On Friday 12 November 2021 a new international walking trail – called the Hünenweg in Germany and the Hondsrugpad or Hondsrug Path in the Netherlands – was finally opened. The 325 km path was jointly opened by Cees Bijl on behalf of the Province of Drenthe, Anna Kebschull of Landkreis Osnabrück and the chairman of Recreatieschap Drenthe, Robert Kleine.
The route links together two UNESCO Global Geoparks; the Hondsrug in the Netherlands and TERRA.vita in Germany. The route from Osnabrück to Meppen already existed and the trail over the Hondsrug was originally developed back in 2011 (see the history below). It was never marked out with direction signs and never officially opened although the description was available as a download from the website.
The Hünenweg project
This new project to link the two paths began in October 2018 and was known as the INTERREG project ‘UNESCO Global Geopark Cooperation DE/NL’. In his opening speech Cees Bijl emphasised the close co-operation between the project partners. Anna Kebschull expressed the wish that the project would lead to further joint cross-border ventures between the two Geoparks in the future.
The new long-distance path offers walkers more than 325 kilometres of varied landscapes with many points of geological, archaeological and ecological interest. The entire route is signposted with yellow and blue direction markers with a distinctive design. Divided into 20 sections, the route also has new information panels with audio commentary, as well as many resting places with benches and suggestions for restaurants and overnight accommodation.
App and guidebook
The 20 sections vary in length between 10 and 24 kilometres and more detailed information is available (in Dutch and German) at www.huenenweg.com. There is also an accompanying app and a printed booklet describing the route.
The History of the Hondsrug Path
In 2011 Hans Meijering and Alun Harvey, two recently-retired volunteers at the Hunebed Centre in Borger, were given the task of designing a new long-distance walking trail along the Hondsrug between Groningen and Emmen, with a side branch to Assen. As a native of Drenthe, former headmaster Hans was very familiar with the local area and the history of the Hondsrug and the hunebed builders. Alun, on the other hand, is a Welshman who retired to the Netherlands in 2009 with his Dutch wife. Both men shared an interest in history and a love of walking.
The intention was that the new route should link up with an existing long-distance path in Germany stretching 185 km from the border near Twist to the TERRA.vita Geopark in Osnabruck. This path is called the Hünenweg and “Hünen” is the German name for the hunebed builders. There have been ancient trade routes over the Hondsrug ridge since before the Middle Ages, and the plan was to use existing paths, passing many places of historic and prehistoric interest along the way.
The first task was to identify the best route, crossing varied landscapes of sand, peat, farmland and woodland while staying as close as possible to the Hondsrug itself. Then the trail was divided into 20 sections, each roughly 7 to 8 kilometres. The next stage was to walk each section a number of times – in both directions – making copious notes along the way to guide other walkers and describe points of interest. These include natural features such as lakes, streams and sand dunes, and manmade monuments ranging from hunebeds, ancient burial mounds and churches to villages, war memorials and even an underground hiding place used in the Second World War. Some of the more unusual features are an arboretum of pine trees near Anloo and a remarkable monument to the crew of an American wartime bomber which crashed in the woods near Exloo.
Finally Hans Meijering produced a complete description of the path in Dutch – in both directions – which Alun Harvey translated into English. The entire project lasted more than a year and the guide was originally available to download in both languages. Subsequently, the path has been revised and brought up to date as part of the INTERREG project and offers walkers a challenging, interesting and enjoyable route through a variety of changing landscapes and fascinating history.
Text Alun Harvey