2020-09-12, Saturday. Naturfreundehaus, Herrenberg, mountain biking & Waldseilgarten

As a treat for the girls, we all went down to the Naturfreundehaus, above the Autobahn tunnel near Herrenberg. We used to come here occasionally when we lived in Rohrau, but that might have been the last time I was here (1987?). Happily, it hasn’t changed much and is still very, very popular. We only just managed to park the motorhome in the very large car park.

The Waldseilgarten, just a 1km walk from the Naturefreundehaus, is a version of the Go Ape sites one finds across the UK: effectively up in the treetops, along rope walks & other obstacles; zip wires and much, much more. Not for me – I get vertigo just a couple of metres above ground, never mind the 5-25 metre height of some of the rope walks. I brought my bike with me as I’d been told there were some MTB trails at the same location.

As the place was so busy, there was a 1 hour wait for harnesses to fit the girls, so I went off to try out the trails whilst the others waited…

There are two trails: blue “Flowline” trail and red “Enduro” trail. I decided to start on the blue trail. It was actually very steep in places, with a few kickers, & tight switchbacks. Much steeper than an equivalent blue trail at home. It was also exceedingly short! It drops about 70 metres and then there’s a steep, but easily do-able road climb back up. I did the blue trail one more time, then I thought I’d take a look at the red trail. This has a couple of sizeable drops that would easily be graded as a double-dot black run back home! It also, rather dangerously, criss-crosses the blue trail in several places. Apart from the two big drops, there are some tight, steep switchbacks with roots thrown in for good measure. Technical, yes – but also very short. (Strava link here.)

In the meantime, all the others – Joy, Mark & the girls – got themselves kitted-up with harnesses for the rope walks, and the initiation training session.

It was one of the things Joy pushed herself to do, and – once up on the first proper ropes – regretted doing so! Whilst Emily & Clara were in their element, Joy was struggling with having the confidence to allow the harness to take the strain. She did manage to complete the first two sections before retiring with tired arms, though she was beginning to get the hang of it towards the end. A really good effort, I’d say.

Theirs was the last group to be allowed on: after the 1 hour wait, it was not far from closing time. Mark & the girls carried on to another section and then went to do “Flying Foxes” – 8 entire sections on zip wires!

In the meantime, I headed back to get a table at the Naturefreundehaus and order some pommes & drinks for Joy, Kathryn & myself as dusk approached. Mark & the girls joined us with barely enough time to grab their food before heading back to Ehningen for the fireworks.

Fireworks?

Apparently, there’s a major firework manufacturer based at the Steinbruch in Ehningen – just a few hundred metres away from Kathryn’s house, atop the so-called “Mount Ehningen” – actually the rubble from the quarry, which is now an enormous flat-topped hill, some 70 metres tall and a couple of hundred metres long. This guy often does test flights of fireworks from the top of the hill, but this time, he got approval from the local Gemeinde to do a full-blown display of some of his newer inventions.

The event had been advertised in the local papers, but I was completely unprepared for the scale: There were cars parked several kms away on the road back from Hildrizhausen: the Feldwege were full of cars all the way down to Ehningen. Ehningen itself was absolutely rammed with parked cars.

The display started as we we descending from Hildrizhausen as we’d got caught behind a tractor. It was still going when we got to Kathryn’s house some 10 minutes later. It was really spectacular – just a pity I didn’t catch any of it with my camera – though that seldom does justice to the display.

2020-09-09, Wednesday. Bike ride with the girls to Dagersheim

Eventually managed to persuade Clara to join us in a short ride on their mountain bikes to the Waldspielplatz in Dagersheim. Kathryn & Mark are both working (from home), so appreciate us keeping the girls busy until they go back to school next week.

Only a couple of Clara-induced crashes, but it might teach her to be a little more attentive!

2020-09-07, Monday. Forbach to Ehningen via Freudenstadt

Up the winding Murgtal (heading S) towards Freudenstadt: as it’s pretty much on our route to Ehningen, it seems worth a brief stop to have look at the Stellplatz (am Panorama-Bad – actually the car park of the swimming pool) and a quick mooch around the town.

