Thursday, 20 November 2014

A WALK OF TWO HALVES

Last night's long dark walk into the forest high in the mountains led me to an old hunters cabin. A miracle of navigation that I found it - seen only as an enigmatic sign on walker's map board in a village miles away. A miracle it was open. I was prepared to overlook the broken furniture, the graffito and the dark loft above the two simple rooms. A bit Blair Witch Project-y but real shelter. With the door closed and stove cooking soup and some cushions as mattress I had a comfortable and - the first since beginning the walk - warm night. Up at six and had done a day's march by lunchtime. Incidentally passing a far nicer, clean, open cabin - unmarked on map - with a log stove just a few miles further on.
Descending down, down, down to the Rhine Valley. I left warm sun on the heights for grey, cold fog. (see pic). Signs of rooting boar and deer slots everywhere. A distant lumberjack felled a huge tree - the sound of its fall echoing in the fog.
Now in Ettenheim and preparing to regroup before starting off into France and next 250 miles to Paris. Shower (and several more), clothes wash, charge camera batteries, sort gear, prepare mind and feet for as much walking and sleeping out as I've already done to here - maybe even a bit more.
Paris is calling.

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

LIFE LESSONS FROM THE ROAD

There's schadenfreude - pleasure in the misfortunes of another - and there's 'strassen- schaden,' the humourous misfortunes of the road brought on by hubris....
....because there is rarely a short-cut through mountain country (if there was you can bet the Germans would have turned it into a road), and good advice that isn't good is just opinion and stupidity pretending to be advice.
So, it was probably a bit daft of me to think I could shave some distance off Herzog's route by straight lining across the mountains (topping a thousand meters in places - not impressive if you're reading this in Switzerland or Nepal, but higher than Ireland's highest peak). Off I set last night into dark and drizzle. I'd been given some advice at the ruined castle (another one) above Hornburg by a chap in tweeds walking a Labrador - obviously trustworthy. Follow the red diamond route he said. I did and added several kms to the steep climb to reach a sort silvian cross roads. There by luck there was a rare shelter hut. Rain proof roof, three walls, veranda and table and bench. Paradise especially as temperature was dropping. I made my stand for a night of luxury.
The sun flooded into the cabin this morning. As I was packing a jolly man of the mountains came trotting along. We conversed, in German. Klaus Kinski was mad, we agreed, whilst Herzog was admirably obsessive. The climate was odd - pleasant for November but odd. Oh, and rather than descending and climbing and upping and downing I'd be much better off following a longer, smaller track straight to Elzach that followed contour lines. Yes, I agreed, but not if it's going to get me lost. Nein, nein, it was straight forward - only a few cross tracks but it would be 'logical' which way to go.
I set off keenly. An hour later I'd arrived at one of those useful map boards - this clearly showed no obvious straight route to Elzach as there were two big streams in deep valleys, as well as the region's highest peak in the way. In fact I should have followed my original idea and headed downhill from the cabin and got to the Elz river and trotted along beside it and been in town for an early lunch.
As it was, realising I'd have to double back I went back to compass and intuition and followed a deer track, then a wander weg and finally a logging road that got me to the river. And here I am in Elzach for a late tea and ten miles behind schedule and footsore.
I'd be less gruntled but I've spent a glorious day walking the heights of the best of the Schwarzwald in spring-quality sunshine.
I'll walk on over the last of the Black Forest mountains tonight - boringly following the road, because wind as it does it will still be the easiest way.
A brisk day tomorrow should get me to Ettenheim, ready to cross the Rhine into France. But first - tomorrow night - I plan a cheap room and a massive clothes wash. France deserves that much at least.
As I walked last night there were moths still flying. In mid-November. So far, thankfully  I'm not getting the full Herzog snow 'n' rain experience. On the other hand he was driven to taking a room most nights to be able to sleep. Swings and roundabouts.
I'm still enthralled by the Schwarzwalders gaeity after the - I'm sorry but - stolid seriousness of the Schwabs. The five elderly women have just broken into five-part harmony in a song to serenade their - seriously - cake. Rather a fine gateaux as befits the location, admittedly but still bonkers and charming.
It's rather a smart café and invaded favoured by matriarchs of a certain stern bearing. I look like a meth's drinker spending the proceeds of a day's pan-handling. Yet as they pass each greets me with a cheery 'gruss gott' or similar. And smiles. I do indeed feel like a pilgrim, both bestowing and garnering blessings as I walk. Perhaps I won't stop when I reach Paris.
Or perhaps I won't reach Paris. There's still 250 miles/400 kms to go, and I'm a day behind my notional schedule and four behind Herzog. It's not a race but one has to keep going.
And on that note.

