Anyone who’s ever been to the Netherlands will have been hit by one overwhelming impression: boy is that country flat! You can often see for miles and miles, with rows of trees providing the odd ‘break’ in the landscape. And although the country has almost 300 miles of coast, because the Netherlands effectively formed itself around the estuaries of a series of rivers, the coast is one large sandy beach, with a significant dune landscape protecting the land from the sea.
So when the Team behind the South West Coast Path and I, supported by the Jurassic Coast Partnership, went to the Netherlands, to present England’s South West Coast to some 100,000 (!) Dutch visitors at the annual ‘Vakantiebeurs’ (a large Holiday Exhibition in the Netherlands), we had no idea as to how those people so used to flat landscapes would respond to the 600+ miles of South West Coast Path as we know it. A landscape full of spectacular cliffs, heights of up to almost 200 meters above sea level (Golden Cap), coves and beaches, fascinating history, and generally hugely varied.
Well, it is safe to say that if the responses we got were anything to go by, the Dutch just love our coast. 1,000’s came by our stand and chatted, with many already having some experience of our coast, and some even stating they had walked parts of it.
It was quite amazing that where many countries / regions presenting themselves at the Vakantiebeurs had to ‘sell’ their areas first, before even talking about more detailed itineraries, things to do, accommodation, etc., what became clear very quickly was that the South West of England in general, and the coast path and Jurassic Coast in particular, had ‘sold’ themselves already, so when chatting, we could focus on the details (“How do I best get there?” “What’s the weather like?” were just two of the very common questions).
The Jurassic Coast – As Seen on (Dutch) TV
People’s grasp of, and enthusiasm for our beautiful coast was just great. Helped by some extensive TV coverage lately, i.e. Countryfile and Coastal Path (yes, the Dutch watch BBC too!) and series such as Poldark and Broadchurch (both have been on Dutch TV), we were asked hugely detailed questions, and were able to communicate with many of them the finer intricacies of a visit to ‘our’ part of the world.
One very noticeable trend we saw was that many walkers are keen to cover a large stretch of the Coast Path, and that itineraries including the right accommodation (“Can we dry our boots?”) plus baggage transfers, ideally with access to rail or air routes, are going to be increasingly popular over the years to come. And given a large part of the audience we saw was either ‘pre’ or ‘post’ school age children, these are (potential) visitors who can help stimulate the South West Economy in the shoulder months, indeed the period the area usually has some spare capacity.
So when you’re on the Coast Path next, you may well hear a rather guttural language that isn’t English. Just say ‘hallo’, or ‘goedemorgen’, and demonstrate that South West Hospitality is alive and kicking!
Ruud Jansen Venneboer