We were greeted this morning with weather that could best be described as “inclement” if you’re being polite. It was coming down like stair rods.
So we had a breakfast of feeling a bit depressed and agreeing what we could do on a wet day. As it happens though, for once, we’d primed ourselves and had a bit of a think about this the previous night, once we’d realised that the weather forecast was wet.
Our choice was to head for the DeltaPark Neeltje Jans, which is in the middle of the next estuary down from where we are. It’s only about 10 miles away and it claims to have a number of exhibitions and an aquarium which are indoors as well as a selection of outdoor activites should the weather happen to dry up.
On the way over to the car we invented a new word to describe the general state of the paths – “floodle” – we use it for a body of water which is too big to walk around but not big enough to drown in. Bigger than a puddle, smaller than a flood. There were a lot of them around on this particular morning. The drive to Neeltje Jans was a bit wet too and when we got to the car park we had to make a decision about whether to dash over to the entrance without our coats (and risk getting a bit wet) or to wear the coats (and so spend all morning carry them around once we got inside). We went for the former, but then seemed to spend much of the rest of the day going backwards and forwards from the car changing our minds. What we had with us was never quite right.
DeltaPark Neeltje Jans is a multi-themed theme-park situated on an artificial island called Neeltje Jans, which was constructed as part of the Oosterscheldekering project. The island was originally used as a huge dry dock in which all the concrete piers for the barrier were constructed before being floated off into position. Some (but not all) of it has been subsequently filled in to make it up to the level of the barrier and so it now forms a part of the barrier itself, right in the middle.
As with most things around here the main part of the park is on the landward side of the barrier and there’s a considerable hill you have to go up and over to get to the sea – up to 15m higher than the land behind, and hence well able to cope with the very wettest and stormiest of North Sea weather.
The first thing we did on site was to visit all the expos about the barrier inside the main building. There was quite a lot of it, including a very old-fashioned seeming public information film – you know the sort – all sweeping vistas and slightly faded colours. This gave the history of the barrier and the reason why it is needed. It also showed the visiting dignitaries who were invited along for the formal opening in the mid-1980’s, including HRH The Duke of York and his wife of the time. All of this is sort of preparing you for, what was for me, the main event. I know there’s probably a few people who go there and don’t make it as far as the actual storm barrier, but that would be such a waste.
By this time we were getting a bit hungry so we retired to the cafe for some slightly over-priced but fairly generous portions of chips and probably some healthy food too, which we ate inside a very large an very empty seating area. Given that it was the summer holidays and it was raining I was expecting the place would be full up, as (in my opinion) there’s not a lot else to do on a rainy day around here, but it just goes to show how wrong you can be.
After lunch we made another change of jumpers/coats and walked outside in some now relatively light rain to walk our way down to the actual barrier. On the way down there were a few things to do and look at, such as lots of over-sized bits of building equipment and some “experiments” demonstrating the effects of levers and pulleys. We also caught the back 10 minutes of the Birds of Prey show, which involved, as you’d expect, a number of birds of prey being coaxed into flying ridiculously close to the population on the promise of getting half a dead mouse at the other end (other bird foods are available). They really were flying quite close to the people. Duck!
Once you get to the flood barrier you get a much better sense of the scale of it, which is to say, it’s big. Very big. The Oosterscheldekering has three sets of barriers, and you get to walk to the “middle” end of one of those. The barrier was designed to be open to the tides under normal conditions, to preserve the tidal wetlands behind it, but when there’s a predicted storm surge which brings the water 3m or more above normal level then the barriers are dropped down to prevent flooding inland. Clever, isn’t it? There’s a total of about 4km of opening parts and about the same of closed barriers and islands. The result of this is that the water flow into and out of the estuary is constrained somewhat, resulting in what can best be described as a very brisk tide in one direction or the other most of the time. Once you get to the end of the barrier you can enter and walk through a little expo in the room under the road deck running between the first two piers, and then once you get outside again you can walk back along the external steel gantries (right over the water, but still slightly out of the rain because of the deck above you). It’s when you’re down here that you can really see the speed of the tide coming in or going out. You finish up by climbing onto one of the piers where there’s a brass plaque marking the occasion of the formal opening ceremony and listing the “big nobs” that Queen Beatrix invited along. It’s also the Ground Zero for the Oosterscheldekering Earthcache based on the barrier and the estuary. It’s possible to do this by standing on the road deck rather than paying to enter the expo, but we were inside anyway…….
Next we walked pretty much back to the main building and swapped over clothes again, as it was now getting quite sunny. And then we went to the seal show. It involved a few pinnipeds rather than the well known London born singer. In Dutch they’re known as Zeehonden, (“Sea Dogs”), which is a bit crazy, but they managed to give a killer performance. OK, enough already with the crap Seal jokes.
After the seals we wandered back to the birds of prey area and watched the first 10 minutes of the performance, which this time had a few introductions in English and a few birds that we didn’t see at the end of the previous performance earlier. Otherwise it was much the same, with lots of swooping and munching of bits of meat.
By now the sun was fully out and it was getting quite warm, which was most welcome after earlier. We walked from the birds of prey around a low footbridge around to the sea lion show. The Dutch use the same name as we do – Zeeleeuw. There were about 3 sea ions, I think, but they only came out to play one at a time. They are quite impressive beasts, but I’m not sure how I felt about them being captive and being trained to behave like this. I’m sure their welfare is good and all, but the show just consisted of them doing a bit of jumping and swimming and quite a lot of pretending to clap and begging for fish off a guy who looked like the hairy one of the food critics off MasterChef.
Anyway, it was time for the daily ice cream.
And then we drove home and went swimming in the Aqua Mundo tropical pool before having tea and beer and putting the kids to bed.
The rain didn’t last that long really and it proved to be the only daytime rain we had on the whole trip. The DeltaPark had just enough different things to do to keep the kids (including myself) entertained for the day.