Rhine-Main Frankfurt-Hartmannshain-Wächtersbach
Henninger Jedermann Main-Tauber (4-day tour)
Iron Curtain Country
Crossing France

April of the new year already - and I seem to have done very little riding this year due to a mixture of bad weather and illness. Only 3 weeks or so to the Henniger race. I am not at all fit in a year-on-year comparison. At least I managed a metric century 2 weeks ago, time for another. Through the woods for 30 km or so, then past all the asparagus fields to the Rhine ferry at Kornsand. Up the Rhine past the vineyards to Mainz, then find the Main cycle-way and back home. A day's cycling notable for some decent weather and the first "crash" of the year. I may get mellower with the years, but the road doesn't seem to get any softer. Still, no real damage. And it's always good to get the first crash of the season over and done with.

Open route using Google Earth

Nearly May - and here's a ride I generally tend to do much earlier in the year. Another indication of how little "training" I've managed to get in this year. A greyish day, but I wanted to get in a long (20 km) climb to Hartmannshain on the Vulkan-Radweg (Volcano Cycle Trail) into the Vogelsberg area. Just after making my customary stop in Ortenberg at the cafe I bumped into another cyclist, an older and very fit bloke of about 65, and we kept up an excellent pace for about 20 km before he had to head off back home. A bit of company is always pleasant if both cyclists are able to ride at the same pace. Once I reached the top of the hill it was time for a fast downhill run on another old railway track - and as an added bonus it's been re-signposted, now making it completely idiot-proof (the other two times I've been on it I've always managed to miss a turning or two!).

Open route using Google Earth

Open route using Google Earth

The annual "Henninger Race" - a one-day "classic" race on the Pro tour held on May 1 each year - has once again been "rebranded", this time as "Round the financial center Eschborn-Frankfurt", and like the few remaining professional races in Germany it also has an "Everyman" race. This year was my fourth race here - and the worst to date. Lots of rain, which with a big field of entrants meant a lot of crashes (all those wet manhole covers and too many riders who weren't prepared to go just a little bit slower into the corners!). I opted at the last minute for the short, flat course - a wise move as it turned out! It was so cold and there was no chance of slipstreaming as you just ended up with a face full of rain from the back wheel of the guy in front. I still managed an average speed of over 30 kmh. And most importantly I finished in one piece!

Four-day tour along the Main and Tauber

This tour is a "first" in many respects: First tour of the season with luggage, first tour with someone else, and the first starting with a car journey. As it's the first of the season with luggage my legs have to get used to pedalling the extra weight; as the first with someone else - not just anybody either, but with my better half - I have to get used to going at someone else's pace. That problem was soon dealt with: I agreed to take all the luggage. As my good lady has never really cycled more than 50 km in a day before, we decided to restrict ourselves to around 60-70 km a day and mostly on the flat. Which made a "river tour" the obvious choice. And as the Main and Tauber rivers run so close to one another at one point, it was decided to cycle a bit of both ...

