The point about Westkapelle, Wasschappel, is western. It lies in the lee of a huge sea dike 5 kilometres long, where the island of Walcheren juts into the – sometimes – wild and windy North Sea. It hosts a massive ship-friendly lighthouse. Its annual fair includes the wind-challenged gaaischieten contest.
After settling down, like a strongly-rooted plant in the sand dunes, around the year 1000, Westkapelle was granted a form of town charter in 1223. But, like some other small and prosperous towns in Zeeland, it did not merit its own representative in the regional council known as Staten van Zeeland. Instead, for a couple of medieval centuries, it fared well in the coveted status of a ‘smalstad’, earning its income as a harbour and fishing village. Then in 1400, a surge flood washed away the dunes of the Westkaap headland. Things turned for the worse, and during the 16th century its fishing and maritime commerce came to an end.
During the 15th century, the village started to build the Zeedijk where the Westkaap had stood, gradually strengthening and raising it. Then, on 3 October 1944, the southern edge of the dike was bombed by the British Royal Air Force, to flood the island and force the German occupying forces to retreat. That cost the lives of 180 inhabitants, as the inrush of sea water washed away most of the village. The bomb breach was closed a year later, but the resulting creek can still be seen. Seepage of sea water under the dike means some of the creek is brackish.
Above the village is the striking centuries-old lighthouse, ‘t Hoge Licht. Some 50 metres high, it can be seen from most places on Walcheren – and vice versa, if you climb up to its top.
The inundation of 1944 washed away two of the village’s three windmills. The survivor, the Noorman, is a brick tower mill dating from 1852. The name is derived from a local legend that the villagers are descended from Normans. You can visit it on Saturdays.
Many bumpy moments of Westkapelle’s and Walcheren’s past are recounted in the dike and war museum known as Het Polderhuis: the 1944 bombings, the floods and the reconstruction of the dike and the village.
The main street of Westkapelle is lined with terraces and restaurants, all keen to welcome you. A bit more exposed – and a bit of a climb – is to cross over the dike to enjoy a meal at a beach pavilion. Often sourced locally, landside and sea side.
The annual village fair, always on a Saturday, is quite an event, happily maintaining centuries-old local traditions like rifle shooting. One contest is gaaischieten (‘gaai’ = bird), with dummy feathered friends perched on a windy, wobbling pole. Not so simple. The fair and many other events in Westkapelle are listed in the Events Calendar.