Even people who’ve never done it will tell you that the Netherlands is a great country to cycle in. It is. Not just for the obvious reasons: flat for the most part, probably the best cycling infrastructure of any nation on earth, and a culture that embraces cycling as a way of life. But also because of the nature of its landscapes and townscapes: it is a land of detail. The front rooms laid open to inspection behind huge windows, the reflection of a vast sky in the waters of a canal, a sailing barge tacking across an inland sea. And cycling through that sort of place provides the perfect pace to notice those details.
There’s no particular justification for trying to cycle from the most southerly to the most northerly point in the Netherlands. But a goal of that sort seemed like a good idea for re-kickstarting a cycling habit, and I knew that Lands End to John o’Groats was way beyond me (it’s also geographically illiterate and should be Lizard Point to Dunnet Head, so falls foul of the pedant within me, too). On the other hand, end-to-ending the Netherlands doesn’t feel like you’re taking the piss: after all, if end-to-ending was the sole goal, you could do Liechtenstein in a couple of hours. And the country has the advantage of being easily accessible by rail or ferry for a quick weekend – the must far-flung corner of the Netherlands is a shorter journey from London than pretty much anywhere in the UK north of Newcastle.
Planning the route, I immediately hit upon the first problem. Whilst the most southerly point sits on a minor road alongside Belgium, the most northerly point is on the West Friesian Island of Rottumerplaat, a location well stocked in Kentish plovers and dunlin, but which the Ministerie van Landbouw, Natuurbeheer en Voedselkwaliteit is rather keen to maintain in a pristine state for the benefits of said birds. No-one seems to be very welcome to this particular island, bar twice-yearly debris collectors. The goalposts were shifted slightly, therefore, to make this a journey to the most northerly generally accesible location in the Netherlands. Inevitably, this too is on one of the protecting string of barrier islands running along the country’s entire north-facing seaboard: an as-yet-to-be precisely located spot on the north coast of Schiermonnikoog. The planned route is shown on the map above, with the marker showing progress to date. From the hills of south Limburg, the plan is to parallel the River Maas and the German border across eastern Brabant, crossing the Rhine at Nijmegen, and entering the heathlands of the Veluwe. At this point, the route swings due west for a little before snaking through the woodland-and-suburb mix of Het Gooi. Skirting the eastern edge of Amsterdam, the route then ploughs northwards up the coast of the former Zuiderzee, before cutting across the Noord Holland peninsula to Den Helder. There then follows a stretch of island-hopping across Texel and Vlieland, before regaining the mainland at Harlingen. The route then heads broadly eastwards across Friesland, passing through Leeuwarden, before a final ferry hop to Shiermonnikoog. In total, this comes to a distance of around 530 kilometres. Nothing too spectacular, but a worthwhile spin round the park.
The noise of the wind whipping round the soul-less concrete congress park on the southern edge of Maastricht woke me, confirming that the previous night’s weather forecast hadn’t been far wrong. Pulling back the curtains, I was happier to see that the noise that had sounded like torrential rain was in fact simply a series of banners for forthcoming conferences being pummelled by the wind. The banners did, however, serve the purpose of showing that the wind was heading straight from the south-west. This was, of course, inevitable on the one day of the end-to-end adventure that would require significant distances of cycling straight towards the south-west.
Even at 8am on a cold grey Saturday, there was a steady stream of cyclists bouncing across the cobbles in front of the imposing dark brick station in Maastricht, heading mainly for a little cubby hole set back from the main entrance. This, it turned out, was the way into a combined secure cycle-park, bicycle shop and hire outlet. The presence of literally hundreds of bicycles in a low-ceilinged room meant being assailed by the warm smell of rubber tyres the moment the doors slid open. In the distinctive Dutch manner of combined efficiency, friendliness and not-smiling-in-the-slightest, I was issued with a bike, a large bundle of notes taken from me for a deposit, a much smaller bundle for the actual hire charge, and assured that, yes, when it said on the door that they were open 5:30am to 1:15am, then they really were open those hours. The bike was different in two respects from anything I’d ever hired in the Netherlands before: 1) it had gears – 18, in fact; and 2) it had brakes, rather than a fixed wheel which you eventually get the hang of after about four hours riding the thing. The extra €2 a day to hire a bike with these exciting features proved to be a worthwhile investment. Barring a worrying habit of making loud clunking noises in any of the bottom four gears, and the fact that the front gear cables lost all tautness and therefore any ability to use more than a tiny number of the gears halfway through the second day, the bike and I got on pretty well.
