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Motorhoming and Cycling in Germany 2012 PDF Printable Version E-mail


MOTORHOMING & CYCLING IN GERMANY, AUTUMN 2012

After over 3 months touring with the Sprinter van and caravan in Britain, we were more than ready for motorhoming and cycling further afield. The ferry was booked, the lockers stocked with essentials like Oxo, custard powder and golden syrup, the fridge/freezer stacked with English cheese, sausage and bacon. Time to go to Germany.

Among much else, we planned to cycle the rivers Rhine, Moselle, Ahr, Neckar and Danube.

Continued from: A Great British Summer 2012

More comment on the contemporary German scene: Looking Out in Germany

There are Galleries and Slide Shows at: Images of Germany 2012 

Mid-September 2012

From Cheltenham via Dover to Dunkirk, France – 200 miles

Free night at Dunkirk Ferry Terminal Car Park

Away at 8.30 am on a bright sunny Thursday. Traffic was pouring into Cheltenham from all directions as we escaped down M5 to exit 11a, then A417 (climbing to 1,000 ft/300 m in the Cotswolds) and A419 to the M4 at Swindon. First break was at the quiet Reading Services at 70 miles.

At 96 miles we joined the busier M25 (Gatwick direction), stopping for lunch at the brand new Cobham Services at 113 miles, which had actually opened today. No free offers though! We made good time along M26 and M20, turning off at 185 miles into the 'Port Early Arrivals' Services, 15 miles before Dover. Even here, parking is limited to 2 hours, unless you pay £20 to stay overnight. When our time was up at 4 pm, we continued along A20 to Dover's Eastern Docks to check in and wait for the 6 pm DFDS ferry to Dunkirk.

We sailed on time, ate in the cafeteria (Moroccan chicken for M, fish & chips for B) and arrived 2 hours later (9 pm French time and already dark). It had been a very smooth journey, the Flair and the ferry both running well. Once through Customs, exit the port, go round the roundabout and re-enter for the large free terminal car park. It's a good place for the night before or after sailing, with toilets at the ticket office. Slept well.

To Site de l'Orient Campground, Tournai, Belgium – 75 miles

Open all year. See www.tournai.be. Municipal camping. Short stay €15 inc 16-amp electricity and showers. Longer stay (3 nights or more) €12 + metered electricity at €0.20 per kWh. No WiFi. N 50.599829Ί E 3.413878Ί

From Dunkirk Port it was just 4 miles to the A16, then 6 miles east to join A25 and head southeast for Lille. Both motorways are toll-free. At St Eloi Services at 27 miles petrol was €1.70 a litre – about the same as UK, though French diesel is cheaper. The motorway skirted south of Lille, where we joined A27 (still toll-free) at 57 miles.

At the Belgian border, 7 miles later, we stopped for lunch on a large lorry parking area. It had no services and was probably the site of the old border control buildings. The onward Belgian motorway (now numbered A8) was immediately bumpier and rougher. We passed the exits for Tournai West and North, then turned briefly down A16 to exit 32 for Tournai East. Turn right onto N7 towards the town, past Lidl on the right, and turn left at the first traffic lights, along a narrow road signed for the Aquapark (but not the campsite!) At the fountain/roundabout just after the Aquapark, go left for the campsite entrance.

It's a good site for smaller vans, though at 8 m long we had difficulty manoeuvring onto the largest of the hedged grassy pitches. Each place has its own tap, grey water drain, rubbish bin and hook-up/light. The friendly French-speaking warden gave us a welcome gift - a small box of Ganache Praline (chocolate and nut coated biscuits with a creamy filling), which are a speciality of Tournai since 1947. Belgian Chocolate is definitely the best!

We were also given a leaflet in English describing a circular walk from the camp round the hamlet of Allain, but we had already done this on our last visit in April 2011. It's about 2 miles, past some interesting industrial archaeology (evidence of the lime kilns, furnaces and tied cottages that were in use into the 20th century) and a kind of Lourdes Grotto built for the quarrymen in 1868.

Next day, very warm and sunny, we walked about 1.5 miles into the town, which lies on the River Scheldt (or Escaut). We stood on the footbridge as enormously long barges passed below, then sat at the edge of the Grande Place in the Old Town, drinking coffee and watching the crowd at the Saturday morning clothes market. Away from the centre, with its imposing churches and gilded town hall, the town seemed very quiet and down at heel.

The modern Aquapark next to the camp is on the site of an old chalk quarry, now flooded to form a lake, with pedal boats and a cafe in summer. Campers get 50% discount on the €3 ticket for outdoor and indoor pools, so Margaret had a good swim (indoors, being heated).

Meanwhile, Barry refitted the passenger-side external mirror, wrenched from its 4-bolt bracket by a passing hedge, and sealed a leaking tyre valve extender (tyre down from 70 to 60 psi over 5 days). He also lubricated the swivelling roof-top cap on the grey water tank vent, nudged two external bulbs back into life and repaired the tyre pressure gauge. This is called 'bedding-in' at the start of a long journey. We are beginning to think of Bulgaria via Austria and perhaps Serbia. We'll see.

To Domaine l'Hirondelle Holiday Resort, Oteppe, Belgium – 87 miles

Open 1 April-31 Oct. See www.lhirondelle.be. ACSI off-season card €14, inc 6-amp electricity and shower tokens (otherwise €1 each). Free WiFi in Reception or on a few pitches behind the Cafe. Free outdoor and heated indoor pools. N 50.582222  E 5.126111

Just 1.5 miles back along N7 to the A16 motorway, pausing at Lidl on the way. They sold the usual range (in French) and the generous car park serves a couple of other stores and a health centre.

It was drizzly as we rejoined A16 (eastbound, direction Mons and Liege), part of E42, the Autoroute de Wallonie. The Walloons (French-speaking Belgians) should be ashamed, subjecting us to a succession of potholes, bumps and road works. The motorway number changed to A7 at 21 miles and A15 at 39 miles, though it made no difference to the surface. At least Belgium is toll-free and there are regular rest areas and services.

We parked for lunch at 54 miles and turned to the French dictionary to check: Attention Ornieres seen on a wooded stretch of motorway. M thought Ornieres might mean some kind of Bird (Greek Ornos, root of 'Ornithology') but the answer was 'Ruts'! They certainly didn't need a warning sign; we had noticed!

Leaving E42/A15 at 79 miles at exit 10, we took N80 north for 5 miles to Burdinne, then turned right on N652. It began as a cobbled lane through the village, improving as it wound its way towards Oteppe. Don't take the left turn signed Hirondelle Fishing Ponds; the campsite is left along the next lane, signed Hirondelle Holiday Resort.

It's a huge complex of bungalows, statics and camping in the wooded grounds of a castle (Chateau Hirondelle), now a hotel. Out of season, as we are, the site cafe/shop is closed, the hotel bar/restaurant only open at weekends, and the whole place is very quiet and somewhat forlorn. Margaret had the indoor swimming pool to herself, clear and warm though unsupervised. There is a small shop in Oteppe village (left out of the main entrance).

The main area for tourers is at the top of the site but we chose to pitch on a rather scruffy area behind the cafe/shop in order to get a WiFi signal, which comes and goes. A lone cycle-tourist, John from Nottingham, on his way back to Brussels for the Eurostar train after a 2-week camping tour of Belgium, joined us later, so we had a good evening or two together over pots of tea in the Flair.

A local map for walking and cycling, obtained from Reception (€2), showed the route down to Huy on the River Meuse, which John then followed to Namur. The weather remained too cold and damp to tempt our bicycles out, though we had a good walk in the forest to the local fishing ponds and cafe. Also caught up with emails and work on-line. 

