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Photos
Germany in the Summer of 2013 PDF Printable Version E-mail


SUMMER IN
GERMANY 2013

Travelling with a Sprinter Van, Lunar Caravan and Paul Hewitt Bicycles

Margaret and Barry Williamson
July and August 2013

(Continued from: Summer in the Netherlands 2013

(Continued atTravels in Austria in September 2013

The associated photographs are:

hann-munden-town

cycling-in-germany 

east-germany-today 

heringen-white-mountain 

buchenwald-concentration-camp 

Introduction

After a winter in Spain and Portugal, May in England and June in Ireland, in early July we took the Stena Line ferry from Harwich to the Hook of Holland to begin our journey through northern Europe. The initial focus is on cycling the Fietspads of the Netherlands and the Radwege of Germany; later we aim to travel in Eastern Europe with an eye on Bulgaria and Greece.

GERMANY

Giesbeek to Camping Eichengrund, Ibbenburen – 104 miles

Open all year. €19 inc electricity (or €24 with own private shower/WC cabin). No WiFi or internet. N 52.21829 E 7.66502

A straightforward afternoon drive, by motorway to within 4 miles of our next camp. We took A12 north past Arnhem onto A5, then at 21 miles turned east on A1 for Hengelo. Across the border (no need to stop, no tolls) onto the German A30 at 69 miles, to exit 11b (Ibbenburen) at 100 miles. South on B219 for 3 miles (past the sign for 'Camping Dorenther Klippen' on the left), then turn right at the next campsite sign, just after crossing the Dortmund-Ems Canal bridge. A narrow lane leads through oak forest to our campsite, in north Munsterland.

Owned and run by the helpful Stratmann family, it's a community of static caravans with a small area for tourers, where most pitches have an optional private shower cabin – lovely! The communal facilities are basic, though new ones are under construction. There is also a large playground, minigolf and bathing pond, which were taken over by a school party from Ibbenburen one morning on an end-of-term treat. An excellent site; we'd have stayed longer but it was fully booked once school hols began (19 July).

At Camping Eichengrund, Ibbenburen

It remained very warm throughout the week, with sprinklers keeping the grass green; there seems to be a heatwave across the UK and northern Europe. With good drying weather, Margaret made plenty of use of the washing machine, while Barry fitted the 4 new Schwalbe cycle tyres that we've carried since England. Now we have more room under the bed!

The next village of Saerbeck, 5 miles south on the Ems, was good for shopping (Lidl, Aldi, K&K supermarket, post office, Friday morning market). We also drove into Ibbenburen to lunch at McDonalds near the motorway junction, using their one-hour-free WiFi to send an email or two.

The Dorenther Klippen are limestone cliffs in the forest (part of the Teutoburger Wald), to the south of Ibbenburen. From a free car park on the B219, a mile or so north of our campsite, there are several footpaths (no cycling). We walked along a stretch, past Camping Dorenther Klippen (very small, mainly statics), enjoying the shade of the mature woodlands, the haunt of Europe's largest owls, though they were all asleep.

Another joy of being in Germany, especially for Margaret improving her vernacular, is listening to the radio and TV with excellent history, travel and nature programmes – and they do mention the war, showing many documentaries.

Cycling around Ibbenburen

1. Van-assisted circular ride from Recke (57 km): At the campsite we found a booklet Mit dem Rad rund um Recke with 5 circular cycle tours of varying length starting from Recke, northeast of Ibbenburen. www.recke.de. They mixed quiet lanes and separate cycle paths, though the maps were frustratingly vague and we sometimes strayed off the route. We drove about 14 miles to Recke, found free parking by the town hall (Rathaus), then attempted a ride listed as 55 km. We began by cycling west to Hopsten, where a picnic lunch was followed by a visit to the bakery/cafe. The cafι also had a breakfast buffet, and a unique offer of Kaffee und Kuchen satt (all-you-can-eat coffee and cakes) for a fixed price! Yes, as many cups and pastries as you like! We didn't take the deal, as we only needed one drink and cake each, but a trio of German matrons arrived to add to their substantial girth! Replete, we continued north to Frere, returning southeast via Schale and Halverde. It was an easy level ride between cattle meadows and lush fields of corn and wheat (standing much taller than in Holland last week). The leafy dormitory villages and thatched farmhouses all oozed affluence and influence, though one dairy farm had a sign demanding 'A fair price for our milk: €0.40 per litres'.

2. Tecklenburg via Brochterbeck and back (34 km): After crossing the Ems-Dortmund Kanal we rode a short way south along the canal, turned northeast on an intermittently signed cycle route, then crossed the railway and rode east on a woodland path, parallel with the railway. This climbed gradually, then dropped into the village of Brochterbeck, where we sat by the old mill pond to eat our melted chocolate – the afternoon temperature had reached 30 deg C. We continued riding east on a sandy forest track, signed for bikes but more appropriate for walking, being hilly and rutted with tree roots. Emerging, hot and dusty, below the old town of Tecklenburg, we decided against climbing the steep and busy road to its restored medieval centre. We returned via Brochterbeck and Dorenthe on an easier route of quiet lanes to the south of the forest.

Ibbenburen to Naturcamp an der Weser, Vlotho – 61 miles, elevation 160 ft

Open April-Sept. www.anderweser.nl. €18 inc electricity and showers. WiFi €1.50 for 24 hrs. N 52°9'58.7” E 8°54'21.5”

Very warm again as we drove 4 miles back to the A30 at Ibbenburen, to head east towards Hannover. The traffic flowed freely (despite TV warnings of hold-ups as the holidays began) until we reached Bad Oeynhausen, where the motorway turns into a dual carriageway, complete with lots of traffic lights, for a few miles of crawling along behind trucks. A much needed bypass to the north of Bad O is due to open next year.

Back on the motorway, we turned south by Porta Westfalica, then took the exit for Vlotho, a small town on the River Weser. Our campsite lies a couple of miles east of Vlotho, along the road to Rinteln, on the south bank of the river. Look out for the campsite sign on the left – it's easy to miss and another 5 miles before you can turn round. (How do we know that …?)

It's a lovely camp, with pitches along the riverside or tucked away among the trees – which we preferred, for shade. The Dutch couple who run the site speak excellent English as well as German and have a good sense of humour. Anxious about the name Naturcamp, we were assured that it did not mean 'Camping without trousers'! It does signify a simpler campsite, with less rules and regs (no barrier, no lunchtime closing, no statics), home to rabbits and even a family of water rats with a nice home in the bank of a side-stream. Only the WiFi is disappointing, barely working even outside Reception. Directly opposite, on the north side of the Weser, are 2 large commercial campsites, paying more for the same view. This year, our site was unable to open for Easter as it was still under water in May – a month of serious flooding along the Danube and many other rivers.

At Naturcamp an der Weser, Vlotho

Next morning we cycled into Vlotho (2 miles on a cycle path alongside the road). Keen to find out more about the Weserradweg cycle route, we tried the Tourist Office. They had no maps at all (free or to buy), though they could order one. Nor had they any information about accommodation along the route or the possibility of return by train or ferry, helpfully referring us to the bigger TI in Hamelin, some 50 km away. Wandering along the main street of Vlotho to find a bank and visit Lidl, we saw a small bookshop/post office. They had a choice of 2 maps for sale, each covering the entire 500-km Weserradweg from Cuxhaven to Hannoversch Munden. We took the Radwanderkarte 1:50,000 published by Leporello, on laminated waterproof paper, for €8.95.

Back at the campsite, our kind hosts agreed that we could leave the caravan and Sprinter safely with them (at a reduced rate). They even lent us a book with information about the Weserradweg, including accommodation along the route. Dividing the stretch from Vlotho to the source at Hann Munden into three stages, we planned the ride and booked the first night's B&B at Hameln-Tundern. The weather forecast remains good.

