top of page

Introduction

The Frisia Coast Trail is a long-distance path that, as the name suggests, follows the coastline of former Frisia. It is no coincidence our colours are, as they say in the Turkey along their Mediterranean Sea coast mavi yeşil, meaning 'blue green'. Similar colours you can find in the logos of the East Coast Trail on Newfoundland in the northeast of Canada and the Fishermen's Trail at the southwest coast of Portugal, both on either side of the Atlantic Ocean. There are no secret agreements about using these bright colours for coastal ways, but they come to mind naturally.

The Frisia Coast Trail explores the places where the Frisians roamed and exploited, according to the old sources. Understanding the history of the landscape you walk through gives the traveler or wanderer a deeper connection to the place and time. Time travel is much more fun anyway. Think of yourself as one of the three Podagristen, "those who suffer from gout at their feet." Three writers living in the mid-nineteenth century recorded and retold the stories they came across while hiking between the towns of Bad Bentheim (DE) and Coevorden (NL). To date (2024), we wrote 135 blog posts explaining the cultural and natural history of the landscape of the southern coast of the North Sea, and how these two are intertwined in this watery environment on the edge of Europe.


The trail does things in a different way too. To start with, it goes from Z to A. From the inlet the Zwin in the region of Flanders to the Ribe Å, near the town of Ribe in Denmark. A town once founded by Frisian merchants around the year 700, and the oldest town in Scandinavia. Furthermore, at the end of most blog posts, we offer a few suggestions for music that can accompany you during your time travels. Lastly, like the Cape Wrath Trail in Scotland, the trail isn't marked, but we have a set out the trail in Google. Easy to follow with a smartphone. Click the button at the end of this page. But feel free to adjust the trail as you go!

Total length of the trail is about 2,250 kilometers, about 1,400 miles. When the trail crosses the modern border between Germany and the Netherlands at the Dollart Bight, you’re more or less halfway. The trail is modulated for an average walker. So, each day generally is an average of about 22 kilometers. Reckon if you’re a thru-hiker, about 100 days of tramping the sea coast and river banks. That is, if you walk the trail form southwest to northeast. Otherwise it might take you twice as long, with the often strong southwestern winds blowing from sea over this flat landscape.

Many surviving region toponyms, from the west in the Netherlands to the northwest of Germany, still remind the hiker of the (former) Frisian heritage and culture of the whole area: regio Westfriesland in province Noord Holland (NL), Provinsje Fryslân (NL), Region Ostfriesland (DE), Landkreis Friesland (DE), and Kreis Nordfriesland (DE). With these Frisian toponyms much of the Frisia Coast Trail is already covered, all remnants of former Frisia.


Terps are maybe the most iconic landscape element. The artificial dwelling mounds on the tidal marshlands. Part of this watery part of the world and where the Romans already wrote about. You can terps them al along the southern coast of the North Sea between Leffinge-Oude Werf in West Flanders (BE) and Misthusum in South Jutland (DK). There exist almost 30 different names for terps along the coast of the Frisia Coast Trail.

Another trademark of the landscape you’re hiking through, besides terps, are dykes. The total length of dykes in the Netherlands alone, with a territorial coastline of only 800 kilometers, is 22,000 kilometers (Pleijsters, et al 2014). In the State of Lower Saxony in Germany the total length of dykes along the North Sea coast alone amounts 1,000 kilometers. Total length of dykes in the marshland area of the State of Schleswig Holstein amounts about a 1,000 kilometers too (Hofstede 2019). For comparison, the Great Wall of China is 21,000 kilometers long, and the circumference of the Earth is 40,000 kilometers. the Frisia Coast first, China second.

There are more than 40 different types of dykes that are being distinguished! We can't list them all but they can be grouped into eight categories: (1) Sea Dykes (incl. opdijk, stuifdijk, waker, slaper and dromer), (2) River Dykes (incl. zijdewende, achterwende, voorwende, winterdijk, zomerdijk, schaardijk and leidijk), (3) Polder Dykes (incl. aanwasdijk, kadijk, ringdijk and boezemdijk), (4) Lake Dykes, (5) Canal Dykes, (6) Waterliniedijken ‘Military Defence Dykes’, (7) Dams and Storm Surge Barriers, and (8) Emergency Dykes.


Except for dunes, terps (on average 3-4 meters high), and sea dykes (currently on average 12 meters high), the terrain of the trail is painstakingly flat. So, no climbing or rock scrambling. That sounds easy, but actually, it’s not. Every hiker knows a flat surface for a long time is taxing on certain muscles. There’s a Friezenberg, part of a nature conservation area, which translates as ‘Frisians mountain.’ However, this mountain is located off track in the Twente region in the Netherlands and is only 40 meters high. Of course, part of Frisia is the isolated rocky island Heligoland, or deät Lun ‘the land’ in Halunder speech (which is a variant of the Frisians’ speeches), far out at the North Sea. Here you can climb the red rocks, which go up to 61 meters high. It’s not on the trail, but you can make this side trip at the North Sea because the island is an integral part of Frisian cultural heritage as well. Maybe the medieval thing assembly site of pan-Frisia was located here.