To Campingplatz Goldene Meile, Remagen, Germany – 123 miles

Open all year. See www.camping-goldene-meile.de. €23.40 inc 6-amp electricity (€25 for 'Comfort Pitch' with 10-amps, tap and grey water drain). Special offer: 4 nights for price of 3. Shower tokens €0.70. WiFi (pitches near Reception) €2.50 an hour, €6 a day, €20 per week. No credit cards. N 50.57595 E 7.25221

For motorhomes there is also a 'Wohnmobilhafen' or 'Stellplatz' next to the campsite. Parking here (Pay & Display) is €12 for 24 hrs, maximum stay 5 x 24 hrs, with a coin-op water/waste facility and a few coin-op hook-ups.

A lovely bright sunny day as we set out through Oteppe village, southeast on N652 following signs for E42- Liege. Joined the motorway E42/A15 at junction 7 after 6 miles, driving east past Liege (very busy Ring Road) and onto E40/A3 for Aachen. At Lichtenbusch we crossed the border into Germany at 51 miles, high in the Ardennes (max 950 ft/290 m), and on past Aachen on E40/A4 into Nordrhein-Westfalen.

At 82 miles we turned south onto A61 towards Koblenz, then exit 30 at 113 miles onto rd 573 for Remagen (with hindsight, exit 31 might have been quicker but we trusted the TomTom). At 121 miles it was left at a roundabout, then follow campsite signs (pausing to shop at Lidl a mile later). The campsite lies on the west bank of the Rhine, next to Remagen Stadium and Open Air Pools (closed), half a mile south of the town centre.

Settling in took some time. It's a large site, the riverside places all taken by permanent statics, the rest a closely packed mixture of Normal and Comfort pitches (though some Normal pitches also have their own tap/drain and some have 10 amps, so we could make no sense of the dual pricing – a difference of £1). The Receptionist (after being prised from her tabloid magazine) had allocated us a Comfort Pitch suitable, she said, for WiFi reception. It proved to be too short for our 8-metre van (most pitches, Comfort or not, being 6 metres long), nor was there any WiFi there! The hook-ups are reached by climbing a metal ladder, which certainly wouldn't meet British Health & Safety regulationss, but the other facilities are excellent, complete with a restaurant and a snack bar. Exploring, we found a Normal pitch that was long enough, with its own tap/drain and good WiFi reception. Margaret cut a long argument with Reception short, we moved onto our chosen pitch and settled in, having climbed the ladder to collect 6 amps.  

The town centre is an easy 15 minute walk or short cycle ride from the camp, past a couple of supermarkets; or you can walk/ride in along the Rhine Promenade by the river. Indeed, a long-distance cycle path follows the Rhine north to Bonn (20 km) and Cologne, or south to Koblenz (40 km) and beyond – a route we knew well in earlier cycle-touring days. Remagen originated as the Roman fortress Ricomagnus, when the Rhine was the border of Lower Germania (1st-3rd C AD), and there are some Roman remains and a 12th-century gate. The small Roman Museum, inside a 16th C chapel, has limited opening times (3-5 pm, Wednesday-Sunday, March-Oct only). 

In World War II Remagen's Luddendorf railway bridge figured in the Anglo-American advance into Germany in March 1945, when the 9th Armoured Division of the US 1st Army found this last remaining bridge across the Rhine damaged but still usable. A crossing was promptly forced, establishing the first Allied bridgehead across the Rhine, before the bridge finally collapsed. It has never been rebuilt, its site marked by the massive pair of towers that remain on either side of the river. A Peace Museum has been established in one of the towers on this, the western bank (entry €3.50, no reductions for Seniors).

Both casual riding and cycle-touring are very popular along the Rhine. For Nordrhein-Westfalen and Rheinland-Pfalz see www.radwanderland.de and www.radroutenplaner.nrw.de.

Cycling

Ride 1 – Remagen to Bonn and return (44 km/28 miles). An easy ride north alongside the Rhine on a dedicated foot/cycle path. We passed the Peace Museum, continued along the Rhine Promenade and were soon at Caracciolaplatz in Remagen, where the various Rhine cruisers have their jetties. A small ferry carries foot passengers or cyclists (not cars) across the river to Erpel. Staying on the west bank, we headed north along the wonderful bike path, past Oberwinter to Bad Godesberg, where we had a break at a kiosk by the Mehlem car ferry. A good German lunch of Bratwurst & chips with coffee was freshly cooked for us by a friendly man from the Lebanon. We continued to the southern edge of Bonn before turning to ride back (this time into the wind). The well surfaced path rarely leaves the riverside and is used by cyclists of all types and ages, long and short-distance, with plenty of places to rest at a picnic table or cafe.  

Ride 2 – Koblenz to Remagen (53 km/33 miles). Began with a short ride to Remagen railway station for a train south to Koblenz. The regional Cologne-Koblenz train (roughly every half hour) carries cycles free of charge in the front carriage. From Remagen a single passenger ticket was €8.75 to Koblenz (or €10.40 to Cologne). At the station we met several obstacles: the ticket office is closed Sundays; the automatic ticket machine didn't accept our credit or debit card and to pay cash, the exact fare must be inserted (no change given); the Station Master had no idea whether we could pay on the train or at the other end! Eventually we got change for the machine from the coffee bar and, clutching our tickets (which we never had to show!), we got the bikes by lift to platform 3 just in time for the 11.14. It stopped at Sinzig, Bad Breisig and Andernach before arriving Koblenz Centre at 11.40 am. We had considered taking a boat up the Rhine to Koblenz but found that took about 4 hours!

In Koblenz the streets were very quiet, with Sunday closing observed by every type of store. Making our way to the riverside, we had coffee by the Deutsches Eck (at the Rhine/Mosel confluence), overlooked by the massive equestrian statue of the Prussian Emperor Wilhelm der Grosse. Then we rode the bridge over the Mosel, checked out the campsite opposite the Deutsches Eck (Campingplatz Rhein-Mosel Freizeit) and found our way to the cycle path to follow the Rhine northwards back to Remagen.

The path was very variable, sometimes diverting from the riverside behind the port at Andernach, after almost 30 km. We were ready for the first cafe we saw – McDonalds - before reaching the old town! Between Andernach and Bad Breisig there was a narrow unsurfaced section, a length of cobbles, and poorly signed diversions under and over the railway line. Bad Breisig was a popular place, with a queue for the car ferry and several waterside restaurants. Riding on to Remagen, the cycle path was better surfaced and uninterrupted, except by people strolling, usually with a dog in tow. A good ride though, with a favourable back wind the whole way.

Ride 3 – Circular ride from Remagen on both sides of Rhine (36 km/23 miles). Cycled south from the campsite for 2 miles to Kripp, for the short car-ferry ride across the Rhine to Linz (€1.40 each). Looking round the colourful medieval Old Town, we called at Tourist Info in the imposing Rathaus (built 1527) and collected a free map of the local cycle route. Ask for the Drachenfelsblick Audio-Landschaftstour (Drachenfels-View Audio-Landscape Tour). The route runs north from Linz as far as Konigswinter, across the Rhine on a car ferry, then south through Remagen back to Kripp for Linz (total 33 km). For a short ride, you can cross the river earlier, on the half-hourly passenger ferry from Erpel to Remagen, or take the car-ferry from Honnef (5 km south of Konigswinter) to Rolandseck. If you have a smart-phone with QR-Reader (which we don't), there are even 11 Audio Points round the route to listen to.

The route needs much better signposting on the east side, where it deviates on minor roads behind Linz station and around the villages, with only half the ride actually on a riverside cycle path. At Erpel the track climbed up to a pair of railway towers, with a good view of their twins on the opposite bank at Remagen. Behind them, where the Erpel tunnel enters a wall of basalt, a poster advertised the Tunnel Theatre built inside. It's closed this year but due to show a play about the Bridge at Remagen next summer (2013).

Riding on through the village of Unkel, we eventually joined the river at Honnef, by the car ferry to Rolandseck. The forecast rain was holding off, so we continued to Konigswinter, riding (part road, part cycle path) below the Siebengebirge (Seven Hills Range), with its ruined castle atop the Drachenfels (Dragon Rock). Coffee and cakes at a bakery cafe were very welcome before taking the boat from Konisgwinter across to Mehlem (€1.50 each). The Rhine is wider and faster flowing here, the ferry arcing across.