Open full tour using Google Earth

After a 1-hour drive to just outside Miltenberg where I knew of a free parking opportunity, we set off eastwards along the River Main. Although the skies are somewhat grey, the steep sides of the densely-wooded valley are bathed in a multitude of greens, contrasting nicely with the deep red sandstone "cliffs" typical of the region. Shortly after passing through Miltenberg comes the first castle of the day - on the hillside above Freudenberg. Indeed, as the day progresses there seems to be the ruins of a medieval castle on the hills above the river every 10-15 km or so. As we approach Wertheim - another castle perched above the river - come the words I'd feared from my good lady: "My bum hurts!" Not a lot to be done about that unfortunately. It's something you - or rather the aforementioned bum - has to get used to. Which it does. Eventually. Let's hope it doesn't get too painful as there are another 40-odd km to go today! After Wertheim the scenery becomes idyllic. Lots of river meadows flanking the cycle path (right next to the river) awash with wild flowers, every now and then terraced vineyards on the hillsides, church spires in the distance. And then the mighty castle at Rothenfels comes into view on the other side of the river. The final 15 km to our destination, Lohr, are pleasant enough apart from the headwind. Mercifully for my better half's bum after 85 km in the saddle we soon find a good hotel and an even better restaurant.
Before breakfast I take the opportunity to wander around Lohr, which is a very charming town with lots of very old half-timbered buildings. The plan for the day is hastily changed to accomodate better half's aching bum and to make sure we get over into the Tauber valley by evening. So it's along the Main to Gemünden, a short detour up the valley of the River Sinn to see the castle at Rieneck before taking the train from Gemünden to Ochsenfurt and heading over the hills of the so-called Ochsenfurt Gau to Röttingen on the River Tauber. The river meadows of the Sinn valley are home to a rare flower, the Snake's Head Fritillary, and we see them in abundance. More impressive, however, is the castle in Rieneck. After the train journey to Ochsenfurt it's time for a few hills so as to cross into the Tauber valley. The countryside between the Main and Tauber valleys is a bit bleak, but the route does have one little gem, however. The fortified town of Aub with its charming marketplace and towers - shame the camera battery was dead! The route has two gems actually. The second being the fast hill down into the Tauber valley. Better half seemed to enjoy that very much. Only a few kilometres to go to Röttingen, our stopping point for the night, a quiet, old fortified village cum town, most notable for its collection of sundials and old towers. I passed through here two years ago on tour with our daughter - see photos from 2008.
After covering 150 km in the past two days, we decide to take it very easy today and gently wend our way while taking in the sights. The valley is not lacking in them: Wayside crosses and shrines abound, and every bridge seems to be adorned with a statue of John of Nepomuk, the patron saint of bridges, and as it's mid-May virtually every town and village is still decorated with a maypole - most of which are about 90 feet high! By far the most impressive we saw over the four-day tour was that in Markelsheim (see photo below).
Passing through Tauberrettersheim and Weikersheim, we ride to Bad Mergentheim, where better half invests in a more comfortable saddle for her bike (I prefer to invest in coffee and apple pie!), and then on to Dittigheim to our hotel. We head into Tauberbischofsheim in the afternoon - but everything closes at 2 on a Saturday. We even have to resort to visiting a museum to buy postcards! In all fairness, the museum, housed in the impressive Electoral Castle and mostly exhibiting artefacts relating to local history, is well worth a visit even if you don't need to buy postcards.
Today we have to get back to the car - and again we decide to diverge from our original plan: Rather than cycling over the hills for 50 km or so, we opt for a flat ride along the Tauber to Wertheim and then back along the Main to Kleinheubach. It's about 20-30 km longer, but involves much less climbing. Having cycled along the Tauber valley 2 years ago I know there are a couple of short steep hills (15%!) that will be challenging enough for better half. The weather is realtively glorious today - indeed it would be perfect if it weren't for the wind, which persists in blowing right into our faces. No wonder all the people coming towards us on bikes look so happy. Shortly after passing the monastery in Bronnbach, we encounter a couple: The lady is jogging, her partner is cycling with two children in tow. Literally - they are in a trailer! Quite a feat for him to get up the hills. Naturally - with all that weight - his speed downhill was quite breathtaking. After coffee and cake in Wertheim, it's time for the final leg. 225 km down, 35 to go. Sod's Law being what it is, it's a headwind all the way. A bit mean really as we had a headwind 3 days ago when we cycled along here in the opposite direction.
So - the first ever cycling tour with my good lady. And a very enjoyable experience for both of us it was too, all aided and abetted by excellent (not to mention reasonably-priced) food and local wines in the restaurants. Now to persuade better half that hills really are the icing on the cake ...

A borderline tour - Hessen-Thuringia, Iron Curtain Country

Another long bank holiday weekend. My original plan of four days along the Kocher and Jagst rivers was scotched by bad weather in that area on the first day. My rethink saw me take the train to Fulda, whence I headed to one of the few campsites along the River Werra, staying there for 2 nights and thus allowing me to make a luggage-free trip to Eisenach (in what was once East Germany) and the Wartburg the next day, before cycling back down to Fulda and catching the train home. I'd been in the region last year and was really impressed then, let's see if I am this tme ...

Open full tour using Google Earth

I am soon out of Fulda and on the empty Haune valley cycle path in the heart of beautiful countryside. Peaceful it isn't though - it must be mating time for the frogs. What a cacophony. If they were humans in Britain, they'd probably get an ASBO. The cycle path soon joins the freshly-asphalted Kegelspiel cycle-way, which was laid on a disused railway track. This is the gentle way to cross the Rhoen into Thurinigia - not least of all thanks to an impressive viaduct that was specially refurbished for the opening of the cycle-way. The views over the Rhoen are stunning. Not many other cyclists out on this sunny Friday though. A few (equally stunning) women on inline skates mind. After 25 glorious km I arrive in Wenigentaft - in what was formerly Eastern Germany. Unspoilt countryside as far as the eye can see. No wonder really - it was a "forbidden zone" after all. I'm soon back in the "west" and make it to the campsite with plenty of time for a couple of hours "luggage-free" cycling along the River Werra.

