Off the beaten track in Roosendaal
I once met a Dutchman who said that his father had told him “Don’t bury me in Roosendaal”.
Two years ago later I met a journalist from Roosendaal and I told him about it. He said that he, too, didn’t want to be buried in Roosendaal, and the only good thing about the town is that it is 20 minutes from Antwerp for the shopping!
I had to find out what it was about Roosendaal that aroused such feelings, so I went to visit the town.
The town is on the border with Belgium, and so has a large railway station from when it was busy with customs and border police. All that activity has gone. Unfortunately its importance as a railway junction made it the focus of lots of bombing in World War II, and the station had to be rebuilt.
As you come out of the station, you face a square with trees, and hundreds of bicycles parked there for the commuters. On your left is another, manned, bike park building (free to park there – this is the way to get folk out of their cars). This building used to be a railway power station, and has some grandeur. There is also the tall war memorial to the Dutch railwaymen and women killed during the two world wars.
Across the square is my hotel, the Best Western Goderie. This was my base for my stay. The hotel exceeded all my expectations, and they make a good cup of tea!
There is also an excellent tourist office, and with their leaflets and a guided walk, I set out to explore this town which had been liberated on October 30, 1944 by a British Division known as the Polar Bears, which included the 11th Battalion Royal Scots Fusiliers.
There is a monument with a polar bear on top to mark this, in one of the squares. There is a further connection with Scotland at the Commando Museum. The town has a barracks, completed in 1939. During the occupation, the free Dutch forces formed their commando regiment in 1942, at Achnacarry, Spean Bridge, where the huge commando monument is.
Today they are a special force unit, capable of land, sea or air deployment, very tough men, and they still do their training every year at Achnacarry. The museum, in the barracks, is open on Tuesdays, or by appointment.
The first written mention of Roosendaal was in 1268 when permission was given to erect a Catholic church for this important town at a crossroads of major routes. Because of its situation, there have always been, and still are, important markets held here.
The shops down the side of one of the market places are ugly 1970s-style brutal blocks, but adorned on the tops by a number of silhouettes of musicians – there is a music tradition here. Shopping is a big thing. Yes, on some streets there are empty shops as everywhere these days, but generally there is a good range of flourishing shops, a classic “Passage” with elegant glass doors and lights, full of small craft shops, and just out of town a McArthur Glen shopping centre.
In another “square” (actually triangular) is the town hall (Rathuis) from 1810 in neo-classical style, with St John’s church next to it. This was started in 1266, though the current version dates from 1839. Today it is an events venue. There is also the 1874 Church of Our Lady, and an 1810 austere chapel. The “Fractiehuis” dates from 1750 , and the town museum “Tongerlohuys” dates from 1762. It was originally the home for half a dozen priests.
There is a bank from 1878 still with its original elegant interior, and Norbertus college, built in 1919 in Bauhaus style. The oldest building is the “De Clyne Cat” (“the little cat” in old Dutch). This dates from 1665 and today is a night club.
With its streets going off in different directions, it is fun to explore and discover these old buildings dotted about, and one street has a constant ringing of bells to warn you as the barriers come down and yet another train trundles though the middle of the town!
There is also the National Football Museum, National Fire Brigade Museum, and an indoor skydiving centre. You “freefall” on a blast of air that keeps you floating. There is a lot to do and see in Roosendaal!
It is also at the centre of nine cycle routes, with leaflets for each one, named smuggling, peat, commando, waterway, sugar, and so on. Flat countryside makes it ideal for cycling. Nearby are Bergen Op Zoom (eight minutes by train) with much to see in the beautiful town, and the huge Canadian War Cemetery. The city of Goes, just 15 minutes away, has a steam railway to the coast.
I was fair taken with Roosendaal. It is not touristy but is bustling with Dutch folk going about their daily chores. It really is off the tourist track, very Dutch, and a great centre for excursions and exploring. I will be going back there!
Need to know
Roosendaal is easy to get to. KLM to Amsterdam from Aberdeen or Inverness, and four trains an hour to Roosendaal – with one change – take under an hour-and-a-half.