Back on the west bank, riding south, we had the classic view of the Drachenfels, inspiration of romantic artists, which turned Kongiswinter into a stage on the Grand Tour, served by railway and steamers: “The castled crag of Drachenfels, Frowns o'er the wide and winding Rhine” (Lord Byron 1816). On, past Siebensgebirgblick campsite, alongside the mid-Rhine island of Nonnenwerth, once home to a convent, then through Rolandseck and past Oberwinter to Remagen. It had been an interesting and varied ride but for smoother long-distance cycling, it's best to follow the west bank of the Rhine!

Ride 4 – Honningen to Remagen (52 km/33 miles) along the Ahr Valley cycle way (Ahr Radweg). Again rode to Remagen railway station (3 km/less than 2 miles from the campsite). The regional Bonn-Ahrbruck train (roughly once an hour) took us up the Ahr Valley to the end of the line (€7.25 each, cycles free of charge). Thankfully, the ticket office was open and even accepted credit cards. The 11.10 am train made its way slowly into the Eifel hills, stopping every 4 minutes - at Bad Bodendorf,  Heimersheim, Bad Neuenahr, Ahrweiler, Ahrweiler Markt, Walporzheim, Dernau, Rech, Mayschoss, Altenahr, Kreuzberg and finally Ahrbruck, arriving 11.56 am. We'd left Remagen (altitude 170 ft/50 m) in sunshine; now (at 650 ft/200 m) it was pouring down! A group of ramblers looked equally dismayed.

Leaving the tiny end-of-line station, we turned straight into an excellent cafe, the Station Imbiss, to shelter over coffee, Schnitzel and the largest mound of chips we'd ever seen, garnished with ketchup, mayo and onion. Germans take chips (Pommes pronounced 'Pomm-ess') seriously! With no sign of the rain easing, we donned our Gore-Tex kit and set off. Though wet, it was not cold.

First we rode south along the signed Ahr Radweg cycle path for 3.5 km/2 miles to the next village, Honningen (to which the train once continued, now served by bus), then we turned round to follow the cycle way back through Ahrbruck and all the way down the Ahr Valley until this narrow tributary meets the Rhine at Kripp, right by the car ferry across to Linz. The route is mainly on dedicated foot/cycle paths, by the river or through vineyards, this being prime Red Wine terrain, the steep south-facing slopes intensively planted with neat rows of vines. Sometimes we were diverted on quiet roads through villages and the busier town of Bad Neuenahr-Ahrweiler.

After a break in Dernau for coffee and cake, the rain gradually stopped. The one short tunnel at Mayschoss was well-lit and no problem. At Kripp we turned north along the Rhine cycle path, past our campsite and into Remagen to visit a large cycle shop seen across the tracks from the station.

Barry wanted to try a new saddle and the proprietor rose to the challenge, asking 'Something for the older gentleman – with or without prostate trouble?'!! He was very thorough, had a large range of saddles (saying our British Brooks were the best) and talked at great length. The firm build specialised racing bikes and our man told us of an ex-racing friend, now a trainer, who was with the German cycling team at the London Olympics. As we paid for the chosen saddle with a card, he announced 'Your money is now safely in Germany'. Margaret said 'Well, we need it more than Germany', to which he retorted 'No, Frau Merkel keeps giving it away!' It's nice to know a language well enough for some repartee.

Before leaving Remagen we took a short walk to the modern Schwarze Madonna Kapelle (Black Madonna Chapel) in a field just south of our campsite. It stands on the site of a PWTE (Prisoner of War Temporary Enclosure), one of several established by the Allies along this section of the Rhine from Remagen to Sinzig, each with a capacity of 50,000 men passing through between May and July 1945. The American Field Hospital took over the local hospitals in Remagen and Linz, as well setting up a clinic in a leather factory in Kripp. However, with a shortage of food and medicine, 532 of the patients died from disease, wounds or exhaustion. The Chapel was dedicated in 1987 to the memory of those who suffered or died here. The 'Black Madonna' (a clay statue sculpted by one of the prisoners and preserved in linseed oil that turned it black) is displayed behind glass: all that remains of PWTE A-2 Remagen, apart from 2 photographs.

To Campingplatz Rhein-Mosel Freizeit, Koblenz, Germany – 25 miles
Open April-21 October. See www.camping-rhein-mosel.de. €27.50 inc 6-amp electricity and showers (€30.50  for 'Comfort Pitch' with tap and grey water drain, or for riverside pitches). No WiFi. No credit cards. N 50Ί22.01 E 7Ί 36.368

For motorhomes there is also a 'Stellplatz' next to the campsite. Parking here strictly limited to one day – arrive after 11 am & leave by 10 am – for €15 (pay at Camping). Hook-ups €2.50 extra.

From Remagen less than 2 miles (past Lidl) to join rd 9, then south to Koblenz. The last exit before crossing the Mosel is signed for the campsite, which occupies the northern corner of the confluence. It's only a mile or so to the camp, with a Netto supermarket near the entrance, though we were diverted by road works which made access complicated. Arriving before Reception closed for lunch (a German custom), we found ourselves a good standard pitch one row back from the river. A small passenger ferry crosses the mouth of the Mosel from the campsite, convenient for visiting the Deutsches Eck or the city centre.

We are directly opposite the massive equestrian statue of Kaiser Bill (Prussian Emperor Wilhelm I) on the Eck ('corner') – a tongue of land built at the Mosel-Rhine confluence as the site for the monument, erected in 1888. The statue was destroyed in 1945 (how did that happen?), its replacement being inaugurated in September 1993. A cable car climbs from the Eck to the fortress of Ehrenbreitstein, 390 ft/118 m above the Rhine. Occupied for 3,000 years, this strategic site has housed a Roman military post and a medieval castle. The present fortified town, built by the Prussians 1817-1828, was then the largest fort in Europe apart from Gibraltar. It became the home and cultural centre of Prince Electors, the Baroque Salon receiving visitors such as Beethoven and Goethe.

Watching the cable cars swinging across the Rhine and the constant river traffic of working barges and pleasure cruisers appeared to lull our many neighbours to sleep after lunch, while we did the laundry, packed our cycle panniers and planned a two-day ride with a night away along the Mosel.

Cycling

A 2-day ride along the Mosel from Koblenz, past Cochem to Ernst and back (total 77 miles/123 km).

Leaving the motorhome safe on the Koblenz campsite, we followed the Mosel Radweg cycle route through a succession of Wine Villages along the north side of the river. After a cool misty start the sun broke through in Winningen (10 miles/15 km), where we sat in a quiet square with a take-away coffee. It was Sunday morning: everywhere closed. The cycle path mostly followed the meandering riverside, occasionally diverting through a village or vineyard. The Romans first planted vines along these valleys and they still thrive on the steep hillsides, now hung with white grapes. A peaceful picnic lunch in the sunshine by the river in Katzenport, then on through Cochem, a tourist town at 35 miles/55 km, below the picturesque Reichsburg Castle. Here the riverside was thronged with tourists, brought by bus, boat, car or bike, filling the cafes and listening to a brass band.

We quickly rode on round a bend in the Mosel to the next village, Ernst. The first guesthouse we tried (on the corner of Weingartenstrasse) proved a good choice, our host, Bernhard Goebel, offering a room with Mosel view and (more importantly) a safe garage for the bicycles. See www.mosel-ferienquartier-goebel.de. Herr Goebel recommended a meal at the nearby Trauben (Grapes) inn: another good choice, with a generous set meal of hot soup, rolls, pork steaks in pepper sauce, croquette potatoes and self-service salad bar, all for €11.50 each. It went down well with a glass of the local Weisswein.

