Visiting the Trynwâlden
Written by Sil Hamilton in April 2021.

Trynwâlden, n. Frisian. Corruption of "trije wâlden," lit. "three forests."

A train is rather like a living room on rails. This is especially so in the Netherlands, whose citizens have a fetish for gezelligheid, a description for the vague comfort of a society functioning as it ought to. Gezelligheid comes in two forms. The first is private, where the word essentially means comfort. Think of a lazy Sunday afternoon with a cup of tea. The second is public. All together on the rolling wheels, equally exposed to the abysmal punctuality of the Dutch rail service. Gezellig.

The country is permeated with trains. Absolutely chock full. Four hundred and one train stations form a concrete web of interconnections and rail crossings, blinking red in the murky depths of the low lands. Of course, these stations are not equidistant. Most are situated within the Randstad, a rough ring formed between the metropolitan capitals of Amsterdam, Rotterdam, and Den Hague. This area of land forms the meat of what a foreigner might describe as the Netherlands, but it is not the majority of the country. The train can lead the intrepid traveller out of the confines of the Randstad, breaching territory normally reserved for domestic and German travellers.

Schiphol Airport hides a train station. The station provides direct service to Rotterdam, Breda, Groningen, Enschede, Nijmegen, Utrecht, and Leeuwarden. The train to Leeuwarden departs from an island platform opposite the busy train to Amsterdam Centraal. The train to Leeuwarden generally leaves empty.

The train to Leeuwarden whips past the popular urban centres of the Randstad, going further and further until it reaches the relatively sparse fields of the far north.

Leeuwarden is the capital of Fryslân, the Netherlands' northernmost province. A regional city for a regional province. Despite being in a country of many train stations, Fryslân hosts only twenty-four. Neither are these the grand central stations of the south. Leeuwarden has only six open-air platforms, naked gangways allowing the bitter Norwegian winds to batter the only passengers of relevance, those seasonal students making their way to the university city of Groningen one province adjacent.

The rest of the province does not fare much better. A fair portion of those twenty-four stations are situated along the main Arriva line to Groningen, leaving only two lines of relevance for the intrepid traveller: a tangling line snaking through Sneek onward to the bygone town of Hielpen, and a dedicated line shifting southerners to Harlingen Harbour and thereby the party islands of Ameland and Terschelling shining out in the North Sea.

Taking the transfer to Groningen, I ride partway until I reach the Trynwâlden.

Fryslân is unique. It is the only Dutch province in which a second language (not dialect) is spoken: Frisian. Frisian is an old tongue — closely related to Old English, it managed to survive the pull and sway of Dutch proper, retaining features in a similar fashion to Icelandic and Norse. The language defines the province. A rough parallel may be found in Quebec: both provinces are old and stubborn, supported by equalization payments and the mob. I find both equally lovely.

Fryslân can be roughly split into two regions: where Klaaifrysk is spoken, and where Wâldfrysk is spoken. These are literally translated as Clay Frisian and Forest Frisian, meaning exactly what one might surmise: they reflect the land on which the speakers live. In general, the land of the Wâldfrysk is slightly more forested than the land of the Klaaifrysk. The Trynwâlden is Wâldfrysk.

The Trynwâlden is a raised area of old land just east of Leeuwarden. Host to a number of small villages and composite fields, the region is generically Frisian, generically Dutch, and generically rural. It offers little for the traveller. The name might imply there are numerous forests to be had, but what the Dutch call a forest is little more than an artificially-planted array of trees intended for wind-breaking. The winds on these fields are vicious, sharp bursts of gales speeding in from the coast without trouble. The forests are necessary.

Politically, the Trynwâlden is part of the gemeente Tytsjerksteradiel, a municipality noted for its stubborn use of Frisian — all street-signs opt for the Frisian spelling of names, rather than the provincially preferred Dutch. The population is elderly, and the villages small. Their names are particularly meaningful: Gytsjerk, Oentsjerk, Aldtsjerk. According to local legend, they are named after the sons of a goddess. This detail is only noted on the odd inscription littering the sides of streets.

There is little reason to visit.

This is not an insult, but merely the truth. The gems of this region only come to light once one spends enough time living locally. I can think of a few off the top of my head.

But these are not reasons to visit. The Trynwâlden is farmland for an isolated people. If you are visiting the Netherlands, and you'd like to go off the beaten path (not that anyone asked), I'd suggest visiting the Waddenielanden.