A Walk in the Black Forest : Walking the Westweg
Dave Williams and Jeff Lock
2015 - From the Kinzigtal to Basel
Monday 26 June 2015
Black Forest Walking Trip We got a 14.45 flight from Gatwick to Strasbourg. It arrived on time but we had a 40 minute wait for the short train ride into the central station. We caught the Offenburg train which had a journey time of about 30 minutes. As we went over the River Rhine, Dave expressed relief to be crossing the border from France into his beloved Germany. At a very hot Offenburg, (around 19.00) we soon found our hotel and were picked up 10 minutes later by Helga and Achim who took us a well hidden beer-garden beside an old brewery. We had a very sociable evening including a visit to Achim's house.
Tuesday 27 June 2015
Haslach to Wilhelmshohe (25km)
Haslach Our Starting Point Dave and I caught the 09.04 train from Offenburg to Haslach – a single coach diesel train which soon became crowded with parties of schoolchildren. Our rucksacks seemed a lot heavier because we were now carrying a full load of water. Throughout the week, I carried three half-litre bottles but because of the heat the water became less and less drinkable as each day wore on. At Haslach we walked through the old town centre which was very attractive but our minds were on the walk ahead. Knowing that “getting out of towns” was always difficult I had done a bit of research on Google-Earth and had a rough idea where we should go but we sought some local advice as well. Particularly memorable was the cheerful warning from one woman who pointed out our route saying – “straight on – always higher” Looking up at the wall of trees which rose above the town we could understand what she meant. The first 200 meter stretch went sharply upwards in the hot sun and was a foretaste of things to come. But then we reached the forest and were enveloped by its shadow.
Searching for the Westweg At this point we had our first of many debates about the route to take. Haslach was a variant on the main Westweg and we were destined to spend the morning negotiating our way back to the main route. I had the Freytag map 504 and this got roundly cursed as inaccurate as the day wore on. As a first proof of its inaccuracy, we had to climb around the slopes of a hill called Urenkopf but instead found ourself standing on its summit beside the “turm” . We followed a path downwards, turned the wrong way, came back and finally settled on a route denoted with yellow diamonds which led us steadily along above the Kinzigtal in the general direction of Hausach. Behind Hausach it turned south which seemed to be a good sign that we were on the right track but I was getting anxious about finding the junction with the Westweg. We stopped for lunch at a spot marked as “Smeiderskreuz” and I was predicting the junction within a kilometer but still we didn’t find it. Presently the track swung back north and we toiled upwards in the heat thinking we might be going wrong. Dave, who was in the lead, was perplexed when it simply petered out in a meadow. I was not inclined to give up and climbed on further across the sloping grass. I thought I could see another track running along the treeline above us so I walked directly up the field. Yes, there was a major pathway. I thought it must be the Westweg and verified this by backtracking to find some red diamonds waymarks. I was very relieved. I felt the responsibility for keeping us headed in the right direction.
Ever Upwards Soon the red diamonds led us away from the track and ever upwards for our first major climb of the day. The book said that were going to climb 920 meters and descend 165 before we were finished. We went up and up. Despite the shade of the trees, the heat of the day made it very tiring. The path dumped us on a track where some workman were building a huge wind turbine. We went on and on again ever upwards. The last major climb finally brought us to rocky summit called Karlstein at more than 960m. (Haslach had been 220m) I was shattered and suffering from the heat.
Apfelschorle: The Perfect Refreshment Dave said that there was a sign for refreshments ahead and we popped out of the forest above a gasthof called Schone Ausacht where, we took a break and ordered large glasses of apfelschorle (mineral water and apple juice). Refreshed and rested, we found that the last six kilometers were along a fairly level easy path and we proceeded slowly finally arriving at Wilhelmshöhe at 19.00. The gasthof had lots of customers dining on the outside terrace. We received a very friendly welcome and our room was nice with a big balcony but I was very tired and my leg muscles were cramping up. The waitress at dinner offered me some magnesium salts in a drink and I accepted gratefully. The large beers were wonderful and we had salads plus chips & schnitzel. I went to bed at about 21.30 leaving Dave to have an extra beer. During the day, I had entertained stressful thoughts about the walk being being beyond my capabilities but now I resolved to carry on.
Wednesday 28 June 2015
Wilhelmshohe to Thurner (31km)
High Pastures of the Schwarzwald This was a much easier day’s walking. We were mostly on tracks and there was far less up and down. Our climb the previous day we had brought us to a high upland area of the Schwarzwald and we were now benefitting from that. However we needed to walk 31Km. Early on there was a very still lake which perfectly reflected a nearby wind turbine and then a long boardwalk through an area of light woodland. There was also a first drink-stop at a guest house near Martinskapelle and then a section through woodland which popped out at a place called Brend where we had a choc-ice. I carried a
chocolate-stain on my shorts for the rest of the week. There was next a section of path beside a field-fence and a stretch of hot road to Gardener Rabe where we decided not to stop at the posh looking restaurant but instead press on. The woods now gave way to open fields as we approached Neueck where there was a gasthof beside a road junction.
