â€œWe go boating
Go for tea,
We sail to the portage
Drink sweet milk with creamâ€
– Dutch nursery rhyme
Portage, also called a carry, is a place where boats are carried over the dike from one canal into another. Something, which is quite hard to imagine, till you actually see it.
Broek op Langedijk, literally means the bridge on the long dike. The village, about 50 kms north of Amsterdam, consists of houses built on the dike that was built to protect the land from the vagaries of the North Sea. The region around this is called the â€œRealm of the Thousand Islandsâ€. In actual fact, the number of islands dotting this area is close to 15,000.
Around the year 1000 AD, the North Holland of today was mainly a peat area dotted with peat rivers. Houses were built on the banks and the surrounding sands were used for agriculture. However, during the 11th century there were several dry summers, which rendered the land unsuitable for agriculture. In the ingenious Dutch way, ditches were dug around the land, resulting in a lot of water ways surrounding numerous islands. The small islands were used for cultivating vegetables and fruits. The proximity to water kept the plots relatively warm even during the cold Dutch winters. The size of the island was determined by what one man could cultivate by hand. The reclamation continued for centuries and ultimately, the â€œrealm of thousand islandsâ€ was born.