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It is hard to imagine a more typically Dutch landscape than a flat polder landscape with a dike and windmills, so while I was in The Netherlands I decided to visit the Kinderdijk. A UNESCO World Heritage site, the Kinderdijk is a collection of 19 authentic 18th century windmills, which were originally built to keep the surrounding area from flooding. Large parts of The Netherlands lie below sea level and have been reclaimed from the sea by sophisticated water and land management, creating polders through the use of dikes, drainage channels and pumps.
Fun Fact: nearly all of the west Netherlands is below sea level. See map
These days, the pumping is done by modern electrical pumping stations, but the windmills still remain and two of them have been converted into little museums, giving a realistic and interesting insight in to the life and times of the millers who worked and lived here and how the Dutch have been controlling waters and reclaiming land for hundreds of years.
My dad came with me - he had never visited the Kinderdijk either - and we took the train to Rotterdam and from there we took the waterbus to the kinderdijk
You can buy a ticket at the entrance which allows you to visit the two museums, and the visitor centre (including a rather entertaining multi-screen video show) and you can get another ticket to take a little boat along the canal to see the windmills from the water and which drops you off at the museum windmills. Alternatively, and you can do this even without buying tickets for the museums, you can simply stroll along the dike, past the windmills. We bought the tickets, and had a wonderful couple of hours exploring.
Because we were past the high season it wasn't too busy and the whole area is wonderfully quiet and restful. It was a dull, grey day but dry and very warm and the windmills stretch along the canal, making for a lovely walk. There are actually cycle and walking paths of up to 50 km around the polder and had I been alone I would have liked to have hired a bike to explore, but instead we took the boat to the furthest and oldest windmill (dating from the 16th century) and afterwards walked all the way back.
Fun Fact: The children's story of 'The Cat and the Cradle' originated from one of the legends of the Kinderdijk and how it got it's name (Kinderdijk translates as Children's Dike).
The legend tells that after a flood in the 15th century, some of the exhausted survivors, working to save what could be saved, found a little moses basket floating in one of the canals. A cat was jumping from one side of the basket to the other in an effort to keep it floating and inside the basket was found a little orphaned baby girl.
Sadly, although the legend is beloved and remembered by an oversized basket memorial in the canal, it is not the most likely origin of the name.
A more likely explanation is that the dike in questions was lower than some of the surrounding dikes - smaller thus like a child.
Another story explains that the name came about because of the child labour used to build the dike, and yet another story tells of a miller who had so many children that he was nicknamed John of the children (Jan der Kindere) and the dike came to be known for these children.
The true origin of the name will probably never be known, although the village of Kinderdijk was originally known as Elshout
For more info on the Kinderdijk Heritage Site, check out kinderdijk.com
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