Ancient forts, unusual houses, rural areas and a gypsy wagon with coffee facilities: you’ll surprised at what you come across on a walk through the north-east of Utrecht.
By Pam van der Veen
It’s one of Utrecht’s best-kept secrets: Zwarte Water. Approached from Lauwerecht, what first appears to be a narrow, romantic canal is in fact a residual channel of the adjacent River Vecht. The name (Black Water) comes from the dark peaty water, and the channel once formed the boundary of the Bemuurde Weerd suburb. It is now one the city’s most beautiful spots. And this place, where time has stood still, is where our tour of north-east Utrecht begins.
Keep the water to your right and follow the road until you reach Johannes de Bekastraat, where you turn right. Turn left at the end, and then immediately right, along Menno van Coehoornstraat to Griftpark. As you cross the water, a group of figures created by the famous German artist Thomas Schütte will loom into view: mysterious, rusty-brown and larger than life, seemingly immersed in their own private dance. To the east of the park, we cross Blauwkapelseweg and walk along Alexander Numankade. On your right, you’ll see the Biltse Grift, a waterway that runs to Zeist and once served as a transport route. Turn right after the Kapurplantsoen, and cross the wooden bridge to admire the imposing Anatomy Building. Architect Joseph Crouwel, who was also responsible for the former post office on Neude, designed this building a hundred years ago in the style of the Amsterdam School. Until 1988, it was part of the Utrecht National Veterinary College. It was recently restored to its former glory, complete with anatomical theatre, dissection room and apartments.
Go back across the Biltse Grift to Dekhuyzenstraat, and you’ll see another typical Crouwel building: the former Small Animal Clinic dating from 1922. Not as famous as Crouwel’s other designs, but the stone animal figurines, protruding rounded extensions and fortress-like battlements certainly make it worth a look. Admiraal van Gentstraat takes you to M.H. Trompstraat, with the Villa Francisca on the corner. Although the flaking plasterwork is proof that this early twentieth-century building has lost much of its former glory, if you screw up your eyes you can still see the grandeur of the walled garden, the towers and the arched windows. It’s a totally different style of building from the Dingemanshuis, your next destination. Take the footpath leading north over the water from the crossroads of Trompstraat and Van Gentstraat. Turn right into Huizingalaan. You’ll notice the home of the architect Piet Dingemans (deceased), which stands out thanks to a quirky square tower rising through the treetops. The building dates from 1964. It was intended as a place in which to live and work and was given a modern, flexible lay-out. Mrs Dingemans used the tower for painting and meditating. The house is now for sale for a mere € 3 million. Continue towards Ariënslaan and turn left through the tunnel into Park Voorveldse Polder. Here you’ll find Fort De Bilt, one of the defences of the New Dutch Water Line. Turn left onto the footpath just beyond the Ultc-Iduna tennis club, and go under the A27 to reach Voorveldsepad. Turn left again into a more rural area. Okay, the green fields with horses and sheep have a motorway soundtrack and high-rise buildings as a backdrop, but you’re still out of town.
Voorveldsepad leads to a second nineteenth-century fortification: Fort Voordorp. At the entrance, you’ll find Koffie Bij Maria, a self-service café in a colourful, stylised gypsy wagon. You can make your own coffee or tea inside for just € 1, and buy something to go with it or visit the toilet. Voordorpsedijk and Bastionweg take you to the idyllic village of Blauwkapel. Many of the buildings in this oasis of tranquillity are listed, including the fort dating from 1818 and the church from 1451. Nice to know: a meteorite known as the ‘Utrecht’, hit Blauwkapel in 1843. Follow Kapelweg, and turn left into Eyckmanlaan, where you’ll see the former Blauwkapel signal box at the level crossing. Unfortunately, the coronavirus pandemic has put paid to plans to turn this municipal monument into a hospitality venue. Turn right before you get to Gerrit Rietveld College, towards Professor Reinwardtlaan, which takes you along the waterside through Tuindorp. Walk over the bridge to Professor Leonard Fuchslaan, and turn right at the end before you reach Kardinaal de Jongweg and the water that runs parallel.
Walk alongside the water until you reach the Tuindorp-West complex, a collection of flats built in the seventies to house some 1,200 students. It sounds unlikely, but these high-rise buildings are an official municipal monument, partly because of the so-called brutalist architecture and the emergency staircases on the outside of the buildings. It’s fun to wander around the complex, just to admire the seventies orange, green and yellow colours, and the contemporary wall paintings by the Utrecht ‘Verfdokter’. Talmalaan then takes you southwards through the Staatslieden neighbourhood. Stop at Hygge restaurant for a take-away drink and a quick bite to eat. Follow Verenigingsdwarsstraat to the Lauwerecht, which takes you back to Zwarte Water, where our tour of the north-east began.