just to see if we can make heads or tails of it.
“I mean, we can just go this way and keep to the left. The orangey line.” R points at the map to show his calculations. I agree. I am not a map person. I’m more of a pigeon who follows her nose.
According to his calculations, there should be a path. And there is, but it’s a cycle path. A wide, cemented cycle path through the forest. I mean, I salute the Dutch for taking care of their cyclists, but right now, in this forested park, I just want to wander along a dirt path, y’know? I certainly don’t want to be meeting groups of cyclists every ten seconds, especially when we are sharing the same stretch of cement and they’re shouting “stommewijf” at each other when they almost knock each other down (true story).
About 15 minutes into our walk along the cycle path (which cost us 10 Euros, don’t forget), we see something in the distance. Now I’m no eagle eye, and my eyesight is known to be getting weaker by the day, but I don’t see a hint of purple. Sure, it’s a wide open space, and we aren’t quite there yet, AND I suppose the heather isn’t going to be as purple as it is on the photos, but I also feel like it isn’t about to spring out at us.
We make an: ‘I’m confused, but go on’, sort of face at one another. We giggle a little nervously and head off in the general direction that our colour lined map sort of indicates. There are still no signposts you see. Not one. Nothing in the park is colour coded. There are no arrows. The word ‘heide’ is not painted on anything, we must simply choose our path and hope for the best.
We choose to go left, but the stretch before us is long. It’s sandy. It’s brown and black and certainly not green.
R gets a snack out of his bag. He’s not feeling this, and needs to refuel.
“We’ll find it,” we agree, that same nervous laughter makes its way to the surface again.
Look to cut a 13km story short, we didn’t find the heather. We found one sprig, tired and alone in a desert wasteland. We found a massive statue of a man in the middle of the sand too, but there was no heather.
“These are plains of death.” mutters R. He’s nearing the end of his patience. “I’m so depressed I need another snack.”
I join in. We stand there, like two disappointed toddlers whose feelings can only be redeemed by something sweet. “I’m never recommending this to my parents, unless they want to see fields of death and pay for the pleasure.” He continues. “Has there been a fire or something? Everything’s just black and dead!”
Can you imagine going on a 13km walk, only to not find what you’re hoping to see within the first 5km? What is one to do in such a case? Even if we turned back there and then, we would only be disappointed all over again with the same 5km we’d already managed to walk along.
We finish the walk.
There is no heather.
By 6pm we’re tired, hungry, and moody.
We leave and treat ourselves to a three course dinner to lighten our moods and rest our legs. It works because the food is utterly delicious. We head back to our hotel feeling a little more satisfied.
Luckily for the park, it was still a beautiful walk, and actually, maybe our 10 Euros entry fee wasn’t a complete waste. I mean, we saw plenty of dung beetles, and pig footprints, and it was beautiful. But man, if you’re looking for the heather, I’m not going to recommend this place!