A Visit to the Windmills of Kinderdijk with Viking River

Kinderdijk was the first stop on my Viking River Cruise from Amsterdam.

Until my visit to Kinderdijk, the closest I’d been to a windmill was a cellophane-wrapped box of windmill cookies.  So when I had the chance to visit a centuries-old working windmill village with Viking River, off I went.

Kinderijk and its 19 windmills are a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Our early morning approach to Kinderdijk. Fog was fine with me; I just hoped it wouldn’t rain.

Our riverboat, the Viking Jarl, made an early morning approach into a chilly, fog-shrouded Kinderdijk. The sun was desperately trying to break through the mist.  Apparently, an early September in Holland didn’t guarantee a warm, autumn day.

While the mills look as though they are in a straight row, they are not. This way, no mill blocked another's wind power.

While the mills look as though they follow in a line, they do not. They are staggered so no mill blocked another’s wind power.

There they stood; 18th century sentinels, keepers of the flood gates.  Most people don’t know this but much of Holland is below sea level. Kinderdijk, in particular, is over 20′ below sea level.

When the Dutch finally realized that to live in this low-lying area, something had to be devised to keep the flood waters away.  In 1738, the clever Dutch designed eight of the nineteen mills and a series of canals and drainage systems. A successful water management system would alleviate flooding.  The remaining eleven windmills were added over the next hundred years.

A total of nineteen working windmills were constructed. Built closer together than in any other part of the Netherlands, these windmills were essential to driving the pumps that directed the waters away from the village.

Without getting too technical, the Kinderdijk windmills generated pumps that sent the overflowing water in the lowest storage basins to higher ones that could contain the overflow. The water would then be directed into the River Lek and eventually find its way to the sea.

In 1997, the windmill complex at Kinderdijk was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  As part of this honor, all of the nineteen windmills must be preserved in their original state.

The windmills are numbered, 1-19 and the number 2 windmill is now the Kinderdijk Windmill Museum. The interior is a scene frozen in the 1950s, depicting what it was like to live in a windmill.

Inside a Kinderijk windmill recreation

A recreation of an old-time Kinderdijk windmill family.  A little creepy at first but very interesting.

Those of us who were fairly sure-footed climbed the steep stairs to the third floor, and were treated with an exceptional view of the entire windmill field.  It was the getting-down part that was tricky; the only way to the ground floor was by a narrow ladder.  But I made it back down as did everyone else.

Our guide explained the inner workings of windmills and how repairs were made on these massive structures.

Our guide explained the inner workings of windmills and how repairs were made on these massive structures.

Onto the windmill workshop where a guide explained in great detail how a windmill was constructed, the “signals’ that the caretakers used to communicate with each other and how they would repair the sails and blades.  We glanced at weathered-looking windmill design plans that lined the walls as the guide explained how windmills work.

It was time to leave to head back to the Viking Jarl.  I lingered a bit longer, allowing myself the luxury of being the last in our group.  Over the years, I’ve learned that some of the best photos happen when you look back at where you’ve been.

There are meandering bike paths throughout Kinderijk. I could have easily spent a day here, just on the walking paths.

There are meandering bike paths throughout Kinderdijk. I could have easily spent a day here, just on the walking paths.

Of course, in Kinderdijk, you had better look in front of you, too, so as not to careen into a group of cyclists, as I almost did.

My last look back a I left the  tiny windmill village.  Just in time to catch this young boy  on the path.

My last look back as I left the tiny windmill village. Just in time to catch this young boy on the path.

While most of Viking River Cruises on the Rhine visit Kinderdijk, not every river cruise line does the same. If you are planning a Rhine river cruise and your itinerary does not include a visit to Kinderdijk, it’s worth it to arrive a day early into or stay later in Amsterdam.  This iconic windmill complex, located a few miles from Rotterdam, is easily reached by public transport.  Click here to find the train and bus schedules.

Oh! About those old-fashioned windmill cookies? I still buy them.  My favorite brand since grammar school was from Steenstra’s Bakery in Wyoming, Michigan. Started in 1926 with a recipe brought with them from Holland, the bakery (now called Cookies Unique) still bakes those wonderful ginger and almond windmill cookies.

5 Comments

  1. Simon July 25, 2014 at 8:51 am

    Knew about the windmills but a really interesting look about what’s inside them and what the surrounding country’s like too!

  2. Sherry Laskin
    Sherry Laskin July 25, 2014 at 9:48 am

    Thanks for your comment and taking the time to read it.

    Sherry

  3. Harold J. Voorhees Sr. June 20, 2015 at 10:06 pm

    I bought this business in 1994. We are enjoying increasing sales every year. Thanks for your comments that the windmill cookie you like most is Steenstra Almond Windmill Cookies. I would appreciate your response.

  4. Sherry Kennedy
    Sherry Kennedy June 21, 2015 at 11:36 pm

    Dear Mr. Voorhees, I was totally surprised to receive a comment from the owner of my favorite cookie company. I’ve been enjoying Steenstra Windmill cookies for decades. I’m glad that you’re continuing the tasty tradition. I can pronounce the ingredients, the packaging is literally transparent and the cookies go great with coffee. Thank you for reading my Kinderdijk article. I hope to revisit the village soon…it’s a special place. Maybe I should bring a package of cookies to the windmill caretaker!
    Sherry

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