As holiday mementoes go, they were pretty unusual… four musket balls from 1672 and crumpled shells from a Lancaster bomber’s rear gun.
But then this is a pretty unusual vacation.
No villa with pool. No en-suite. No loo, come to that.
But calmness is in abundance, as is a feeling of serenity from spending time in a Mongolian yurt.
We’re on Texel Island, the largest of the Wadden isles and just a 20-minute ferry ride from Holland’s northern coast.
Twelve yurts are nestled in the dunes of a rambling, well-equipped campsite in Loodsmansduin, close to delightful Den Hoorn village.
As owner Piet Laan shows us our home for a week it feels like a real step back in time. A 23ft diameter canvas structure, with larch door, floor and a domed and vented roof, it absolutely knocked us out.
There is a log-burning stove, electricity, a lead sink with hand-pumped water, fridge, table and chairs, two armchairs, storage chests, pots, pans, crockery, floor cushions – not to mention the Highland cow skin rug.
Four wooden beds made by Piet, who spent 30 years as a carpenter, are surprisingly comfy.
But it’s the mood of the place that grabs you most. An aura of calm washes over you and any tasks – fetching wood, lighting the stove, strolling 50 yards with your pots to the washrooms – feel anything but a chore.
The yurts are held in a spiritual reverence in Mongolia. Even the layout seems relevant – almost steering your movements.
Piet’s wife Ina tells us: “You feel something as soon as you step inside.
“Everything in the yurt has a function. It is not there for decoration.”
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Texel is a two-hour drive from the Hook of Holland.
The Stena Line crossing from Harwich takes seven hours and having a spacious and comfortable overnight cabin was a real boon. It’s tempting to relax in and around the yurt. The campsite has a restaurant, outdoor pool (best suited to kids) and play area.
But there’s much to see and do on Texel. We hire bikes from the on-site rental shop – €36.50 a week – and are soon on our way up through the national park to the west coast.
Mile upon mile of deep sandy beaches are identified by Paals – marker points.
We have a surf lesson at the super-wide Paal 17 beach – €25 for kids, €35 for adults. The surf may have been up but me and my son Sam, 13, rarely were. Gruelling, but real fun.
Ecomare, a seal sanctuary and aquarium, is nearby. From here, 40-80 injured or abandoned seals are returned to the sea each year. A couple of miles inland is the Juttersmuseum – a fantastic, quirky collection of wrecked boats and belongings washed up on Texel shores.
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While walking the gorgeous purple-heathered moorland, we discover Paal 10 beach. And, blessed by a heatwave, it feels more like the South of France than the edge of the chilly North Sea.
The beach facilities are good – typically a snack shop with sunbed hire, plus smart restaurant (or two) serving really nice grub.
There are 14,500 islanders, largely employed in farming or tourism. A third live in Den Burg, a half-hour cycle from the yurts.
We go on market day and the town is bustling.
The cycle paths are fantastic and next day we ride east to Oudeschild, with a fabulous harbour where you can take a seal-watching trip (€15).
On the north of the island, se overlooks a deep and enormously wide beach where kite-surfing buggies thrash across the sand.
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On our last day we head a mile south to De Geul, a spectacular watering hole for wild cattle, horses and hundreds of geese.
Finally, after a hike through sand dunes, we hit upon De Hors beach, which dwarfs anything we have seen so far.
If you’re lucky you’ll spot a seal or two, including a 10ft-long beast nicknamed Torpedo by locals.
The shifting sands of Texel – the island is slowly creeping east – are a graveyard for sunken ships, plane wreckage and the skeletons of sailors and airmen who met their fate from 17th Century Anglo-Dutch wars through to World War Two.
Which takes us to the musket balls and the Lancaster shells, from a bomber downed on June 26, 1943.
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They are given to me by beachcomber Paul Dekker, whose coll-ection is mindboggling, far left.
A Lancaster wheel he found is on display at the Aviation and War Museum near De Cocksdorp.
As we chat, Paul produces the cartridge belt badge of a British soldier from 1799. Then four Inca coins, brought from South America by Dutch sailors in the 18th Century.
More proof, not that we needed it, that Texel – with its yurts, cycling, surf and fascinating history – truly is a treasure
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