The roots of the people living along the Frisia Coast Trail are what scholars call une civilisation de l’eau. Or Meeresmenschen as artist Barbara Dombrowski portrays them. A water people with their own culture and history, different from cultures further inland (note that we avoid ‘mainland’ which isn’t very woke). Frisians were the عرب الأهوار 'Marsh Arabs' or the Samah-Bajau (nicknamed the Sea Gypsies) of Europe, so to speak. An amphibious species living in a waterland of sea and rivers, living on boats. The coastline, magna Frisia, is essentially a delta. The Nile Delta but in a more humid climate. Where sweet meets salt. An environment consisting of rivers, creeks, rivulets, dunes, islands, inlets, bays, sandbanks, dunes, barrier beaches, peatlands, swamps, woods, and tidal marshlands. A delta so huge that it drains a large part of the European Continent. When you rotate the map of Europe 45 degrees clockwise – top pointing northwest – you’ll see that Frisia is but a big pimple on the southern fringes of the North Sea. And, not to be underestimated, with a massive river cutting through the hinterland which defined the cultural history of a big part of the European Continent ever since the Bronze Age; the River Rhine.

The concept of walking through the historic and cultural landscape what once was the (economic) realm of the Fryske wetterotters ('Frisian water-otters' nickname for Frisian people, Kloosterman 1933) for many centuries, was followed by the Flemish television producer Arnout Hauben (Leuven, Flanders) soon after the Frisia Coast Trail had set out its path (2017). First with his series Rond de Noordzee 'Around the North Sea' (2019), and the following years with the series (twice) Dwars door de Lage Landen 'Across the Low Countries' (2021, 2022).

Also recently (2020), the concept of travel through the cultural landscape of historic Frisia is picked up by local politician Siegmar Wallat (Bredstedt, Nordfriesland) too. Wallat wants to create an Europäische Straße der Friesen ‘European way of the Frisians’ or Friesenweg, and challenged his students of the Fachhochschule in the town of Heide to make a business case. Domain www.friesenweg.de, however, is still (2023) available and for sale for the highest bidder. No interest yet. Carlien Bootsma (Goenga, Friesland) walked during a month parts of the Wadden Sea coast and islands, also in 2020. Her aim was to combine the joy of walking with writing about what rising sea levels mean for the tidal environment. With his book De Friezen. Een geschiedenis ‘The Frisians. A history’, writer Van Doorn (IJlst, Friesland) describes the history of Frisia in the form of eleven journeys he personally made through the landscape (2021). In the year 2023, extraordinary professor Zef Hemel (Emmen, Drenthe) also walks the coast of the northern Netherlands to find "a new, exciting story for the North". He walks, of course, because in the spirit of Goethe you should never trust a thought that isn’t born out of motion. Wise guys always, those professors.

In addition, in 2023 a new path in the north of the Netherlands was designed called the Ziltepad 'saline path'. Of course, the name has similarities with the book titled 'The Salt Path' by writer Raynor Winn (2019), also a coastal walk. Following the example of the Frisia Coast Trail of 2017, it connects (religious) heritage and culture with the coastal landscape, in particular that of the Wadden Sea.

With all these new Frisian roads and path, we almost forget the oldest and most venerable one of all, namely Der Friesenweg, running from the high Alps in Switzerland to the low, smelly shores of the Wadden Sea. A way created by dead Frisian warriors. Read our post Make way for the dead! to learn more and shiver.


The trail requires constant maintenance. Through time, the landscape has been exceptionally volatile because of the interaction of the sea, rivers, and humans. It's a process of continuously finding a new or better balance. Even since we started developing this trail in 2017, adjustments have had to be made already due changes in the landscape. Such as the demolition of the Internationale Dijk (‘international dyke’) at the inlet of the Zwin in Flanders, which has given the sea much more space again. Furthermore, the tidal marshlands of Noarderleech in the province of Friesland have been reshaped after the construction of a new pumping station near the village of Hallum. In the region of Nordfriesland, the terps on the Hallig islands are being heightened due to the still rising sea level. Currently (2020-2024), the 31-kilometers-long Afsluitdijk (‘enclosure dam’) is under construction for a major makeover. Additionally, a brand new river will be created to connect Lake IJsselmeer with the Wadden Sea: the River Vlie (or Fli) revisited. And, of course, we are eagerly awaiting the opening of the sea dyke at the village of Holwerd, although it becomes quieter and quieter at this northern front. And so forth, and so forth.


Lastly, when designing the trail we made use of the trailblazers before us. Like the European Coastal Path (E9), Zuiderzeepad, Groot-Frieslandpad, Floris V-pad, Noord-Hollandpad, St. Odulphuspad, Hünenweg (formerly Friesenweg), Waterliniepad, Pronkjewailpad, Kromme Rijnpad, Podagristenpad, Jabikspaad, Trekvogelpad, Ostfriesland Wanderweg, Romeinse Limespad, Happy Hike NH, Seelter Ai Paad, Klompepaden, Groninger Borgerpad, and many, many more paths. And sometimes, we just cut through the grasslands, beet fields, salt marshes, mudflats or dunes.