I suggested in the introduction that the most southerly point in the Netherlands is easily accessible. That’s only by comparison with the most northerly point. In fact, it’s pretty much as close to being in the middle of nowhere as either the Netherlands or Belgium can manage. Frontier Post 12 is situated near the Dutch hamlet of Kuttingen and the Belgian hamlet of Sippenaeken. No, I’d never heard of either of them, either. Thanks to decisions taken by some Dutch version of Meinheer Beeching, the closest railway station – at Eys – is now served only by steam trains at summer weekends. Instead, it was necessary to take the train to the former junction at Schin op Geul, and then make a 15km positioning move by bike from there.
For such a keen cycling nation, the Dutch railway system isn’t all that keen on you taking your bike with you on a train: the contract is that they’ll provide ample cycle parking at station (though not ample enough, going by the number of bikes lying
on the ground outside Maastricht station), then if you need to, you’ll hire another bike at the other end. Every train has a dedicated cycle area, but it isn’t normally very large, and for the privilege, you’ll be asked to buy a pretty hefty €6 ticket for your bike. To be fair, that’s a day ticket, allowing you to use any train, anywhere in the country. But when you are making a short, single journey for which your ticket as a human has cost just €2.80, as it does for the 20mins from Maastricht to Shin op Geul, you start considering demanding a complimentary glass of oil for your bike from the conductor.
The new Veolia-run multiple units that form the service across the bottom of southern Limburg do at least provide the luxury of a seat belt for your bike. Safely strapped in, we headed off eastwards out of Maastricht into the gently-rolling hills. Describing these, as some of the more enthusiastic guide books do, as ‘the Dutch Alps’ is tantamount to calling the Fens ‘the East Anglian Everglades’. The general principle is the same, but the whole concept rather falls down in terms of scale. It probably wouldn’t have the same global appeal, but a more accurate description of South Limburg might be ‘the Dutch Cotswolds’. The hills are of a similar height, they (and many of the buildings) are constructed of the same warm, golden sandstone, and they both exude an air of satisfied prosperity. Plus, visiting the Dutch Cotswolds doesn’t involve the risk of accidentally meeting David Cameron, or his ‘constituent’ Rebekah Brooks. Though no doubt someone will now inform me that the Netherland’s answer to George Osborne is a native of the Geul Valley. Travelling through the hills, it became clear that, possessing only one area of slopes in their country, the Dutch had decided to cram every amenitiy associated with slopes into this area, suitably scaled down. We passed rather diminutive cable-cars and toboggan runs, and panoramic restaurants perched on top of 50m high hills. Later in the day, I would start to come across versions of those signs you get at high viewpoints, proudly proclaiming the visibility of a mountain range 80km away. In South Limburg, these instead point out a wood 1.2km away, and a church just across the river.
Only I alighted at Schin op Geul, an over-specified junction station which isn’t really a junction anymore, perched on the hillside, with the village nestling below. In case I’d forgotten what the elements had decided to throw at me, the moment I stood the bike up against a fence to check the map, it was blown over. No matter – the first section over the level crossing, down the hill and onto the main road through the village was unaffected by the wind. And inevitably, the main road was provided with generous cycle lanes on either side, not that they were needed at 9am on a Saturday. On the left hand-side of the road, the linear villages of Etenaken and Wijlre merged seamlessly
into each other, providing a contrast between the estates of houses on one side and the verdant valley floor, watered by the meandering Geul on the other. Wijlre, a mixture of smell and signs revealed, appears to run an economy based on the fine combination of beer and watermelons (though no doubt a lot of less romantic commuting to Maastricht and Aachen also plays a part). Dropping off the main road past the over-sized church, I came to the gleaming brass vats of the Brand brewery, proudly displayed through the windows of their unprepossessing modern home.
