Monday, February 16, 2015

The different pleasures of winter cycling

We do not usually take many cycle tours until the local temperatures reach 10°C, at least at midday. A quick ride into Viernheim is fine, unless there is snow or ice which we avoid since at 70 plus we do not bounce too easily. However our weather folks had been forecasting a taste of spring, possible sunshine and we had a pressing need to write a tour report for our cycle club.

On a grey Wednesday, we unearthed winter cycling togs, pumped up our bike tyres and feeling like Michelin men set off through the woods and fields. The temperature was just creeping up to a raw 3°C and soon bit through the layers and our eyes started watering. Still needs must so we continued to our first goal, some 12 km from home, Hemsbach Station where the tour description started. Hemsbach is a small town at the break of slope between the Odenwald Hills to the east and the Rhine Plain. We snaked along through the narrow streets following the Bergstrasse Cycle route northwards towards our county town, Heppenheim, which has an attractive inner core of half-timbered houses and a huge parish church above. The Bergstrasse Cycle Route bypasses these and follows a currently unpleasant road past a large shopping centre, where the cyclist is threatened by vehicles turning in or out. Despite the red marked bicycle lane we were glad to turn left towards the edge of town, only to realise that this led us past a huge new composting and biogas plant, with its necessary stream of huge trucks. It was only a few hundred metres and then we reached the quiet of a farmer’s route underneath the Autobahn and out into the winter fields of the Rhine Plain. Herons patrolled the water channels, wild ducks and geese flew over as we sped past clumps of leafless bushes and the dark ploughed soils, waiting for seeds and spring. 

In no time we reached a steep gravel path leading up to a bridge over the straightened out course of the R. Weschnitz, which eventually flows into the Rhine. We dismounted and walked over the muddy path across the narrow bridge. Here there are sluices and a flow measuring station where another drain joins the Weschnitz. We ate a sandwich, moaned about our cold hands and feet, commiserating with a couple of sheep and a few ducks, in what was a protected area where rare birds could nest safely. They were keeping a low profile that day.

From here, fortified by the sandwich we continued into Lorsch, site of an ancient monastery where the monks’ records of life, crops, land ownership and historical events are preserved in a sort of Domesday Book, the Lorsch Codex. Not much of the original monastery remains, apart from a rather fine Gatehouse but the whole area is now a Unesco World Heritage site, with a museum, a reconstructed medieval village, complete with ancient breeds of cattle and even more importantly a little jewel of a town where cafés were open and hot coffee beckoned. It seemed a long time since I had needed to warm my fingers on a large cup of coffee, but it and a substantial pastry even got the blood moving in my feet too.

Then out of Lorsch following R9 cycle trail, parallel to the railway on a gravel track towards the next small town of Bürstadt. A few zigzags through the houses and factories on the edge of town and we were out into the fields again on quiet farm roads. Earth clods and ploughed fields reminded us that the farmers had been busy in this predominantly cereal growing region. In the distance woods marking the Rhine’s course stretched across the horizon and soon we could see the familiar outline of the gatehouse tower on the Rhine bridge in Worms. The towers of the fortress-like cathedral were briefly visible as we joined the cycleway along the main road into Worms. We had seen enough, battled the unrelenting cold for long enough and turned away south to Lampertheim and Viernheim, still about 15 km away. We had cycled about 60 km when we rolled up to our house door, not bad for the first tour of the season, in chilly weather. Ten minutes inside, hot mugs of tea in hand, warm woolly socks on feet, we were already talking of our enjoyment of the day.

However, two days later we rejigged our route, riding on another cold day but with weak sun and wearing our winter caps under our helmets. We used a much pleasanter route via Hüttenfeld, where the Rothschild family had a small Schloß, now a Lithuanian School, to reach Lorsch. This route was almost all on roads, virtually traffic free across the Rhine Rift Valley. Because the R. Neckar once meandered over this whole region before flowing into the R. Main much further north there are old willows marking the meanders, now silted up. In winter, these and other large field edge trees show their fantastic skeletons of branches, fallen limbs or ancient injuries, turning the mainly monotone landscape into an artwork. The leafless hedges also revealed to us the site of yet another cloister, the Hagen nunnery which seems to have been abandoned sometime after 1400. We continued towards Lorsch taking the newly signposted Unesco Heritage Cycleway around the town to reach the museum, monastery site and town centre. We reversed our route to reach home, chilled but not frozen and with 30 km to our credit.
Lorsch Monastery Gatehouse

The trees 
It was cold!

No comments:

Post a Comment

Blog Archive