Joy wanted to get to Ehningen so we didn’t stay long before heading off again, arriving at around 15:30.

2020-09-06, Sunday. Hornbach to Forbach, Schwarzwald

Time to head a bit further S & E along the route towards Ehningen. Ms SatNav routed us through France, through the Vosges du Nord, Alsace and over the Rhein into Germany. A couple of stops up the very busy A5, dodging the roadworks, climb up into the Schwarzwald, then down the Murgtal to Forbach-Gausbach, and Wohnmobilstellplatz Am Rappenfelsen Im Murgtal Forbach. It’s only a small Stellplatz; we fortunately managed to get the last of 7 places.

The Stellplatz is positioned, intriguingly, on what must once have been the old main road through the village, clinging precariously to the cliff faces as it wound round. The railway, single-track here, also winds in & out of tunnels. Immediately below where we are parked, the S-Bahn line emerges from a tunnel, only to disappear into another tunnel 65 metres along the line. Amazingly, the trains run really quietly, so hardly cause any disturbance, and they stop running after about 9pm.

Around the next bend on the old road are some fairly vertical cliff faces, popular with climbers. There were plenty of them when we arrived, though they’d all dispersed by 6pm ish. to get home at the end of the weekend.

Forbach is home to the largest wooden-span roofed bridge in Germany – definitely worth a look. Amazingly, it’s also a road bridge. There’s been a roofed bridge here for a very long time, but this one was substantially rebuilt in 1955. A pretty impressive piece of architecture.

As there was a nice looking Gasthaus right by the bridge, it would have have been rude to ignore the opportunity for a cofffee/beer respectively. The hotel seems to be run by oriental ladies, very polite, very attentive, and very masked. We were the only people there. Such a shame these places have lost so much trade during this pandemic.

On the walk back to Gausbach, I could sware I heard the whistle of a steam locomotive. Sure enough, as we reached the station, there was a steam train just pulling out: pity we just missed getting a better view of it.

2020-09-05, Saturday. Still in Hornbach

We’ve decided to stay here another day. Well, why wouldn’t you?

Today, we decided to ride the Hornbachtäler trail – somewhat shorter than yesterday’s ride, and it’s a lot cooler than yesterday – probably only around 22°C. A couple of stiff climbs, but nothing like as much climbing as yesterday. Also, a lot of the descents were on hard-baked lumpy grass round the sides of fields, which weren’t a great deal of fun.

After a brief stop to feed apples to the horses in the field, then finding the “füttern verboten” sign (oops), the trail dropped down into Mauschbach, a couple of km to the E of Hornbach, where we were supposed to cross to the S side of the Hornbach river to complete a loop there. The closure of the bridge “wegen bauarbeiten” (i.e. a very large crane) over the river put paid to that.

Plan B: join the Buffalo trail back into Hornbach, running alongside the road. We soon found why it was called the Buffalo trail; there was a herd of some 20 or 30 buffalo in a field. Quite a few tiny buffalo there, too (I guess they’re called calves??). Can’t say I’ve ever seen a field of buffalo before, outside of the US.

2020-09-04, Friday. Hornbach & France (again)

Time to get the bikes out of the garage. Last year, we attempted to follow the waymarked Pirminiusweg trail that goes from Hornbach, into France and down to the auberge Moulin d’Eschviller where we hoped to get food & drink. The trail then does a largish loop over fields and via a couple couple of small towns before turning back North to Hornbach. It’s about 90% off-road. Nothing technical, but a few steep climbs.

Following the trail within Germany was pretty straightforward, but it was very poorly marked in France so we lost our way a number of times. Plus… the Moulin d’Eschviller wasn’t doing food when we got there and we’d brought none with us.

Running out of energy we figured we’d take a short cut, which actually turned out not to be short at all. Needless to say, we did get back ok, albeit tires & hungry.

So this year, we thought we’d repeat the trail to the auberge, but then double back using a marked short cut. We’d also leave earlier to get to the auberge at lunchtime. It was a very hot day ~ 29°.

