This is a guest post written by JC from Leaving Holland. If you’d like to be published on Travel Hacks too, go over here.
In the middle of the Dutch polders there is a former island called Schokland. Coming from the west the location is hidden behind trees. Only the UNESCO sign reveals the presence of the historical site. Coming from the east you see the island emerge at the horizon of the flat polder landscape. Schokland, an island on dry land.
The island is a symbol of the Dutch struggle against water. Traces of this battle are to be found all around the island. This area has alternated between being sea and dry land, peninsula and island, peat and polder. Nowadays Schokland is a unique natural and cultural monument combined.
The former island stands out against the flat surroundings of the North East polder. The gently sloping back is like a landmark – culture and nature are combined here in a unique monument.
The island was situated in an all marshland area until in the 14th century monks started to make it more liveable. The ground level sunk because of the drainage. Storms and flooding created an island in the former Zuiderzee and around 1450 AD it was no longer a part of the mainland. A man made island was born and they named it Schokland.
The closing of the Zuider Zee had an enormous impact on the island and the fishermen living there, and when in 1936 the pumps started for the impoldering of the North east polder the island soon was history.
In 1942 the demolition started and the fences and dikes that were kept up even after the great flooding were removed, only a small part remained near the church.
The site is simple, very quiet and in summertime nature is abundant with marshland flowers blooming and lots of butterflies and birds. The day I visited Schokland was a dull, grey, cold and rainy day. So we did not take the walk around the island all the way to the fire pit (the former lighthouse), instead we started out with warm coffee and apple pie in the restaurant which is situated in one of the traditional buildings.
Entrance to the museum is 6 euro. I think that’s a lot of money since it is a small area with only a museum, a church with an exhibition and a few remains of the old days. But the history and the way the story of Schokland and its inhabitants in told makes it worth the price.
After the tiny gift shop you enter the outdoor area, and you walk the footsteps of so many Schoklanders before you. It’s a windy place, and the gloomy day combined with a drizzle rain made the feel of loneliness and isolation that the former islanders must have felt real to me.
The museum tells me the story goes even far beyond 1450. Four thousand years ago people lived in Schokland and pre historic animals wandered around the marshlands. Rocks from glaciers and remains of pottery, footprints and bones show a life that goes beyond my imagination.
Slide shows are informative about the impoldering and struggles of the people living at Schokland, the great flooding and spooky stories of people going mad because of the isolation. Specially those maintaining the fire pit, used as a lighthouse to warn ships at the Zuider Sea for the sandbanks.
In the church a wonderful exhibition with music and mavis showed again the history of the island, preparing for a heavy storm, barricading doors and windows to keep the water out. This was in 1825, the last days of the island when it was almost destroyed by mother nature. The water rises over 10 feet, marks on the houses show how high the water came. And the island was flooded completely. The storm took the lighthouse down, and 1800 wooden palings that were there to keep the water out were wrenched from their position and carried away on the waves. It must have been a scary experience to be the living proof that living on Schokland was no longer responsible.
The island became a forbidden area in 1859 by order of King William the third, one of the ancestors of our King William Alexander.
As we drive away from the site, and I see the island disappearing in the rear mirror, I imagine the carriages of those leaving with all their belongings. How lost must they have felt and how uncertain their future seemed?
Schokland makes you wonder about the sturdiness of mankind, the will to survive and the drive to make yourself a home no matter what. And driving through the polders gives you the proof that the Dutch can control water, or at least until a storm decides different.
8319 AB Schokland
0527 25 13 96
The whole year on Friday, Saturday and Sunday (except New Years day and Christmas day)
April till November: Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday from 11.00 till 17.00.
July and August: Monday till Sunday from 10.00 till 17.00
Admittance: 6.00 Euro
Download a brochure from the website with all the information in and around Schokland to prepare your visit there!
About JC from Leaving Holland
JC is a passionate blogger and an early adaptor, leaving Netherlands in september 2015 to travel Southeast Asia with a 60 litre backpack. She’s no novice to travelling though – in her 17 she left home to travel UK, Azores, Caribbean and Latin America, returning back to Netherlands 2.5 years later. You can find her often on the beach, staring at the horizon, smelling foreign countries on the sea breeze or wondering what lies behind that line in the distance.
JC from Leaving Holland