Cycling on the Weserradweg

Vlotho to Tundern, via Rinteln and Hamelin (60 km): The official Weserradweg (WRW) route follows the north bank of the Weser upstream from Vlotho to Eisbergen, where it crosses a bridge to the south side and continues to Rinteln. As we were camped on the south bank, 3 km east of the bridge at Vlotho, we set out on a minor cycle path along the south side of the river, picking up the WRW at Eisbergen bridge. Our alternative route varied from a tarmac bike path or a quiet lane to rolling woodland paths. The tiny cable-ferry that takes foot or cycle passengers across the Weser, shortly before Eisbergen bridge, only runs on summer weekends. Once on the approved route, we cycled into Rinteln (17 km), where a bakery cafι in the old market place provided a good breakfast.

Then the WRW crossed a bridge back to the north side and continued to Grossenwieden (33 km). Taking a break by the kiosk of a small car ferry there, we talked with a passing German cyclist. His fluent Yorkshire dialect was explained by a wife from Wakefield and a father-in-law who took him round the local pubs! The tattooed ferryman, who made us coffee, was playing Pink Floyd and Creedence Clearwater Revival. You meet all kinds on the cycle path.

In Germany's hottest July since records began, the afternoon temperature was 85 F or 30 C when we reached Hamelin (German Hameln). Finding our way to the historic centre (52 km), we sat outside another bakery cafe with much-needed cold drinks. By sheer chance, it was 3.30 pm and we were just in time for the thrice-daily performance of the Glockenspiel on the Marriage House across the square (at 1.05, 3.35 and 5.35 pm). To chimes of bells, the figure of the Piper Piper (German Rattenfanger or Rat Catcher) came out, followed by all the rats that had plagued the town. Then, as punishment for non-payment, he reappeared luring the town's children away – all but one, the poorest boy at the back of the line, whose mother pulled him back by his jacket. The Dutch couple at the next table were highly entertained and insisted on telling us the whole story from their leaflet. The Marriage House, one of many half-timbered examples of the Weser Renaissance style (1560-1620), was completed by 1617 but the Glockenspiel figures date only from 1964. From mid-May to mid-Sept,  you can also watch an open air play about the Rat Catcher at noon on Sundays, or take in the short musical 'Rats' at 4.30 pm on Wednesdays. But we had come on a Monday, to ride our bikes.

The WRW led us away along the river to the Hamelin suburb of Tundern, where we'd booked a room at a picturesque half-timbered farmhouse right on the cycle path. Built in 1799 and beautifully restored, it's known as Touristenservice am Weserradweg - run by Gisela & Wilhelm Hasenjager, whose family have owned it since 1912: www.amweserradweg.de  They don't provide an evening meal but directed us to the village supermarket, where we stocked up on snack food and bottles of water. With the bicycles safe in the vast barn of a garage, we had a picnic and watched TV in our room. Most channels were devoted to events in a London hospital, where Kate Middleclass or whoever had gone to deliver a future monarch.

Tundern to Godelheim, via Holzminden and Hoxter (70 km): Over a substantial breakfast round a communal table, talking with other cyclists (including a pair of interesting German women – a teacher, who has worked in Africa, and a social worker), we learnt they were all riding the WRW the approved way, downstream. Then we were off, riding upstream against the flow – of both the river and most of the laden riders, all German or Dutch. It was a good path, well signed in the main, though a good map is essential.

Keeping to the east bank, our first stop was in Bodenwerder (20 km) for coffee and pastries at a supermarket cafι. We rode some of the way alongside a lone German cyclist who was completing the WRW. He'd ridden Bremerhaven to Hamelin earlier in the year, until the route was blocked by floods. By Holzminden (50 km) we were suffering from the heat which, at 34 C, was higher than the Mediterranean or the Canaries! After cold drinks in yet another bakery cafι, we followed the WRW across the bridge to the west side of the Weser and rode on south to Hoxter (65 km). Here we drank bottles of water under the shade of a tree, far too hot to survey the medieval half-timbered town. Below Hoxter the river forms small lakes, where hundreds of bathers tried to keep cool and motorhomers lined up on the Stellplatz.

We cycled on, keen to reach the village of Godelheim on rd 64, about 1 km off our route. The Gasthaus Driehorst, the only hotel/restaurant on the main street, offered a good room for us and a garage for the cycles: www.gasthaus-driehorst.de. The TV had BBC World and CNN, both giving wall to wall coverage of the Royal Birth. It's a Boy - George. Evening meals in the hotel were excellent: substantial, well cooked and presented. We had salad, then fruity chicken curry & rice for B, pork steak with mushroom sauce and mixed veg for M. Couldn't manage a dessert!

Return from Godelheim to Vlotho by bus and train

Next day we'd planned to ride on from Godelheim to the end of the WRW at Hannoversch Munden (65 km). However, the weather forecast warned that the heatwave was about to culminate in electric storms, heavy rain and hail, so it seemed prudent to postpone cycling the final stage. We asked our host, Wilhelm Driehorst (whose family have run the hotel and adjacent bakery for over a century), about a train back to Vlotho – but nothing was that simple! He kindly printed out the options from the DB (Deutsche Bahn) website, all the itineraries involving both bus and train, which made it impossible to take the bikes with us.

We solved the problem by leaving our cycles and panniers at the Driehorst hotel, returning to our campsite at Vlotho (2 buses, 2 trains + taxi!), then driving back to Godelheim in the Sprinter van to collect bikes and baggage. It was quite an exciting day – and yes, it did rain hard. The journey was: 10.15 am bus Godelheim-Hoxter; 11.16 am bus Hoxter-Steinheim; coffee on Steinheim station; 12.44 pm train Steinheim-Hamelin; 1.29 pm train Hamelin-Vlotho; taxi Vlotho-campsite. All ran to time and we reached camp about 2.30 pm. After a late lunch, the drive back to Godelheim to collect the bicycles was 50 miles each way, compared with 130 km = 81 miles on the winding Weserradweg.

A Day Ride on the Weserradweg

Vlotho upstream to Rinteln, returning on the opposite bank of the Weser, would make a good short ride of 34 km or so. As we'd already cycled that stretch (see Vlotho to Tundern, above), we rode downstream past Minden on a humid cloudy morning, our last day at Naturcamp an der Weser.

Vlotho to Minden and return (58 km): In Vlotho across the bridge we joined the WRW on the north/east bank, returning to the west side via a bridge in Bad Oeynhausen. At Porta Westfalica the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial overlooks the Weser Bend, where the river turns to break through the hills before flowing over the marshes of the north German plain, via Bremen to its estuary at Bremerhaven.

After a coffee break in Minden (20 km), we rode another 10 km to the Wasserstrassenkreuz: the junction where the Mittellandkanal crosses the Weser on a 341 m long bridge built in 1914. The canal, linking Hannover with the Ruhr, takes long barges as well as leisure boats and the lock, harbour and information centre are currently being enlarged, causing a diversion on the WRW. Here we turned back, varying our outward route by remaining on cycle paths along the south/west bank all the way to Vlotho – a slightly shorter ride, with no bridges to cross. A brief rain shower was welcome and refreshing as we arrived back for a late lunch.

Vlotho to Camping Zella im Werratal, Zella, Nr Hannoversche Munden – 124 miles, elevation 443 ft

Open all year. www.zella-im-werratal.de.  €16.50 inc electricity (ACSI Card €14 except July & Aug). Showers €0.75. Free WiFi in bar/restaurant. Credit cards OK.   N 51°23'43” E 9°43'31”

Leaving mid-morning, caravan in-tow, it was just 5 miles north to Bad Oeynhausen where we joined the Dortmund-bound A2 motorway. At 29 miles, we turned onto A33 for Paderborn, the Saturday morning traffic fairly light. Exit onto A44 at 58 miles, to climb gradually above the 1,000 ft contour. Lunch in a rest area, with no shade from the brutal sun.