The Curse of Ruhetag “Ruhetag Mittwoch” (rest day on Wednesday) was our frustating welcome. We always seemed to be cursed with arriving at refreshment stops on the wrong day of the week. So we simply sat at an outside table and drank something from our own water bottles. There was a restaurant logo shown on our map at the town of Neukirch, two kilometers further on. So we walked on, on a path which went parallel to the highway. At Neukirch, we found the restaurant was off-route and we had to descend steeply into the village to find the Tanne Café where we both had Flammkuchen plus large amounts of apfelschorle. Consulting the map, I decided that we could pick up the Westweg on the other side of Neukirch. So at the height of the lunchtime heat we shouldered our packs again and descended further into the heart of the village until we found a back-road which climbed ever upwards and back up to the path. I was on tenterhooks with my map reading until we actually located it. Now we were again walking parallel to Highway 500 the Schwarzwald Hohestrasse.
Arrival After another 12Km, our faithful red diamond signs led us to our overnight accommodation at Gasthof Zum Kreuz near Thurner. We arrived around 6pm and sat outside on the terrace with large beers before finding our room and having our showers. It was still very hot. For dinner that night I had a steak with a selection of vegetables. I drank white wine. Our hosts weren’t quite as jolly as Whilelmshohe but it had been a good day and I felt much better about our enterprise. Our bedroom faced the highway. So we got quite a lot of traffic noise particularly in the early morning.
Thursday 29 June 2015
Thurner to Feldberg (30km +) We got started soon after breakfast and followed a couple with a dog who were lightly loaded and seemed to be taking the Westweg as a day walk down to Titisee. The going was fairly easy through woods, then around the contour of some large fields with wonderful views of fields and farms. The signs said 13.5Km to Titisee. The westweg now left the track network and wound its way through the trees. With a few kilometers to go we came out of the woods and had to walk through open countryside with no shade. Looking across the valley we could see huge ski-jump perched on the opposite mountainside. By now, we were gasping for a cold drink and found it, at last, at a golf-club café. Whereas most customers were sitting outside on the terrace we were happy to shelter at the cooler inside tables. Again we had three half-litre glasses of apfelschorle between two of us. Walking on we passed the dog-couple again and arrived at the outskirts of Titisee.
Lake Titisee At 840m above sea level Titisee is the largest lake in the Black Forest. According to popular legend it got its name from the Roman General Titus who camped on its shores. It is a popular place for tourists in summer and winter. Dave and I stopped at a café with a shady terrace and a view of the lake, for our lunch. For a change I drank coca-cola while Dave stuck with apfelschorle. Dave bought some postcards and also got me a new bottle of water. When we left Titisee we thought we only had about 10Km to go but the afternoon turned out to be a lot further than we expected. Unfortunately the batteries in my GPS failed but we estimated the whole day to be more than 30Km.
A Long Hot Walk It was extremely hot again and we were very slow in gaining some height above the lake. We walked through woods to a high point and found ourselves standing at the top of the large ski-jump we had spotted earlier. Now, the path led us downwards into a hot valley where houses stretched up into the hills from a small town. We were desperate for more cold drinks. After trying a down-market looking hotel and finding it closed (but leaving our rucksacks outside) we ended up at a beautiful 5 star establishment sitting on a terrace with the sound of rushing water from a small ornamental watercourse. We were served apfelschorle by a friendly waitress in local costume. It was now hotter than ever but we picked up our sacks and pressed onwards and upwards along a long gently rising path which soon turned into a wide track. We were looking out for a junction which led to the Feldsee and after some kilometers asked for directions at a farmhouse. “Keep going” we were told and they kindly gave us some fresh water. A couple of kilometers further on, we found our turn and about an hour later we were at a gasthof near the Feldsee drinking two more large glasses of apfelschorle.
The Final Climb It was about 18.30. The “see” itself, with the evening sun shining across the water, was passed almost without comment because we were anticipating the difficult 150m climb up through a dark wall of trees to reach our hotel at Feldberg Dorf. It was a steep and rocky zig-zag, the worst possible option when you are tired. I got slower and slower but kept going while Dave zoomed ahead. Finally we emerged near the lower end of the Feldberg cable-car station. Feldberg Dorf consisted of a group of mostly unattractive buildings and a bus-stop where a couple of walkers were calling for information on their mobile. It looked to me as if the last bus had probably gone.
