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Eight days on the Rheinsteig

This June, our managing director, Charlotte Gillan, undertook the latest in a series of long distance walks to test Classic Canes products and produce hiking imagery for our marketing use. Her 2015 walk was 125km/78 miles of the Rheinsteig, a rocky trail running parallel to the Upper Middle Rhine river in Germany, starting at Rüdesheim and completing at Koblenz eight days later. She used a pair of Classic Canes folding trekknig poles in red, ref. 4639C. Here is her report:

Wednesday 10th June 2015: Rüdesheim to Assmannshausen 11.1km/7 miles
We flew into Frankfurt on Tuesday 9th June, with Classic Canes folding trekking poles (ref 4639) folded up in our rucksacks. Folding poles are the most convenient if you are flying. We then took the train to Rüdesheim and stayed the night in a hotel on the famous Drosselgasse, looking up at the start of our walk, high above us.

We didn't quite do seven miles today because we took the cable car up from Rüdesheim to the Niederwald monument with its statue of Germania high above the pretty town. This probably made it only about five miles today. The views from the cable car were terrific, looking over the vineyards and the river with the Donnersberg mountain in the distance. We saw the Benedictine monastery of St Hildegard, which was supposed to be our starting point. The monument commemorates the victory of Germany over the French in the war of 1870-71. It gave a good view of the confluence of the Rhine and the river Nahe.

We found the first Rheinsteig sign and followed our path as it descended through oak forests and then rose again through the Niederwald. The Mäuseturm (Mouse Tower), a former toll station and famous landmark in the middle of the Rhine, was covered with scaffolding but we had some good views of the ruined Ehrenfels Castle above Rüdesheim, which was built in 1210 by the Archbishop of Mainz to protect the Rheingau; it was later used as a toll station too. It was largely destroyed in 1689, during the War of Palantine Succession, but the ruin is one of the iconic sights of the Upper Middle Rhine.

Lunch was white asparagus with boiled potatoes and Hollandaise sauce at the Niederwald Schloss restaurant, a former hunting lodge. It was lovely to sit outside and enjoy the fresh food in the open air.

We then walked downhill through the woods to Assmanshausen, while our fellow lunchers took the chairlift down over our heads. We were pleased to see a red squirrel. We glimpsed a view of the vineyard we will climb through tomorrow: Assmannshauser Höllenberg. There is a huge sign on the vineyard terraces, visible for the cruise ships below.

<strong">Thursday 11th June 2015: Asmannshausen to Lorch 14.6km/9 miles
We left the comfortable Hotel Lamm at 9am and bought bread rolls at the bakery behind the hotel. We climbed up out of the village as the clock tower was showing 9.30am. It was rather like leaving a Cornish village on the South West Coast Path with a steep climb to start the day. The Rhine was already busy with barges and cruise ships, whilst very long trains transported goods both sides of the river. Some trains carry over two hundred cars.

We joined a track through the vineyards and gradually switchbacked our way higher and higher. Soon the village of Assmannshausen was very small below us. We took photographs at the giant Assmanshausen Höllenberg sign that we saw from the opposite side of the valley yesterday afternoon. We soon climbed up to the Höllenberg itself ('hell mountain') and reached a beautiful, copper-roofed gazebo, a temple to red wine. Here we had a whisky and admired the fabulous views down the Rhine. Malcolm took a picture of a cheery grasshopper who was chirruping at us from a nearby leaf.

We walked on through vineyards, steadily gaining height, passing some vineyard workers in a green van with a smiling Golden Retriever on their passenger seat. The path went deep into a stunted oak wood and we needed our Classic Canes trekking poles to help us through the tricky parts. There were beautiful foxgloves among other pretty wild flowers. We also saw rock lizards, very tame mice, jays, kites and a kestrel. There were also lovely herbs (with information boards) and delicious, tiny, wild strawberries.

We emerged high above the Rhine and had a second whisky stop on a bench at the Paul Claus shelter. We watched the mining at the large quartzite quarry opposite, which cast huge clouds of dust onto Castle Sooneck beside it. The reverberations at the castle must be awful. The path then led downhill and inland through ancient woodland. We reached a tadpole pond which also contained small, trout-like fish, which interested Malcolm. We continued onto a bench at Georgs Ruh ('George's rest'), also know at the 'three castles view' as it looks out over castles Rheinstein (still just visible upriver), Reichenstein and Sooneck. Reichenstein and Sooneck were robber barons' castles, built in the 12th century and occupied by bailiffs. In the 19th century, Sooneck was reconstructed by Crown Prince Friedrich Wilhelm. We ate our bread rolls and cheese, with Oreo biscuits, Ritter Sport nut chocolate and of course, whiskies in silver cups. There were three benches: one with some jolly German men and one with two women walkers who were not speaking to one another.

