On our second day in Holland, we toured Kinderdijk. There are multiple possible reasons for the name “Child’s Dike,” but I believe the correct one is related to a child in its cradle being rescued there after a particularly bad storm. There was a cat on top of the cradle (not in the cradle, mind, for those with a song now stuck in their heads) who was moving back and forth to help balance the cradle so it wouldn’t sink. There’s a lovely little book called Katje, The Windmill Cat that tells the story. Like a good homeschooler, I bought the book after we finished our tour that day.
We learned a lot about Holland’s challenges with water during the tour. Kinderdijk is located on the lowest area of land in The Netherlands, so it is an area that would be the first to flood. Back when the windmills were used for water management, they would move the water from the polders (low-lying land used for farming) UP into the canal and the up again to get it into the river where it could be washed out to sea. They raised the water up 3 separate times to get it to the river because the windmills could only raise the water up so high. The water often needed to go up 140 cm.
They used 3 different types of windmills. The first type they built were made of brick. The land where the water is being removed is peat, which you can think of as a sponge. As you remove water from it, it shrinks. As it did this, the heavy brick windmills began to sink, as well. So they began to make the windmills from thatch. The thatch was very thick, so Todd and I figured that one would be about as warm as the other. The final type of windmill was made of wood, but it’s a completely different design. The living quarters in a wooden windmill are much smaller.
The day was pretty still when we arrived, but it got windier. We were really fortunate to get to see the miller take in the sails while we were there.
We got to watch her wrap up the “sail” of the windmill. (I saw her wrap up the last one, so I didn’t take a video because I knew it would be 10-15 minutes long and I’d lose my audience). Anyway, as you can see in the video of her stopping the mill, the sails are attached to trellises that run all the way up. She unhooks the bottom of the sail. Climbs a bit up the “ladder” to unhook the next section, rolls up the sail, and then hooks it around the side and ties it as the end. It is very physical work. The sails are very heavy.
We had lunch near this particular windmill. Afterwards, we rode the boat back down the canal toward the entrance. They left some wooden clogs out (apparently this was the easiest way to keep your feet dry in the days before rubber boots) for us to try on.
Kinderdijk is a UNESCO World Heritage site. These windmills are no longer used for water management. While most of the 19 mills here are now privately owned, we were able to tour 2 of them that are kept open to the public for educational purposes. The best way to keep a windmill from falling into disrepair is to run it, so the millers are still using the mills.
They now use Archimedes screws to pump the water up out of the canal and into the river. These are powered by diesel pumps.
Holland has moved on to new technologies for windmills, as well. We saw countless wind turbines on our way back out to the island we were staying on. The wind turbines are used to generate electricity, which was an entirely separate set of engineering challenges, but also fascinating.
When we headed back to the hotel, we decided to go to the beach for some fun in the sand – we stayed away from the VERY cold water! – and got drinks and snacks at the restaurant on the beach.