Geography was my favourite subject at school and the bit that covered the Netherlands and their land reclamation was especially interesting growing up, as I did, opposite Holland in Norfolk, also rich in windmills and low lying land. The building of the Afsluitdijk that closed off the Zuider Zee to make the Ijesselmeer fascinated me. Now I have finally not just been able to see it but drive over it.
Work began on the dam in 1927 and the final block was put in place in 1932. Now, as then, the twenty mile dam carries a motorway. Gawping at this incredible structure is plainly a bit of a thing so there is sensibly a viewing platform in the middle of the dam. You can climb to the top and see the North Sea lapping on the northern edge of the Afsluitdijk a good four meters above the more tranquil waters of the Ijesselmeer on the southern side.
When I was eighteen I embarked on a cycling tour of the Netherlands with my friend Hilary. It was our intention to cycle across the dam. It was only the wise counsel of some Dutch cyclists that we met in a youth hostel that stopped us. Did we realise that the dam alone was twenty miles long? Did we also realise how windy it was? Having now struggled to stand upright on the cycle track made me realise how wise we were to choose another route.