A Walk in the Black Forest : Walking the Westweg

Dave Williams and Jeff Lock

2007 - From Pforzheim to the Kinzigtal


Saturday 23 June 2007

Dave and I checked in at Stansted in good time for our 07.00 flight to Baden Baden and went through security where he was subjected to one of the most thorough friskings that I have ever seen.  The guard even searched his hat and his address book.  I told him he should have packed his baseball cap instead of wearing it. When the flight landed we discovered that there was no bus service into Baden-Baden on a Saturday or Sunday (!)  Dave was disgusted.  We got a taxi  which cost us 30 euros into the centre of town where we had “Kaffee und Kuchen”.  Then we walked the 4 Km to the station and got a train and changed at Karlsruhe with a major downpour drumming on the station roof.  We didn't know it but this was a foretaste of the weather to come. In Pforzheim the sun was shining.  We strolled through the modern town centre and had our first German beer at an outside street cafe. Our hotel was modest and the bathroom was effectively a cupboard with no room to swing a cat.  Thereafter we assessed every bathroom in "cat swinging" units. After a rest we went out for dinner of soup and weinerschnitzel in a restaurant on one the rivers which ran through the town.


Sunday 24 June 2007

Pforzheim to Dobel. (27km) Our first walking day was bright and sunny.  However, it took several hours to get out of Pforzheim and its suburbs.  We found that the translated instructions from my German walk book were not much use but the signs were very reliable.  Just as well because my GPS readings were showing us 4 kilometres further north than we were !

Walking Club Generosity  We had a cold drink in one of the final suburbs called Birkenfeld and then walked on to the village of Schwann where there was a water tower almost concealed by the woods.  There was also meant to be a “schnell imbiss” .  We asked some people at the base of the tower if we could buy a beer.  They said “no” but we could have a free one !! They turned out to be the Schwarzwald Verein (A walking club which was and still is, incidentally, responsible for the upkeep and signage of the Westweg.) There had been a big bonfire event the day before and they were using up a keg of beer.  They also gave each of us a roll and a tomato, and were very friendly. We climbed to the top of the tower for a good view northwards away from the Black Forest. We found the real “schnell imbiss” just 100 metres further on.

Lost But Not Lost Now we started to climb steadily through the woods.  All around the trees looked stunningly beautiful in the sunshine. Some cyclists whizzed by. We found our path at the top of the ascent but then missed a sign and got lost.  We couldn`t really miss our destination Dobel because many paths were signposted towards it but we entered it from the wrong direction and subsequently had to rediscover the location of the Westweg. 

Dobel My right foot was painful and we stopped at a café for a drink and an Apfel Strudel.  When we asked the waiter about Gasthof Roessel he told us it was “not very nice” and he knew “much better accommodation”.  We told him we were booked in.  When we found it we could see what he meant.  It was large but almost empty and had a distinct air of being a bit run down. However, we had a “3 cat” bathroom and the room was fine.  We had a dinner of soup and schnitzel back again at the café and sat outside to eat it.  It was a Sunday and almost everybody in Germany seemed to be touring past on their motorcycles.


Monday 25 June 2007

Dobel to Forbach (25km) We started out past the Dobel water tower.  (None of the water towers seemed be associated with water in any way being completely dry and mostly on the tops of hills.)  After  walking through some woods we came out on an open track and passed a German couple who subsequently turned out to be Mannfred and Simone.  For the next three kilometres the track led us around the mountain with great views across to the west.  We also passed Matheus, a fit-looking young guy, for the first time.  When we stopped near a hut for an eleven o’clock break we were joined by Mannfred and Simone (father & daughter) and we chatted in the sunshine for 30 minutes.  Mannfred said that my GPS was misreading because there was no consistent grid across Germany. They came from Karlsruhe and were just doing a few days on the  Westweg.

The Helicopter We walked on and came upon a helicopter doing extravagant circles above the forest swinging a large bucket from which was emitted a sort of sand like substance some of which floated over us.  I hoped it wasn’t “agent orange”. Mannfred later told us it was limestone.  Apparently the forests are deficient in it. We arrive at Kaltenbronn to find a “Heute Ruhetag” (today is our rest day) sign on the door of the gasthof.  So we sat and had our sandwiches – the corned beef ones I had brought from home.  Mannfred and Simone also stopped for a break. After lunch we passed a lake and climbed to another water tower.  