Leaving the village, I joined a segregated cycle path paralleling the plane-tree-lined road
across the partially-flooded Geul valley, then climbing briefly to enter the small town of Gulpen, another prosperous-looking brewing centre. On a Saturday morning, its attractive central square was deserted, leaving all the more room to admire the square’s weird centre-piece: a sculpture of a three-headed naked human sitting on a beer barrel. To add to the sense of a sleepiness, someone seemed to have forgotten to turn off the Christmas lights, despite it being early February. Heading out of town round the back of the bus station, I turned left, bringing me to the slightly shameful part of this travelogue: I had to walk my bicycle up a hill in the Netherlands. Dutch cycling maps don’t bother to show such petty-fogging details as contour lines. After all, for 90% of the country they’d be irrelevant, and when you have to show negative contour lines, things
start getting a touch confusing. So, whilst I had guessed from the course of the road on the map, and the tell-tale existence of a view-point, that there would be a climb out of Gulpen, I hadn’t expected to be confronted by stretch of something in the region of a 20% gradient. Luckily, the steepest section was short, and the gradient eased out enough to remount. With views back over the valley, the road was now conducting almost a complete circumnavigation of the statue of the Virgin Mary which adorns the top of the Gulperberg. Such outward displays of religiosity might be rare in most of the Netherlands, but in deeply Catholic and conservative Limburg, such statues take their place alongside frequent wayside chapels and crucifixes.
Looking forward to easier riding after the top of the hill, I had forgotten the wind. Past a panoramic restaurant and some cold-looking sheep, the road suddenly turned into the
teeth of the wind, blowing straight across a gently-rising plateau pinpricked with woods. Up here, gusts were so strong as to actually bring me to a halt, before I finally worked out the only tactic was to time short sprints between the gusts of wind. There was little to do but slowly count down the hamlets scattered along this quiet road – Berghem, Crapoel, Landsrade – each basically consisting of a large farm whose primary business was now camping. Every single campsite had come up with the highly novel idea of marketing itself with a picture of a cartoon Friesian cow: by the fourth such instance, this was beginning to wear just a little thin. Pulling in to let a tractor past, the driver waved and shouted something. I know practically no Dutch, but the great thing about the language is that when it sounds like a man is shouting “It’s very windy” above the noise of his tractor engine, that’s probably precisely what he’s doing.
Counting off the kilometres into the wind across the rolling plateau, I eventually arrived at the cross-roads village of Heijenrath. The road south from here led straight to the Belgian
border – cycling across an international frontier is a brand new experience for me, but as first times go, this was inevitably something of an anti-climax. The entry to Belgium was marked by a sign saying I was entering the commune of Teuven, a noticeable deterioration in the road surface, and the fact that the farmhouses ahead were noticeably more dilapidated than those I’d been passing in the Netherlands. I don’t want to give the wrong impression – Belgium has some nice corners – but it’s a country I’ve always found hard to warm to, though my feelings towards it hadn’t been helped by the fact that every single cash machine in the country had seemed to be empty when I was travelling through the previous night. On such crucial matters (and the empty stomach that was thereby caused) do the impressions of travellers rest. On this occasion, Belgium rapidly improved. Past the first farm, which turned out slightly randomly to be a gelato-farm and apparently the only tourist attraction for miles, I dived left down a delightful firm track through the Bois de Beusdal/Bovenste Bos (see, I’m even doing the bilingual thing). Coming to a halt in a clearing for a drink of water, my braking startled four white-rumped roe deer, who scattered into the trees.
Eventually I came to a cross roads in the middle of the woods where a decidedly sportif Belgian cyclist powered up the hill from the west before stopping and proceeding to have a very loud mobile conversation, whilst perched on the side of a monument. On closer inspection, this turned out to be commemorating the Belgian and Allied troops killed by German electric border fences during World War I, complete with somber bas-relief of a soldier draped across just such a fence. Turning east, the miles of steady climbing into the wind were finally compensated for by a superb, sweeping descent, interrupted only by a compulsory stop to gasp at the fantastic Chateau de Beusdal in the valley below. Moated and turreted – with dark woods and an invisible national border behind, this is what a castle in a Flemish version of the Brothers Grimm would have looked like.
Swooping down past the chateau and up the other side of the valley I almost missed my immediate goal – Frontier Post No.12, the most southerly point in the Netherlands. As such extremities go, it’s nothing too dramatic – a white metallic cone set back from the road in a muddy field entrance, nor is there any obvious reason for the frontier to be here: no river, watershed, or sea. Nevertheless, the bike was duly photographed leaning against the post, I briefly celebrated having no-one in the Netherlands south of me, and then the end-to-end proper began.