Fortified with a good German breakfast, we rode back to Koblenz along the same route. We did cross the Moselbrucke in Cochem to cycle on the other side but quickly returned on the next bridge, as the east side was more hilly, colder (being in the shade) and lacking a separate cycle path. We rode on through Klotten, another typical wine village and site of a small ferry across the Mosel, with a clear blue sky and light back wind. It doesn't get any better than this! A coffee in Pommern, followed by lunch at a picnic table among the vines near Winningen, which was even quieter than yesterday. By early afternoon we were back in Koblenz.

A few statistics. The Mosel (or Moselle) River rises at 2,426 ft/735 m at the Col de Bussang in the French Vosges. It twists and turns for 325 miles/520 km to its confluence with the Rhine at Koblenz, down at 195 ft/59 m. It is shared by France (174 miles/278 km), Luxembourg (22 miles/36 km) and Germany (129 miles/206 km). Highly recommended, with numerous campsites along its banks.

October 2012

To 'Esso Autohof', Gau-Bickelheim, Germany – 74 miles (Height 500 ft/150 m)

Free night at Truck Services off E31 south of Bingen, with fuel, toilets, restaurant, car park and huge lorry parking area. N 49Ί50.126 E 7Ί59.997

To avoid the road works in Koblenz, we drove 4 miles north on B9 to junction 10, then south on A46 for 3 miles, in order to join A61/E31 southbound (towards Ludwigshafen). At 11 miles there was a rest area with a great view of the Mosel Valley far below, just before crossing the high bridge over the river – a bridge we'd cycled underneath yesterday. By the next Services, 5 miles later, the motorway had climbed to over 1,000 ft/300 m, reaching a maximum of 1,735 ft/520 m before we took exit 44 for Oberwesel am Rhein at 31 miles.

The road eased its way down for 10 miles to Oberwesel, a Rhineside village on the B9. Knowing that tomorrow (3 October) is not only the local Wine Festival but a national holiday – German Unification Day – we'd taken the precaution of phoning Camping Schonburgblick in Oberwesel to book a place. The best laid plans ... First we met a low (3.5 m) railway bridge, handily placed between us and the riverside B9. Turning our 3.6 m high motorhome right, we edged through the village until we could cross the tracks to join B9 and turn back along it, past Camping Schonburgblick. The entrance looked very narrow and awkward. We turned round again on a hospital car park and came back – the entrance was indeed too narrow and awkward.

Giving up on Oberwesel, we continued south on B9 along the river, hoping to find another campsite or Stellplatz as we planned to cycle the 'Romantic Rhine' between here and Koblenz. We soon passed Camping Sonnenstrand at Bacharach (an impossibly sharp left turn down a narrow lane) and a Stellplatz we'd once used that was absolutely full. The next known sites were at Rudesheim and Geisenheim but on the other side of the Rhine, involving a car ferry across at Bingen.

Deciding to leave the busy Rhineland, we eventually found our way onto E31 southbound from Bingen – the motorway we'd left for Oberwesel! Now in need of fuel, we turned off at exit 52 to the next services, the Autohof  at Gau-Bickelheim. Coincidentally, this Truck Stop was listed in our Bord Atlas (a German Stellplatz guide) - admittedly a few years old – claiming 15 motorhome places free of charge, along with water/waste facility. We filled our petrol tank and asked the assistant where to stay overnight. She indicated the car park, or if we were too long (as we were), the much larger lorry park. There were no special places for motorhomes and the water/waste point was no longer in use but we could overnight free of charge.

As the evening wore on, the empty lorry park filled with trucks coming in off the roads from which they would be banned tomorrow (Sundays and Holidays). A parking attendant materialised to demand €10 for a ticket (which did include 2 x €5 coupons to use towards meals in the restaurant). As we'd believed it to be free, with no signs to the contrary, M went to practise her German with the 'Chef'. He decided that trucks are charged €10 and cars are free, so we were declared an honorary car.

A quiet night apart from the noise of refrigerated lorries, which we drowned out by putting the TV on loud. There were a couple of very interesting documentaries about the history and demise of the DDR (the former East Germany) and the differences still remaining for those living in the east or west of the country, 22 years after the Reunification to be celebrated tomorrow.  

To Knaus Campingpark, Bad Durkheim, Germany – 41 miles

Open all year. See www.knauscamp.de. ACSI off-season card €16 + €3.70 local taxes, inc 16-amp electricity and showers. WiFi €3.50 for 24 hrs (didn't work - we got a refund!) No credit cards. N 49Ί28'23” E 8Ί11'29”

For motorhomes there is also a 'Stellplatz' next to the campsite for €9.50 a night inc 16-amp electricity (pay at Camping). Water fill €1.

After breakfast among the lorries we phoned a campsite (one of a chain owned by Knaus, the German motorhome and caravan builders) near the wine growing spa resort of Bad Durkheim. Yes, they had a place if we came straight away as Reception (and the barrier) would be closed from noon-3 pm and they were very busy, this being a holiday!

It was an easy journey, south down the quiet A61/E31(devoid of trucks) for 34 miles to exit 60. Drive west for 6 miles towards Bad Durkheim, then right at the second set of traffic lights and right again, following signs for airfield and camping, in the thick of the vineyards. As we checked in, others without bookings were turned away, both campsite and Stellplatz now full. The site shop is selling this year's new wine (red or white) for €2.50 a litre, so M has a bottle to try, though it looks cloudy and is still fermenting! Also bought a day's WiFi, which proved to be the slowest on record. It gave up completely after a couple of hours but we did get a refund.

Bad Durkheim, less than 2 miles away, was founded by the Romans, who knew a good spa when they found one. They stayed to plant vines and had a stone quarry up in the hills. Nowadays the town boasts the world's largest wine festival (the Wurstmarkt) for 9 days in mid-September (the campsite ACSI Card rates exclude this period!) You can also see the world's biggest wooden barrel, built in 1934 to hold 1.7 million litres, though it was never used to hold wine and now houses a bar/restaurant.

Cycling

A short circular ride (8 miles/13 km) to the Weilberg Roman Villa and around Bad Durkheim on cycle paths and minor roads. First we rode north to the nearby wine village of Ungstein and up to the site of a Roman villa and vineyard (2nd-4th C AD). Some original stone foundations and a few sarcophagi remain, while the villa has been reconstructed as it would have been c 350 AD. Entry was free, a table laid with wine glasses and refreshments, a man playing a guitar. Did they know we were coming? Then a German group travelling by llama (!) appeared, tied the animals to graze on the trees and took over the site. Glasses of wine waited for them inside the villa!

We made a hasty exit and rode down through vineyards into the centre of Bad Durkheim. It's a pleasant spa town, much rebuilt after 1945. The sound of organ music lured us to look inside the beautifully simple Protestant Evangelische Schlosskirche. Then we sat in the Romerplatz square enjoying coffee and Nussplunder pastries from the baker's (much more reasonably priced than the many smart cafes) before riding past the thermal park, back to the campsite and round its bathing lake.

To Camping Schuettehof, Horb am Neckar, Germany – 126 miles (Height 1,795 ft/545 m)

Open all year. See www.camping-schuettehof.de. ACSI off-season card €16 inc 16-amp electricity and shower tokens (otherwise €0.50 each). WiFi €1 per hour; €4 for 24 hrs; €20 per week. N 48Ί26'43” E 8Ί40'25”

This was a long hot day's drive south on the motorways of Germany. It should have been easy but several long stretches of road works and counter-flow traffic caused miles of stationary jams on the busy highways.

We headed east on B37 for 7 miles to join A61/E31. After a traffic jam to cross the Rhine at 24 miles, we turned south at Hockenheim, near the Grand Prix circuit, onto A6/E50, then A5/E35. Lunch at the crowded Service Station (Burger King) at 39 miles, then on for 14 miles past Karlsruhe to exit 46 onto A8/E52 – and into the second long Stau (queue) of the day. The cars all turned off down a narrow lane, which also became jammed, while we crawled along the motorway, climbing away from the flat Rhine valley into the Black Forest. After 8 slow miles of road works, we reached a clear section of 3-lane motorway which climbed on (max 1,570 ft/475 m) towards Stuttgart, where we took exit 51 at 91 miles onto A81/E41.

