‘During these first three days I was never far from a towpath, but so many and confused are the waterways that unconsciously I changed rivers three times: the Noorwede was the first of them, the Merwede followed, then came the Waal; and at Gorinchem the Waal was joined by the Maas.
In the morning I could see the great stream of the Maas winding across the plain towards this rendezvous; it had risen in France under the more famous name of Meuse and then flowed across the whole of Belgium; a river only less imposing than the Waal itself, to whose banks I clung for the remainder of my Dutch journey. The Waal is tremendous; no wonder, for it is really the Rhine. ‘The Rijn’, in Holland, Rembrandt’s native stream, is a minor northern branch of the main flow, and it subdivides again and again, loses itself in the delta and finally enters the North Sea through a drainagecanal; while the Waal, gorged with Alpine snows and the waters of Lake Constance and the Black Forest and the tribute of a thousand Rhenish streams, rolls sea-ward in usurped and stately magnificence. Between this tangle of rivers, meanwhile – whose defections and reunions enclosed islands as big as English shires – the geometric despotism of canal and polder and windmill held firm; those turning sails were for drainage, not grinding corn.’
So wrote Patrick Leigh Fermor about walking the riverways from Gorinchem to Zaltbommel in 1933. Despite the flat skies and relentless drizzle, our foxy foreign correspondent at large has had a couple of high peaks on today’s route. She’s been taken in by a kind local couple for a steaming bowl of soup, and been interviewed by a Dutch journalist for a local paper. At the latest exchange she was awaiting the arrival of a photographer to take her portrait by the roadside. What glamour! Well, sort of . . .