For the first few hundred metres of the route, the road formed the frontier, with French named houses on the right and Dutch on the left. Having seen no cycle infrastructure since entering Belgium, the road almost immediately gained broad cycle lanes on both sides, the Dutch clearly deciding to adopt the Belgian side of the road! Soon, though I turned north, away from the frontier on a beautiful narrow undulating lane, skirting the hilltops above
the Chateau de Beusdal. The lane dropped, into a valley of black-and-white farmhouses and contented geese plumped by a meandering stream. I skirted the village of Epen, which clearly plays upon its position at the heart of the Dutch Alps to attract the tourist euro, before taking another tiny lane through the undulating hills to Mechelen. Through the attractively non-descript suburbs of this large village, which have the occasional half-timbered farmhouse standing swamped amongst the new buildings, the route came to its attractive little centre, with almshouses and a church clustering onto the main road, along with a couple of tidily-displayed posters for imminent local elections.
There then followed something rather unusual for the Netherlands – a short stretch on a busy main road without any cycle segregation. Cycling along this section wasn’t made any easier by being forced to play cat and mouse with the dustcart – no sooner had I overtaken it whilst it was loading, than it was overtaking me. Thankfully, I could soon turn north onto what quickly became a cycle-only back road along the floor of the Geul valley, along which I could speed through the flat fields and past trees laden down with an early crop of catkins. This deposited me at the foot of my old nemesis, the Gulpenberg, but I veered right rather than tackle it again, along a series of suburban streets to complete a loop back into the square at Gulpen. By now it was midday, the town had awakened, and it was clearly time for a stop at one of the rather tempting looking eetcafé. Under a wall of black and white photos of nuns taking glum-looking parties of school children on aeroplanes to Lourdes, I was served a glass of the town’s Gulpener pils. The kaasbrodje that I ordered under the impression it would be a cheese sandwich turned out instead to be a vast board of large chunks of Limburger cheeses, probably adding as many calories as I had lost during the course of the morning’s battles with the wind. Meanwhile, better-equipped looking cyclists than myself downed brimming glasses of genever in the apparently correct bring-your-mouth-to-the-glass-rather-than-vice-versa fashion.
Unkind people will say it was the beer, but I maintain that it was bad signposting that got me lost on the way out of Gulpen. However it happened, I managed to get a good view of several rather dull housing estates and eventually ended up on a road towards the village
of Ingber, south of where I had wanted to be. Taking a chance, I turned up a track that didn’t appear on my map, which soon led out onto a wide, windy plateau and onto the network of tracks I had originally intended to be on. In places these turned out to be rather muddy, and I was later to spend a good 20 minutes unpicking dried-on mud from various important parts of the bike. Eventually, passing a series of carefully-secured fruit orchards, with lights and cameras present in a rather hi-tech anti-scrumping measure, the track became tarmaced, and swept down through one more glorious descent into Schin op Geul. It being only early afternoon, rather than call it a day here there was clearly time to push on a few miles to the next station up the line at Valkenburg.
Crossing the Geul and passing a rather surprisingly-located ‘World Peace Cafe’ (closed, presumably pending an outbreak of world peace) the route out of Schin started well, but quickly deteriorated when what the cycle atlas showed as a tempting looking river-side cycle path turned out in fact to be a muddy footpath on the other side of the railway. Fortunately this was a short stretch, and the required wheeling of the bike allowed for admiration of the caves in the low sandstone escarpment above. It also allowed for a near-death experience on a level crossing with a train that I’m sure wasn’t in the timetable. Re-descending to the river I arrived at a rather over-the-top calvary facing the very French looking Schaloen castle across the river.
