An orienteering and mini-bike tour of the Low Countries

Helen and Andy's accommodation - not without problems ...

Helen Chiswell reports on the Limburg 4 days, the event just before ASOM in Ghent

A few months ago I was idly looking at the World of O calendar (as one does when tired of work!) and noticed that there were two multi-day orienteering events on two consecutive weekends in August in Holland and Belgium.  Andy, who was working for eXp Realty at the time, already had plans this summer to complete his cycle traverse across Europe from Nord Cap to Gibraltar – the only bit he had left was Rotterdam to Porto. And so the idea of a short orienteering and cycling tour of Holland and Belgium was born! 

Whilst Andy planned to continue south afterwards, for me it was just a short trip around the Low Countries before I had to head home and back to work. The prospect of boxing up my touring bike, reassembling it and then 10 days later finding another box and repeating the process to fly home again didn’t fill me with much joy, and this combined with all the hassles of travelling and flying with a large box prompted me to think of an easier solution! I decided to have a go at doing this tour on a Brompton – one of those small wheeled folding bikes for those not in the know! Assembly was be super straightforward when I get off the plane – just unfold it and pump up the tyres! So it was be a mini tour in many senses – just a few days long, not many kilometres and on a mini bike with mini wheels! 

Luckily my Dad is an avid Brompton user and even has a spare lightweight one that I manage to borrow. One, early aborted, test ride told me that I needed an extra long seat post in order to complete any distance at all! This was easily sorted with the help of eBay and one further test ride to the pub later, I was all set to go! 

I packaged the mini bike up in a specially designed bag, stuffed all my things around it and flew out to Eindhoven to meet Andy, who had left a few days previously to go on the ferry via Hull and Rotterdam.  

Flights were easy and bike unfolding and assembly straightforward, and before I knew it I was arriving at our accommodation in Deurne – a small gypsy wagon on a farm!

Limburg – Day 1

Sweltering humidity and some torrential rainstorms led to a slightly restless night’s sleep in the gypsy wagon. But what turned a restless night’s sleep into a crap night’s sleep were the mosquitoes!  Just as you drifted off one appeared with its high pitched buzzing noise right in your ear! Emerging from the wagon to make the morning tea, I discovered we were virtually on an island!  The massive, biblical downpours had left the grass around us somewhat sodden!   And it was still drizzling!

The orienteering wasn’t due to start until early afternoon so we mooched about brunching and doing Worldle!  This all worked in our favour, as by the time we had to leave, the rain had just about stopped and the sun was trying to appear – but it was still pretty humid!

The event was just south of Deurne on an area called Brouwhuisseheide. It was about 10km for us to ride from our little gypsy wagon.  The event centre was in a cafe on the edge on the forest – a great base. I was surprised to see around 500 people had entered (more than I was expecting) and there were even a few other Brits that I recognised.

The area turned out to be great – runnable with patches of complex contour. You could run straight on almost every leg and there wasn’t much rubbish on the floor to prevent you running – the definition of a great O’ing area! I had a clean run and couldn’t really have gone much faster – a good start to the week!

Day 1 map

When I got back to the event centre, there was lots of slightly panicked looking people huddled round some laptops – apparently there was a problem with download – big problem one bloke told me!  It took them a couple of hours, but they did eventually sort the problem and once they had caught up with the backlog of downloads, I was pleased to see I was 3rd out of 13. Pretty good for me!  I’m only a few seconds off 2nd (miles off 1st but we’ll ignore that for now!), so there is everything to play for over the next three days as it’s the cumulative time that counts!

Turns out at this event Andy and I are actually on the same course – just how they have put the classes together I guess. A combination of man flu, a crap night’s sleep and a poorly hand meant that Andy walked round and took a bit longer than me!  But I enjoyed sitting in the sun waiting for him to finish!

The advantage of the event centre being in a café was a great range of local beers on offer for post race refreshment. And I was surprised to see so many people taking advantage of it!  Now I love a beer, but after an hour’s hard running on a hot day, I couldn’t quite face it yet!  We were also starving and so instead headed off to Lidl to get some food!

Limburg – Day 2

A fan and plug in anti mozzie device did the trick and we managed a solid night’s sleep in the gypsy wagon!  The weather had also improved hugely and we woke up to sunshine. We had much earlier start today, so had to get moving pretty swiftly. It was back to the same cafe event centre as yesterday, but this time in a forest on the other side of Vlierden.

With start times of 10:10 we were pretty much first into the forest – which I was glad about thinking of the cycling we needed to get done after the race!  The area was similar to yesterday – flat with some contour detail – but a little rougher underfoot. It was again great orienteering. Nothing much really to distract you from the straight line!

I had a pretty clean run, but not quite as good as yesterday, wasting a minute or so in the circle at numbers 1 and 11. The results reflected that and I managed 4th today. With the man flu under control, Andy picked up the pace a bit today and made it round in 100 mins.

