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About A Week: Stepping Into American History

Peter Hinchliffe visits a Dutch town and unexpectedly finds himself stepping into American history.

At 9 pm daily a big P and O ferry puts to sea from Hull for the overnight crossing to Europort, Rotterdam.

When I say big, I mean big. The Pride of Hull and the Pride of Rotterdam are 60,000-ton boats, each with more than 500 cabins and enough space to swallow scores of lorries and cars.

The 12-storey high vessels were built in Venice. A babble of Dutch, German and French voices heard in their bars and restaurants make you begin to believe that the UK really is part of Europe.

You are off the boat and heading into Holland by 8 am the following morning. I always let someone else do the driving. I have never dared to take my right-hand drive car to countries where folk insist on travelling on the “wrong’’ side of the road.

We clambered onto a bus provided by P and O to be whisked from quayside to Rotterdam central station in 40 minutes.

That brief journey leads you through a grim industrial landscape. As one oil refinery ends, another begins.

Rotterdam is an interesting city though, extensively re-built after merciless bombing during World War Two. And if you tire of its shops and busy swirl, take the fast ferry up river to Dordrecht.

Or take a train to The Hague, Gouda, Amsterdam…

If the next train to The Hague is scheduled for 10.15 you can be sure it will leave at 10.15. The Dutch have a lot to teach the British about how to run efficient and dependable public transport.

We went to Leiden, a handsome town with windmills, canals and a centuries-old university.

There we received an unexpected, and very privileged, history lesson.

The Pilgrims who sailed on the Mayflower to settle a pioneer colony at Plymouth in America lived for a time in Leiden.

They were a break-away group from the Church of England, centred on the village of Scrooby in Nottinghamshire. The Separatists included some Yorkshire folk.

In 1607 the congregation emigrated to Amsterdam, moving on to Leiden two years later. The migration to America began in 1620.

A well-preserved house built around 1375 is now the home of the Leiden Pilgrim Museum, which tells the stories of the founders of New England. The Separatists lived in similar houses.

When their minister John Robinson requested permission for his congregation to live in the town he was told that “Leiden refuses no honest people free entry to come live in the city, as long as they behave honestly and obey all the laws and ordinances, and under those conditions the applicants’ arrival would be pleasing and welcome.’’

When we visited the museum we were greeted by a chap seated at a table. He invited us to sit down and chat.

And what an informative chat! We were talking to Dr Jeremy Bangs, an eminent scholar and the museum’s director. Dr Bangs has researched the history of the Pilgrims and written books about them.

He writes in a vigorous style, lectures regularly in Europe and America, and has been honoured for his historical investigations.

And he gave us more than an hour of his time!

The Pilgrim Museum is contained in one tiny atmospheric room. Thanks to the vivid information provided by Dr Bangs we were almost able to see John Robinson and his followers.

We’ll be returning to Holland and Leiden.

We’d be fools not to take advantage as often as possible of that Hull gateway to the Continent, less than an hour’s drive from our home.


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