At this point the path became cyclable again, and led through the pleasant beech woods beside the Geul, past the ochre outhouses of Kasteel Oost (which was very un-Kasteel like) and into the busy little tourist-trap of Valkenburg, the end-point of the day’s cycling. Valkenburg is squeezed into the valley of the Geul below its sandstone castle ruins and is very pretty, in the way that attracts coach parties. Apart from the castle, for the purpose of tourists it consists of two streets, one composed entirely of eating and drinking places, the other seemingly entirely composed of lingerie shops. Today, the town was heaving with people attending a Red Bull ice hockey final just outside the town (the cause of the extra train that had nearly mown me down a
mile up the line). Large crowds, who all seemed very keen users of large quantities of fake-tan and/or hair gel, were being shepherded through the town by hi-vis jacketed lollipopmen, where bars seemed to be engaged in some sort of competition as to who could openly advertise the highest price for a can of Red Bull. A converted armoured personnel carrier was being used as a mobile DJ booth outside Valkenburg station, whose castellated station house is apparently the oldest railway building in the country: this was all mildly incongruous. Thinking briefly about the Netherlands’ worryingly high cycle crime statistics, and the large wad of banknotes being held in security at Maastricht station, I tethered the bike up in the station’s covered cycle-path and headed back to Maastricht on the train.
After a pleasant evening in Maastricht’s handsome old town, whose inhabitants seem to enjoy drinking al fresco in near freezing temperatures far too much, the following morning I headed out to catch the train back to Valkenburg. It was immediately apparent that I had accidentally shown good judgement in leaving the bike at Valkenburg the previous afternoon. Every train along that line was marked with an ominous ‘rijdt nicht’ on the departure boards, and I eventually found a further dot-matrix board which confirmed the line as far as Valkenburg was closed for engineering works until 11:00am. For a generally well-organised railway, information provision when things are a bit out of sequence is not the Dutch system’s greatest strength. There was no information about replacement buses, and nothing in the bus station out front that looked like one. Eventually, I found a faded bus stop marked ‘Bus i.p.v. Trein’ and took a wild guess as to what that could mean. Sure enough, a bus shortly turned up, and to no schedule which even vaguely resembled that of the train, whisked a grand total of 3 passengers off to Valkenburg, where the bike had survived the night intact.
With the wind having shifted more towards the west, the short ride out past Valkenburg’s
light industry was a bit of a struggle, but I was soon turning north under a motorway viaduct and up a looping road climbing, for the most part gently, out of the Geul valley and past fields of horses to the large combined village of Groot Haasdal/Klein Haasdal/Schimmert. There was a pleasant enough, though broadly nondescript, fifteen-minute ride through these villages, the boundaries between them being only discernible by the changing election posters. Schimmert, it appeared, was a hotbed of centre-leftism, or at least was the first place I’d passed through where the Labour Party (PvDA) thought it worth putting up posters. Previously, the centre-right CDA had pretty much ruled the roost, although an occasional poster from the Socialists, carrying the single word ‘Protest!’ had sneaked into some surprisingly bucolic settings. Like almost every over village, these were also decked out in preparation for the Vastenavond carnival on Shrove Tuesday, with green and yellow balloons and penants much in evidence. For this period, it seemed that the Dutch crown’s claim over its southern provinces was somewhat tenuous, with every village selecting its own prince. The houses of these lucky individuals was always very visible, being not only particularly heavily decked out in green and yellow, but also carrying a normally very large photograph of the lucky citizen in suitably regal dress. Schimmert, it appeared, was currently under the benevolent rule of Alain the First.
Past Schimmert’s gigantic church, I was eventually able to veer right and leave the built-up area on a quiet road across the plateau. There was something ever so slightly eerie about this landscape under grey, looming skies. It was probably the feeling of being surrounded by human activity – the tower blocks of Heerlen on one horizon, the flickering outlet of an oil refinery on the other, jets descending into Maastricht-Aachen airport – yet here in the middle of it all was an empty wind-swept plain, whose only feature was the huge and rather lowering church receding away behind me at Shcimmert. Eventually, with hedgerows appearing, the isolation started to be lost, and indeed a slight feeling of Warwickshire (as in ‘I’m feeling very Warwickshire tonight’) crept in. Joining a slightly busier road I swept down through the edge of the village of Nuth, over a rise and then down into the valley of the Gelenbeek at Schinnen. A complex series of segregated cycle paths led me
under the motorways and across the parallel railway, before quickly abandoning such urban pleasures for a tiny lane running up the valley, at one point squeezing me between a field of deer and a field of ostriches. The deer, it has to be said, looked more friendly. The road ran past the moated Huis Schinnen, whose owner, in a highly
unusual move for owners of moated properties, was voting for the right. Shortly after, I entered the quiet beechwoods of Stammenderbos, zig-zagging up the steep hill out of the valley floor. A series of delightful traffic-free lanes criss-crossed across the hill top, eventually leading to what could well be the last serious descent before the North Sea, into Munstergeleen.
