The Rhine Cycle Route: Mainz to Cologne

In 1979, with my best friend Colin, I cycled from Hook of Holland across the Netherlands and into Germany.  We carried on pedalling to the Rhine near Koblenz and continued south along the river, past Mainz to Worms; where we camped for one night before heading for home via Luxembourg, Brussels and the port of Zeebrugge.   In two weeks, making up the route as we went along, we rode 700 miles and camped in fields or woods when we couldn’t find a camp-site.  We were 16.

Viscount Sebring

Me and my Viscount Sebring bike (with bespoke sock-drying facility).  Nijmegan, 1979

I’m now amazed that our parents gave us permission but it didn’t seem particularly odd at the time; and the following year we set off again for three weeks: cycling through the Black Forest, Switzerland, Austria and Lichtenstein; and over the Alps to Genoa.  Today, the idea of allowing my 16-year-old boy to bicycle for hundreds of miles on busy roads, for weeks at a time, unsupervised and non-contactable, is laughable.  But as L.P. Hartley almost said – “The 1970’s is a foreign country: they do things differently there”.  We two schoolboys had an incredibly exciting, fun and formative time; and nothing too bad or scary happened (though an encounter with a group of very drunk, lederhosen-clad, Austrian yodellers came close).  Those two teenage cycling trips are up there with the very best holidays of my life.

Mainz

Mainz Cathedral

But when I arranged a recent Rhine Valley cycling reboot with Jim, I ditched the first-cycle-to-Germany plan and caught the train from London to Mainz instead.

Cycling along the Rhine (14)

The Bingen to Koblenz stretch of the Rhine Cycle Route

At our Mainz hotel, we collected our hire bikes and for the following five days rolled slowly downriver through a Grimm landscape; enduring bright sun, huge breakfasts, beer, picnics and currywurst for the 135 miles to Rüdesheim, Koblenz and finally Cologne.

Cycling along the Rhine (15)

The sun always shines in Germany – or rather – the sun always shines on our cycling holidays in Germany.

Der Klunkhardshof

Der Klunkhardshof, Rüdesheim (Spoken German: Exercise 1)

We smothered on the sunblock and rubber-necked past fairytale architecture;

Cycling along the Rhine (6)

Bacharach

quaint mediaeval towns;

Cycling along the Rhine (10)

and castles.

Cycling along the Rhine (9)

And castles.

Cycling along the Rhine (8)

And a castle.

Cyclig along the Rhine (2)

And another castle.

Cycling along the Rhine (12)

Another bloody castle.

Cycling along the Rhine (13)

A close-up of a castle.

Cycling along the Rhine (7)

Until I grew bored at photographing castles and stopped.

Cyclig along the Rhine (1)

I liked old shop-signs advertising long-gone businesses: here the services of an adept, if elderly, boot thief.

Cycling along the Rhine (5)

And here, erm … actually, I have no idea what business this unfortunate fishing incident is selling.  Fishing tackle?  Fish?  Specially trained attack deer?

Cyclig along the Rhine (6)

I liked modern, sleek things too;

Cyclig along the Rhine (7)

and even industrial complexes that reminded me of 1960’s postcards promising us all a brighter, shinier future.

River Rhine

This section of the Rhine Cycle Route, squeezed tight against the river by the Rhine Highlands and sharing the valley bottom with railways and dual-carriageways, is less peaceful and rural than our last cycling holiday (see ‘And Quiet Flows The Spree’).

Stork nest (2)

Unsurprisingly, there wasn’t as much wildlife either but we did see pylon-nesting storks

Stork nest (1)

and their more conventional brethren.

Cormorant

Cormorants were common too

Baby house martins

and curious house martin chicks.  One morning I squealed to an impressive, rubber-smoking halt when a red squirrel ran past my front wheel and scurried up a tree.

Red grey squirrel (1)

Only, it wasn’t a red squirrel.  Well, it was but it was a grey squirrel … yet red.