Bad Weather and a Steep Decent  Then the weather began to change.  It got much colder and we had a few spots of rain.  We had a long descent to Forbach in prospect : 500 metres over 3 kilometres. Soon we had to don our full wet weather gear and it became quite unpleasant as we went down steeply.  Soon we entered a thick forest of fir trees which sheltered us from the rain.  The path still continued steeply down and was rocky and very dark in places but at least now we were basically dry.  After a long descent we came out above Forbach and walked into the town in a light drizzle. Dave wanted a coffee so we mooched around looking for somewhere and ended up in a baker's having coffee and cheesecake. There was a fine wooden bridge across the river which led roughly to our riverside bed and breakfast.  We had a "2 cat" bathroom this time. At about 7 p.m. we went out for a meal and met Mannfred & Simone.  We joined them at their table and had a jolly evening.  I had a local dish with meat and herbs inside pasta and a very yellow sauce.


Tuesday 26 June 2007

Forbach to Mummelsee (26km) 

Stormy Weather It was raining when we had breakfast and we feared the worst but it had stopped as we left the town.  It was a steep pull just to get up to the woods and then the path continued to rise relentlessly.  We stuck to it and by  10.30 we had climbed 400metres and started our first “down” section past a lake.  There was then another steep rocky ascent which went on for some time until we came out at a high and windy summit known as the Badner Hohe.  The wind was very gusty and even blew off my hat.  Subsequently we discovered that the weather forecast had been very bad and Matheus had avoided this part of the route because of a “dangerous gale warning”. The summit was crowned with another tower which Dave climbed while I sheltered from the wind in a small hut. It was now very cold and I put on my fleece   which I wore for most of the rest of the walk. We had a view of the rest of our walk  towards  the distant lumpy summit of Hornisgrund but over everything there was a  wreath of angry grey clouds which promised bad weather. The descent proved to be much easier along well made tracks and we rattled along towards Sand where we planned to have lunch. 

Dave Pounds Off  All of a sudden there was a “Geoffnet” sign pointing to an isolated house in the woods.  Dave wanted to stop for coffee and strudel but I persuaded him to continue because I wanted to put in a few more kilometres before we stopped.  When we reached Sand, disaster, the only café was closed (would you believe it)  “Ruhetag Montag und Dienstag” .  Dave was not amused and for the only time in the holiday his good humour deserted him.  He was really hungry and it was my fault we had not stopped earlier.  It was also grey and miserable with a threat of rain.  There was another restaurant signposted at Hundseck another 2 kilometres.  Dave pounded off leaving me trailing in his wake. He was just about still in my sight when we reached the restaurant at Hundseck.  Fortunately this was open and we had delicious Gulasch soup while, outside, the heavens opened and it started to rain really heavily. I took off my boots to rest my painful right foot.

Hard Times and a Huge Whooshing Above Our Heads  When we left  45 minutes later the rain had just about stopped but visibility had reduced considerably.  We toiled up on to the grassy summit of Markopf along a stone path specially made for walkers.  This was flowing with rain water and I was concerned about slipping although, in fact, the rocks  never let us down and proved to have a good grip.  Descending slightly we  then started a 4Km climb up to the summit of Hornisgrind. At 1,164 meters Hornisgind is the highest summit in the northern half of the Black Forest.   The path began  pleasantly enough through sheltered woods but later (after we passed a winter hut called Ochenstall - now firmly closed)  deteriorated into a waste of mud and broken rocks with diagonal drainage trenches cut across it. The incline became steeper and we crawled on, ever upwards. I was very tired by now and found it hard going. The visibility had reduced to almost zero and presently we were alarmed by a huge whooshing noise above our head.  It was a wind turbine in full flow, powered by the high wind. We passed another tower but we could only see the first 20 feet of its structure with the rest lost in the mist above us.  A sign announced we were at the summit of Hornisgrind but in truth we could have been anywhere.  It was grassy and open to the wind. Strange vehicles with what looked like radar dishes were parked behind barbed wire fences.  We followed a tarmac road with Westweg signs. 