It was another 27 miles to exit 30 for Horb, a medieval town on the River Neckar on the eastern side of the Black Forest. We took rd 32 down into Horb, turned right to cross the railway and the Neckar, then followed the camping signs (direction Freudenstadt), which led us up and round to a campsite set high above the river: about a mile west of the town as the crow (but not the motorhome) flies. It's a large site, mostly statics, with a restaurant/bar (open), outdoor pool (closed) and a field of Highland Cattle (order your beef for next month at Reception!)

Next morning was rainy, a good chance to catch up on-line. After lunch it cleared and we walked down through the woods to Horb (footpath with many steps, unsuitable for cycling). The picturesque centre of the old walled town still has half-timbered houses, largely restored after a fire in the 18th C. Everything was closed on this Sunday afternoon except a welcome cafe in the market place, where we sampled genuine Black Forest Gateau with our coffee before climbing the steep path back. It was worth the walk.

Cycling

Though the weather remained wet and misty, we did cycle down into Horb and rode for 10 km upstream (north) along the Neckar Cycle Path. We followed the route between the narrow river and the railway, turning back beyond the next village of Dettingen. Reaching Horb again, we stopped off at Aldi by the railway station. It was an easy ride, apart from the stiff climb back from Horb to the campsite: 26 km/16 miles total.  Had the weather been better, we might also have cycled to Tubingen, about 20 miles downstream from Horb.

To Naturcamping, Sunthauser See, Bad Duerrheim, Germany – 63 miles (Height 2,350 ft/712 m)

Open all year. See www.campingplatz-bad-duerrheim.de. ACSI off-season card €16 + €3.20 local taxes per night; plus one-off charge of €2.50 for electricity connection, even for a single night's stay (the latter disputed and finally waived!) Fees include 4 kWh of 16-amp elec per day (excess charged at €0.50 per kWh) and a 5-minute shower per person per day (excess charged at €0.10 per min). Fill of fresh water €1(!) WiFi free (around Reception and the closed restaurant only). Unfriendliest Receptionist ever encountered (which is saying something!) N 48Ί0'15” E 8Ί34'59”

Leaving Horb on a very wet day, we had phoned Riedsee Camping, a couple of miles southeast of Donaueschingen – a town near the source of the Danube. The Campingplatzfuhrer assured us he had plenty of space for an 8-metre motorhome. It seemed an ideal base for cycling some of the Danube Cycle Path, whose German section runs for 380 miles/609 km from Donaueschingen to Passau, near the Austrian border.

Circling down into Horb (4 miles) we dropped from 1,800 ft/545 m to 1,275 ft/385 m at the Neckar bridge, then climbed for 3 miles up B32 to join the A81/E41 motorway at 1,700 ft/515 m. As we headed south we reached a max height of 2,500 ft/757 m in the damp Black Forest before taking exit 37 at 42 miles, onto A864 towards Freudenstadt.

Turning off for Donaueschingen, we followed the SatNav and campsite signs to Riedsee at 52 miles in the village of Pfohren. Now Herr Campingplatzfuhrer indicated pitches on a waterlogged field, for which the charge would be €17.60 + metered electricity (€0.60/kWh). The only hard-standing would be to park on the roadway by Reception, where we couldn't put the awning out and would risk being run over if we stepped outside! When we declined, he suggested a 'much bigger and better' site, 7 miles north near Bad Duerrheim. Having already noticed this in the ACSI Card book, we took his advice (and his free map of Donaueschingen).

Returning north for 11 miles to this campsite on the lake at Sunthauser (5 miles SE of Bad Duerrheim) we found a highly regulated hi-tech camp with a young and uncaring Receptionist (let's call her 'Blonde Fingernails' or 'BF'). Another employee directed us onto a good level pitch with lake view. BF eventually deigned to come and plug us into the locked electricity box, which required our long extension lead, without showing us the meter reading or mentioning the connection fee. The only water filling point cost €1: the first time we've seen a charge for campers already paying over €20 a night to stay, as opposed to a cheap/free Aire/Stellplatz!

Margaret (who speaks fluent German) had to return to Reception twice to unscramble where the showers were hidden and how the electronic tag (needed to enter any of the facilities, including the gate to the lakeside path, or to pay for showers or laundry) actually worked. The Receptionist obviously resented any distraction from important telephone calls. As it was getting late we decided to stay one night, improving our mood by watching a DVD of 'Amadeus', the wonderful film about Salieri and Mozart, full of poetic licence and superb music.

To Stellplatz at Sportzentrum, Donaueschingen, Germany – 7 miles (Height 2,200 ft/666 m)

Open all year. Free dedicated parking for 10 motorhomes. Max stay 48 hrs. See www.donaueschingen.de. Coin-op 16-amp hook-ups €0.50 per kWh. Fresh water (€1) and free dump available at sewage works 1 mile away, all well signed. No WiFi. N 47Ί56.842 E 8Ί30.731

Escape from the prison camp at Sunthauser See was not easy. Given notice that we wished to leave, the Receptionist (Miss BF again) quietly nipped across unseen to unhook us, read the meter, lock the box and disappear while we were busy inside the motorhome. Margaret went to pay. The bill listed the expected €19.20 (€16 + taxes), plus a charge for using more than 4 kWh (despite being careful and for which we had to take Miss BF's word), plus a 'connection fee' of €2.50 which had certainly never been mentioned on arrival. Total €23.35 for a site listed as €16 in the ACSI discount book. Refusing to pay the 'connection fee', M asked to speak to the Manager. Miss BF said there was no-one else there (a blatant lie).

Our next move was to drive to the barrier blocking the entrance. By now 3 members of staff had gathered in Reception to argue and shout at Margaret in rapid-delivery German. They were no match for M, who went to school in the Black Forest! Miss BF insisted she had told us about the connection fee – if she had, we wouldn't have taken a hook-up for a one-night stand. The male of the trio told us we'd been given a 'Comfort Pitch' because of our size, which normally cost extra – a Comfort Pitch with no drain and no water (€1 extra at a nearby tap)? M pointed out that the 2 smaller vans which also arrived yesterday had been sited alongside us on similar pitches. The €2.50 connection fee was finally waived when M showed the wording in the Camping Card ACSI book under 'Electricity': a connection is included. Apparently, no-one has ever complained about this charge before!?

With hindsight, our advice about Naturcamping, Sunthauser See, Bad Duerrheim, would be: (a) if you take a hook-up, ask to check the meter reading at the start and end of your stay, and be aware that you will be charged an extra €2.50 connection fee; (b) consider not taking a hook-up, especially for just one night; or better (c) don't go at all – we later learnt there is a paying motorhome Stellplatz in the centre of Bad Duerrheim by the Solemar Spa, which can only be better!

On leaving, we recalled staying on a Stellplatz in Donaueschingen many years ago (Oct 1998 to be exact). It was only 7 miles back to the town, where the Stellplatz on Prinz-Fritzi-Allee near the Sports Stadium is well signed. It's a popular place, being a short walk along the traffic-free Allee into the town centre. Since our last visit, coin-op electric hook-up points had been installed and they worked well, showing exactly how much remained on each socket. Parked under a chestnut tree, we soon realised why no-one else had taken this nice level spot, as conkers showered down on the roof! We took the only other spare place and settled down at last to lunch.

We had a pleasant afternoon stroll into the old town centre (very Belle Epoque), called at the Tourist Info and shopped at Lidl. This branch, like others in Germany, had an in-house bakery with fresh rolls and croissants, as well as an adjoining cafe that fortified us with coffee and Plunder (buns) before walking back. The names of the buns reflect the German ability to incorporate English words into the language. Barry had a Puddingberliner (iced donut, or Berliner, with custard filling), while M chose a Herbstmuffin (Herbst = autumn), filled with apple and cinnamon. Delicious.