All went well until missed the turn off the trail to the auberge and had to back track several kms. The auberge was shut for 5 days vacation. An ancient peanut butter protein bar that was in my Camelback had to suffice.

Needless to say, we got back ok. Maybe we’ll even try again another time.

In various places around the trail, there were loads of apple trees, damson (Zwetschgen) trees, walnut trees, so we filled our boots. Some really ripe damsons. Apples not quite ready yet, but very good nonetheless.

The Stellplatz is completely full this evening. It’s weekend, and it seems like many Germans are staycationing.

Dinner in the moho, followed by a scocially-distanced couple of beers sitting outside the Capito restaurant/Gasthaus. Nice.

2020-09-03, Thursday. Longwy to Hornbach

Cool, damp & miserable this morning as we gladly leave Longwy & head towards Hornbach, in Saarland-Pfalz, near Saarbrücken, to a stellplatz we’ve stayed at before and we know it’s a lovely spot. We drove through Luxembourg, so were able to avail ourselves of a tankful of diesel at a mere €0.946/ litre.

Arrived in Hornbach at 15:00, and cycled round to the supermarket for important things like beer.

The Stellplatz is pretty full. Paid for 2 nights.

There’s a british couple here in a huge Carthago A Class with a Jersey licence plate: he’s a Geordie and hard to understand, but he pinned us down for a good 10 minutes before we could escape his clutches. Wanted to tell us all about his life roaming around Europe, especially Spain & Portugal, where they seem to spend 6 months of each year.

Later, he pinned down two separate pairs of Germans on the Stellplatz and gave them each a good grilling. Goodness knows how they managed to understand him.

2020-09-02, Wednesday. Le Shuttle, France, Belgium & France again

Up at 6am for a short, 20 minute hop to the Eurotunnel terminal. We always go by Dover-Dunkirk ferry. However, sailings are in short supply due to the pandemic and I was unable to book a ferry at that time. Nor at any time for the next several days. I was really surprised to find Le Shuttle so lacking in customers, then. Maybe 15 motorhomes and other tall vehicles and a few cars. I couldn’t see trucks embarking, but maybe the single deck part of the train got filled up with them.

35 minutes later and we were disembarking in Calais for the long haul down to Longwy. In France, but need to cross into Belgium and back out again into France by the Luxembourg border. It’s quite a long haul doing 55-60mph in the motorhome, especially with the number of roadworks and other hold-ups. But we got here around 17.30.

The aire here is not in a stunningly scenic location. In fact, it’s (allegedly) 7 spaces marked out for motorhomes in a car park for the sports centre. It’s not quiet as it’s sandwiched between a high rise housing estate and a large school, with a busy road in between. But there’s a free space or two and it’ll do for the night.

I’d often wondered why Longwy HAS an aire: typically they are found in places where there’s something of touristic interest, which seemed somewhat lacking here. However, we discovered there IS something: the ruins of a Vauban fort that are worth an hour’s exploration
So there you have it.

2020-09-01, Tuesday. The off

The Covid-19 year continues. We’ve not seen our daughter and family since Feb, when they came over for my mother’s 90th birthday. Since then, we’ve had lockdowns, easings, local lockdowns affecting Greater Manchester & Wigan, An ever-changing list of what one can do/not do and where/where not you can do it. An ever changing list also of countries which, upon returning from, one must self-quarantine for 2 weeks.

It’s against this background that we decided to risk a trip to Germany, to hopefully spend a week with the grandchildren before they go back to school on the 14th September.

No way were we going to risk flying in a small tin can with potentially unruly passengers who don’t care for their fellow passengers. Likewise trains. Motorhome is the obvious, safest choice, bur it’s a long drive. Also, have to bear in mind that all road routes to Germany from the UK are via “embargoed” countries. Germany doesn’t have such quarantine rules for other EU countries, so going there would be ok. Returning home would be a different matter, and there’s a risk we might need to quarantine on our return. At the time of leaving, one is allow to transit Belgium & France as long as one doesn’t stop, mingle with the hoi-poloi, or take on additional passengers. I reckon we can make it from Kent to Germany without needing to fill up the thirsty beast en route.