At Kassel we took A7, turning northeast towards Hannover and descending steeply from a max of 1,365 ft to cross the River Werra (of which we were to see much more from the saddle). Junction 75 led us onto the B80 towards Hann Munden. Turn left onto the bridge over the Werra, 2 miles later, then left along the river for a mile to the Zella Hotel and Restaurant, opposite its grassy riverside campsite. Reception at the hotel is closed from 10 am-4 pm but the campsite gate was open, so we settled by the river in between 2 Dutch caravans, checking in later. There is no shade from the perpetual sun and the basic facilities are all across the road, next to the hotel. (A new block is planned for next year, within the campsite.)

At Camping Zella im Werratal, Zella, Nr Hannoversche Munden

The 12thC trading town of Hannoversche Munden lies at the confluence of two rivers – the Fulda and the Werra – forming the source of the Weser. Each of the three rivers is shadowed by a long-distance cycle route and, having sampled the Weserradweg, we were keen to explore more. Sunday morning, therefore, saw us riding along the final 8 km/5 miles of the Werratalradweg (Werra Valley Cycle Path) – a shady wooded path along the river from Zella into the half-timbered heart of Hann Munden. See www.hann.muenden-tourismus.de

The Tourist Office inside the magnificent medieval Rathaus was of course closed on Sundays, when all good tourists should be in church (and the nearby St Blasius church was indeed impressive, organ playing, tower towering). We did catch the noon performance of the thrice-daily Glockenspiel on the town hall's richly decorated faηade. The Glockenspiel (at 12, 3 and 5 pm) commemorates the famous Doktor Eisenbart, travelling surgeon and dentist who died in 1727 and is buried in the town. The figures include the legendary doctor pulling the tooth of an unfortunate patient. The chimes play the tune of a children's nonsense rhyme penned in the 1800s, that Margaret remembered from her German school books:

Ich bin Herr Dr Eisenbart, Kurier' die Leut' nach meiner Art, Kann machen dass die Lahmen seh'n, und dass die Blinden wieder geh'n … and so on, for several verses. It translates as “I am Herr Dr Ironbeard, I cure folk in my own way, I can make the lame see and the blind walk again ... The chorus, if memory serves, was Twilli Willi Wit Bum Bum!

With almost all the shops closed, we cycled round to see the confluence of the rivers at the Weserstein: a stone marker erected on the tiny river island of Unterer Tanzwerder in 1899 and engraved with a patriotic poem by the mason. The first of its 4 lines: Wo Werra sich und Fulda kussen (Where the Werra and the Fulda kiss) has made the town very popular for weddings!

On the adjacent island of Oberer Tanzwerder lie the town campsite and motorhome Stellplatz, both reached by a narrow bridge over a lock (with a 3-ton limit). Cycling into the campsite for a drink at its cafι, we found that Reception sold the excellent Leporello cycle maps for the Weser (which we have), Fulda and Werra. We eagerly bought the Fuldaradweg (€4.95) and Werratalradweg (€6.95) and made the decision to move the caravan to this central campsite. Though bigger, busier, noisier and more expensive than our open field site at Zella, it is much more secure, with barrier and cameras, making it a better base to leave the Sprinter and caravan while away for a few nights cycling.

Back at Zella we had an extremely good meal and a beer at the hotel, complimenting the Anglophile owner on his taste in music which ranged from Elvis to Leonard Cohen via the Beach Boys. We'll be sorry to move.

Zella to Camping Grune Insel, Tanzwerder, Hannoversche Munden – 5 miles, elevation 404 ft

Open end March to mid-Oct. www.busch-freizeit.de.  €20 plus metered electricity (€2 connection fee + €0.60 per kwh). Showers €1. WiFi €3 for a total of 24 (not continuous) hrs. Tokens to buy for 5 minutes of hot washing up water, or use of electric hotplates! €20 deposit for barrier key. Cash only. N 51.41666 E 9.64750

See the photographs: http://www.magbazpictures.com/hann-munden-town.html

And: http://www.magbazpictures.com/cycling-in-germany.html

After a short drive into Hann Munden, we settled on the 'green island' bordered by the Fulda and the Werra.  As the above price list shows, this is a highly regulated campsite (no entry from 1-3 pm) but the helpful staff offered a reduction for the nights when the caravan is unoccupied. It's also extremely convenient, a short walk from the heart of the town and its 700+ half-timbered houses (or is that 350+ fully timbered …?) Nor is the lively centre just a tourist ghetto/medieval museum, as we found everyday shops and businesses (pharmacy, small supermarket, butcher, baker, cobbler, ironmonger etc), as well as cafes and hotels.

We strolled round to check the Tourist Office for information on the Werra and Fulda cycle paths. Disappointingly, they only had accommodation lists for Hann Munden itself and were of no help on transport (that is, how to reach the starting point of each long-distance trail by train or other public transport from here.) They just sold the maps, which we already have, and suggested we enquire at the railway station – as if nobody had ever asked before!

First, though, we cycled the final stretch of the Weserradweg that we had left at Godelheim, 65 km or so from Hann Munden.

AUGUST 2013

Cycling the Weserradweg

Hannoversche Munden to Godelheim and back to Amelunxen (71 km): Leaving the campsite, we cycled across the old stone Werrabrucke bridge and followed WRW signs through the suburb of Gimte (past 2 or 3 guesthouses). Then the cycle path shadowed the River Weser, level apart from two short climbs/descents: the first a stiff 10% gradient. At Bursfelde (20 km) we paused awhile to enjoy coffee and cakes at the Klostermuhle Restaurant, just past the former Benedictine Abbey (or Kloster).

In the village of Gieselwerder, 8 km later, a bridge across the Weser took us from Lower Saxony to Hessen. A picnic lunch at 42 km preceded the cycle-unfriendly (no bike lanes) spa town of Bad Karlshafen, where our route again took a bridge over to the north/east side of the river. Soon we crossed the water again, on a tiny current-driven cable ferry to Herstelle (cyclists €1 each), then stayed on the south/west bank, on through Beverungen and Wehrden.

Turning off the WRW for 1 km into the village of Godelheim (at 65 km), we returned to the Driehorst Hotel (www.gasthaus-driehorst.de) we had used a week before. Although we'd phoned to reserve a room, the only one available overlooked the busy main road and it was far too hot to keep the windows closed. Our previous room had been larger and quieter, at the rear. Disappointed, we declined the offer and cycled back to follow a sign to the Haus Marbeke Pension (2 km southwest of Godelheim) which was full!

Continuing south for 4 km we reached Amelunxen, a tiny place west of Wehrden, where our map advertised the Gasthof & Pension Kirchhoff (www.gasthaus-kirchhoff.de). What luck –a delightful little hotel at a more modest price! Bicycles safely installed in the garage, we had a quiet spacious room with a balcony over the garden, where 3 ducks chased each other round and round the water feature. There was a splendid self-service buffet on offer at 6.30 pm, with delicious salads, bread, cheeses and cold cuts, hot pork with sauces and potatoes, and a creamy ice sundae with cherries. A great end to the day, watching an evening shower.

Amelunxen to Hannoversche Munden (65 km): After an equally generous breakfast buffet, a 5 km cycle path returned us to the WRW long-distance bike path at Wehrden (what a civilised country this is). We retraced our route towards Herstelle, crossing the river on a bridge shortly before the little ferry used yesterday. Along the north bank until the bridge to Bad Karlshafen (at 21 km) and coffee in a bakery cafι, which was unusually hostile (don't lean your bikes there; no toilets).

