It was an intriguing word to see on a road sign, and on the map, America. It had us wondering, perhaps a tribute to some derring deeds, or even a base, during the war. So we’ve been to find out, two visits actually. And sandwiched in between was a stonking castle; one of the best, anywhere.
We learned little on our first trip to America, for it was a short break, a breather and a drink, on one of our cycle trips. Relaxing in the new bandstand, an anniversary building for the town, we watched the level crossing gates come down and the train whizz through. In a short period we had an express, a local commuter, and a couple of lengthy goods trains. Fortunately there were no lights and bells when it came our turn to cross the tracks and find our way slowly back to base. There seemed little time between the first warning and the engine thundering through.
The name itself was not a recent introduction, dating back to the days when the Dutch, like many others, were uprooting their families in droves and heading west in search of better times; the days when New Amsterdam was beckoning. Whilst many headed for Big America, some were content with Little America, or so the legend goes.
But the castle, now that was something, a little further south, near Maastricht. The Schloss at Hoensbroek. This was a real gem, the main building set not so much in a moat but in a lake, with lily-pads and geese. The original buildings dated back almost 700 years, with further wings added over the centuries. It was one of those rare historic buildings that catered for all the family, with period games set out in courtyards, grounds, attics and cellars for children young and old to enjoy.
But what first grabbed my attention was the structure itself – red brick, millions of them. There were stairs winding up turrets, narrow and twisting, ducking required; and a few storeys higher ancient wooden ladders, steeper and narrower still, taking you up to the roof void and timbers thick and latticed passing the tests of time. The main attic housed a 16th century clock, with a couple of substantial modern bells to ring the hours through the entire complex. The clock was a work of art, if you like that type of thing, working yet today and being wound daily still.
Close your eyes and you could hear the echo of the jousting in the lists, archery competitions, and seige attempts. And then there was the kitchen, reproducing evidence of a family eating well.
But good as Hoensbroek was we had to go back to America. For there is a museum, and it covers life in de Peel, over a hundred years from 1850, put together and maintained by volunteers intent on preserving their heritage and succeeding magnificently. Camp America has had a huge role through the later years of WWII, as a base for hosting orphans and other victims, restoring good health through good food which was hard earned working the land. At one stage it provided accommodation for up to 300.
The artefacts on show today cover the years as the camp, the history of the area through local characters, one of whom was described to us a type of Catweazle, living in the woods with a bit of trapping, a goat to share the shed with, and songs to sing.
We were brilliantly hosted, and aided in translation by another visitor content to expand her visit in helping passing on what she was learning for our benefit. But there were connections with home too, for our generous host had been in Durness twenty years ago, managing 300 hectares of peat and plantation, for Jan was a farmer, growing trees and blueberries. He was delighted to learn that we could put a source on the various Singer sewing machines in the collections, surprised too. And the connections did not end there for, just as in much of our own northern wastes, there had been a huge emphasis on peat digging in de peel, and familiar tools and photographs. One we had not witnessed before though was a substantial press to enhance the drying process. Never seen one of those on Lewis.
So that’s just a couple of snippets from some marvellous times out and about. And if you find yourself in Limburg I’d heartily recommend you drop by each one. And to finish a day on the road, or a carrot for a few more miles from young cyclists, old ones too, there’s always some of the best ice cream I’ve come across, which is saying something, at the fietscafe Koning Willem III between Helenaveen and Griendstveen. Might just have to go back for more. I’d recommend the pistache, and the latte macchiato, together.