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

A ROOM WITH A VIEW

The upshot of walking out of the dark, smokey bar in Schramberg last night was a steep three kms climb up a rocky path between dark pines in rain. Perhaps I should have stayed in the bar; I'd become a very minor, and very local celebrity, and the barman Marcus promised a bed for me when I next came back - I thought of leaving, standing in the rain twenty minutes and heading back in with a cheery 'hallo again, I'm back.'
Instead I slogged up to the craggy peak with the ruins of Hohegschramberg (the name is a clue to its place in local topography). Poked around by torchlight - quietly, lamp shaded as there was a house with lights amongst the sprawling ruins of towers, walls, courtyards, ramparts, balconies and walkways. On the edge of a drop I found what must have been a sentry's cell. Damp, dank, spidery - but out of the rain. Stripped off wet clothes, on with dryish ones. Poncho across door to keep out rain. Mat down. Stove lit. It was almost snug. And I slept well after a twenty mile plus day. The rain eased to wet mist by seven. The view down on Schramberg from on 'hoheg' was worth the climb.
Now I'm on the road - hard climbing to a small town and I'm in the Bakerie for a while. It's six miles of steep climbs and descents to the next village and then I have to see if a five mile mountain track to save three miles is viable. These mountains are so steep and route finding so hard that 'short cuts' are a risk. Herzog got lost on this very stretch and had to fight his way over fallen logs on skiddy muddy slopes in thick forest.
I am the Black Forest - everything is different now I've crossed the valley. The architecture - wooden houses, shutters, barns etc - are prettier and there's less/no kitch. My drinking buddies in the bar last night gave me the full form of a saying, I part rememberd from years ago, that describes the Schwabs. Schaffe, schaffe Hansle baue...under nicht mach de Madle schaue. Work, work build a house...and don't get distracted by maidens. Well, it's not so dour here in the Schwarzwald. This café rings with jolly greetings, laughter and chatter. Locals wish me well and the baker woman is joyous that I'm sitting at a table and charging my phone and spreading out papers and maps.
I stopped at a small garage earlier to ask if I was on the right road. No gruff grunt and silent pointing - the chap told me in detail which road to take in the village, then got out some aerial photos to show me where the - this - bakery was; he looked at me and realised that the smart hotel café just up the road was not for me, and vice versa. Then jolly words of encouragement. It's like being in Italy.
I'm revelling in comfort here because villages/towns/cafes are few and far between until I reach the Rhine in a couple of day's from now. Hopefully there'll be a Grimms tales hut in the forest for tonight.
Two minor shopping successes yesterday after days of searching wherever I've passed shops. A reflective arm-band. With darkness by five and walking on until past nine some evenings, and despite - obviously - trying to avoid rambling along in the midst of speeding night time traffic in poor visibility it happens. I flash my torch but you can't beat a bit of hi-viz.
And I found a rubber tip/cap to put on the end of my beautiful - poached from a coppice - ash pole. It was wearing away at a quarter of an inch a day. Turning from staff to walking stick as I strode and threatening to be match stick length by Paris. Apart from any other purpose it marks me as a pilgrim, and here that still has a real status - enough to trump two weeks of not shaving, muddy boots and trouser cuffs and the faint (I hope faint) aroma of the sleeper in forests and ruined castles.
With all that I feel I'm ready to trot over the Black Forest heights. The drizzly fog has lifted and there are damp smudges of blue amongst the greys and silvers.

