On the western forehead of Goeree-Overflakkee, jutting firmly into the North Sea, Ouddorp has kept its essentially rural character. It’s quite a charmer, 4 km long, where fields are uniquely divided by sand walls.
Established around 900, it is by far the island’s oldest settlement, its name means ‘old village’. Back then, it lay on the island of Westvoorn, some way into the sea. It took a long time before the land had any degree of safety from the water. During the Second World War, the village became part of the Atlantikwall. In total, 29 people from Ouddorp died in that period. In the 1953 flood disaster, it was partly submerged – one victim perished.
Agriculture has long provided its main income. Farms seldom expanded because of poor soils. When the harbour opened in 1860, fishing became a key activity. The port is now a marina, and the village fishing fleet is based in the Deltahaven at Stellendam. It came into the news, tragically, in 2005 when three crew members were killed by a WW2 bomb which was entangled in a cutter’s nets.
It is since the early 1900s that tourism has featured in the economy, especially after the 1940s. First there were the campsites. Then came holiday homes, first built of timber, then made of bricks. Still today, most visitors come for the wide beaches, walking trails and bike paths.
The reformed church arose in 1348, dedicated to St. Martin. Over the centuries, it’s been plundered and vandalised, but has always risen from its ashes.
In days gone by, the outer village was rimmed by stately country homes. Some dune-based farms are with us still: the Ridderstee, Vissershoek and the Blaeuwe Huus. (Tips for the linguist in you: ‘ridder’ is knight, ‘stee’ is a ‘place’, ‘hoek’ is corner). Het Blaeuwe Huus, created in 1659, was restored in 1991. It features in the works of Rien Poortvliet (d. 1995), a popular Dutch artist. Farm buildings in Ouddorp were often painted blue to repel flies, a worldwide piece of popular science. More than four centuries back, Zeeland traders and seafarers painted their new tropical abodes blue. See Goeree island in Dakar harbour, Senegal, and countless other ports.
The remarkable Westhoofd lighthouse, towering 56 metres above the dunes at Groenedijk, was built between 1947 and 1950. Its strategic characteristics: it’s square, made of bricks, staffed and not open to the public. No time to talk, got one heck of a job to do.
During the two annual tourist days in August, hundreds of stalls cosily corral around the church, and offer glimpses into the past, present and future. Village stuff. Enjoy. When the gorgeous fireworks end, that’s it, folks. Farmers rise early. Ouddorp’s diary is listed in the Events Calendar.