When the Roman General (later Emperor) Tiberius visited the area in 15 BC, he declared the source of the River Danube, the Donauquelle,  to be a spring that now lies in the grounds of the princely Furstenberg Palace in Donaueschingen. On our last visit we saw local boys collecting the coins thrown into the fountain, but now all access to it is closed until 2014 for thorough cleaning and sanitisation! In fact, two small streams – the Breg and the Brigach – meet just downstream of our Stellplatz and the river resulting from this confluence is now the official start of the Donau, marked by a statue of the infant Danube in its mother's arms!

Next day we set out to find the Neckarquelle (source of the River Neckar) by bicycle.

Cycling

A circular ride (50 km/31 miles) mainly on signposted cycle paths from Donaueschingen to the Neckarquelle at Schwenningen, returning via Villingen. On a showery morning we began by riding north from the Danube Confluence, on a cycle route along the arrow-straight Romerstrasse (Roman Road). At Zollhaus we turned east on a track through the Moos – the damp mossy forest where the Neckar rises – to its official source, a fountain in the park on the edge of Schwenningen. This has been nicely renovated, with plaque and statue, much more impressive than the Danube source. The Neckar is the fourth largest tributary of the Rhine, which it joins at Mannheim. 

Having ridden 10 wet miles, we continued into Schwenningen for a bite, though found little in this non-tourist town. Settling for take-away coffee we turned west into a head wind and another shower, to Villingen, the neighbouring town which has almost merged. This had a fine cobbled pedestrian centre, inside the old town walls, where a Friday market was in full swing. Plenty of food stalls competed for our trade and good German sausages with fried onions set us up for the ride back!

We returned south on a different route (partly signed), more or less following the River Brigach through Brigachtal village, then alongside the railway into Donaueschingen. Back at the Stellplatz our reward was beanz on toast, followed by a DVD. We've just started watching a boxed set of the old TV serial of  Robert Graves' book 'I CLAVDIVS' in 12 episodes.

To Camping Sigmaringen, Sigmaringen, Germany – 45 miles (Height 1,900 ft/575 m)

Open all year. See www.erlebnis-camp.de. ACSI off-season card €16 inc 6-amp electricity and shower tokens (otherwise €0.50 each). Good WiFi €2 per day; €5 for 3 days; €10 per week. N 48Ί5'1” E 9Ί12'29

Leaving Donaueschingen eastwards, we passed the soggy campsite at Pfohren after 3 miles, then turned left 2 miles later onto B31/33. In Geisingen we joined the 311, then paused in Immendingen at 13 miles by Lidl (again with its own bakery/cafe) to shop and eat lunch – ham & cheese croissants and a slice of warm Zwiebelkuchen (onion tart – a Black Forest speciality).

From Tuttlingen the 311 for Ulm takes a new route through a tunnel (shown in our new ADAC atlas but not the older SatNav), joins rd 14 southeast for 5 miles, then turns northeast to Messkirch at 36 miles. Here we turned north on 313 to Sigmaringen, where there is a small campsite on the south bank of the Danube – right by the Donauradweg (Danube Cyclepath). Entering town, follow the campsite signs which lead improbably through a large car park at Kaufland supermarket, past the motorhome Stellplatz (€5 pay & display per night, dump but no hook-ups), to the campsite entrance.

We had found the perfect base for a week's stay. The camp WiFi was reliable, the Kaufland shopping centre less than 5 minutes' walk away and the town an easy stroll along the riverside cycle/footpath. Walking into the fine old town centre after lunch, we gathered information from the Tourist Office and railway station: train timetables, a cycling booklet describing 7 circular day-rides from Sigmaringen (www.radregion-sigmaringen.de) and another booklet + map Radfahren im Suden, with all the long distance cycle routes in Baden-Wurttemberg – these were free, though only in German.

The weather turned cold, a chance to catch up on-line as well as doing tasks like laundry and cleaning. Kaufland provided not only food but some replacement cycle accessories (rear light, bell, speedometer) and even new spectacles! Then a few days of autumn sunshine were perfect for riding.

Cycling

1. Circular ride via Bingen (25 km/16 miles). We started eastwards along the Danube Cyclepath to Sigmaringendorf, then crossed the river to ride north on quiet roads and cycle paths through the villages of Lauchertal and Hitzkofen to Bingen. From there, circular ride no 5 'Fitness Tour' (total 43 km/27 miles) continues climbing north, then circles back to Sigmaringen via Veringenstadt and down the Laucher Valley Cyclepath. Instead we took a short cut from Bingen on a dedicated cycle path that parallels road L277, dropping neatly into the centre of Sigmaringen.

2. Circular ride no 2, 'Family Tour' (32 km/20 miles). An afternoon's ride, starting eastwards along the Danube Cyclepath through Sigmaringendorf, Scheer and Ennetach. Turn off at 15 km, before Mengen, to follow quiet lanes and cyclepaths west to Zielfingen, round the bathing beach of a lake at Krauchenwies, then return to Sigmaringen with a gentle climb through the Josefslust forest park and a descent into the town centre. This was an easy varied route, though the bike signs were sometimes ambiguous or hard to spot. It did encourage us to explore the Donauradweg, resulting in the following ride:

3. A 3-day tour (215 km/134 miles). Cycle the Danube Cyclepath from Sigmaringen to Ulm (train from Ulm to Donaueschingen), then cycle from Donaueschingen back to Sigmaringen.

Day 1, Sigmaringen to Ehingen (77 km/48 miles). We left the motorhome on the campsite in Sigmaringen and cycled the Donauradweg via Sigmaringendorf and Scheer to Mengen (and a coffee break in the Lidl cafe). On to Riedlingen for a packed lunch, coffee and pastries, before the final leg via Munderkingen to Ehingen. Here we turned off the cycle path into the centre of this beer-brewing town in search of a room. With hindsight, it might have been better to stay on the route, as we rode through the teatime rush hour past Best Western type hotels!

Turning down towards the railway station, we spotted the Hotel Ehinger Rose with the Bett und Bike sign (www.ehingerrose.de). A restored 16thC inn, it wasn't exactly budget accommodation but we treated ourselves to an excellent evening meal there, as well as bed & breakfast. It had been a good day's ride, the cycle path mostly on asphalt and well signed, though not always alongside the Danube. The 'Bed and Bike' sign guarantees that the accommodation offers secure indoor storage of cycles, though not (as we found) that the proprietors know anything about cycle routes! The satellite TV in our room showed BBC World and CNN, which sent us to sleep.

Day 2 (61 km/38 miles) dawned much colder with a thick morning mist over the fields and river, giving way to autumn sunshine in the afternoon. From Ehingen there are 2 possible cycle routes to Ulm: the main path roughly following the Danube or a variant via Blaubeuren and the Blau Valley. We set out to take the Blautal route but, misguided by our host and a lack of signs, a signposted cycle route led up to an agricultural landscape that was eerily deserted and mistily reminiscent of the Yorkshire Wolds. Eventually, with the help of a compass, we regained the river and took the route more or less along the Danube: perhaps less scenic but flatter and better signed. In Erbach we had a break for coffee and buns at the baker's, then rode into Ulm. The last sign, Hauptbahnhof 1.5 km, should have led us directly to the main station but the cycle path was blocked by a building site, with no diversion indicated. Eventually we found our way into the city, got a brief glimpse of the world's tallest cathedral spire and made it across several lanes of traffic to the station. We had ridden 40 km (25 miles), arriving Friday lunchtime when half the population of Ulm seemed to be taking a train! The train to Donaueschingen (approx every 2 hrs) cost €13.50 per person, plus €5 per bicycle (tickets from the enquiry office, or the machines). Luckily we were 30 minutes early for the 2.15 pm and able to board straight away and sit with the bikes. By the time it left, several passengers were standing. German trains (DB – Deutsche Bahn) run smoothly to time and apparently without staff, as once again our tickets remained unchecked.