After this we missed our signpost and accidentally headed downhill to the outer reaches of Lorch, briefly joining the 'Wein Wanderweg' but ending up on the Binderweg, a long suburban street. It eventually delivered us past some interesting houses and many roses to Lorch. Lorch is an important wine town. Luckily it was now 5pm and we found a weingut open: Weingut J Gemersheime, up a side street. There were tables on small terraces and a charming lady to encourage us to try different wines. We had Lorcher Reisling No 1 (2.20€/glass) and Lorcher Pfaffenweis Riesling Kabinett (2.50€), followed by Lorcher Rivaner and Lorcher Kapellenberg Blanc de Noir Kabinett Trocken (3€) plus a big plate of cheese and pretzels.

Friday 12th June 2015: Lorch to Kaub 15.7km/9.7 miles
We walked up to the supermarket to buy filled mozzarella and tomato rolls for lunch, and then had to walk right back into town again to rejoin the Rheinsteig. It was already very hot. Several times we tried to take clever short cuts and each time were put back on the right track by local old men, who probably have to redirect walkers every day.

The path was immediately very steep and we climbed up almost vertical rocks aided by wire ropes and foot treads set into the rock. We emerged just below the Nollig Tower, a ruin with medieval origins. We climbed through a game fence (to keep the wild boar away from the vines) and gained more height through the vineyards. On the other bank we could see Castles Hohneck and then Fürstenberg (heavily fortified but it looked as if it had a jolly beer terrace). We had a few whisky stops (always necessary when walking with a Scotsman) and enjoyed excellent views of the Rhine in both directions.

We passed the Clemenskapelle (Church of St Clement), built in 1909 and perched very high up above the village of Lorchshausen. We saw piles of slate from the mining days and paused briefly at the Wirberley viewing area. Some farmers herded their goats further up the path at this point, so we had to climb up the retaining wall to let them pass. There were also lovely views of Pfalzgrafenstein Castle in the centre of the Rhine, far ahead at Kaub. It was a lookout and a customs toll station in times gone by.

We followed the path down to the valley of Niederhal, where we found a hippie running a wine station in the woods. I had a Riesling and Malcolm had a couple of small biers. We then had a stiff climb uphill and even when that evened out, a steady onward climb. The total ascent today was over 700m. The trekking poles are proving their worth! They save an immense amount of wear and tear on the knee and ankle joints in particular, and encourage better use of the upper body so that it too plays its part. We paused for another whisky at the Pfalzgrafenstein shelter, where we had a dance to the booming music from a passing discoschiff. At Castle Gutenfels we descended by a steep path into Kaub. It was now extremely hot: 26C or more, but becoming sultry. Luckily we found our hotel. Hotel zum Türm, at Zollstrasse 50, quite easily because a big electrical storm was brewing. By the time we had checked in and had a shower, the storm was raging with donner and blitzen right over us.

Saturday 13th June 2015: Kaub to Sankt Goar 20.2km/12.5 miles
We left the Hotel Türm and its marvellous restaurant at 9.30am in spitting rain. We took a right in the Marktplatz through the vineyards and up onto the Rhine plateau, climbing up past the Leiterburger Tower. It started raining hard as we climbed the 80 steps up to the Rheinsteig. I put on my waterproof but Malcolm did not, so eventually we sheltered in a vineyard bus stop until the rain eased off. I then had my photograph taken next to a vineyard wanderer sculpture.

We climbed up past an information board telling us the names of some of the wild flowers, including the Rapunzelglöckenblumen (Rapunzel bell flower - a very pretty, delicate campanula). We continued along the path with views of Schönberg Castle, with its distinctive red tower, on the opposite bank. From the village of Dörscheid we saw lots of other walkers on the skyline who had probably set off from Dörscheid forty minutes ahead of us. Dörscheid was very pretty and we enjoyed seeing two heavy horses with long flaxen manes in their field on the edge of the village.

We had a whisky stop in a gazebo overlooking the village of Oberwesel which has an historic fortified wall set with watch towers, and passed the Liebfrauenkirche (Church of our Lady). We walked through open meadowland to the path below, passing a bronze statue of St Christopher, patron saint of travellers. We needed him looking over us as the path was steep and rocky with wire rope handrails in places. We quickly lost lots of height, and then there was a big uphill stretch followed by another down and so on. A special highlight was a light wooded area where we saw some black woodpeckers at a range of about twenty yards. They were hopping about on the ground and flitting between the trees with much squawking; we think they were probably juveniles. There were many viewpoints where Germans on their Saturday walks were having lunch, but we continued on to the Loreley visitor centre, on top of the famous rock of the Rhine.