Haune valley:
The noisy frog pond

Kegelspiel cycle-way:
Old railway coach
now used as cafe

Church with typical
slate shingle

Lutheran church

Village overlooking
the Werra

Werra cycle-way:
Wooden crossing (400m)
through the salt marshes

Monte Kali

Today will see me take a luggage-free ride along the Werra to Eisenach, home of the the world heritage site the Wartburg and the birthplace of JS Bach. Having trundled along some of the Werra yesterday evening I had an inkling I was in for a delight. I was not to be disappointed. Firstly over the long wooden footbridge though the salt marshes (but not on foot!) with church spires on the horizon regularly pinpointing the villages. I love this shingle roofing, with so many different shapes for the spires and towers. One caught my eye from quite a distance - that in the tiny village of Untersuhl, But as I arrived there it looked more like a watchtower. It was round for a start. But it had a churchy feel to it. I soon engaged a local in conversation, and sure enough it is a church. Apparently round churches are rare, and this one is relatively unknown (which prompted me to make my virgin contribution to Wikipedia). As luck would have it the church was open (as ever by all accounts). Absolutely stunning inside, with two galleries, paintings of the apostles and saints (based on likenesses of local citizens). A true architectural jewel. I continued along the Werra cycle-way, through the odd village or two, but mostly along the edges of woods or along cobbled roads (ouch!), crossing the old Iron Curtain a couple of times before arriving in Eisenach. The city/town centre is very attractive. They do, however, seem to like their cobbles here I can tell you. Let's hope the hill up to the Wartburg isn't paved with them! Ah. It is. For a few hundred metres anyway. Then comes asphalt and lots of shady trees. At one point the majestic edifice comes into view. Quite a way off still though. I finally arrive at the car park, well below the castle itself. I ask the attendant if it's possible to cycle up. "Oh yes, it's only 12% or so for 500 metres." I can only say one thing to this (with the benefit of hindsight): "Liar, liar, pants on fire!" I ride up OK for 200 m, then turn a sharp corner to be confronted by a cobbled wall! I sensibly push the bike up this final section while watching my bike computer's gradient indicator notch its way up to 30%. I decide to walk down this bit later too. The Wartburg itself is overcrowded and I don't spend long there, opting instead for a few shots of the magnificent views and an iced coffee before heading back down the hill and cycling the 50 km back along the Werra to the campsite.

Round church

Round church

Round church -
upper galleries

Round church -
interior detail

The Iron Curtain

The town hall


Nikolai Church
and Nikolai Gate

View from the
approach road

View north

View south

Lonely chimney

The day starts with a rude awakening: Namely at 4.27 with the dawn chorus. It's barely light. Have these birds got nothing better to do? I resort to the usual tactic for getting back to sleep: Some classical music on the MP3 player and I'm out like a light again. Back to Fulda and then the train to Frankfurt today. But first I want to visit the little town of Vacha, which was perched right on the hem of the Iron Curtain. And very pretty it is too in an unspoilt, slightly run-down kind of way. I'd love to present a few photos of the half-timbered town hall, the stone-built cobbled "Unification Bridge" over the Werra, the house that was smack in the middle of the East-West border, and lots more besides, but I managed to smear sun-cream on the camera lens. So you'll just have to take my word for it: Vacha is worth a visit. After this little sojourn, it's back down the Ulster valley to Geisa and Schleid (see photo above) and then into Hesse again. Today's big challenge is looming: The Milseburg cycle-way - another beautifully asphalted old railway track. After a steady climb into a headwind, comes the 1 km long tunnel (very chilly) and a swift ride down the other side to Fulda. A pleasant way to end the little tour. So what were the highlights? Definitely the little round church in the village of Untersuhl, which somehow made the Wartburg pale into insignificance in a side-by-side comparison. The peace and quiet of the countryside along the Werra. The unhurried demeanour of the locals and the pace of life. The seeming simplicity of things in this part of the world.

Crossing France
(see separate page for diary/pictures - online June 2011)