Have fun walking and reading!

and

Go with the Vlie!

Note – Following historian D.J. Henstra we will use the terms West Frisia, Mid Frisia, East Frisia and North Frisia to discriminate between the different areas and lands of former Frisia. Therefore:

  • West Frisia (BE and NL) comprises the north-eastern tip of the region of  Flanders, and the modern provinces of Zeeland, (partly) Utrecht, Zuid Holland and Noord Holland, including the region of Westfriesland (also written as West-Friesland) in the province of Noord Holland;

  • Mid Frisia (NL) comprises the modern province of Friesland, often denoted in literature as West Friesland, West Frisia and Central Frisia;

  • East Frisia (GE) comprises the modern region of Ostfriesland, including the area of Wangerland;

  • North Frisia (GE and DK) comprises the modern region of Nordfriesland, including the south-western tip of Jutland.

The regions Ommelanden in the modern province of Groningen (NL) and Land Wursten (GE) at the mouth of the River Weser were Frisian too during the full Middel Ages but were never clearly classified as beloning to one of the four regions mentioned above.

Suggested music

Iggy Pop, The Passenger (1970)

Status Quo, The Wanderer (1984)

Run DMC, Walk This Way ft. Aerosmith (1986)

Further reading

Arentzen, W., Nicolaus Westendorp (1773-1836). Een dominee op zoek naar 't begin van 't Vaderlands Verleden (2022)

Boer, de D.E.H., Emo’s reis. Een historisch culturele ontdekkingstocht door Europa in 1212 (2011)

Craandijk, J., Wandelingen door Nederland met pen en potlood (1875-1888)

Halink, S. & Spiekhout, D., Van armzalige modderterpen tot ‘leave Fryske grûn’. Inleiding tot het thema tweeduizend jaar Friezen en hun landschap (2023)

Henstra, D.J., Friese graafschappen tussen Zwin en Wezer. Een overzicht van de grafelijkheid in middeleeuws Frisia (ca. 700-1200) (2012)

Hofstede, J., Küstenschutz in Schleswig-Holstein: ein Überblick über Strategien und Maßnahmen (2019)

Kloosterman, S., Hengist and Horsa. 419 nei Kristus (1933)

Knottnerus, O.S., De wandelende jood in Groningen (2012)

Lucas, E.V., A wanderer in Holland (1905)

Mak, G. & Mathijsen, M. (eds.), Jacob van Lennep. De zomer van 1823. Het dagboek van zijn voetreis door Nederland (2023)

Nijdam, J.A., ‘De gemaskerde Wizo: vervalsing, mystificatie of pastiche?’. Bespreking van: Wizo van Vlaanderen, Itinerarium Fresiae (2012)

Pleijster, E.J., Veeken, van der C. & Jongerius, R., Dijken van Nederland (2014)

Winn, R., The Salt Path (2019)

Maps and Charts

img_9583.webp

Above the best map we have traced covering the former lands of Frisia or of Frisians in the ninth century, and more or less the basis for the Frisia Coast Trail.

The first nautical charts in northern Europe were created in the region of (former) Frisia. This because navigation in the tidal water was particular dangerous. The first charts were quite simple representations but with the large-format atlas Spieghel van de Zeevaerdt by the Westfrisian (born in Enkhuizen) Lucas Janszoon Waghenaer, published in AD 1584-1585, cartography made a huge step forward. For the first time the coast of Frisia was properly mapped (and the rest of the world too).

Below Waghenaer’s nautical charts starting in the south at Flanders, Belgium following the coast to southern Jutland, Denmark; the Frisia Coast Trail as it were:

7.png

chart 1 – province Zeeland (left) and county Flanders (right) 

chart 1 - from county Flanders (right) to the River Ems (left) 

chart 3 -  region Noord Holland w. region Westfriesland (right) and (part of) province Friesland (left) 

chart 3 - region Groningen (right) and region Ostfriesland (left) 

chart 5 - German Bight with (fRtL) regions Ostfriesland, Land Wursten, Butjadingen, Land Hadeln, Dithmarschen and Nordfriesland

chart 6 - region Nordfriesland (right) and region southern Jutland (left) 

Trail Map

If the charts above are too unpractical for you to hike the Frisia Coast Trail, we have provided for an up-to-date Google Map with the trail. All different stages and sections separately available, including walking distance. Also, we have added different layers to the map, namely:

  1. The Trail

  2. Points of (historic) interest

  3. Parks & Conservation areas

  4. Lighthouses

  5. Shelter & Sleeping

  6. (music) Festivals

  7. Drowned islands

 

“History makes borders, the rest is geography” (Devoldere 2022). Following the very nature of the coast, we decided to split the hike by the rivers that subdivide the delta, and historically subdivided the different regions of Frisia. In total there are 9 stages to cover. In the drop down menu ‘The Trail’ you will find a description of each stage, including a link with a first, visual impression of the stage. 

 

Navigate on the map above or open this link.

Here we go! 

bottom of page