Jeff Gets Grumpy We found the Jagermatt hotel and were welcomed cheerfully enough but there was something about it which I hadn’t anticipated. We were given single rooms on the third floor without showers. Not liking this and feeling very tired I went back to reception and asked for a room with a shower. The manager said that none of the rooms in the establishment had any showers! Apparently, this information had been contained in the booking email. I was disgruntled and didn’t hide the fact. However, after I had had a shower in the separate shower room on our floor (using Dave’s shampoo) I felt a bit better about things. I decided to apologise for my bad demeanour. As usual Dave took ages to get ready and I was downstairs finishing off my first large beer by the time he arrived. Dinner consisted of a buffet which turned out to be quite good. You could eat as much as you liked. Surprisingly I didn’t have a very big appetite but Dave filled his plate enthusiastically a couple of times and emptied it with gusto. After that and another large beer I went to bed. Again there was a road below the windows but, this time, with much less traffic.
Friday 30 June 2015
Feldberg to Belchen
The Highest Point I had decided to take advantage of the Feldberg cable car and this deposited me near the Seebuck “turm” (1448m) with still a fair walk to the summit of Feldberg (1493m) Predictably, Dave had decided to walk the whole way. So we each reached the highest point of the Schwazwald separately. However Felberg is one of the least dramatic summits you could ever visit. We had agreed to meet up at the St Whilhelmer Hut on the far side of the mountain. This arrangement worked perfectly and we enjoyed a drink before continuing with our walk. After a couple of kilometers there was another grassy summit called Stubenwassen and we met several parties of day-walkers toiling up the other side. The walking was fairly easy now on good tracks. At lunchtime we found ouselves crossing a main road near the very nice Notschreipass Hotel (one of the places I had considered booking for an avernight stay) where we stopped for lunch. I had a plate of local meats and Dave had soup.
Another Mountain to Climb Pressing on we became conscious of a large mountain ahead and I said innocently that I hoped we wouldn’t have to climb it. I had not realised that it was, in fact, our destination for the day. “Belchen: was indeed a very large mountain (1414m) nearly as high as Feldberg. We saw its dimensions clearly from an adjacent ridge and then we descended to a point where we clearly had to start climbing. Dave asked about a sign to “Jagersuble Hotel” which pointed in a different direction but I told him that I believed our acommodation was near the top; so we might as well follow the red diamonds of the Westweg and start climbing. It was very hot at this time of day, but we had tree cover most of the way. It was a climb of about 250m and again I was very slow. I needed to stop frequently for water. Finally at about 17.45 we emerged near the summit and saw the yellow gondolas of the cable car which ran up from the valley. A short section of footpath brought us to the “Belchenhaus” where I thought we had accommodation. The proprietor, a woman, was just closing up and denied all knowledge of our booking (she had no rooms at all) saying that that most probably we had booked with the Belchen Hotel in the valley beow.
A Quick Descent When we asked about the cable car times, she said it would close in ten minutes!! Dave wanted a drink but I dragged him down to the cable car station immediately where we bought tickets to descend and return the next day. Soon we were gliding silently down the mountain to our hotel in the valley. Another ten minutes and we would have had to walk down. The Belchern Jagerstuble Hotel was the best of the holiday. A 5 Star establishment with spa and swimming pool. Our room was very nice. We were booked in for half board and that evening we dined out on the terrace with all the other guests. Dave had schnitzel but I had an excellent trout. I also had two large glasses of German white wine. We felt very relaxed knowing that we had already climbed the imposing mountain which rose above our hotel and that we simply had to get the cable car in the morning.
Saturday 1 July 2015
Belchen to Kandern (25km) We had a good breakfast and left the hotel at about 09.15. The cable car took us effortlessly back to the summit and we followed the red diamonds around it flank with terrific views all around. Belchen was a much more attractive mountain than the long featureless ridge of Feldberg and I said that if I ever came back to the Black Forest again, I would make sure I re-visited it. Our path down became more difficult and required some care and attention with steep falls on one side or the other but soon we were down on woodland tracks. This was a day on which we would do a good deal of descending from Belchen (1414m) to Kandern at about 450m. Around lunchtime, we crossed a road with a picnic shelter and I ate my emergency supplies in the form of an apple which I had acquired at Gasthof zum Kreuz two days earlier. Dave did the same. We had taken to walking in hope rather than taking picnic food with us.
A Mountain Called Blauen At our lunch-stop there was a sign which pointed to a new mountain called Blauen and we were soon climbing to its summit at 1165m. Dave was well in the lead and by the time I arrived at the café on the top, he had bought us two bottles of cold apfelschorle. Better still, there was a man selling hot dogs. Just what I wanted. We lingered at the café eating and drinking (Dave had kartoffle-salat) and admiring the view. Then around 15.00 we decided that we had better continue on our way. Now we started to descend seriously.