Arriving in Donaueschingen, near the source of the Danube, at 4.37 pm we cycled straight to the Tourist Office, which closes at 5 pm. The staff, extremely busy with a weekend Music Festival, advised that every bed in town was booked so we needed to ride a few miles along the Donauradweg before dark. An assistant kindly phoned a couple of hotels on our route and booked a room at Gasthof Mond (the Moon Guesthouse) www.gasthof-mond.de. We understood that it was about 16 km/10 miles away in Geisingen but, on asking in that village, we were directed to the next settlement of Kirchen-Hausen, about a mile off our route. It proved worth the detour, as we found a very welcoming little hotel/restaurant. The sons of the owners have a haulage business, with plenty of parking space, and the only other guests were a pair of friendly Polish truck drivers for whom Margaret interpreted their English into the hostess's German. Our bicycles were locked in the garage and we were soon revived by hot goulash soup. Again, the TV in our room carried CNN so we caught up with their version of the news.

Day 3, return to Sigmaringen (77 km/48 miles). Another good German breakfast (orange juice, coffee, cheese, cold cuts, freshly boiled eggs, rolls, honey and jam) saw us on our way back to the Danube Cyclepath, which we would follow all the way to the gate of our campsite at Sigmaringen. Chilled by an early start, we stopped after 5 miles in Immendingen for coffee (and picnic supplies for lunch) at the Lidl cafe. Riding on via Mohringen toTuttlingen, sometimes by the narrow infant Danube, the sun broke through and we soon shed gloves and top coats. It became more scenic as the river twists and turns through limestone gorges and woodland, with the cycle route (not always surfaced) well signed through Muhlheim, Fridingen and Beuron. There were a couple of short climbs towards the end and it was absurd to be overtaken by electric-bike-riders as we pedalled uphill, only to leave them behind on the descent or on the flat. At the top of one hill, a couple of clumsy e-bikers who had pushed past were now getting their breath back over a cigarette break. We didn't see them again.

For much of the time over the 3 days, we had the cycle path to ourselves and were surprised how little we saw by way of accommodation, camping or refreshment stops, though perhaps more opens in the summer months. The popular stretches on the final day brought hazards like dogs, toddlers and walkers, with most people apparently deaf to bicycle bells as they stroll along the Donauradweg. This runs for 609 km/380 miles across Germany before continuing through Austria and Eastern Europe to the Danube Delta in Romania. It forms part of Europe's premier long distance cycle route (Eurovelo 6) from the French Atlantic to the Black Sea – a total of 2,485 miles,or almost 4000 km. Now that is something to aim for – we'll begin to collect information, make a 'to-do' list and do simple sums, eg 50 miles a day = 50 days + time off = 2 months.

To Camping Mueller-See, Riegel am Kaiserstuhl, Germany – 94 miles (Height 590 ft/180 m)

Open 1 Apr-4 Nov. See www.muellersee.de. ACSI off-season card €16 inc 16-amp electricity and shower tokens. Free WiFi .N 48Ί9'48” E 7Ί44'28”

Leaving the campsite at Sigmaringen, we called in the adjacent Stellplatz (opposite Kaufland supermarket) to use the free ground-level dump. Staying there costs €5 per night, with hook-ups at €2 an hour and a fill of water for €1). If you need electricity, the campsite seems a better deal (€16 per night, inc electricity and water).

After an awkward exit through Kaufland's car park, we crossed the Danube bridge, then turned left at the roundabout onto rd 313, southwest to Messkirch. A beautiful bright sunny morning, though snow was forecast for the coming weekend! At 10 miles it was right onto rd 311, which joins rd 14 for a short stretch before a tunnel into Tuttlingen at 26 miles. Continuing left on 311, we stopped for a lunch break and shopping at Lidl in Immendingen at 33 miles.

On past Geisingen and Donaueschingen on rd 33/31, with occasional glimpses of the Danube and the cycle path we had ridden. Road 31, the Schwarzwalder Strasse, took us on a lovely route across the Black Forest to Freiburg. It climbed gradually to 3,114 ft/945 m before the Titisee lake, then hair-pinned steeply down towards the Rhine valley. We drove on through the busy centre of Freiburg  at 78 miles, following signs to J62 of the A5 motorway 10 miles later.

Heading north up A5 for another 10 miles, we turned off at J59 for Riegel. Cross the motorway and follow signs to an excellent campsite by the small lake Mueller See (a flooded gravel pit now popular for bathing and wind-surfing), about 2 miles from the village of Riegel am Kaiserstuhl. A new Lidl-style supermarket/bakery called Treff 3000, half way between the campsite and Riegel centre, is very handy. We last stayed here 4 years ago and still have the local cycling map bought from a bookshop in Teningen, showing the many well-signed routes: Radwandern im Sudschwarzwald series, Landkreis Emmendingen, 1:50000. Look out for little green cycling signposts on the minor roads.

Cycling

Ride 1 (30 km/19 miles) - a circular ride on a fine dry afternoon round local villages on quiet lanes and marked cycle paths. Into Riegel, south to Bahlingen, alongside the railway towards Nimburg, into Eichstetten and on to Botzingen, then SE towards Neuershausen, returning north along a high river bank to Eichstetten, then back on a different route from Bahlingen to Riegel. Friday is market day in Riegel, with a few stalls in the centre, including one selling hot roast chickens: a great end to the day!

This ride lay to the east of the Kaiserstuhl (= Emperor's Chair), a conical hill of volcanic origin (summit 1,838 ft/557 m above sea level) which rises 1,000 ft above the Rhine Valley. The slopes are planted with vineyards and the area is known for its Mediterranean flora and fauna (eg orchids and bee-eaters) within the sunny micro-climate.

Ride 2 (33 km/21 miles) - a circular ride on a cold bright afternoon, following 2 days of sheltering from rain and sleet carried on the north wind. Cycled west via Whyl to meet the Rhine, then south along the German bank on a gravel cycle path, the Rheinradweg, passing beneath a bridge across to France. Turned off the river into the village of Sasbach, where we sat on a bench at the railway station for a chocolate break. The next train through was bound for Riegel but we resisted the temptation! The single carriage Kaiserstuhl Bahn train circles the dominant hill, serving all the villages, and we were impressed to see high school children, who had left their bikes safely at the station, getting off to ride home. Our route back to Riegel more or less followed the railway line east via Endingen on quiet roads and farm lanes, the only traffic being tractors harvesting the last of the corn. We got back shortly before dusk, which fell an hour earlier since the clocks had just gone back.

Ride 3 (35 km/22 miles) – a circular ride on a warmer but more windy afternoon, again on signed cycle paths and back roads. We began by crossing the A5 motorway and riding east to Hecklingen and Malterdingen. Pockets of snow now lie on the surrounding hills. After 15 km in Teningen, a larger village, we had coffee and buns in the bakery/cafe before riding on along the bank of the Elz, disturbing a lone Grey Heron. After passing Emmendingen (a large busy town on the other side of the river), we turned west to Reute, crossed the A5 again to Nimburg, then returned north via Bahlingen to Riegel. Although this week is the school half-term holiday, we are sharing the campsite (and the beautiful heated facilities) with just one other occupied caravan!

Ride 4 (40 km/25 miles) – another circular ride in bright cold sunshine. Riding directly via Endingen and Sasbach to the Rhine, we followed the Rheinradweg briefly north, as far as the bridge. Here we crossed the river on a pair of bridges into France, greeted by an EDF (Electricite de France) hydro-electric works. The onward road to Marckolsheim was busy with trucks and, this being France, had no edge or path for cycles, a marked contrast with the peaceful lanes on the German side. We circled the next roundabout and returned over the bridges and back to Sasbach. The bakery/cafe here (oddly, closed from noon till 3 pm!) was now open and we fortified ourselves with coffee and Linzertorte before riding back via Forchheim, as an alternative to Endingen.

