De Peel and De Kempen

Before, we blogged about De Meierij of ‘s-HertogenboschWe briefly mentioned two other areas in Brabant: De Kempen and De Peel. Since all three areas are in Brabant and they overlap on a number of points, it is not always clear to indicate in which area you grew up or live in. Many Brabanders do not even know what the three areas entail. This blog can change that.


De Kempen

kempen area
Area known as De Kempen

When you look at a map and draw a line from Tilburg to Eindhoven, and from Antwerp to Maastricht, you have about the area we address as De Kempen. This area is in the heart of the former duchy of Brabant. Within this area was also Het kwartier van Kempenland, one of the four quarters of De Meierij van ‘s-Hertogenbosch.

The name of the region is derived from the word Campinia or Campina, Latin for open field. The area was nothing more than an open field with sandy soil. In the 1860’s the land was covered in heather, oak forest, fens and peatlands. Now the number of forests, fens, heaths and meadows is greatly reduced by heavy fertilization and polluting industry.

kampina oisterwijk
Evening twilight in De Kampina (picture by

If you really want to enjoy The Kempen, go to nature reservation Kampinabetween Boxtel and Oisterwijk. Here you can enjoy the nature. In the summer this is the warmest area in the Netherlands.

The history

The sandy soil of De Kempen has ensured that this area was sparsely populated for a long time. When the Romans, under the authority of Julius Caesar, came they called the area Toxandria. The population lived mainly from agriculture, even though it did not yield much.

In the Middle Ages, farmers and artisans lived alongside farmers. In addition, the landscape was also very popular among artists. In the 12th century many abbeys were built in De Kempen and in the 13th century the dying of the land started. There were ditches dug to transport peat to the surrounding cities.

schapen kampina
A shepherd with his sheeps on De Kampina (picture by:

The rugged lands surrounding the villages were used as common moors for grassland farming and herding sheep. This brought about a flourishing cloth industry with Kempische wool in the 14th century. That cloth industry, however, already fell two centuries later.

Before the First World War the area remained sparsely populated. There was no real money to be made with this land. In the late 19th century, with the industrial revolution, this changed. More and more large companies saw the need to settle in De Kempen. And where there is work is people…. and polluting industry.


De Peel

De peel oude kaart
De Peel around 1702

Another area in Brabant is De Peel. This area extends from Weert to the south of Grave and is located in both Brabant and Limburg. For centuries De Peel formed the national border of the Netherlands, hence the name. The word Peel derives from the word Pael, an old Dutch word for pole, with which the borders of the country were marked.

The region is mainly characterized by the high moor (now largely excavated). The development of high moor (or peat) started about 11,000 years ago: when the ice caps retreated from Europe. The moisture could not go anywhere through the thick clay layer. By retaining (rain) water, plant remains decomposed slowly. Moss and plant remains remained piling up. Owing to the great pressure and wet soil, peat or peat was created.

Folk tales and legends

This swamp area was difficult to pass. Those who wanted to travel to Venray could only cross the area via Meijel, a small village that stood like a kind of island in this swamp. Because of the few travelers and residents, and because many probably also disappeared in this area, many sagas have arisen over this area over the years.

Name giving

The name De Peel probably originated around 1100. The region was also called Pedelo, Pedel, Pedele or Pedelant, after the Latin word Palus, which means marsh or swamp. A Locus Paludosus means marshy place.

Living in De Peel

Peat cutter (picture by:

Those who lived in De Peel often earned their daily living by growing buckwheat, herding sheep or keeping bees. When the soil was exhausted, it was transferred to peat extraction. A peat soil layer was removed and transported through a system of corridors and ditches to the farms and eventually cities. The peat was sold as fuel for ovens, breweries, distilleries and distilleries.


There were detailed regulations for orderly running of the peat cutting. The oldest known regulations date from 1676. Was the area depleted? Then the area was mined for agricultural purposes.

The emergence of a nature reserve

Around 1912, the peat stock was exhausted and many peat litter factories closed. A noose for the area. That question was so small in 1919 that this led to an uprising: De Grote Peelstaking . Approximately 200 peat workers ceased to raise wages and against the authoritarian relations within society. During the Second World War the peat extraction got a small rebound due to the scarcity of fuel, but after that time it was done. In 1984 there was a definite end to the peat extraction in the Peel.

De Peel (picture by:

In 1930, the first nature reserve in De Peel was established (Peelven) and in 1951 Staatsbosbeheer (state forest management) purchased large parts of the area. Eventually the area grew into a nature reserve of 1,441 hectares. If you have time visit De Groote Peel and see for yourself how special this area is. Who knows, you may still encounter spirits from a bygone age. 



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