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Snowcapstones in Drenthe

29 December 2004
It was snowing when me, Moth and my daughter, Cleo, arrived early morning at Hoek van Holland and it continued snowing all day. Next day, we drove north under bright, sunny skies for a day amongst the snow-capped stones of Drenthe province in the north of the Netherlands. I usually like to savour monuments, spending hours at a site to drink in the atmosphere, but with the temperature hovering at freezing point, this wasn't going to be possible. Instead we devised an ambitious itinerary to take in as many monuments as possible. Fortunately, many sites are close together.

Hunebedden follow a particular pattern in their construction. They usually consist of a line of what look like closely built dolmens, each capstone supported by two uprights or orthostats. Some have a portal or entrance in the side, half way along the line of dolmens. Some still have a few of their original ring of kerbstones which would have helped retain the shape of earthen barrow covering the lot. Now, 5000 years on, at most sites the barrow has melted away completely.

D51 and D52 Noordsleen
Following Julian's instructions in The Megalithic European (TME) we quickly located D51 and D52 at the tiny hamlet of Noordsleen, near Emmen. Our footsteps crunching the 150ms up the icy farm track towards the copse in which they lie, the first hunebed you reach is D51. With only three capstones remaining, this site feels a bit trashed, but with snow on the stones and the huge flat fields all around glistening it felt exciting and special to be there, as this was both Moth's and Cleo's first hunebed.

Above: D52 at Noordsleen
Visible from D51, perhaps just 50 metres away is D52 and this is a cracker. Ten metres long, maybe more, and with 8 of its original 9 capstones still there and all still supported by their uprights, this monument is in really good shape enhanced by its original kerbstones encircling the line of 'dolmens'. And today, sparkling under yesterday's snowfall, it was magical, the snowmelt creating beautiful abstract shapes and blueish light against the greeny grey stones. Below: While Moth made photographs, I made a quick sketch.

D49 Papeloze Kerk/Schoonoord
Last time I was in Drenthe, I had only a crappy map to work from so completely failed to find this one, which I desperately wanted to see. It turns out I had been only about 200 metres from the monument which lies in an intimate glade in dense woodland. Happily, this time, with Julian's instructions in TME we found it immediately.

Above: Cleo and Jane at Papeloze Kerk/Schoonoord
Even the approach is thrilling, down an avenue of trees, like walking into an early van Gogh drawing. And at the end of the avenue lies the prize! Today, covered with snow, it looked like a giant Christmas cake… and equally delicious and fulfilling. This is different from other hunebedden in that part of the mound has been rebuilt, so it gives a really good idea of what they might have once looked like. It reminded me of an over-sized Scillionian cairn.
I sat on the ice, my frozen arse forcing me to make a VERY quick sketch:"/>
The more I looked, the more I loved it. This place is magic. If you come to Drenthe, make sure you see this one.

D43 Schimeres
'It's just like Wayland's Smithy!' exclaimed Cleo. She's right. I'd been here before, but not in the snow."/>
The snow provided highlights which emphasized the tremendous length of this langgraf and the closely spaced massive kerbstones seemed to taper off into infinity. The snow also helped to throw out the shapes of the two exposed chambers, rising from the cushion of barrow still within the kerbstones. We all liked this one very much, and like Papeloze Kerk, if you make it to Drenthe, put this one on you list of 'must-sees'

D41 Emmermeer
A drive of no more than one kilometre north of Schimeres langgraf, Emmermeer (or Emmen Noord as Julian calls it in TME) is a really pretty little hunebed, sweetly sited three metres from the roadside on a piece of undeveloped heathland opposite some 1970s apartments. This one is quite small, but its four dainty flattish stones balanced beautifully on its legs has the appearance of a mini Frank Lloyd Wright prairie style house.

D32 Odoorn
This wasn't on our list, but we passed so close by it on our way up to Borger, we couldn't resist calling in to say 'hi'. Easy to find, this rather wrecked monument nevertheless has charms. It's bucolic position in it own little copse in the middle of wide open fields is cosy and inviting. Only one capstone is still supported, the rest are down, giving it the feeling of a wounded animal, not yet quite willing to admit defeat. All but one hunebedden are in state care, with no risk of being ploughed up or dismantled, so Odoorn's survival in it's broken condition is assured. By the time we got to Odoorn, most of the snow had melted from the monument in the bright, crisp sunshine.

D27 Borger
After lunching in a comfy and quirky typically Dutch eetcafe called 't Hunebed in the centre of Borger village, we made our way to the edge of the village to the largest hunebed of the lot – what Julian calls the 'Great Borger Hunebed'. The Rijkshunebed Informatiecentrum is here, too, and sold lots of lovely books and stuff – but not a damn thing in English.

Borger is a monster. Simply huge. Deeply impressive, its giant backbone of capstones all supported, it does feel like a sleeping dinosaur or huge segmented insect larvae. I challenge the most disinterested person not to go 'Ooh!' at this one. It feels slightly soulless to me; though this might be because it is undoubtedly the most visited and exploited.

D19 and D20 Drouwen
Cor! We were actually on our way to Bronneger, but passing through Drouwen to get there as suggested by Julian's instructions, we suddenly glimpsed the twins of D19 and D20. These two, perhaps no more than 10 metres, apart have there own big space in parkland on the edge of the village. People come here often - we could see the tracks in the snow – to exercise their dogs, play with their kids or just as a point to walk to and from. How splendid that this pair of lovelies are so cared for.

D19 still has its ring of kerbstones, whereas D20's are all gone. They are both a good size, too, like D52 at Noordsleen and just as impressive. We liked these a lot, nestled romantically in a winter wonderland, their capstones still snowcapped. Cool!

D21, D22, D23, D24, D25 Bronneger
Gimme five! Here at Bronneger you get five all at once in a glorious bucolic setting with fields and woodlands. And though badly trashed, they still have the power to enchant, both individually and as a group.

D21, pictured above, with three large capstone still up has a delightful mature tree growing close to it. D21's closest neighbour, D22, visible on the left on the photograph above, is now completely 'dead' only consisting of two capstones flopped at ground level.

Fifty metres or so eastwards are the other three monuments. D23 lives on, but only just, and now has the appearance of a single dolmen with a few other big old rocks nearby. Nevertheless, if this alone stood in a field in the UK, it'd be worth a visit. D24 is in a similar ruinous condition, though today looked very sweet with its snowy tops. D25 is much bigger and in better condition, with four great flat capstones all still supported.

Julian's instructions to find the monuments at Bronneger could be slightly misconstrued: the bit about 'turn right into open fields' could imply that you have already left the village, but this is not the case. The right turn comes as the houses begin to thin out. The rest of JC's instructions are spot on.

D14 Eexterhalte
The light was fading fast, but we couldn't resist trying to visit just one more. D14 is one of the bigger ones, with six giant capstones all still up, a line of entrance stones and seven big kerbstones marking out the original shape.

Fourteen sites in a day! That was a record for me. Though I wouldn't recommend seeing so many of these beauties so fast, they deserve at least a couple of hours each.

Jane Posted by Jane
2nd January 2005ce
Edited 24th November 2005ce

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