Bulb Field SUP Tour

Spring in the Netherlands is glorious.  The fertile land bursts into bloom in March, more than making up for the miserable dark winters.   By April the bulb fields are at their peak with hyacinths, tulips and daffodils creating fields of colour.  If you have never seen flowers grown as a crop, it is quite spectacular.

I am lucky to live close to the bulb area, or “bollenstreek”.  Having driven and cycled around the fields many times, a couple of weekends ago I decided to see them from the water.  The Keukenhof was heaving with tourists, the bike paths around the fields were busy with cyclists, but except for the occasional Keukenhof tour boat, I had the water to myself.  As one of the only water users, I became quite a popular photographic subject and I can only assume that I am now famous in some Asian country or other!

As you can see from my photos, the many of the fields were in full bloom with the early bulbs. The scent from the hyacinths is overwhelming, and the daffodils and early tulips were bright yellow and red.

For most of this route motorised watercraft are not allowed, meaning no boat wakes to contend with and very still water.  However, it was windy and I got blown backwards when I stopped for a drink or to check my map.

If you don’t have your own board, but would like to do this route, contact my friend Talitha at SUPpen in Leiden. She will organise this tour on request and she also speaks excellent English.

Route Description

From the start point on the Lisser Broek go northwest under the bridge

Paddle alongside the Keukenhof carpark.

Paddle alongside the Keukenhof gardens and windmill and past the overflow carpark on the other side.

Follow the canal as it goes past some woodland, makes a dog-leg through farmland, under the train line, and through more farmland. 

At the T-junction, turn right and paddle along the Leidsevaart canal in a north-easterly direction.

My recommendation would be to start at this point of the route – parking on
Leidse Zuidervaart

Take the next main channel to the right, Veeneburg Elsbroekkanaal, marked with a no-propellers sign. 

Follow the Elsbroekkannal in a vaguely easterly direction. There are lots of drainage channels here and it can get a bit confusing from here on.

After going under the road bridge, turn left at the T junction.
Paddle a short way in a north easterly direction.
Take the next canal on the right in front of the nursery (lots of greenhouses). Paddle through the bulb fields in a south easterly direction for a while longer.

Take the 5th canal on the right (the others are dead-ends).  There is a small hexagonal sign on the north corner marking it as the Keukenhof Canoe route. 

Follow this canal, it goes south west at first and then under a road . It then turns right, and then back left.

There are no side chanels so you won’t get lost but you may encounter Keukenhof tour boats along the way.

You will come out on the Lisserbroek again at the Keukenhof car parks.  When you meet the Lisserbroek turn left and paddle back to the start point.

Route Information

Water conditions Like most inland water in the Netherlands, the water is flat and still.
Most of the route is forbidden to motorised watercraft meaning you are not even disturbed by boat wakes.
There are several low bridges along the route, and you will need to go down onto your knees to get under them.
Distance 6.8 km (4.2miles)
Time 2 hours at a leisurely pace with many stops for photos.
Water entry It was possible to enter the water, by clambering down the bank in front of the bridge by the car but after putting my hand in stinging nettles I realised this wasn’t smart. A more pleasant option is to cross the bridge and walk across the nicely mowed grass in front of the car dealership. Whilst this was fine on a Sunday, I admit I’m not 100% sure if it is public land, and whilst I doubt anyone would complain, it might require a bit more chutzpah during business hours.
The banks on both sides are reinforced with a clean vertical 15cm/6 inch drop into the water meaning you can step down directly onto your board without getting your feet wet. And it is easy to get back out in a normal dockside manoeuvre.
Sights Bulb Fields
The bulb fields typically start flowing at the end of March with hyacinth bulbs and daffodils. The tulips begin to flower in April, and the fields normally hit their peak in the last weeks of April.
They normally finish flowering in the middle of May, although the early bulbs get cut back earlier.  The bulb fields are right at the water at the start and end of the route.  
I turned out to be quite a tourist attraction by myself, SUP is still not common in the Netherlands and many people took photos of me.  
The Keukenhof gardens are worth a separate visit. It is possible to get onto the water from both of the Keukenhof car parks if you want to combine your trip.  (There are also toilets in the entrance building where you can get changed too). 
The Keukenhof is open from mid-March until mid-May.   Check the website for details.

Practical Information

Parking I parked at the roundabout next to the Keukenhof on Heereweg.  There are a couple of parking spaces along the road opposite ”Public Support Groep BV”.  It is free to park here.  I had space to pump up my board, however it was not the easiest place to get on the water (steep bank and nettles). I then got stuck in traffic queuing in and out of the Keukenhof.
(A better option might be to park at the midway point on Zuider Leidsevaart, and follow the route from the midpoint.)
Toilets There is a toilet in the Total petrol station 300m away on Westerlijke Randweg on the other side of the roundabout. This costs €0.50
Coffee / Drinks Drinks and snacks are also available at the petrol station above
Safety Lifejackets are not required in the Netherlands.
This is open polder, with no wind breaks, so be prepared to paddle into the wind (there is a reason for those windmills).
If you encounter boats, stay on the right. Give them right of way and pull over to the side so they can pass.
There may be people fishing on Zuider Leidsevaart. Give them a wide berth so you don’t get tangled up in fishing lines.
Stay away from swans, they can attack if they have cygnets and feel threatened.

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