When I entered Baden-Württemberg mid September supermarkets were already selling Christmas sweets whereas I was enjoying warm and sunny hiking day. The little village of Keltern is surrounded by vineyards but unfortunately the local museum was already closed that late in the season. As I was now skirting the Black Forest I was very keen on eating a real Black Forest cake - but none of the bakeries I passed offered it. What a bummer!
Cloister at Bebenhausen
First highlight was Naturpark Schönbuch, a huge forest area with perfect wild camping spaces - until I realized that Stuttgart airport entry lane must be directly above it ... Planes were starting and landing until 11 pm and the noise resumed at 6 am. The night was quiet though except for a wild boar that was rummaging around next to my tent. Next was a cultural highlight: former monastery Bebenhausen. I was so delighted that I spent too much time sightseeing and ended up night hiking. I was now approaching Schwäbische Alb and it was difficult to find a flat hidden spot. But I was not the only one around. I probably scared a mountain biker who was running down a steep slope and had not expected anyone on the trail that late at night. Up on the plateau I followed a well known trail for a while: I had hiked the Albsteig several years before and had truly enjoyed it.
Up on the Schwäbische Alp
The climate up here is relatively harsh compared to the lower lying
agricultural areas. There are no fields but plenty of open meadows where
sheep and goats are grazing. I was now hiking the HW 5 but during the few kilometers that this coincides with the Albsteig I came across two highlights: Nebelhöhle, a huge flowstone cave where the temperature is only 10 degrees year round and the fairy tale castle Lichtenstein which was built after a novel written by Wilhelm Hauff. The views from the plateau were wonderful and I was sad to leave the Albsteig so soon.
But the HW 5 had other highlights for me: In the small town of Indelhausen snails were cultivated until the 1950s - a small snail garden and a monument reminded of that unexpected fact. The trail then followed the little river Lauter (the second river Lauter of this trip!) and the views down into the Lauter valley were incredible despite the slightly bad weather. I was now crossing the river Danube at Obermarchthal. Because of the bad weather there was no traffic on the Danube bike path which a hiked for a short distance before arriving at huge monastery where I had booked a bed for the night. There are no more nuns there and the big complex is now used as a conference centre. I had a big room inside the old convent and arrived just in time to have a glimpse inside the Baroque church - and to join the daily AYCE-buffet. I was the only hiker amidst a dozens of software developpers. This was one of the nicest (and cheapest) accommodations of the whole trip. Had known this beforehand I would have spent a rest day here.
Sunrise at Wurznacher Rieß
But I had to press on despite the rain because I had to leave the trail at Biberach an der Riß and attend a festival in Switzerland. I resumed my hike one week later in the same town. Next I hiked through Wurnacher Rieß, a huge swamp, which was crossed by an old railway line because peat had been collected here in former times. This was unfortunately when the weather turned really bad. Luckily I had brought an umbrella for htis stretch which came in very handy!
I have experienced a lot of detours during my hiking career but the next
one had an unusual reason: Explosives Ordnance Disposal! The trail was closed off with warning signs but no detour was signposted. Because it was a Sunday I decided to ignore the signs and hike on. This decision was soon confirmed by a mountain biker who was cycling towards me. There was indeed a big excavation area in the forest but as was to be expected no one was working there. It was difficult to find a hidden campspot that night but luckily refrained from camping close to the forest road.
Alpsee at Immenstadt
Because at 4.30 am a truck came thundering along and loaded trees. I suspect this might have been wood thieves ... At least this way I woke up early and arrived at a huge observation tower (where I could have slept in ...) right at sunrise and had a first glimpse of the Alps. The weather continued to be horrible. When I arrived at Immenstadt the view across the Alpsee was basically zero due to fog and rain. I rented a room and deliberated what to do. I was now joining the Maximiliansweg which would take me up high into the moutains but the forecast for the entire week was cold and rain ... And therefore after sleeping one night over the idea I decided to call it quits for this year and took the train back home.
I was now on the Saar-Rhein-Weg, another completely unknown German hiking trail. Although the area and the route was quite nice, I was unfortunately passing through on a week-end - and parallel to the trail was a little stream and a narrow winding road where dozens of loud motorbikes were cruising along ... When I approached a village I heard hunting horns and stumbled upon a village fair. The local horn group was playing, I rewarded myself with Blackforest cake and even chatted with some other tourists who admitted of having heard from me on TV ...
But this was going to be a long day ... When I came closer to my planned camping area I passed this lovely village pond. It was already so late that no other swimmers were around. Despite the road right next to the beach I stripped down and skinny dipped. Some locals watched me from afar but I was just happy to be clean again which cannot be said about the beach which was full of goose shit ... The closer I came to my camping forest the louder I heard music in the distance. I already started panicking because it would be hard to fall asleep with an open air concert nearby. But the music source turned out to be tractor and a trailer full of kids who were celebrating God knows what. And they were moving - slowly but steadily away from me and the nice flat spot in the forest where I finally settled down.
The Pfälzer Wald was a nice area but alas without any cell phone reception at all. I decided to make a short detour into France again and went shopping in Wissembourg. Next I had to overcome a big obstacle: the river Rhine which was problematic, because there are not too many bridges crossing it. I followed the Rhine bike trail to the Rhine ferry where I was passed by hundreds of cyclists who shot me pitiful looks. I hiked more than 40 km that day because walking on flat bike paths was dead easy and the ferry ride did take less than 10 minutes! I could already see the Black forest looming on the horizon once I had crossed the river!