A quick visit to see my mum in Wigan was essential. Not seen her since Feb amd a narrow window of opportunity arose on Wednesday as the local lockdown in Wigan was removed. So Wed & Thur nights in Wigan, then back home to sort out the motorhome & pack for am early train through the tunnel on Wed.

Left home around 13.30 on Tuesday & spent a happy 4 hours on so on M4, M3, M25 & M20 reaching our chosen overnight spot – by the Dog House micropub outside Ashford. A couple of decent pints, the best chilli nachos I’ve ever had, and turn in for the night around 21.00.

The battle of the bees

As I said, we left the bees alone – unwisely, as it turned out. So when we got back from being away in May this year, there were millions of them. All very busily flying in & out of the extractor fan grille in the back wall. There were also lots of dead bees in the kitchen & bathroom when we returned, so they were obviously finding their way into the house now.

Joy & I both ended up getting stung a number of times in June whilst out in the garden: I got stung once up my nose and another time in my earhole. Our patience is at an end.

We first called A1 Beekeepers in Bristol: They promised a flat rate fee of £90 to get rid of the bees, regardless of how many visits might be needed. Their methodology being to spray the entrance to the nest with a pheromone-based powder that would encourage them to swarm and hence, leave. After 3 such treatments over a 4 week period, the bees were still firmly in place, and all we had to show for it was a large number of dead and sickly bees. 1 week after each treatment, they seemed to be back in equally large numbers.

After the pheromone treatment: they don’t like it.

After the 3 (unsuccessful) treatments, the Irish guy from A1 Beekeepers said he could do no more; it being the worst infestation he’d ever seen (I wonder if he says that to all his customers?).

I then decided to start some serious investigations, beginning with taking bricks out of our back wall to scope out the size and whereabouts of the colony. Only to find they weren’t in the wall cavity at all.

Where’s the nest, then?

Nope, they’d manage to find their way across the cavity, through a large gap in some shockingly badly constructed masonry, and into the cavity above the kitchen ceiling. Although this sounds drastic, it was actually a good thing to be able to locate them: Now we could figure out what to do about them.

So I bought an endoscope – a mini (7mm diameter) camera on the end of a lead – that I could plug into my smartphone. I then drilled a number of exploratory holes in the kitchen ceiling adjacent to where I could see they were getting through the inner wall and stuck the endoscope in to see what was there. I was seeing lots of bees and honeycomb. Eventually, I struck gold. Well, honey, actually: It started dripping out of the ceiling, and I was able to figure that the nest was constrained between two joists, and to a length of about 1.2m in from the back wall. All very well, but what now?

The exploratory holes

The honeycomb, through the endoscope.

I spoke again to a local beekeeper again to explain what I’d found & to seek his help: he was very reluctant as there’d be nothing in it for him; the assumption being that – as they were a feral colony – they’d be infected with all manner of mites and diseases and he’d end up having to kill them all anyway. Eventually he agreed to remove them from the ceiling and take them away, as long as I actually did the ceiling removal bit. He’d have to quarantine them in a field well away from any of his other “cultivated” hives/colonies. In the meantime, I took the extractor fan grille out and sealed up the original access gap.

Extractor fan ducting sealed up.

On the appointed day, and per instructions from Jeff the beekeeper, we cleared out the kitchen and covered everything in dust sheets. Jeff and colleague – Tom – arrived and we all donned beekeeper suits. It was then a simple matter of me sawing out the ceiling between the two joists, and Jeff & Tom removing comb. And what a lot of it there was!

The ceiling comes down and Jeff goes in.

So that’s what’s in the ceiling!

Cutting out the comb

Buckets of removed comb

Our kitchen – the aftermath.

That’s the queen.

Jeff & Tom had brought along an empty portable hive: Once the queen was located and gingerly placed in a “gate”, much of the honeycomb was loaded into the portable hive, with the queen placed on top, and the hive closed up – apart from a small entrance hole. With the queen safely inside, the remaining colony – detecting her pheromones – gradually started to make their way into the portable hive.