Day 2 map

After a bit of lunch and a coffee with several mini Stroopwaffels, we were ready to start pedalling towards Louwel, where we needed to be for days 3 & 4 and where we had an apartment booked for a couple of nights.

Holland truly is flat and its reputation for an excellent cycling network is well deserved!  There are cycle paths and cycle ways everywhere!  I don’t think we cycled once on the road in our whole time there!  And there are cycle path maps at every junction – each junction is numbered and you just remember the sequence of numbers and follow the signs!

After 30km or so we found the now invisible border with Belgium.  There was literally no sign of any former border, but I guess they did away with it many decades ago.  We obviously had to pose for pictures crossing the invisible line (there wasn’t even a welcome to Belgium sign)!

Helen at the Holland-Belgium border

We continued south into Belgium – their cycle ways were still excellent but not quite up to Dutch standards! We pedalled through long avenues of trees and crossed many canals, which I guess is maybe where the ascent came from!

After 3 hours of riding, my legs were getting a bit tired from pedalling the mini bike, and I was starting to get a bit stiff from sitting in the same position. I am sure I have to do three times as many pedal turns as Andy to achieve the same speed!  Luckily it wasn’t much further and we arrived at our loft apartment! It’s above somebody’s house but they seemed to be on holiday.  And it’s huge and very well equipped. A perfect spot really and just 10 mins ride to tomorrow’s event centre!

Limburg – Day 3

There was virtually no cycling on the agenda today. We’re staying just 2km from the event centre so it was a very quick ride there this morning!  It was super sunny right from the off, and already a bit of a cook up even at 9am whilst we were sitting in the assembly field before walking to the start.

There was no café at the event centre, but the local club had set up a tent selling food and drink. And so as not to disappoint they were serving 3 Belgian beers, one of them even an 8% Trippel! It was way too early for me to consider a beer, but the early hour didn’t seem to put off some of the locals!  I wondered if they were planning to run later or not?!

Today’s race was on some Belgian sand dunes – even though we are nowhere near the sea! It reminded me a lot of the Scottish 6 days earlier this month on the Moray coast – just the forest was a bit thicker!

I felt pretty knackered before the start – too much little bike riding yesterday!  But once I got going my legs seemed to function okay!  However I had a pretty average run – with several 2 mins errors looking for controls on small hills and in small pits in the dark woods! It was all a bit frustrating but I guess the string of good runs had to come to an end some time!

The course was a bit shorter than previous days at just over 4km, but I still took nearly an hour with all the time wasted faffing around looking for controls! I ended up 5th today – so reflective of the slightly dodgy performance!

Day 3 map

Andy had a much better run than on previous days but luckily I still beat him back to capture his sprint down the finish funnel. He was so busy posing that he forgot to punch the finish control and had to go back!

Limburg – Day 4

Today was the chasing start but given my slightly dismal performance yesterday and the fact that the leader on my course was streets ahead of anyone else, I didn’t make the “within 45 mins of the leader” cut off for the chasing start. However I was the fastest non-qualifier and so was off at 9:30am. This meant a swift start to the morning!

Luckily it was only 2km up to the event field and we were there by 8:45, with ample time to soak up the atmosphere and get ready for the start. It was a good job we did have all that time, as I got to the start and realised I hadn’t put my race number on!  A quick run back to the event field and back to the start fixed that and served as my warm up!

My performance on the course was somewhat erratic!  Some terrible mistakes inside the circle and a few good route choices!  It was hot and humid and I was glad to finish 75 mins later. I hadn’t had my best performance but still managed a 4th and 4th overall for the 4 days as well. It was good enough for me and at least we didn’t have to stay for the prize giving, as with 60km to pedal I was keen to get going!

Day 4 map

Andy started an hour later than me and so after my run I went to spot him at the finish. I didn’t have to wait long as he had a storming run and finished in just under 100 mins.  Once he had recovered from his heroics, we started to pedal across Belgium in the general direction of Ghent, where the next weekend’s racing would be.

We spent 4 days pedalling across Belgium and Holland, taking in Geel, Antwerp and Brugges before ending up in Ghent in time for a rest ahead of the mixed sprint relay.  Graham has already reported on the Ghent weekend, so I won’t repeat things here, but it was a complete contrast to the Limburg weekend and great fun!

All in all it was an excellent trip – great orienteering, both urban and forest, and super straightforward and flat cycling. Belgium and Holland really are absolutely flat and the cycle infrastructure is amazing. We spent the vast majority of the time cycling on dedicated cycleways, sometimes far from any roads. And when we were on roads there was always a cycle lane – amazing!  One thing we did have to get used to though was being overtaken at considerable speed by very old people on bikes – for here the e-bike has really taken off and the older generation love it!!

Future events

Sunday 14 July 2024
Chesterfield

Saturday 24 August 2024
Bradford Dale

Sunday 25 August 2024
Bakewell

Recent results

Saturday 22 June 2024
Allestree Park

Wednesday 12 June 2024
Etwall

Sunday 19 May 2024
Hardwick Park

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