Arkemheen Eemland

Arkemheen Eemland

Arkemheen Polder is one of the oldest polders in the country and it shows us what life was like for farmers in Holland in times of old.

This wetland area is extremely wide open. There are few buildings, trees or bushes. There is a good reason for that and it has to do with the soil. The soil here doesn’t consist of rocks or clay or sand; it consists of peat. Peat is a thick layer of partially rotted plants, moss, leaves, reed, grass, basically any organic waste.  Peat soil is not firm but spongy and springy. That’s why it’s no good for building on. Even trees can’t get a good grip on peat soil with their roots and soon get blown over. All in all, this area of lowland peat doesn’t seem like the kind of place anyone would have wanted to live and work in, in the olden days. Especially when you consider that it was regularly flooded by the stormy sea. Yet long ago some poor, brave and probably hungry souls wanted to make it fit for farming. As early as 1356, locals were granted the right to pull up dikes around their sad, soggy cropfields to enable water management and help protect the area from regular flooding by the sea.

After the dikes were in place, windmills started draining excess water out of the polder. Long, straight drainage ditches were dug parallel to straight, narrow strips of land stretching out from the villages at the edge of the polder. Strip by strip, ditch by ditch, the workers made the land lots suitable for farming. Farmers used boats to reach their lots and take their crops to market. To look at, nothing much has changed since then. The long narrow strips of peat meadow you see today are the exact same original farming lots that our ancestors created after the dikes went up. They are still intact after six centuries! Here and there, the straight lots and ditches are crossed by meandering creeks, remnants of Zuiderzee tidal streams going in and out. Some rare plant species still recall the influence of salty seawater. It is uncommon in this country for a landscape to remain unchanged for so long. Arkemheen Polder is one of the oldest polders in the country and it shows us what life was like for farmers in Holland in times of old. It also symbolises the Dutch people’s resourcefulness and determination to turn soggy, useless land into useful land. 

<span 1.6em;"="">Hertog Reynout steam-driven pumping station helped drain Arkemheen polder, taking over the job from windmills. During the age of steam and beyond, it was in daily operation for 100 years, up until 1983. Nowadays, an electrical pumping station keeps water levels in the polder at the desired mark. On occasion, when water levels get extremely high, the old steam-driven pumping station still has to come to the rescue. People flock to see it go, full steam ahead! It’s the only one of its kind, still in working order, to have two outer water wheels.