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.