Descent to Kandern After 40 minutes of steep downhill my GPS said we had lost 300m and it was telling on our leg muscles. We were sheltered from the sun most of the time by the forest trees. The path became less severe and about 10Km from Kandern we passed a ruined castle which I later guessed was probably the boundary of the Markgraflerland. With the town of Kandern in sight we came out of the woods into the searing heat of the lower Black Forest and also followed a misleading sign which sent us around in a circle. Most frustrating, given how much we were suffering from the temperature which was reported to be 38 degrees celsius. We took to a road which wound downwards to the edge of town and an older couple showed us the way to Gashof Schnecke. We had a nice welcome and had a large beer each before going to our room. That evening we were too exhausted to look around the town and simply stayed around our gasthof. The salads were just right in size and I had a declicious pork chop with cheese, garlic and onions. I had a couple of large glasses of local white wine and Dave had a couple of beers. We sat outside on the terrace for coffee before going to bed.
Sunday 2 July 2015
Kandern to Basle (27km)
Swopping Red for Yellow We had breakfast at 08.00. It was already very hot by the time we left Gasthof Schnecke and picked up the red diamonds of the Westweg. These were quite well marked until suddenly, in the middle of town, they disappeared and became yellow diamonds. Two separate locals advised us to follow the yellow and after much worry, on my part, we found a signpost at the edge of the forest which pointed yellow towards Basle. The path initially climbed into the woods. Then levelled off and became an easy track. Surprisingly, Dave was lagging behind slightly and said that his legs were very stiff after the long descent of the previous day. In contrast I felt full of energy. We popped out of the woods at a place called Egerten. A gasthof with a prominent “open” sign proved to be closed and a nearby bar in a strange museum-like place proved to be completely deserted. We were desperate for a drink and after some heartsearching, helped ourselves to apple juice and mineral water. We put 8 Euros on the table and were about to leave when a young couple with a dog turned up to open the bar at 11.00. They were not at all concerned at our helping ourselves and wished us “auf weidershen” as we left. Now we did some road walking to a place called Wollbach where we picked up the proper “red diamond” Westweg. However, the number of Km to go increased by two! We started to see another couple of westweg walkers ahead of us. We had met very few so far. We caught up with the at a road junction and exchanged a few words when we took a break.
Hot, Hot, Hot We came to a large castle called Ruine Rotteine. It was closed for Sunday. But thankfully its beer garden was very much open and we able to get food and drinks. As we left, it was the hottest part of the day and we found very little shade as we negotiated a motorway underpass and walked through the suburbs of Lorrach. Abruptly the route sent us uphill and we experienced the hottest section of the whole walk as we followed some small roads up across open fields. We were really suffering in temperatures which were in the high thirties and we took water breaks in whatever shade we could find. In the distance there was a large forest and the route took us across more open land towards the promise of shade. I was gasping to get to the trees. When we finally reached it, we sat down for a few minutes to recover. The next few kilometers were quite pleasant and we motored along in the shadow of the woods. We were very close to Basle and, back in the heat, we descended a narrow path with steps and a path through winefields to reach a busy swimming pool. Along this section we passed from Germany into Switzerland.
Yippee A Cold Swim At the swimming pool we asked directions, shared a litre bottle of Apfelschorle and had an ice cream. I realised that the path shown on the map was along a river where lots of families were bathing. After a couple of hundred meters I could bear it no more. While Dave had a snooze, I stripped down to my underpants and had a swim in the cold river water. It was wonderful. Having no towel, I sat in the sun to dry off. By now, Dave was thoroughly asleep and I let him rest for another 15 minutes before waking him up to continue along the riverside walk. We had an expensive drink in a bar. (Everything was more expensive in Switzerland) At the end of the river-walk we turned left and with the help of local
people we soon found the Badlischer Bahnhof which was the official end point of the walk. We took shots of each other which I promised to photoshop together. It was about 18.30 and I was very tired. Not wanting to negotiate our way across the city by public transport I dragged Dave into a taxi and ten minutes later we arrived at our IBIS hotel.
Exploring Basel About an hour later, after showering and changing we went into the city. First we went to the main Bahnhof to check the departure point of the airport bus and then we walked further and found somewhere to eat and drink. It was still very hot. Having had German food all week I suggested something “ethnic” and we had a chinese meal at “Mr Wong’s”. It was cooked for us as we waited. In the gathering darkness we walked up to the cathedral and had a lovely view across the Rhine and the city of Basle. On the way back to our hotel, at my suggestion, we had a final beer in a café close to the station. It was 23.00 but the outside temperature was still about 30 degrees and this made us feel dehydrated. Luckily our hotel room was air conditioned.
The next day we returned to the UK by a 07.00 flight from Basel to Stansted.