It was a perfect summer’s day to travel from my home in The Hague to Kinderdijk – the country’s largest concentration of historical windmills or ‘molen’ (in Dutch). Kinderdijk is, as of 1997, a UNESCO World Heritage Site where people flock to from across the globe. It remains a popular site for tourists and locals alike and it’s one of those attractions you simply have to experience for yourself.
When literally translated, Kinderdijk means ‘childrens dike’. Why? The name comes from Dutch folklaw where it was said that after a flood way back in 1421 a man went out onto a dyke to see what could be salvaged. He saw a cradle floating on the water with a cat jumping from side to side within it in order to prevent the cradle from filling with water and sinking. Once the cradle was within reach, the man grabbed it from the water together with the cat and brought it onto stable land. He quickly discovered that a baby was present inside and that the cat had in fact saved the baby’s life. And so that’s how the name arose, or so they say.
Kinderdijk forms part of a small village called Molenwaard (within Alblasserwaard) made up of 19 windmills and situated below sealevel. The windmills were established in 1740 in order to drain the polder (low-lying land reclaimed from the sea and protected by dykes). If it wasn’t for the 19 windmills the area would’ve flooded many years ago. In fact, in 750BC the area was only swamp land and very much uninhabitable. Later on, prior to the invention of windmills, people arrived in the area and used a system of digging ditches to redirect the water to prevent floods.
Kinderdijk is special because here you can really be one with nature – you can walk or cycle between the windmills just as life was like hundreds of years ago in its beautifully preserved state and with no busy roads. If you visit during summer make sure you take plenty of water, sturdy walking shoes and sunscreen as there are not many undercover places to hide out from the sun (only in the town itself at cafes and restaurants). But be warned if you do go during the summer because tourists visit the area in droves, so I’d recommend early September as the best time to visit.
Museum Mill Nederwaard is housed inside one of the 19 mills that comprise Kinderdijk. This for me was the most memorable part of the trip as you get to explore the inside of a windmill and see how people lived years ago. This particular ‘molen’, now a museum, has interior decor from the 1950s – the last time a person actually occupied the space. It is quite small and narrow inside but it gives you a very good idea of how the Dutch lived in such a tiny space and how they made the most economical use of that space (and still do today!).
You also get to see the kitchen equipment as well as some of the clothes they wore as labourers of the land. All I can say is that it must’ve been pretty damn chilly inside those windmills during wintertime, which is probably the reason why their bedrooms were situated within an alcove.
After exploring the tiny Museum Mill Nederwaard and getting to grips with what life was like in the area hundreds of years ago, you can relax on the banks of the canals, watch passersby and simply enjoy all that nature has to offer here. There is even a real Italian gelato stand on site (rather oddly placed if I may say so) and next to it I observed some locals diving into the river to cool off. This certainly didn’t look like a bad idea given that it was 28 degrees celsius when I visited there.
Take a look at this awesome footage below of the Kinderdijk windmills as filmed by a drone. This gives you a good idea of the area, the distance between the windmills and the overall Kinderdijk experience.
Additionally, you can also read about my experience inside another Dutch windmill dating from 1679 called Windmill de Roos situated in Delft.
Have you been to Kinderdijk and Museum Mill Nederwaard in the Netherlands? If so, pleasure share your experiences with others below.