We had lunch on the touristy Panoramaterrace: steak and chips and a few biers. I saw an eagle circling very high above us. The downs and ups continued after lunch, past the gates to Castle Katz, which is closed to the public as it is owned by a Japanese businessman. The castle was commenced in 1360 by the counts of Katzenelnbogen, who named the castle after themselves. It was destroyed in 1806 on the order of Napoleon before being reconstructed in the 19th century. We continued down through the woods, seeing another black woodpecker in flight, before arriving through the old streets in St Goarshausen. We took the ferry to St Goar on the opposite bank, bought stocknageln in a lovely shop that gave us each a drink of peach schnapps, before hiking up through the vineyards to our hotel, Berg Rheinfels.

The hotel seems quite charming, but the receptionist took one look at us in our hiking clothes and booked us into the Rheinterrace restaurant for dinner rather than the smart one. Somehow we agreed to this (we were hot and tired) and so ended up on the terrace for a poor meal, a horrible waitress and a wine list with only two options. We should have walked out, but at least the view of the Rhine was spectacular. For everything else we will have to seek our revenge on Trip Advisor.

Sunday 14th June 2015 Sankt Goar to Kestert 12.3km/7.6 miles
After an excellent breakfast of lovely omelettes for me cooked in the restaurant by the omelette chef and smoked salmon for Malcolm, we left the Berg at about 10am and walked into St Goar to buy food supplies. We boarded the ferry to St Goarshausen at about 10.30am. It was hot but we felt fit and ready for a good walk. It is very clever how the ferryman swings the ferryboat around in the tide of the Rhine. We had excellent views of Berg Rheinfels where we stayed, including the terrace of the grumpy waitress. In the distance, on the right hand side of the Rhine, we could also see the beautiful Maus Castle, built by the Archbishop of Trier in 1356-1388 to compete with the Katz and Rheinfels castles. Originally called Deuernberg Castle, it was nicknamed Maus Castle by the counts of Katzenelnbogen as it is significantly smaller than Katz Castle. Now it is a private aviary for raptors, some of which (eagles) we saw high overhead.

We then climbed sharply out of St Goarshausen via the graveyard: an ascent of 150m over 500m! Once on the Rheinplateau, we had beautiful views stretching back to the Lorely centre and its biergarden. We saw greater spotted woodpeckers and the first sign to Burg Maus across barley fields. We saw lovely cattle and their tiny calves in an alpine meadow area. We then began our descent to Burg Maus, the switchbacks providing us with fine views from many levels. We heard young black woodpeckers but had no definitive sightings. The steep path led us down into the village of Wellmich where we found the Gasthof Germania, a family run place where we had a table in the shade between two buildings. We had lovely schnitzels with paprika chips and steins of bier served by the couple and their young son, who took and brought the drinks orders. On the salads were little mice carved out of radishes, to honour Burg Maus high above us. It was all most enjoyable and authentic.

We then climbed back up steeply to the plateau through pretty forests and again had beautiful views of the Maus Castle (my favourite castle so far). Signs told us there were snakes in the forest! We walked across farmland and continued along easy tracks, seeing lovely wildflowers including the Rapunzelglockenblumen, scabious and yarrow. We continued through a forest with old mine workings (quartzite and silver) before finding a bench with a wonderful view over the Rhine for a whisky stop.

We continued through very rocky paths in light woodland and were excited to see a fantastic insect-green lizard of approximately ten inches long including his tail. We showed its picture to the landlady of a wandernplatz in the little village of Oberkestert, who said it was very rare in the area and identified it as a Smaragdeidechse, or a Western Green Lizard (lacerta bilineata).

We passed more golden cattle including a huge but luckily quiet and friendly bull, and walked on through open farmland. We descended steeply into Kestert and walked along Kirchstrasse to find Hotel Schaadt.

Monday 15th June 2015: Kestert to Filsen 14.7km/9 miles
We left our Wanderhotel after an ok breakfast, and departed the village by heading uphill along the road. We joined a wooded track up to the plateau, where we saw a magnificent stand of foxgloves. We were soon forty minutes into the walk and very high up thanks to the steep climb. We had magnificent views to Bad Solzeid with the Castles of the Hostile Brothers (Feinliche Brüder) nearby. Supposedly two brothers occupied the castle and fought between themselves. Castle Sterrenberg dates from the 11th century and Castle Leibenstein from the 12th century. We took pictures of interesting little birds and followed the path through the village of Lykershausen, where there were punnets of cherries and jars of honey for sale. We disregarded these as we were looking forward to lunch at one of the Feinliche Brüder castles.