Red grey squirrel (2)

Have you ever seen one of these?  A red grey squirrel?  I hadn’t and didn’t even know they existed.  Perhaps it’s a new species and I shall be famous the world over … or more likely it’s a colour variant of the common or garden grey.

Boppard chairlift (2)

In the pretty town of Boppard, I nodded hesitantly at Jim’s suggestion, swallowed hard, breathed deep and climbed anxiously aboard a very-flimsy-indeed-looking chairlift.  (As I’ve mentioned before, I’m rubbish with heights).

Boppard chairlift (3)

Good grief but it was high … and my eyes flicked to automatic closing mode; my vocab to automatic squeaking.

Boppard chairlift

The views were worth the anguish (when I did open my eyes but certainly not looking down between my feet) – and Jim forgave the squeak and whimper soundtrack.

Das GedeonsEck, hoch über der Rheinschleife

Das GedeonsEck, hoch über der Rheinschleife (Spoken German: Exercise 2)

At the end of the ride, the stupendous sight from the restaurant GedeonsEck, calmed my nerves

Cyclig along the Rhine (13)

as did a small restorative;

Boppard chairlift (1)

before – “Eeek!” – the return journey.

Cyclig along the Rhine (11)

In early July, wild-flowers were at their peak.

Cyclig along the Rhine (15)

Mile after mile of stunning flowers;

Cycling along the Rhine (16)

on verges and scraps of wasteland.

Gasthof zum Landsknecht, St Goar

Gasthof zum Landsknecht, St Goar (Spoken German: Exercise 3)

No camping in woods this time nor struggling with heavy, overladen bikes.  Our tour company* pre-booked the accommodation, provided our bicycles and, after Frühstuck, ferried our luggage from one hotel to the next;

Cyclig along the Rhine (8)

leaving us to pedal a leisurely 25 miles or so a day.

Cyclig along the Rhine (4)

Hashtag Action Shot

It was hardly a blistering pace but we made it less so.  On day 4, Jim realized that he hadn’t overtaken a single non-stationary cyclist.  He reddened when I pointed out that even senior pensioners on ancient bone-rattlers (and toddlers on trikes) had whizzed past us for days.  Maybe we could increase our speed just a little bit?  We did and even reached shirt-tail-flapping speeds.

Cyclig along the Rhine (3)

But not for long.  There was always the perfect excuse to slow down and stop again.

Remagen bridge (2)

Stone towers of the Remagen bridge today

At Remagen, the Ludendorff Bridge is no more.  This was the only Rhine bridge captured intact by the Allies in 1945 – after Hitler ordered them all destroyed to hamper the Allied advance.  Despite several attempts by the Germans, and to the delight of the US 9th Armored Division, the bridge survived.  After a fierce battle, the Americans took it, threw five divisions across the river and surged on to Germany’s industrial heartland, the Ruhr.

Remagen bridge (1)

Ludendorff Bridge, 1945 (Photo of an image at the ‘Peace Museum, Bridge at Remagen’)

Two weeks later the badly damaged structure finally, suddenly collapsed – killing 28 US soldiers – but by then its capture had already helped shorten the war.  (Interesting aside, huh)?

Cologne Cathedral

Cologne Cathedral – the tallest building in the world (for four years in the 1880’s)

Five days after leaving Mainz, we arrived in Cologne and the end of our tour.  I’d booked an apartment for a further three nights and we were looking forward to the galleries, museums, the botanical gardens and cake of this vibrant city.  But surrendering our bikes on arrival was hard: we’d developed a fierce affection for them and would miss the open road, World Heritage Sites, the vineyards and occasional flapping of shirt-tails.  Hell, I’d even miss the castles.

Cycling along the Rhine (11)

If the idea of a cycling holiday appeals, I’d urge you to go.  The pace is generally easy; you can stop wherever and whenever you like (without having to find a parking space); and you’ll enjoy an intimacy with the countryside and wildlife that’s impossible from the inside of a car, bus or train.  I’m already planning our next trip.  You might want to do the same.