After a picnic in Gieselwerder, we didn't cross the bridge taken yesterday (the official WRW) but followed Radweg R1 which stayed on the same side all the way back to Hann Munden. This was actually an easier route, avoiding any climbs. The weather was fresher after last night's welcome rain and we'd really enjoyed the final stage of following the Weser.

 Cycling the Fuldaradweg

The 200 km Fulda, one of the two rivers which meet in Hann Munden to form the Weser, rises on Hessen's highest mountain (the 950 m high Wasserkuppe) and flows through Fulda, Kassel and Bad Hersfeld. Most cyclists (including us) start the Fulda cycle way in Gersfeld, a small town below the source.

Taking a train from Hann Munden to Gersfeld meant several changes, with no reservations possible for the bicycles. However, we found a firm, Velociped (www.velociped.de/en) who run assisted tours. A couple of phone calls established that they take cyclists from Hann Munden to Gersfeld on Friday mornings. They do give priority to their own guests, but will take independent cyclists, space permitting.

Having booked by email, we were duly collected at 11 am outside the Alte Windmuhle hotel in the centre of Hann Munden, along with another unlikely couple. Mario, the driver of the green Renault Trafic, loaded passengers, bikes and baggage and hit the road. It was an expensive journey which we didn't enjoy, travelling far too fast along busy motorways on which we had to ask our co-passengers to stop distracting the driver (talking non-stop while showing him a map!) Quite a relief when they and their electric bikes were dropped off to rejoin their car, left at the Holiday Inn in Fulda.

Safely delivered to Gersfeld at 1 pm, we were ready for coffee and sandwiches at the market place cafe before starting our 3-day tour. It was a very hot afternoon (35 C in the shade at 4 pm) and we stocked up on bottled water (buy 'Still' if you don't like fizzy – both readily available in German supermarkets at €0.19 for 1.5 litres, plus €0.25 deposit on the plastic bottle!)

Gersfeld to Pfordt, nr Schlitz (50 km): A good ride, mostly on sealed paths through shady woods along the river, much less busy than the Weserradweg. A couple of short climbs but mainly downhill (from 500 m at Gersfeld to 230 m at Pfordt). After 30 km we rode neatly through the park, avoiding the busy centre of the cathedral city of Fulda. The only problem was the heat and we stopped regularly to drink. It had reached 37 C by 5 pm when we arrived in the village of Pfordt. Rather than climb a hill into Schlitz for a hotel, as planned, we asked at the Porta guesthouse/restaurant and were welcomed with a lovely cool room and an excellent evening meal. They cater especially for motorbikers and cyclists, in a beautiful area known locally as Schlitzerland: www.landgasthof-porta.de.

Pfordt to Malsfeld (89 km): A substantial breakfast buffet, including cereals, fruit, yogurt and home-made jams, as well as the usual cold meats, cheese and boiled eggs, set us on our way. Still warm and dry (max 30 C). Cycled the Fuldaradweg (also signed as Hessen R1) past Bad Hersfeld, with a break for coffee and cake at the bakery in the next village, Friedlos, at 41 km. On we rode, bypassing Bebra, to Rotenburg an der Fulda, then alongside the railway through the river valley to Morschen. Shortly before Beiseforth, our map showed a Fahrrad-seilbahn (bicycle cable car) across the river. The haul-it-yourself contraption was not working, which saved a difficult decision! After climbing the hill that it would have avoided, we tried for a room in Beiseforth but both guesthouses were full, this being Saturday. So a final 8 km into Malsfeld, where the Landhotel Jaegerhof lay up a short hill towards the church, near the brewing museum. We were more than ready for the cool ground floor room, the only one left. At least we had kept together – earlier, as we sat taking a drink in the shade, a distraught cyclist had ridden past twice, asking if we'd seen his wife. We hope he found her. The hotel restaurant being busy with a drinking party, we had a picnic supper in the room.

Malsfeld to Hann Munden (74 km): Another plentiful breakfast buffet (at which Germans excel), then back on the Radweg for the final day. After 25 km we stopped for coffee in Guxhagen, then on to Kassel, where the Fulda forms lakes in the Staatspark. Here we ate a picnic lunch, closely watched by gaggles of geese, ducks and swans. Continuing along the riverside, we found our path lined and almost blocked by the stalls and booths of a summer fair. With no appetite for sausages and candy floss in the heat, we walked through the crowds until they thinned out, then cycled along the river again. Pleasure boats ply between Kassel and Hann Munden and the banks were busy with pedestrians, dog-walkers and local cyclists on this sunny Sunday. There were a couple of short climbs, where the path left the Fulda, then it was easier for the last leg, arriving in Hann Munden opposite our campsite. The signage along the whole Radweg had been intermittent (a map is essential) and there was no indication of how to cross the river into town, except by a footbridge with a flight of steps! We cycled round to the road bridge and back to the campsite, busy as ever with cyclists and canoeists. It had been very satisfying to ride the whole Fuldaradweg in 2.5 days, total 213 km = 133 miles. Now to look at the Werra River ride!

Cycling the Werratalradweg

The name is significant - the 'Werra Valley Cycle Path' doesn't always keep close to the Werra river but follows its valley. The Werra flows some 290 km, from two competing sources in the hills of the Thuringer Wald high above Eisfeld to its confluence with the Fulda in Hann Munden, continuing to the North Sea under the name of the Weser. The river divides Hessen to the west and Thuringen to the east (the former DDR), adding great interest as we regularly crossed the old border and rode through the contrasting villages. The route is signed but a map is essential and again we used the excellent Leporello series Radwanderkarte, scale 1:50,000 for €6.95 (www.publicpress.de).

We considered taking the train to Eisfeld from Hann Munden, to ride the whole way back in one go, but the rail journey involved several changes with no guarantee of bicycle space.  So we completed the ride in sections (cycling many of them twice, out and back from a campsite or the parked Sprinter).

Finding the source of the Werra: We began by leaving the caravan at Camping Grune Insel, Hannoversche Munden, and driving the Sprinter (complete with bicycles) 124 miles to Eisfeld. It was an interesting journey, south via Eschwege to the A4, then east into the former DDR, the border post at Eisenach now a large and forbidding motorway service station. South to Suhl, climbing to 2,700 ft/820 m on the way, and finally A73 to Eisfeld and the welcoming Hotel Schaumberger Hof (www.Schaumberger-Hof.de) in the town centre, a 19th C gem opposite a modern Netto store.

The settlement here, dating from 800 AD, was destroyed in 1632 and again in 1640 in the Thirty Years War. Restored, it was razed by fire in 1822 and rebuilt. In 1945 US troops arrived with grenades, to be followed by the Red Army and then Soviet occupation. Eisfeld lay in the forbidden East German border zone, just 4 km from the frontier (and Bavaria). An old Trabant car rusted away in the hotel garage and the owners told us that the hotel had operated throughout the Soviet years, though only 'special people' could stay there. A limited border crossing opened in 1973, strictly controlled for approved transit to Berlin. Even now, over 20 years since reunification, the small town of Eisfeld up at 1,500 ft/455 m had an eerie feel, the streets empty of life, especially after dark.

Next day, a few miles south along rd 4 at the former DDR/BRD border post, we climbed the watchtower which now houses a small exhibition of photos etc, opened to the public in November 2009, the 20th anniversary of liberation. Entry is free (key from the adjacent petrol station). The typewriter and telephone/tape recorder already look like museum pieces, so radically have modern communications changed. The Bavarian town of Coburg lay less than 10 miles south of the frontier but the inhabitants of Eisfeld were unable to meet relatives living there for some 40 years.

We also drove northeast into the Thuringer Wald forest above Eisfeld to explore the two sources of the Werra river. A roadside spring at Siegmundsberg at 2,640 ft/800 m was easy to find and photograph, while its rival near Fehrenbach proved elusive. We eventually reached a sign pointing 1.5 km up a very steep path, so declared the first one the true Werraquelle.