At approximately 11am, we reached the high point on the Rheinsteig (365m), so we stopped for a whisky. We continued down through the woods towards the castles, entering an animal enclosure where there were supposed to be Exmoor ponies and goats, but we didn't see any. At ten to one we arrived at Leibenstein Castle, only to find that it was closed on Mondays, as we were informed by two smug ladies who had brought their own sandwiches to eat in the outdoor terrace. Never mind, we headed off to the second castle. Sterrenburg, which should have been open on a Monday but this time was not, which was disappointing as we were quite hungry. We turned a corner and found our French friends happily eating sandwiches whilst sat on a big rock, presumably having had better advice from their hotel than we did from ours. Thirty minutes later we had a picnic of Snickers, 'Pick Up' choco-biscuits and whisky, high above the castle. It was our revenge to look down on it. We felt most superior having climbed 80 wooden steps to reach our vantage point. I sunbathed on a big white reclining bench and Malcolm watched for green woodpeckers.

We started again and soon had our first view of the famous town of Boppard on the other bank of the Rhine, where the river makes its great horseshoe curve, known as the 'Rhein loop'. We continued past special 'trees of the Year', where a different species has been planted each year, and through a butterfly habitat area. We reached a viewpoint where we could see the Rhine on both sides of the horseshoe. We could see the Boppard ferry below on its journey towards Filsen. We descended down the steep path the Filsen, thankful that we weren't the red-faced walkers climbing up it. We walked back along the pavement beside the Rhine for a kilometre, noticing a flight of cormorants perched in a dead tree, and joined the ferry to Boppard. We had a couple of celebratory biers in a riverside Chinese restaurant before walking into the old town to find the Hotel Ohm Patt, where the proprietor was John, who told us he originally came from Canterbury. We had a bier outside his hotel and then a good supper of very filling venison with spätzle in a nearby restaurant he recommended.

After an excellent breakfast at the Hotel Ohm Patt, we bought cheese rolls in the Marktplatz for our lunch. We took the ferry back to Filsen and were walking beside the Rhine again by 10.30am. We saw the Goethe paddle steamer pass by and heard her sound her ghostly horn as she called at Boppard on her daily journey north.

We started up the Rheinsteig, which proved a gentle climb through deciduous forests and we soon saw a green woodpecker. We had a Pick-Up biscuit at the Heiligenhausen shrine, having just had our first sighting of the Marksburg castle ahead as we passed the Hexenknöpfel (witch's head) lookout. The Marksburg is 12th century and the best preserved castle on the Rhine as it has never been destroyed. It looked magnificent in the distance. We were concerned that our path did not seem to be gaining much height ("We'll pay for this later" said Malcolm in his best gloomy Calvinist tones) but we did have occasional very beautiful views of the Rhine.

We then climbed more steeply through ancient woodland with views to the Marksburg, which became steadily more fairy-tale-like the closer we became. Lunch was at the Sauerbrunner spring, which our guide book promised was beautiful clear mineral water but turned out to be a nasty, sulphurous spring marked 'kein trinkenwasser'; a bit of a disappointment, especially as we had all but drained our water bottles in expectation. The French walkers were already there and we lent them our insect repellent; there are some insectes terribles in these woods. They are from Alsace so they speak good German, but I prefer to speak to them in French for ease of communication. I am not convinced they realise I am English as they keep replying in German.

After lunch, there was another steep climb through the woods, enlivened by spotting a few giant snails (reminding us of Gerhard the Grosse Snail and his friends, first seen by us on our walk in Bavaria last year). How easy the climb seemed; our level of fitness is now very much improved. Soon we were high on the Rhineplateau again, enjoying views towards Koblenz and the Marksburg Castle. We could also just see another castle in the distance; no doubt we will see more of it tomorrow. We walked down a wooded switchback, then had a steep ascent up the old road to the castle. There is a conveniently located biergarten at the top, filled when we arrived with American coach party tourists. I bought some beautiful Rhineland postcards in the gift shop and we enjoyed the views.

An easy walk down into Braubach followed, where we found our very pretty hotel, Hotel Garni Maas, located above a bakery and café. Supper was at the Goldener Schlussel (The Golden Key), named after a ship.

