We walked along the boundaries of the old commons of Ede, with historian Gerrit Breman, in the afternoon of the field trip at the Utrecht conference of the International Association for the Study of the Commons. Gerrit told us that there are written records of commons in Ede since about 1600; in Dutch they are known as buurten (connected with ‘boer’, meaning ‘farmer’).
Most of the commons were on the slopes of the big glacial moraine which dated from 200,000 to 120,000 BCE. They were used as extensive pasture for sheep, cattle, goats and pigs as well as cutting sods, digging sand and gravel, and cutting trees. The lower arable land was separated from the common by boundary walls.
There was a governance structure: the chairman (buurtrichter, often a nobleman), a secretary (buurtschrijver) and others who organised activities. The rightholders voted for the officials, and they had certain duties such as building and maintaining the boundary walls, organising and limiting the grazing.
The communal systems came to an end in the nineteenth century, for a number of reasons. The waste land was over-exploited and became too poor; the national government made it possible for landowners to claim their share in the commons; the import of cheap wool meant that sheep were no longer profitable; artificial fertiliser made the need for waste land redundant; many commons had a policy of renting out or selling bits to individuals, leaving only the less fertile parts.
We walked around the Doesburger buurt, which is about three kilometres from north to south and six from east to west. It is first mentioned around the year 1000 and the first written record of the community is in 1685. The common was sold to individuals in 1902 and reclamation and afforestation took place thereafter.
We used the map of about 1930 to walk around the boundary.
We set off first through woods where the common boundary was visible as a low bank.
We came across waymarks, Klompenpaden, which have been installed in Utrecht and Gelderland provinces.
These appear to be permissive routes, which are marked by volunteers, although I was told there is a culture of roaming free where there are no barriers. So I guess people would have walked in many of the places regardless of the waymarks.
But not here, on the other side of the road, where the land was fenced off.
We came to the railway, known as the kippenlijn (chickenline) because it gave farmers access to the markets in west Holland.
We walked along the High Road, which is now a multi-use route.
It was all very friendly, with lots of waymarks.
The final stretch was on a lovely footpath, back to the windmill.
We gathered at the Doesburger Molen, the Doesburge Mill, which is the oldest wooden windmill in the Netherlands.
The oak tree which forms its core fell around 1625.
The miller Theo Dijkstra took us to the top and explained how the round holes in the side of the windmill are important, because when the wind blows through them it tells him it is time to turn the windmill to face it.
From the top we could see the train trundling to and fro along the chickenline.
Back on the ground we enjoyed excellent local produce produced by the Buurtschap Doesburger Eng co-operative.
Then it was time to say goodbye. Mehana Vaughan, from the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa, had picked bracken and other ferns along the way and had woven a lei which she hung around Gerrit’s neck.
She gave a Hawaiian farewell, singing: ‘You have rolled out the mat of welcome for us, we have been fed the stones, the life and the food of the land …’ (which she translated for us).
A beautiful end to the day.