Address for blogging on the slow adventure

Monday, 17 November 2014

EARLY TO BED EARLY TO RISE

Walking on after dark it's harder to spot good sleeping places. And it's a gamble as to when to stop. A reasonable place - stop and sleep in case there's nothing better ahead, or put in more miles and maybe find somewhere as good or better.
Last night I found a picnic table and bench on a small rise - crucially it was dry ground. After the rain on Saturday everywhere is waterlogged, some fields flooded and streams in spate.
I woke before dawn - around 6.45 - and made coffee (that's the stove, and looking west), packed and walked on. Looking behind me there was the sunrise. Shepherds' warning?
A km further on I found a perfect - an even perfecter - sweet-spot sleep spot; a wooden shelter by a pond. A thermometer read 5 C
Today I've climbed and descended a lot of hills - it's up and dow n country here - and crossed the Neckar river. Seen a peregrine, goldfinches, greater spotted woodpecker, black kite, a large flock of ravens and give herons flying in formation. Birds bring great comfort and encouragement when walking - they turn the wilderness into a garden.
So many sloes - tempting to put a few into that 100% alcohol I've got. Tempting but dangerous.Instead I've been knocking late apples out the trees I've passed.
If all goes well I'll be climbing into the Black Forest this evening - the last high ground (am I right?) between Munich and Paris.
Feel I'm treading on the heels of Herzog (name translates as 'duke' by the way) again. I'm just one village away from Bosingen where he spent the night. If his ghost makes a slow start this morning I'll catch him.
Trot on.

Sunday, 16 November 2014

INTO THE MOUNTAINS - OUT OF THE RAIN

As darkness fell last night the rain intensified. There was no safe way to walk the edge of the busy narrow mountain road as cars sped by in poor visibility. I needed shelter. And I found it - this workers wagon up on a hill. Though didn't spend the night in it but under it. The Herzog of 1974 would have forced the lock. But though cramped I was dry whilst rain tumbled down for twelve hours. Walked on this morning and as I dropped down into the valley then sun came out.

Saturday, 15 November 2014

PUTTING IN THE LEG WORK

After a long morning's walk I'm in Bitz....(groan).
And beyond. Almost crossed the Schwabian Alps (an 'alp' isn't a mountain as such but a high summer pasture - I passed a flock of shepherded sheep this afternoon). Next Moosewald Bergzell - more high ground, and then into the high lands of the Black Forest.
I'm starting to knock out the miles now - kept walking till late evening yesterday through small villages and dark hilly forests. At one point I came across a 'field' dotted with flickering red lights; a graveyard and tens of candles in red jars on the graves.
Here's a comparison that might prove useful if you're setting off on your own sleep-out trip - with the same insulating mat and sleeping gear a hammock is colder than sleeping on the ground, but - like last night - if it's wet and sloping ground then a hammock is way more comfortable.
Buzzards everywhere, because there are voles everywhere - the latter have worn runs into the matted winter grass so it's like lace.
A thick fog all day until on an upland pasture the sun burnt through and it was warm and sparkling. I am honing my sense of west and find shortcuts through fields or down hills or follow paths ever towards Paris through dark forests. It's like being an animal on migration - a sense of something pulling me on. Which is good for the soul if not for the feet. Onwards. Or soon as it looks like rain and there's time for another coffee, surely.
Then onwards.

About Me

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I'm an independent writer on wilderness activities, slow adventures, traditional horsemanship and odd stuff. I'm the author of Paddle; A long way around Ireland (Sort Of Books), and i was the story consultant on the IMAX documentary on cowboy cultures across the globe, Ride Around The Word. The Slow Adventure sends reports back from the front-line of a slow and simple life; horses, kayaks, guitars, long walks, travel, books, simplicity, trains, travel, wildlife and the occasional thrill.