Wednesday 17th June 2015: Braubach to Koblenz: 21.6km/13.5 miles
The Hotel Garni Maas has been one of the finds of this trip: a lovely room, places to sit in the pretty garden, a super breakfast in the café and a very charming landlady who took great care of us and shook our hands on departure. I photographed her beautiful café and then we strode purposefully up the street to rejoin the Rheinsteig for our final day of walking. The initial climb was easy for us; we are very fit now. We enjoyed our further views of the fairy-tale castle Marksburg and contemplated the path ahead. Our book said Malcolm would burn 1,965 calories today and I 1,674 because it is the most strenuous day's walking of the entire Rheinsteig. It was also about 24C so perhaps we burnt a few more.

We waved goodbye to our French friends, who were at the same hotel, and completed the first climb to the Kerketser plateau with lovely views back to the Marksburg. The path turned north through stunted oak woods where Malcolm saw another red squirrel. We carried on through woodland, sometimes under very dense cover: very Brothers Grimm. We can see how the Germans have such a rich heritage of creepy fairy stories.

We resisted a bier at the lock keepers' restaurant at the crossing of the River Lahn. Thank goodness as the path indeed become its most strenuous all week for the next hour or so. We saw exhausted walkers beside the path who looked as if it was their first day walking and their rucksacks were bothering them. However, we are very fit so we powered on, and on and on: for the first time on the Rheinsteig there were no benches with views on which to eat our lunch. We walked through lovely woods, including a long, hard climb on a forest track up through the Aspich Klamm, and we saw another red squirrel, but still nowhere to stop. Finally we found a picnicplatz with childrens' swings near Pfaffendorf at about 2.30pm. We ate our cheese rolls from Café Maas and had an Asbach brandy from Rüdesheim (the whisky has run out). Finally we stomped into Pffandorf and turned right along the side of the Rhine to Ehrenbreitstein, narrowly avoiding the embarrassment of walking along the spit instead of the shoreline. We were soon ensconced in the lovely Hotel Dielh's, which has very comfortable rooms and is right on the Rheinsteig, with a great view of Koblenz across the water.

We took the passenger ferry to Koblenz (a three minute ride) and enjoyed walking along the riverside to the Deutsche Ecke (German Corner) where the Rhine and the Mosel converge: the culmination of our walk. We bought commemorative stocknageln (stick badges) along the way and took lots of photographs at the huge equestrian statue of Wilhelm I at the Ecke. The statue is actually a replacement for one the Allies destroyed at the end of WW2. The views are superb. We noticed how the Rhine is a different colour to the Mosel because it contains more snow melt. We also saw some very large fish in the Mosel. We observed the river cruise boats up close and thought the passengers looked rather bored; no one was clinking glasses on the deck the way they do in the advertisements. We celebrated the end of the walk with biers in a riverside café that had a charming waitress and then walked round by the bridge to return to the hotel for supper on the terrace. Another asparagus themed meal ensued, plus super puddings: mine was ice cream with red cherries. We saw the Goethe arrive to take up her overnight berth here. We will sleep well tonight, but we have to be back on the other bank tomorrow morning for her departure at 9am.

Thursday 18th June 2015: Koblenz to Rudesheim on the Goethe
We had a light breakfast in our excellent hotel, as the rain poured down outside, and then donned our waterproofs to walk round to the Goethe. We enjoyed the great hoot she made as we set off, having heard it at intervals all week. It was very pleasant to sit in the covered viewing area and watch the rain lashing down outside. How much better to be on a boat than walking in the rain on a day like this!

It was very interesting to relive our walk in reverse, looking at the towns we had walked through and stayed in, and remembering the routes we had taken through the vineyards, farms and woodlands as well as the castles we saw along the way. I photographed many of them from a different perspective from the Goethe, and enjoyed seeing the Loreley rock, which we couldn't appreciate from the walk as we were standing on top of it!

In the boat's restaurant we had a bottle of sparkling Fürst von Metternick to celebrate the completion of our walk. The six hour trip flew by and soon we were disembarking at Rüdesheim and walking back to our friend, the hotel Ruedesheimer Schloss.

For our last evening in Germany, we had a couple of biers in the town and then returned to the restaurant of the Ruedesheimer Schloss to eat at the same table we had eight days ago. I had white asparagus with boiled potatoes and Hollandaise sauce with a final schnitzel and Malcolm had lamb with asparagus and parmesan. We had a lovely bottle of Spätburgunder from Assmannshausen and toasted a wonderful trip. A 'stein' is a steep, rocky path in German, and the Rheinstein certainly deserves its name. The trekking poles were an immense help and I really would not want to do it without them.
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