November 2012

The first of November - All Saints Day - is a public holiday in Germany, with all the shops closed (as they are on Sundays). In medieval England, the festival was known as All Hallows, and its eve is still known as Halloween. It is followed by All Souls Day on 2 November and cemeteries in Roman Catholic countries are lavishly decorated with red candles, flowers and wreaths as the faithful remember their dead.

Here at Riegel, November was heralded with a rising wind, a sharp fall in pressure and grey skies. We made full use of the excellent facilities (heated modern shower block, well equipped laundry and free WiFi), staying until Herr Mueller closed his campsite. We did some planning and booked the Dunkirk-Dover ferry for a brief return to England, as well issuing a 'Greek Warning' on our website, which resulted in a flurry of emails.

To Camping Officiel, Arlon, Belgium – 200 miles (Height 1,260 ft/380 m)

Open all year. See www.campingofficielarlon.be. ACSI off-season card €17.60 inc local tax, 6-amp electricity and showers. Free WiFi. N 49Ί42'8” E 5Ί48'24”

A long day's journey through 4 countries, leaving Germany on a mild autumn morning, driving France's toll-motorways in a drizzle of mist, crossing Luxembourg in heavy rain, then buffeted by winds as we entered Belgium. We seem to be going in the wrong direction!

From Riegel it was 1.5 miles back to the A5 motorway, northbound. Being Sunday, we had the bonus of no HGVs on the roads, though that meant rest areas and service stations were overflowing with parked trucks. We turned off at the next exit (58: Herbolzheim) for fuel at the Autohof, then continued up A5 to exit 55 (Offenbach) at 26 miles.

Turning west along the narrow L98 for 7 miles, we crossed the Rhine into France and onto a dual carriageway. Signs for Strasbourg led us along E25/N83 and onto the A35 at 39 miles. The busy 6-lane motorway is toll-free through the city, with no congestion on this Sunday morning, though we have met long traffic jams in the past.

At 50 miles we joined the A4 toll-motorway, which was much quieter. By mid-morning it was raining and misty as we climbed through the Vosges in Alsace, taking a break at 75 miles in the Aire de Quatre-Vents rest area up at 1,170 ft/355 m. After reaching a max height of 1,220 ft/370 m, the motorway descended through the hills of Lorraine, with a toll of €12.70 to pay at 108 miles. A second and final toll (€6.90) was charged 11 miles later, near St Avold. Lunch among the lorries on the Longeville Services at 121 miles, in steady rain. Staying on A4, now dubbed l'Autoroute de l'Est, we turned north near Metz at 140 miles, crossed the Moselle (its water level very high, as was the Rhine), then took A31 for Thionville.

We crossed into Luxembourg at 168 miles, a tiny country known to travellers for its cheap fuel and duty-free goods. Too well known, as both the service stations we passed before the Belgian border were packed full with buses, trucks and cars. It was impossible to join the queue at the pumps in either Berchem, at 177 miles on A31, or in Capellen, 11 miles later on A6, and parking was out of the question!

The rain hammered down onto the poorly drained highway as we continued into Belgium at 191 miles, where strong gusts of wind made conditions worse. With some relief, we turned off 6 miles later at exit 31, Arlon, taking N82 towards Bastogne. Turn left at the junction with N4 and the Dutch-run campsite is just along on the right, with very easy access. It had plenty of hard-standing space, good hot showers and free WiFi, which worked well inside the motorhome.

We liked the English version of the owner's welcoming leaflet: 'During the winter season the reception is undemand ...' and 'Drinkable water is available in the toilet ... Please bring your own paper'. You could even watch a Robbie Williams concert on large-screen TV in the toilet block (bring your own tissues)!

There is also a free motorhome Aire in Arlon at the Fire Station, for the first four vehicles to find it.

To Camping Le Pommier Rustique, Durnal, Belgium – 72 miles (Height 780 ft/235 m)

Open all year. See www.camping-durnal.net. €22 inc 16-amp electricity and showers, or €16 (weekdays only) with a coupon printed off the camp's website. WiFi €3/day, €15/week, €25/fortnight. N 50Ί20'8” E 4Ί59'46.2”

A damp still morning, as we returned 3 miles to the A4/E25 motorway, pausing on the way at what looked like a giant shopping mall. Apart from a disappointingly small Carrefour, all the stores sold clothes or furniture and we didn't find the Belgian chocolates we'd hoped to buy as gifts.

Back on the motorway, it was an easy (if wet) drive north, rolling high in the Ardennes to a max height of 1,620 ft/490 m. We had lunch in a rest area after 46 miles, sampling the take-away Frites for which Belgium is rightly famous. A sharp descent followed, to cross the river Lesse 4 miles later, down at 650 ft/200 m.

From exit 19 at 70 miles, we turned sharp left for Spontin, then right onto N944 and followed signs along the narrow twisting lane to a campsite near Durnal. This proved to be a small sloping grassy site, with only 2 of the muddy hedged pitches large enough to take us – and one was already occupied. We managed to manoeuvre onto the other, regretting the detour. Had it not been pouring down and almost dusk, we would have returned to the motorway.

The manager came round after dark to collect the fee and argued about the discount coupon we had printed, claiming it was only valid for a 2-night stay. He didn't win and we paid €16 – still too much for the very basic facilities. Asking how to exit the site (given that a barrier was padlocked), our host suggested we reverse or turn round by the farm, both of which were impossible for anything larger than a car. Then he left, obviously not interested in repeat business.

To DFDS Car Ferry Port, Dunkirk, France – 177 miles (Sea level – we hope!)

Open all year. See www.dfdsseaways.co.uk.  Free parking and toilets, maximum stay 14 days! N 51Ί01.261 E 2Ί11.868

In order to leave we had to wait until a caravan vacated the opposite pitch at 10.30 am, enabling us to reverse. There were no staff on hand to help or to unlock the barrier that prevented an easy exit. This campsite at Durnal was a disgrace – and ACSI will be hearing from us!

After an awkward 2 miles back to motorway A4/E411, we headed north on a misty still morning, cold until a glorious sun broke through at midday. At 15 miles we took A15/E42 westbound for Charleroi, A7 past Mons, then onto A16/E42 for Tournai. From exit 32 (Tournai East) at 90 miles, we drove a mile along N7 towards the town centre to find the Lidl store with huge car park, remembered from our earlier stay at the Site de l'Orient Campground (see the beginning of this article). Here we made lunch and shopped, then it was back to the motorway, continuing west on A27/E42.

We entered France at 105 miles, turned onto A25/E42 after 7 miles, passed Lille and headed northwest for Dunkirk/Calais – all on toll-free motorways. On meeting A16, we drove west to exit 53 (Loon-Plage), then followed 'Car Ferry' signs for the final 7 miles to the port.

As we settled down to dine and sleep on the vast, almost empty car park, ready for the 0800 hrs sailing to Dover tomorrow, there was a knock on the door. It was an English motorist, whose Spanish-registered car had a flat battery. 'Got any jump leads, mate?' Certainly – and their loan was kindly rewarded with a bottle of Spanish wine!

To Briarfields Touring Park, Cheltenham, England – 199 miles

Open all year. See www.briarfields.net . ACSI off-season card €16 (£14) inc 16-amp electricity and showers. Free WiFi. N 51Ί53”42' W 2Ί8'3”

The DFDS ferry 'S/S Delft' sailed promptly at 8 am and we were at the head of the self-service breakfast queue for a great choice of good hot food. The crossing was calm and sunny, the white cliffs gleaming into view well before we disembarked in Dover at 10.30 am – or 9.30 British time.

An easy exit onto A20 for M20, M26 and M25 westbound. Keep Left on these extremely busy motorways! We had a lunch break at the new Cobham Services after 84 miles, exited onto M4 westbound 20 miles later, then another break at Reading Services at 128 miles. And so to the Swindon exit, for the familiar route 'home' to Cheltenham, arriving mid-afternoon. We were already missing Germany.

(to be continued with the next journey)