Vlissingen Maritiem, quite a walk
What can you say about Vlissingen? Some people told me, quite firmly: “It’s the end of the world. The only good thing about it is the Boulevard!” So I reckoned it was time to walk the talk and see for myself. I helped myself to Walk Number 10 ‘Vlissingen Maritiem’, 12 km long, from the book of ‘Walcheren (walks) wandelingen’ and off I went. I’m Hans Corbijn, a walking blogger.
Walk on the wild side
Not a very good idea to set off on the walk from such a forsaken and empty area as the station. Still. Plodding on, I cross the sluice gates and the wind comes up, blowing briny air in my face, unmasking the ships on the Westerschelde and the passenger ferry drawing up. Looking better already, I hear myself mumble.
The Battle of the Schelde was here
A scant kilometre on, and Uncle Beach is telling its stirring story of the Battle of the Schelde and the liberation of Walcheren. Flowers still lie on the ground from the springtime remembrances of early May. Down in the sturdy Oranjemolen mill – it catches the wind as much as it catches your eye – I take in the exhibition of the liberation and the many sacrifices made by the soldiers.
The route continues, of course, down the renowned Boulevards – so windswept they are, maybe best see them as an ‘esplanade’ – and past the Kazematten (vaulted casemate cellars) and their varied educational works. It passes ‘Michiel’, our national nautical hero de Ruyter and his staring statue, and on to the beach and the Nollebos woods. The wind will lift you, and your soul, and your hearing. But these elements of Vlissingen I knew already. I still had to see the old dilapidated much-maligned downtown …
Take me to the pilots
The walk continues through the modest park opposite the hospital with its old graveyard and a remarkable herb garden, and down to the water tower and some splendidly designed pilot houses. They were built by a Belgian pilot and the villas named after his four daughters, Louise, Maria, Blanche and Yvonne. Pilots often slept over here between duties guiding the large ships to and from Antwerp.
But is the area really dilapidated? No way! I walk past the birthplace of Michiel de Ruyter and down the Nieuwendijk, Sarazijnstraat, Beursstraat and a clutch more of these lovingly restored wee streets. And I should add the Slijkstraat and the Grote Markt too. A coffee, with apple tart and whipped cream (the works), form part of the plot in a decent enough spot on the Bellamypark. The natives are friendly, I can assure you!
Watch this space
We’ve almost done. This part of Vlissingen is open, on the former de Schelde shipyards which, the town hopes, will be re-generated into a new use.
It is rare for a town this size to have so much open space. It needs dealing with sensitively, I muse, as I head ‘home’ towards the station over the Visserkade quay.
It’s getting dark now and the fishing fleets from Arnemuiden and Vlissingen are moored in their home harbour. They’d been out for a week and the crews are celebrating the weekend. Come Sunday evening and off away again they’ll be. Heavily sensual, this part. The smell of fish is chokingly strong, the boats loom large and modern, dwarfing me, the nets are strewn everywhere and I have to pick my way through. It’s a darkened, lifeless no-man’s-land in the late evening. Must say I was glad when I could see the vivid piles of buoys in their sheds and, farther, the lights of the station.
Steeped in naval history
It’s been a great walk, not that the word ‘lovely’ comes to mind. Smashing people I’ve met, and the old centre has ticked my boxes, in good taste too – it’s well looked after, and a real lesson to walk down the paths of history. People can get their prejudices wrong sometimes! Take it from me, take it all in your stride and try it. Look around you, at the names of the houses and the streets, at the dates and the diversity of what you see.
Just, for example, take the building of Neffens De Swarte Leeu, with its higgledy gables and doorframe. And the neighbouring building De Swarte Leeu (medieval Dutch for black lion). A glory to behold. So, is Vlissingen the end of the world? I don’t think so, but this is the end of the walk. See you!