'Dutch Venice' bolsters its bridges

Canal in Giethoorn, Netherlands Image copyright RTV Oost
Image caption Even small boats can damage the fragile foot-bridges

A village known as the "Dutch Venice" is shutting its canals for several hours each morning to repair the damage tourist boats have caused to its historic bridges.

Hundreds of thousands of visitors flock to Giethoorn in the eastern Netherlands each year, attracted by its network of canals, but many of them have trouble handling their hire boats and end up bumping into the bridges, the regional broadcaster RTV Oost reports.

The bridges are the private property of the 2,600 villagers, and they depend on them to get about car-free Giethoorn, much of which is only accessible by boat or on foot.

"There is a love-hate relationship with the visitors," according to the NOS national broadcaster, which says that the income is welcome but "tourists walking through their gardens and looking in through their windows" less so.

'Whisper boats'

Last year Giethoorn hired an "environment director", who tries to balancing the demands of tourism with the needs of the permanent residents.

Companies offer canal tours with experienced captains, but many visitors prefer to hire private "whisper boats".

Their electric engines are much quieter than conventional outboard motors, but they still lead to accidental collisions on the often-congested waterways, and these are weakening many of the bridges.

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Last year the council installed new mirrors on the canals to help skippers see what's just around the corner, but now it has decided to take the major step of reinforcing the bridges with extra posts and cross-beams.

The job is more complex than it sounds.

Image copyright RTV Oost
Image caption The posts must be driven deep into the canal bed

"The narrow canals and low bridges are not accessible from the road, and the posts have to be driven deep if they are to get a purchase on the peaty soil," RTV Oost says, adding that the repairmen have to work with cranes mounted on floating pontoons.

This means the canals will be closed to locals and visitors alike for four hours early each morning until the end of May, by which time the 45 bridges in question should be fixed.

The council has put diversions in place for essential journeys, and has managed to repair two of the bridges so far.

Image copyright RTV Oost
Image caption Canals are Giethoorn's arteries

Reporting by Martin Morgan

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