A Different World : Berghotel Mummlesee  Further on we found a small path on the right with a sign pointing to the Mummelsee. We descended carefully and within 20 minutes, Berghotel Mummelsee emerged out of the mist below us. When we finally reached it, wet and bedraggled as we were, we stepped into a different world.  A dry warm restaurant  with wooden ceilings and walls with smart people and neatly dressed waitresses. We propped our wet rucksacks against the wall and ordered coffee and cake.   Before it arrived, I wandered off to the reception desk, without much hope, to see if I could book a room.  When I had tried from England I had been told that all their rooms had been reserved for “Thomas Cook” and “Jetair”,  but now there was no problem.  I paid my 98 Euros up front and returned the restaurant waving the key triumphantly.  Dave said I looked like Neville Chamberlain returning from Munich with his bit of white paper.  I was so pleased that we didn’t have to descend to the valley, as planned, to reach the Seebach Hotel. Also that we didn’t have to walk a step further.  Outside the weather had deteriorated to heavy rain and we couldn`t even see the lake 20 metres away.  From our very nice room I rang and cancelled our accommodation at the Seebach. We had dinner in the restaurant and I had a huge salad with strips of steak. As we left we met Matheus coming down for his meal. He told us he had taken a lower route because of the bad weather warning.  He also told us about some accommodation at a place called Alexanderschanze which was much cheaper than the Waldblick Hotel at Kniebis which I had booked from England.  My GPS showed that we had walked 26 Km and had climbed 1,500 metres as well as descending 400.  We looked forward hopefully to a beautiful morning with a blue lake and sunshine.


Wednesday 27 June 2007

Mummelsee to Kniebis

Walking Wiped Out by Rain When we awoke visibility had deteriorated and we still couldn`t see the lake. But at least it wasn’t raining.  By the time we had completed breakfast everything had changed and it was raining very hard indeed, bouncing off the surface of the slick grey car park. People scuttled around outside under umbrellas and raincoats. We shopped for postcards and lingered in our room until 10.30 a.m. Then, with no relief in sight, I insisted we should catch the 10.45 bus.  Dave was disgruntled and wanted to walk despite the downpour but later even he seemed a bit resigned as we sat in the bus with rain drumming on the roof and water cascading down the windows.  Thanks to the Schwarzwald Hochstrasse, the beautifully engineered high road on top of the Black Forest,  the bus dropped us only 35 minutes later at the point which we would have reached in 6 or 7 hours walking. 

Bored Out of our Minds  This was the hotel at Alexanderschanze and a sign announced it was closed until 4.00 p.m.  However as we stood disconsolately outside,  an upstairs window opened and a little old man stuck his head out and asked if we would like to come in.  Kindly he opened the door and showed us into the guest stube and even put the heating on for us,  Outside the rain was still falling heavily. I  rang and cancelled our room at the Waldblick and did a Sudoku and Dave leafed though some German magazines.  By 1 p.m. we were bored out of our minds and resolved, whatever the weather, to walk into Kniebis where we could get a bus to the town of Freudenstadt.  As we left the hotel there was a winter-like chill in the air. So much for mid summer in Germany ! I could have done with some gloves and a woolly hat (see photo)

Excursion to Kneibis and Freudenstadt

We followed a path which was running with water and then went through some woods.  The rain was easing a bit.  Arriving in Kniebis everything was closed but we managed to get a coffee and cake just before the bus arrived. Freudenstadt was quite impressive with a huge market square and modern fountains.  The day had improved and Dave was itching to do a walk back to Alexanderschanze. I agreed, and after one false start where we wasted a couple of kilometres going the wrong way (my fault), we were pounding along the forest tracks to

Kniebis. Without any backpacks we did 7.5 km in 1 hour 20 minutes. We had another coffee and cake in the same gasthaus as before – subsequently identified by Dave as being our most expensive of the holiday, and were bombarded with conversation by an old German couple who assumed we understood every word.  As we left Kniebis,  Dave decided to take another waymarked path but I  opted to return by our morning route.  So,  for the only time that holiday I ended up walking alone which was pleasant in as much as I could set my own (slow) pace but a bit eerie through the damp woods.  At any moment I expected Dave to come racing up behind me. But in the event his new path proved much longer and he got back a good 15 minutes after me.