Cycling Themar to Eisfeld and return (total 67 km): After relocating the Sprinter in Themar, with free parking on a 5-van Stellplatz by the Hexenturm (= Witches' Tower) on the old town wall, we cycled the Werratalradweg route back to Eisfeld. Beginning with a short stiff climb and descent to the old abbey of Kloster Vessra, we rode on via Grimmelshausen to the town of Hildsburghausen, where we ate a picnic in the square watched by a life-size bronze replica of a dinosaur whose footprints had been found in a nearby quarry. It was quite a strenuous ride, continuing through the wooded hills to Veilsdorf (25 km) and Eisfeld. The quiet East German villages offered no refreshment, apart from coffee and apple cake in Hildsburghausen on the return ride.  

Back in Themar (no accommodation available), we drove on via Meiningen to Wasungen, another small former DDR town on the Werra where we found a room at the Burgerhaus Paradies, managed by the town hall and booked through the tourist office. It provided a nice en-suite room at a low price, with a generous breakfast buffet - the only problem being that a 70th birthday party in the hall below went on until 2.30 am, on a night that was far too warm to close the windows! As we were not invited, and the only restaurant in Wasungen closed at 8 pm, we escaped for a while by driving back 9 km to Meiningen for a meal at McDonalds. Not only were we the only customers over 25 (we're used to that) but the only ones without piercings or tattoos!

Cycling Wasungen to Themar and return (total 72 km): Leaving the Sprinter parked in Wasungen, we cycled upstream along the Werra to Themar (36 km), returning the same way. The first couple of miles were on a gravel path through the riverside woods, then the route via Meiningen was on a good cycle path or quiet roads. Seeing no cafes (this being the former DDR), we had a picnic lunch on the way. In the central square at Themar, the bakery was closed but the butcher's served coffee. The return ride was easier, being slightly downhill and with a back wind.

Cycling Wasungen to Bad Salzburg and return (total 64 km): Again leaving the Sprinter in Wasungen, we cycled down the Werra Valley to the old East German spa town of Bad Salzburg and back. Taking a break after 23 km, sitting in a park in Immelborn, we were watched by a pair of storks nesting on a tall chimney – all that remained of a former factory. Sadly, the lovely new children's playground was completely empty on a sunny August Saturday and the village was almost deserted. It seems people have headed west for work, with few returning. In Bad Salzungen, 7 km further, we found a stall near the modern shopping mall, opposite the railway station, selling the magnificent Thuringer Bratwurst – long Thuringian sausages in a bread roll. They made an excellent lunch before riding back. The route was mostly on dedicated cycle paths and quiet roads, though the signposting failed round Wernshausen, where we were diverted onto a busy main road for a short stretch.    

Cycling Eschwege to Hann Munden (63 km): Before leaving our base at Camping Grune Insel, Hannoversche Munden, we took a train to Eschwege to cycle the end section of the Werra Valley back to Hann Munden (leaving the central stretch - Bad Salzungen to Eschwege – to be completed from Heringen).

There is an hourly train from Hann Munden station to Eschwege (one change at Eichenberg), taking a total of 50 mins, bicycles carried free, space permitting. The 10.06 am arrived 10 minutes late, causing anxiety about the connection, but we made it. After coffee and pastries at Eschwege station, we crossed the river Werra onto the Werratalradweg route and cycled it 63 km back to Hann Munden. Entering Bad Sooden (22 km), we had a picnic lunch sitting in the shade of the very Lindenbaum (lime tree) that inspired Wilhelm Muller's popular poem Am Brunnen vor dem Tore ('At the fountain outside the gate'), set to music by Schubert in 1827. Both fountain and gate are preserved at the entrance to the old spa town, where the centre was decorated with sheafs and corn dollies for harvest festival. Continuing through the former DDR Grenz (border) zone, we passed a sign for a Grenzmuseum and watchtower. Talking with a quartet of (west) German cyclists, we couldn't agree with them that it was 'all the same' now. The eastern villages still looked poorer, with a notable absence of shops, cafes or indeed people or children. Arriving back in Hann Munden, the bells rang for the 5 pm Glockenspiel on the Town Hall as we collected Bratwurst and roast potatoes at the butcher's take-away on the square. A good end to the day!

Hannoversche Munden to Camping Werratal, Heringen, Hessen – 73 miles, elevation 816 ft

Open all year. www.werratalcamping.de.  €18 plus metered electricity (€0.50 per kwh). Free showers. Free WiFi. Cash only. N 50Ί53'3.9” E 10Ί1'16.3”

In mid-August we moved the caravan to Heringen, a salt-mining town in Hessen which lies on the Werra River between Bad Salzungen and Eschwege.

From Hann Munden we took B496 south for 6 miles to join the A7. The road climbed over 1,000 ft through a couple of well-graded hairpins before reaching the busy Kassel-bound motorway. We lunched in a rest area, wedged between a pair of Polish trucks. Continued climbing through hills (max over 1,500 ft) to join A4 at 50 miles and turn northeast for 14 miles to exit 33 for Friedewald. Follow a minor road through Herfa to Heringen, turn right over the railway line, past the huge working salt mine and cross the Werra River into the town centre.

The campsite is 2 miles east of Heringen, next to the tennis and swimming centre, which has a good restaurant. The friendly Dutch manager, Papa Jo, saved the camp from closure 2 years ago, providing accommodation for a few long-term residents working at the salt mine, along with a small area for tourers and passing cycle-campers.

We settled in and learnt more about the mine, its 200 m/660 ft high white spoil heap - known as Monte Kali - dominating the town. Visitors can take a strenuous 15-minute guided walk to the top of this 'White Mountain'; visit the mining museum; or descend into the mine. Down there, in the legendary Gold Room, the WW2 Reichsbank had a hoard of gold and art works, found by American troops under Eisenhower in 1945. Details of times and entry prices on www.kalimuseum.de or from the Kalibergbau Museum in the town centre (closed Mondays).

See the Photographs: The Heringen White Mountain

At Camping Werratal, Heringen

In the town we collected information from the museum and discovered that the railway line is freight only, serving the mine. Also caught up with laundry (the campsite washing machine being a bargain €2, with marvellous drying weather) and shopping (at Lidl, Aldi, or Rewe).

The twice-weekly guided climb of the Monte Kali salt mountain starts from a car park, the Hexentanzplatz (witches' dancing place) some 8 miles/13 km from Heringen, signed off the road to Honebach. We drove up there but the private road was closed to non-visitors after the curious Bodesruh monument, a concrete observation tower built in 1963. Barry (once a rock climber) braved the open spiral stairs to photograph the view.

Cycling the central section of the Werratalradweg

Cycling Heringen to Bad Salzungen and return (total 73 km): Rode 2 km downhill into Heringen, then south on quiet roads following Werratalradweg signs. Roadworks diverted the route via Philipsthal, where there is another working salt mine with a smaller 'white mountain'.  At the historic bridge over the Werra (built 1342, crossed by Napoleon's army, blown up in WW2, rebuilt after 1945, now closed to motor traffic), we rode across into Vacha, at 17 km, and re-entered the former DDR, as the river was the border here. The central square, fountain and half-timbered town hall (built 1613) were charming but deserted, though posters advertised a range of events for the 400th anniversary next weekend. The Netto supermarket bakery was the only option for a coffee break (and very good too) – strangely quiet for a Saturday morning. Recrossing the bridge, we continued to the spa town of Bad Salzungen, riding a mixture of lovely woodland cycle paths and quiet roads, with a few miles of dirt and gravel that might have been difficult in the wet. Hard to imagine, as we've had hot dry weather for the last 6 weeks! Bad Salzungen again rewarded us with Thuringer Bratwurst from the stall outside the shopping mall, before cycling back the same way (without the detour into Vacha). 