*Over the years, I’ve booked three cycling holidays through Mecklenburger RadtourThey offer a wide choice of tours in various countries, at different fitness levels and, as you might expect from a German company, they’re reassuringly efficient.  They book all the accommodation; arrange luggage transfer; provide the bike, route guide, information pack, simple repair kit and breakdown back-up support – though we’ve never needed the latter two.

(I haven’t been asked to plug Mecklenburger Radtour.  I just wanted to give credit to a company that does its job really well).

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Win A Copy Of The ‘RHS Companion to Wildlife Gardening’

The new, updated edition of the ‘RHS Companion to Wildlife Gardening’ is released on 1st Septemberand I have one copy up for grabs.  

RHS Companion Wildlife

Here’s a little about Chris Baines’ book from the publisher, Frances Lincoln:

Wildlife has become a mainstream issue for gardeners and the public since this best-selling book was first published as ‘How to Make a Wildlife Garden’ and launched at the 1985 Chelsea Flower Show.  Fully revised and updated by the author, this beautiful new edition is freshly illustrated and it highlights the changes in garden wildlife over the past 30 years.  It incorporates RHS research, updates best practice and addresses a multitude of controversial conservation issues. The book is packed full of practical advice – which plants to choose for bees, birds and butterflies, how to construct the ideal wildlife pond, where to position nesting boxes; how to enjoy wildlife in any size of outdoor space. Good gardening is at the heart of this book, but it is also a celebration of the rich variety of wild plants and animals that can bring a beautiful garden to life. Gardeners have come to play an increasingly important role in nature conservation. The gardens of any town or village combine to create a rich and diverse network of wildlife habitats. The lawns and hedges, flower borders, shrubberies, vegetable patches and fruit trees are all important, and the author shows how wildlife gardening can make a stylish and enjoyable contribution to the environment. New gardeners will be inspired by this authoritative book and it will also delight the very many owners of the best-selling original.

Chris Baines is the UK’s foremost wildlife gardening expert. He has had a multifaceted career as a landscape architect, advisor to industry and government, teacher, writer and broadcaster, but the common theme that runs through all his work is concern for wildlife. He is National Vice President of the Royal Society of Wildlife Trusts, winner of the RSPB conservation medal and a passionate campaigner for easy access to nature.

The Royal Horticultural Society is the UK’s leading gardening charity dedicated to advancing horticulture and promoting good gardening. Its RHS gardens are an inspiration to many and its charitable work provides expert advice and information, trains the next generation of gardeners, creates hands-on opportunities for children to grow plants, and conducts research into issues that affect gardeners.

Personally, I find attracting all sorts of wildlife into the garden a huge bonus; and very satisfying too.  Apart from slugs, that is.  And rabbits.  And lily beetles.  And sawfly.  And whitefly.  And deer.  And moles.  And … (We get the idea – Ed).  If enticing more creatures and wild-flowers into your garden is important to you too, this book will be a great addition to your gardening library.  For your chance to win a copy of the ‘The Companion to Wildlife Gardening’ simply:

say you want to enter in the “Any Thoughts?” box below

and

(if you don’t do so already) follow ‘The Anxious Gardener’ blog; and/or follow me on Twitter; and/or like The Anxious Gardener Facebook page.  The relevant follow buttons are in the sidebar.

You can also enter via Twitter or Facebook – check my twitter feed and Facebook page for details.

Please note that the prize can only be posted to a UK postal address.

The competition will close at midnight on Sunday 28th August 2016.

Priory Gardening Uniform

I’ll draw the winner from my very-smart-yet-practical-gardening-uniform hat and add the result to the bottom of this post.

Good luck!

oooOOOooo

To order the ‘RHS Companion to Wildlife Gardening’ at the discounted price of £20 including p&p* (RRP: £25), telephone 01903 828503 or email mailorders@lbsltd.co.uk and quote the offer code QPG445.

*UK only – please add £2.50 if ordering from overseas.

oooOOOooo

The competition is now closed.  Thanks to everyone for taking part and the winner is Pauline – entered via the blog.  Congratulations.

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