Dinner with Matheus In the guest Stube we found Matheus having his evening meal and we had a pleasant time chatting to him over a few beers.  He turned out to be an economist from Hanover. The food was unusual.  The old man ran the hotel single handed and it all came straight out the deep freeze.  We got the impression that when he retired (he was already 80) the hotel would fall into disuse which was a great pity for those walking the Westweg. It was very run down although our room was pleasant and clean. That night we kept the heating on in the room. Incidentally, in all our walks through Kniebis we never once saw a sign for the Waldblick Hotel where I had originally booked.


Thursday 28 June 2007

Kniebis to Harkhof (19km)

On and Off with Our Rain Gear The morning was still and windless. Being so high up we were still shrouded in low cloud but, at least,  it was not raining.   Matheus had moved on at 7.00 a.m. planning to go all the way to Hausach.  After a simple breakfast, we paid our bill with a good tip because the old man had been so kind to us. As we  left the hotel and descended slightly visibility became clearer and the path went along quite easily.  It was the kind of day when we were destined to put on and take off our raincoats several times as the weather alternatively brightened and then produced rain.  This was only an 18 km day and I was happy to go off rout slightly for a nice view of a small lake the “Glaswaldsee” . Predictably, I had just decided to take off my rain trousers when it started to rain again !!  Towards lunchtime we were descending towards a forest clearing with a hut when it started to rain quite heavily.  We sat under the shelter of the hut for a good 40 minutes as the heavens opened. I ate a sandwich made at the Berghotel Mummelsee.  Presently it stopped and we continued along muddy forest tracks.

The Goats of Harkhof  We arrived at Vesperstube Harkhof at about 2.45 p.m. and Dave decided he needed some more exercise.  So he went off on a descent to the valley while I had a sleep and wrote some postcards.  When he returned we enjoyed ourselves watching the local goats in an adjacent steep field.  I went out to take their photo and Dave made me laugh by shouting out that I should ask the goats to take a photo of me.  In the morning we were entertained by the impressive billy-goat chasing his ladies around the outside of their little hut  trying to “get his end away”, as Dave put it, but failing miserably becuause the nanny-goats kept hiding under the hut.  Clearly a morning ritual. The vesperstube was quite interesting inasmuch as it appeared to sell only food which  it produced locally.  There were no vegetables. When we arrived we each had an omelette and in the evening we had soup followed by cold pork meat (kasseler) with bread. There were several other guests including a lady walking a short stretch of the Westweg in the opposite direction.


Friday 29 June 2007

Harkhof to Haslach (20km)

Brandenkopf It was a nice clear morning.  We took our time leaving and passed the farm cows making their way independently up to their daytime pasture.  A little further on we met up with a walking group of German pensioners.  One of them had a lovely dog whose name turned out to be “Goethe”  We continued on to the summit of Brandenkopf at 945m.  This was our only summit with a clear view and we made the most of it by climbing the tower and taking photographs.  The pensioners caught up with us as we were ordering coffee and cake in the local café and we sat in the weak sunshine for half an hour pretending to be normal tourists. 

The Ant's Nest  Descendng from Brandenkopf we left the Westweg and took the signs for “Haslach” in the Kinzigtal where we were going to meet my German friends. At one point I needed to get a stone out of my left shoe. So I sat down on the bank and removed my boot.  Suddenly I became aware that I was being attacked. I was covered with large aggressive ants.  I was sitting on an ants’ nest !!  Dave laughed as I leapt up and, hopping on one foot,  tried to brush them off. I replaced my boot and moved off quickly.   After a few more kilometers we were feeling quite relaxed and stopped on a bench further down the hill to have our final sandwiches.  Then things went a little wrong. We were faced with an alternative set of paths to Haslach . Unfortunately we chose one which meandered about through woods before bringing us down three kilometres away in the valley.  At one point the signs even increased the numbers of kilometres to walk from 5 to 6.5 !   I got a bit concerned about the need to meet Helga at 4.00 p.m. and at some point in the descent I lost my walking stick.  I have no precise memory of where.  Probably on one of the occasions I had a pee. 

Finished For This Year We finally got to Haslach with 30 minutes to spare and had a quick look around (very pleasant) before Helga appeared with her car to drive us to Ettenheim.  It was lovely to see her again.  .We spent the next two days enjoying some great hospitality before flying back to the UK from Baden Baden.