Cycling Heringen to Eschwege (89 km): To complete the Werratalradweg we rode north from Heringen to Eschwege. The first mile of the cycle route from Heringen to Widdershausen alongside the Werra River was a wooden boardwalk, which had been damaged in the spring floods. A sign claimed it was closed for repair but we saw no evidence of work as we ignored the lengthy diversion and wheeled our bikes along! We continued on quiet roads (some cobbled) through the former DDR to Gerstungen (16 km), then a muddy gravel track through woods alongside the Werra to Lauchroden (26 km) - a charming old village with little sign of life, no shop, no cafι, its only hotel long closed. The church clock stood at 9.30 and we felt time stood still in this place, overlooked by the ruined towers of the Brandenburg castle. Then, crossing a bridge and railway into the busy (western) town of Herleshausen at 29 km, we walked down a dangerously narrow pavement in the centre, then rode right past a McDonalds. (No, we didn't ride straight past, it was lunch time! We'd spotted the 'golden arches' on the skyline but thought it was a mirage!)

Riding on we were back in the former East, on a rough track of dirt and gravel through shady woodland, past Creuzburg and on to Mihle (50 km), its only cafι closed today, being Tuesday. Then it was tarmac all the way, pausing in Treffurt (at 67 km) for a welcome coffee and cake in the square opposite the charming town hall of 1609. Our good deed for the day was stopping to help a dad and his lad along the way to Altenburschla. The boy had a puncture, which dad had patched but their pump wasn't working. English Cycle Repair Man to the rescue! We were not impressed that 3 fellow-East-Germans rode by without offering assistance. On through Wanfried - a historic port on the Werra, once the terminus for the Weser/Werra river trade from the North Sea – where we crossed the bridge. We're still riding the former East/West German border, crossing regularly between Thuringen and Hessen. Finally we reached the large town of Eschwege, where we'd booked a night at a B&B in the centre, the Hotel Deutsches Haus, run by a friendly old couple: www.hotel-deutscheshaus-eschwege.de. It had been a long ride, hard work on the dirt paths of potholes and puddles against a cool north wind, so the quiet room at the back of the hotel was very welcome - hot shower, TV and a big soft bed. 

Cycling Eschwege to Heringen (84 km): Next day we could have taken a train back towards Heringen (as far as Gerstungen) but we chose to ride the whole way, though our hopes of a back wind this time were dashed – it had turned round to the east! After the usual substantial German breakfast buffet, we reversed yesterday's route – including coffee in Treffurt and lunch at McD in Herleshausen, since they were the only refreshments available. There was a good bicycle shop in Treffurt where we bought some chain oil, to the relief of Margaret's dry and dusty chain. Our distance was 5 km less than yesterday because we cycled a more direct route from Neustadt to Gerstungen alongside the railway. Back in Heringen, we learnt that a tornado had hit Celle (a German town in the Harz region) and overturned some caravans on a campsite there, causing some injuries but no deaths. 

We had finally completed the whole of the 290 km/181 mile Werra Valley Cycle Route over the course of 3 weeks, from 2 campsite bases (Hann Munden and Weringen). We had used the Sprinter van, a train and 3 hotels, and cycled several sections in both directions, actually riding 75% more - a total of 512 km/320 miles. And we enjoyed every one.

Heringen to Camping Jena unter dem Jenzig, Jena, Thuringen - 92 miles, elevation 500 ft

Open 1 March-15 Nov. www.camping-jena.de  €17.50 inc 6 amp electricity (some pitches €15 plus metered 16 amp elec, €0.35 per kwh). Free showers. Free WiFi (very weak). Cash only. ACSI Card rate €14 low season. N 50Ί56'9” E 11Ί36'30”

From Heringen it was 7 miles via Berka-on-Werra to the A4 (J36), then east towards Dresden, crossing the former border just before the services 7 miles later – a forbidding place, once the Soviet Customs post. The motorway climbed to 1,370 ft/415 m before Eichelborn services at 66 miles, where we stopped for lunch. On past Weimar, descending to exit 54 for Jena at 87 miles. Take the busy B88 dual carriageway north through Jena; turn right at the campsite sign after crossing the Saale River; then right again (recrossing the river) and continue to the camp, next to the sports stadium/swimming baths. And watch out for trams!

It's a rough and ready sort of campsite on the old tram terminus, with Reception in an old tramcar and the ablutions in wooden cabins. A children's party was in full swing, celebrating the last weekend before the new school term, and there was an evening barbecue (Fridays and Saturdays, when fine) with delicious sausages, pork chops and salad to buy, as we did. The friendly women in the kiosk also sold rolls and croissants, as well as home-made cakes, jam and honey.

And the campsite lies directly on two long-distance cycle routes. The 427-km Saale-Radwanderweg follows the Saale River from the source to its confluence with the Elbe: www.saale-radwanderweg.de. The shorter but more strenuous 230-km Thuringer Stadtekette is a cross-country route linking 7 cities of Thuringen (Altenburg-Gera-Jena-Weimar-Erfurt-Gotha-Eisenach): www.thueringer-staedtekette.de. Our campsite host kindly supplied leaflets on both routes, as well as a map of cycle paths throughout Thuringen. See also www.radwandern.thueringen-entdecken.de. Photos showed the site when the Saale flooded in May 2013, with water half way up the central Yurt (and the Saale cycle route closed!)

At Camping Jena unter dem Jenzig, Jena

Cycling

The weather during this last week of August is still warm and sunny, with a hint of autumn soon to come. It was a short cycle ride (5 km return) into Jena, in search of a bank machine. In the busy Marktplatz the market was in full swing. Only the town hall and St Michael's church had been restored after the bombing in 1945 and the rest of the town centre, rebuilt in the Soviet years, was pretty drab.

A longer ride (30 km return) took us along the Saale River cycle route towards Naumburg. The Radweg was the usual badly signposted East German mix of quiet roads and separate paths, with a short section of gravel. We crossed the river overlooked by the castles at Dorndorf, where the old bridge, blown up in 1945, was rebuilt in the 1950s and now takes pedestrians and cyclists only.  Continuing uphill to Dobritschen, we found the route uninspiring, saw no other cyclists, and returned to the campsite.

Napoleon at Cospeda (4.5 miles from campsite)

In addition to optics, lenses and the university where Goethe visited that other great classical German writer Schiller, Jena is known to historians for Napoleon's victory in 2 battles against the combined forces of Prussians and Saxons.

Take the B7 out of Jena, past the Zeiss-Planetarium and Friedrich Schiller University, towards Weimar and after about 3 miles turn right at the sign '1806 Napoleon Battle Site'. It's another mile steeply uphill to the village of Cospeda (at 1,140 ft). There we found a museum in the old school house with a small exhibition, and information boards and paths covering the site of the battles, making an interesting walk. There is even a strenuous Napoleon Route cycle way.

Buchenwald Concentration Camp, Weimar (24 miles from campsite)

See the Photographs at: buchenwald-concentration-camp

Northwest of the city of Weimar, Prussia's former glorious cultural capital, lies a chilling memorial to the dictatorship that followed the Weimar Republic – Buchenwald (www.buchenwald.de/en/69).  From Weimar we drove through the eponymous beech forest along the 3.5 km Blutstrasse (Blood Street), a road constructed by the inmates. Their slave labour later built a parallel railway line, linking to Weimar station.

Though we have previously experienced a range of death camps and other monuments to the insanity of the Third Reich, they were in Poland. We had never visited one in Germany - and this in the former DDR, the Soviet-occupied East. The visitor is halted on approach by a massive Stalinist monument, car park and exhibition hall. Around the pits, where the ashes of innumerable victims were dumped, the countries of occupied Europe are commemorated with heavy anti-Fascist propaganda.