The next half-hour was spent crossing the built up corridor that runs south of Sittard. No-one would describe it as the most inspiring of sections, though it does give you the chance to cross off every style in the Dutch Bungalow Copy-Book. It was also the first time on this journey that I got to experience full-scale urban Dutch cycle provision: fully segregated two-way cycle paths, pelican crossings for bicycles and wonderful cycle lanes on every roundabout. After a railway bridge, Munstergeleen gave way to scruffier Lindenheuvel: after the bourgeois villages of the uplands, this came as a bit of a shock. It was the sort of place where people graffiti genitalia onto fund-raising photographs of guide dogs…
Eventually, crossing a dual carriageway, the route passed through the dull village of Einighausen and back into open countryside, though with the towers of the chemical and oil works in Geleen prominent to the south. Cutting north up a lovely tree-lined road was followed by a battle westwards into the wind to reach the pretty village of Guttecoven. From here, a cycle-only-road led alongside the motorway for a short distance, giving the interesting experience of being overtaken at 120km/h. Turning under the motorway brought me alongside a freight railway line heading into the small town of Born. On a Sunday, the town centre was completely dead, though enlivened by the squawking of various forms of wildfowl in the castle grounds. The castle itself, a whitewashed affair, was a rather odd hybrid, having retained its original corner turrets, but had seen the rest hollowed out to be replace by modern business units.
The road climbed out of Born to cross the Juliana kanaal, an artificial cut-off of some of the Maas’ meanders, which I would be following for most of the remainder of the day. Over the canal I immediately headed north to join its towpath, the surface of which varied from wonderfully smooth asphalt to annoying concrete slabs which led to a constant clunk-clunk under my wheels. A harbour, full of commercial craft and houseboats and haunted by cormorants, forced a diversion away from the canal past the village of Schipperskerk before the long haul along the straight waterway commenced properly. Passing small groups of teal and ducks, I soon came to a part populated by thousands of black-headed gulls. As I approached, they wheeled into the air, their wings making interlocking patterns that were almost dizzying if stared at. On such a wide, straight waterway, the landmarks by which you measured progress were inevitably the bridges, and these are few and far between. For long stretches of time they seem to refuse to come any closer – more than a little frustrating as I was now working on a less-than optimum selection of gears. Passing the bridge at Roosteren, the Maas ran much closer to the canal, and I could look over it to the church at Aldeneik in Belgium, confirming that I was now in the narrow neck of land that connects the bulb of South Limburg to the rest of the country. The next landmark turned out to be a council truck whose occupants were busy chopping down the only tree for a mile. Their response to my quizzical look seemed to suggest that this was a perfectly natural thing to be doing.
It became apparent that in order to cross the bridge towards my goal at Echt, it would be necessary to leave the towpath. This was easier said than done, as there were no routes provided for this. Eventually, I had to slide down the levee, clutching at the bike, to reach the parallel road leading into the pristine little hamlet of Aasterberg, where contented sheep and goats grazed amongst the orchards. Almost immediately, I was climbing steadily, past water level again, to the bridge. As I crossed, a huge empty barge – the Sanne – riding high in the water, swept past at breakneck speed. From the bridge, the road descended via a large spiral to pass under the motorway and enter the town of Echt. Like everywhere else I had been today, it was fast asleep, though my arrival in the town square was enlivened by the church’s carillon bursting into life. The railway station was some way out of town to the east and took some finding, but was eventually located. Having astonishingly found I had the exact amount in coins to buy my ticket and the bike’s from the automatic ticket machine (which are probably the most annoying aspect of the nation’s railways, taking coins and Netherlands-issued cards only), I had twenty minutes of watching double-deck Intercities swish by before a bread van trying to pass itself off as a train arrived for the half-hour trundle back to Maastricht. Over the two days, a good 50 miles had been done on the end-to-end. No eyebrows were raised at the rather muddy state of the bike when I returned it at Maastricht station. By 4pm I was on the first leg of the journey home – a ludicrously overcrowded spartan forty-year old Belgian two-car train headed for Liege, where sitting under the TGV-age sweeping roof of Guillemins station, it conspired to look very archaic indeed. Belgium is going to remain a mystery for now: I’m worried that if I stay too long, they might make me Prime Minister.