Loading the comb into the portable hive.

They’re getting the messages – the queen’s in there!

In the morning, Jeff came to collect the hive & take them away. Hooray!!

No way back in.

So now, we’re left with a wrecked kitchen with missing ceiling panel and lots of mess. Worse still, wasps have moved in, scenting the honey and coming to scavenge. But by now, we’ve temporarily blocked up the entrance in the brickwork so they can’t get through there, but the weather’s hot and we have doors & windows open. No more bees; just wasps.

Never one to miss an opportunity (?), I realised now’s the time to change the kitchen lighting, replacing the twenty year old lights with LED downlights. Of course, this entails completely rewiring the cabling in the ceiling, but as the ceiling is going to need re-plastering anyway… Obviously, I had to cut many more panels out of the ceiling to access the cabling/install new. Looks awful, but who cares as it’s going to be replastered anyway?

Ceiling cut-outs.

After the lighting’s done, I replaced the panels I’d removed. Only then, I thought: “wouldn’t it be nice to lay in a cable to facilitate underfloor heating in the bathroom?” The route is directly through the kitchen ceiling and then up into the bathroom airing cupboard. I’m not going to actually put the underfloor heating in yet – some time in the future we’ll refurbish the bathroom – but at least, we be able to have the underfloor heating if we want it. So that necessitated cutting out a couple more kitchen ceiling panels, doing a lot of precise measurement to drill through the wall from kitchen into garage (where our fuse box is) – the kitchen ceiling and garage roof are at different levels; I had a drill margin of error of a mere 20mm. Fortunately, that went fine & I hit the spot exactly. So I laid the cable in and was about to replace the ceiling panels again, when I realised I now had access to the meter tails: These are the big thick cables that run from the electricity meter to the fusebox. When I replaced the consumer unit/fuse box several years ago, I was troubled by the fact I couldn’t replace the meter tails which were – by contemporary regulation – undersized. They were simply inaccessible and couldn’t be pulled through. But now, with the kitchen ceiling open, I could see a chance to replace them. Of course, this meant two further panels being cut out of the ceiling to get better access, but the ceiling was going to be replastered anyway.

How many holes?

So on Monday, this week – with Joy away in Germany – off with the electricity and out with the cables: Main earth cable first. That pulled through relatively easily. Next, the live meter tail. The way to do these things is to connect the end of the new cable to the end of the old cable and pull the cable through. When I say connect, I mean go to great lengths to secure them together such that you don’t increase the overall diameter at the join between them (the cable has to go through tight spaces), and you ensure there’s no way the cables will come apart, because if they separate in an inaccessible point whilst pulling them through, then it’s game over. You don’t get a second chance at this. If they separate, then there’s no easy way of getting the new cable in there.

The cables separated. With one last almighty tug in the garage, I was left with the old cable in my hands, and the end of the new cable still somewhere in the wall cavity between kitchen and garage. Thus it was time for a sense of humour failure. As it happened, I could just about see the end of the new cable up behind the garage roof joist, and was just about able to get a pair of long-nosed pliers onto it, but it wouldn’t budge: couldn’t get a tight enough grip on the cable end. Time to call in reinforcements in the form of our neighbour opposite.

With my neighbour in the kitchen pushing the cable through the ceiling into the garage, and me in the garage trying to pull the cable through with my pliers, we eventually succeeded. I was very, very lucky.

With the neutral cable, I went to great lengths to ensure no repeat, and that pulled through without any major problems.

The emerging meter tails in the garage.

On Tuesday, we had the ceiling replastered. Hooray!

The replastered ceiling

All that’s needed now – once the plaster’s dried-out – is to cut a hole to fit the last downlight and then repaint. That’s hopefully the end of the bee saga. [Now done]

The completed ceiling.

And yet, I miss them in a strange way: we’ve become so used to seeing them, and observing their behaviour, and now they’re no longer there. They were definitely a memorable part of our life for a long time.