Further along, at the site of the main camp and 'little camp', there are the remains of the barracks and crematorium, with a larger exhibition. Parking and entry are rightly free, with books and brochures on sale in the shop.

We returned to Jena with no appetite for exploring Weimar, despite its associations with the great philosophers, writers and composers of the 18-19th centuries (including Goethe, living there until his death in 1832). We felt completely drained by what we saw at Buchenwald, compounded by the use one evil regime had made of the relics of another dictatorship.

Time to make our escape to Bavaria to cycle alongside the Danube.

Jena to Camping Betzenstein, Betzenstein, Bavaria - 116 miles, elevation 1,800 ft

Open all year. www.campingplatz-betzenstein.de  €20.30 inc 5 amp elec. Showers €1. WiFi not working. N 49Ί41'9” E 11Ί24'9”

Phoning our next chosen campsite near Donauworth, we were advised that the site was full with a rallying group until next Sunday afternoon (1st September) – the first such problem this summer. Instead we found a camp on the way, located 3 miles from the village of Betzenstein in the Frankische Schweiz Naturpark.

It was 5 miles south along a sunny B88 to join the A4 eastbound for 10 miles. Then south on A9, crossing the former East German frontier into Bavaria at 50 miles. A mile later we paused for a Burger King lunch on a huge service area (once the border post) up at 1,650 ft.

Taking A9 exit 46 at 112 miles, we drove northwest from Plech past Betzenstein to a large quiet campsite on the left. Rain set in, the promised WiFi was 'out of order' and there was no mobile phone signal. On the plus side, the camp had a good laundry and a Wild West Saloon Bar serving basic meals.

At Betzenstein

The quaint stone village down the road had a baker's and a small shop but parking was difficult, as a music event was being set up on the only car park. For supplies we drove a little further to Plech, on the other side of the motorway junction, where there is a Rewe supermarket, Aldi and McDonalds.

Cycling in the Frankische Schweiz Naturpark

Muggendorf to Forchheim and return (50 km) – We drove the Sprinter van 16 miles through the picturesque 'Frankish Switzerland Natural Park' to Muggendorf. Here, at the Frankische Schweiz Naturpark  Information Centre by the River Wiesent, is a car park (popular with kayakers) and an interesting exhibition in the old railway station building – both free of charge. A good place for a picnic lunch before riding the cycle path to Forchheim.

The well signed route via Ebermannstadt (10 km along) mainly paralleled the B470 but was separated from the traffic until the outskirts of Forchheim (25 km). In the old town centre of Forchheim we couldn't resist mugs of coffee and cakes at the Fuchs (= fox) bakery cafι before hunting out a good place to leave the van tomorrow in order to cycle along the Main-Donau-Kanal.  A free car park (next to a paying motorhome Stellplatz) over the bridge on the west side of the A73, directly on the Main-Donau-Kanal Radweg, looked perfect.

We had a good ride back to Muggendorf, still warm and sunny with a light wind and all sign of rain gone. Returning to Betzenstein, we took a detour via Pottenstein through a lovely area of caves, cliffs and woods. The Schnitzel and chips awaiting us in the campsite Wild West Saloon were good and hot, freshly cooked and very tasty.

Forchheim to Bamberg and return (57 km) – Drove the Sprinter 30 miles via Pottenstein to Forchheim. Parked easily on the free car park located yesterday on the west side of the Main-Donau-Kanal (linking the rivers Main and Danube), from where the signed cycle route runs north or south.

We cycled north to Bamberg (28 km), pausing for a waterside picnic on the way. The route followed a variety of paths (some unsealed) and minor roads, crossing and recrossing the canal several times. In Bamberg we took a break at another Fuchs bakery cafι before circuiting the historic central square – UNESCO World Heritage listed and busy with buskers, market stalls and creepy 'living statues' outside the elaborate Baroque Jesuit Church. On the return ride to Forchheim there was a welcome back wind. We reached the car park by 5 pm and the campsite by 6 pm, well satisfied with the day.

SEPTEMBER 2013

Betzenstein to Donau-Lech Camping, Eggelstetten, nr Donauworth, Bavaria - 90 miles, elevation 1,330 ft

Open all year. www.donau-lech-camping.de  ACSI card rate €16 inc 16 amp elec. Free showers and WiFi. N 48.67660 E 10.84100

Knowing that Donau-Lech Camping's barrier is closed to all (coming or going) from 1-3 pm, we delayed leaving Betzenstein until after lunch. We took the A9 towards Nurnberg, with a glimpse of the Frankisches Wunderland theme park along the way. It couldn't possibly rival nature's wonders.

After 27 miles at exit 53 we joined A6 westbound for 8 miles to exit 57, then turned south on the B2 dual carriageway. This crossed the Danube at Donauworth at 87 miles (elevation1,360 ft). Two miles later we turned off for Eggelstetten and followed campsite signs down a country lane. The camp's name is deceptive, however, as it lies on neither the Danube nor its tributary, the Lech!

We were lucky to find a pitch near the Reception/bar, to pick up WiFi. The owners were unhelpful and lacking in information on local cycle routes or trains. The only restaurant within walking distance, by the football field, was closed for staff holidays.

At Eggelstetten

Next day we drove into Donauworth (avoiding the old town centre) to shop at Lidl and to collect a timetable from the busy railway station, with a view to exploring a stretch of the Donauradweg. Aside from laundry and writing, we spent the rest of the week on our bicycles.

Cycling from Eggelstetten

To Ingolstadt, returning partly by train (88 km cycled) – From the campsite we cycled quiet sunny roads to the town of Rain (famous for its enormous garden centre) and on to join the Danube Cycle Way at Marxheim. Then we followed the Donauradweg eastwards via Neuburg to Ingolstadt (62 km). The path was well signed when it shadowed the Danube, much less clear through the towns. Along the way we had a picnic lunch by the river, followed by coffee and apple strudel at a supermarket in Neuburg. Ingolstadt Hbf (main railway station), with an hourly service to Ulm via Donauworth, proved to be on the far side of the town. After buying tickets for ourselves and the bicycles (no problem), we had a short wait for the 4.08 pm, which whisked us back to Rain (the closest station to our campsite) in 30 minutes. From Rain, misled by a cycling leaflet, we rode some way south on gravel paths alongside the River Lech in search of a non-existent bridge! Eventually we turned back to Rain, crossed the river on the B16 and picked up the route back to Eggelstetten. Today's section of the Donauradweg was lacking in cafes (and cyclists) and often difficult to find, but we were impressed with the Bavarian railways and their cycle provision: www.bahn.de/fahrrad-bayern


To Hochstadt and return (64 km) – From the campsite we cycled west on quiet roads through Asbach-Baumenheim to join the Donauradweg at Rettingen. Very warm and sunny as we followed the route towards Ulm, on minor roads until the Pfaffenhofen turn, then a dedicated cycle path. We rarely glimpsed the Danube except for crossing it at Blindheim, where the village bakery supplied welcome coffee and pastries for lunch. Reaching Hochstadt after 32 km, we cooled down with ice creams at the Eis Cafι in the square, pestered by wasps which have been a great problem throughout this hot dry summer. We returned by the same route, surprised at how few long-distance cyclists, cafes or accommodation we saw. This is perhaps not the most popular stretch of the Danube Cycle Way, compared with Passau to Vienna.


To Gersthofen, nr Augsburg, and return (70 km) – Cycled east from the campsite to Oberndorf, a village on the Via Danubia cycle route, then south following the Donau-Lech Radweg cycle way along a quiet road across flat agricultural land on the west side of the River Lech to Ellgau village (12 km). The bakery here – swarming with wasps - sold us coffee, cakes and orange juice but we had to retreat across the road and take cover in the Kindergarten in order to eat them! It was even warmer and sunnier than the previous day, not a cloud in the sky. Continuing south to Ostendorf, we turned left on the Via Danubia to meet the Lech once more. The very few cycle route signs only added to the confusion! We took a gravel path south alongside the Lech, pausing for a picnic at 25 km. Lovely to sit in the shade of the trees, watching the clear shallow water flow north on its way to the Danube. It was another 10 km to Gersthofen, a modern town on the Romantische Strasse on the outskirts of Augsburg. We bought ice creams and crossed the bridge to check whether we could cycle back on the eastern bank of the Lech. There was no path there, so we returned along the west side, the way we'd come. Home by 4.30 pm. Again, we saw very few other cyclists apart from one friendly English rider, who had actually lived in the area for 40 years. He told us that the easiest cycle route through the Alps is the Via Claudia Augusta, linking the lowlands of Italy's Po Valley with the Danube.


Vohburg an der Donau to Neustadt an der Donau, and return (40 km) – After shopping at Lidl in Rain (the town, not the weather!), we used the Sprinter van to take the bicycles past Ingolstadt to Vohburg a/d Donau (45 miles from camp). Here we parked at the sports stadium, then cycled east along the Donauradweg to Neustadt a/d Donau. Most of the route was on quiet rural roads, with a section of gravel path along the top of the Danube embankment. Again we found an excellent Italian Eis Cafι in Neustadt before turning back. On the return ride we came across a quartet wearing colourful Bavarian costume who were being professionally photographed in the rural landscape. Is it for a tourist brochure or calendar, Margaret asked? No, they were family portraits for a special birthday present.


To Donauworth and return (20 km) – On the eve of our departure from Eggelstetten, we took a late afternoon ride into Donauworth, another town on the Romantische Strasse. It was an easy route on quiet roads and cycle paths, then a bridge over the Danube into the old centre. Built of stone, it looked very worthy, forbidding and solid, somehow lacking the charm of half-timbered houses. Finding nowhere open for a quick meal, we rode home and made a shepherd's pie.

Eggelstetten to Drei-Fluesse Campingplatz, Passau, Bavaria - 158 miles, elevation 1,087 ft


Open 1 April-31 Oct. www.dreifluessecamping.privat.t-online.de  €26.50 inc 16 amp elec. Free showers. Free WiFi at Reception. Entry to indoor pool €2 pp. N 48.60605 E 13.34583

Towing the caravan, we often ignore the SatNav's suggested route and keep to motorways as far as we can. So today, it was east on B16 to join the A9 near Ingolstadt after 35 miles. South for 11 miles, then northeast on A93 to Regensburg. Here we met the A3 at 87 miles and, like the Danube, headed southeast for Passau climbing to 1,700 ft along the way. At 156 miles we took Exit 115 (Passau Nord), just before the motorway bridges the Danube and heads into Austria. Follow the sign for 2 miles to Irring and Passau's nearest campsite, 10 km west of the centre, and prepare to be disappointed. It was too late in the day to seek an alternative but this was the worst camp we've ever seen in Germany!


The site was scruffy, the unmarked pitches all sloped, the rough and ready owner running Reception reminded us of Ralph C Nesbitt (the beer-bellied string-vested hero of a Glaswegian TV comedy series) and the whole place was roamed by two goats trying to graze the gravel! The facilities were antiquated, the toilets devoid of seats, the rubbish skips overflowing … and all for €30 per night! (We got a 10% discount after protesting!) No-one fancied using the pool. In fact the only attraction was the proximity to Passau – city of three rivers - and the Donauradweg cycle path. Nearly forgot, there's also a curiously tacky mock 'Lourdes Grotto' chapel, built to fulfil the owner's promise to his dying mother.


But one good thing was the bar/restaurant, where we actually enjoyed delicious 'Hungarian Beef Goulash' made with meat from the local farm. The camp shop sold pieces of home-made cakes left over from the previous night's menu, the price varying widely depending on who was serving!


A Day Trip into Austria


We took the Sprinter on a 113-mile circuit in search of a better campsite further along the Danube valley – and didn't find one! Driving through Passau was a congested Baroque nightmare that involved crossing all three rivers (Danube, Inn and Ilz) and we were relieved we'd left the caravan behind. The only sensible way to leave will be south on the A3.


We followed the south bank of the Danube into Austria, not forgetting to buy a vignette, sold at petrol stations and needed for motorways. For any vehicle up to 3.5 tons, the current price is €7.90 for 10 days, or €24.20 for 2 months. No extra charge for a caravan, unless the total weight of vehicle + trailer exceeds 7.5 tons. Good news for us! Motorhomes over 3.5 tons, however, need to get a prepaid Go-Box (see The Use of the Go-Box in Austria).


Our first stop was to check out the little municipal campsite at Engelhartszell, right by the river and the cycle way. Sadly, the cafι and pool were closed and the site barely open, all badly damaged by high water in the serious floods of June 2013. Doors were missing from some of the toilets and showers and restoration work had scarcely begun. We ate our picnic here by the swirling river and banks of mud and were glad we'd abandoned a plan to cycle the Danube last spring!


On to the next site listed in the Caravan Club guide (2012/13 edition) at Wesenufer. This is now permanently closed to tourers, with long-term residents only! The third site we looked at was lovely (though lacking WiFi), next to a marina and hotel on a scenic S-bend in the Danube known as the Schlogener Schlinge to the west of Linz. One problem – the narrow access road was tortuous, made worse by road works in both directions repairing flood damage.


Not wishing to retrace this route, we continued south to Wels, then took the Austrian A8 and German A3 back to Passau Nord. This was twice the distance of our outward journey but much kinder to our van!


A Cycle Ride into Passau and back (26 km)

Before leaving we rode the Donauradweg into Passau and through the centre to Three-River-Corner: the confluence of the blue Danube, the darker Ilz joining from the north, and the greenish Inn flowing from the south.


This section of the Danube Cycle Path was shameful. After following a dirt track and some fairly quiet roads, the signs led us through a factory to a footbridge over the Danube on top of a lock. This bridge was closed and sealed off, without any warning or diversion sign, leaving cyclists to find their own way across the next busy road bridge and into the centre. Riding through the old town, we saw no cafes, plenty of tourists and little of charm.


We duly photographed the famous confluence and headed back. On the way, the 10-week summer drought broke in a sudden downpour, soaking us through. Not very good memories of Passau!

AUSTRIA


Irring (Passau) to Campingplatz Grein, Grein an der Donau, Oberosterreich - 110 miles, elevation 824 ft


Open 1 March-31 Oct. www.camping-grein.net   ACSI Card rate €20 inc taxes and 6 amp elec. Free showers. WiFi €3 per 24 hrs. N 48.22476 E 14.85428


It was 2 miles back to the A3 and south over the Danube. At 18 miles we crossed the River Inn into Austria and paused at the first services on the A8 for lunch. Vignettes and Go-Boxes for Austrian motorways were on sale here but we already had our 2-month sticker. The choice was 10 days, 2 months or one year. At 56 miles we joined A25 near Wels, continuing east past Linz and onto A1 towards Wien (Vienna). The motorways became busier, with plenty of international traffic and East European trucks. 


At 101 miles we took exit 123 (Amstetten), up at 1,200 ft. Turning north for Grein, road B3 ran downhill for 8 miles to the Danube. Cross the bridge to the north bank, then turn right along the river to Grein, which lies halfway between Passau and Vienna. The Donauradweg runs directly past the campsite and this section is very popular with organised groups of cycle tourists, as well as individual riders. The campsite and cafι/bar, run by a Romanian family, are also ideally placed to walk into the village or take a little ferry across the river (pedestrians and cyclists only).


The site had been badly flooded last May (photographs showed water half way up to the shower block roof), had lost some of its grass, trees and bushes and was still a little muddy, but at least it was fully open.


(Continued atTravels in Austria in September 2013