Wednesday, 28 September 2011

One Sweet Road: the Sauerlandradring

August 28/29, 2011

One of the founding Lost Boys and the only participant except for me to have ridden all six of our group’s European Tours (Black Forest, Vosges, French Alps, Dolomites, Pyrenees/Languedoc and the Austrian Alps), my friend Dr. Chef realized that following a speech he was to give in Croatia, he would then be able to pop into Düsseldorf and visit me for a few days of Nordrhein-Westfalen cycling. I had brought his titanium Ritchey BreakAway with me when I drove back after this year’s Lost Boys Tour in Mayrhofen so he had something suitable to ride (although I needed to loan him the rear wheel of my Tarmac as he had broken a spoke in Austria and Shimano tubeless rims need special spokes).

The weather looked passable for the weekend. Dr. Chef arrived in the afternoon of Saturday, August 27, so I took Monday off so that we would have two riding days. I arranged a rental car and was delighted when I had a very good on-line price and even happier when Sixt, whose office is within walking distance of my apartment, offered me an automatic Golf Plus when I signed in. Automatics are unheard-of in German rental cars that are not in the luxury class. The Golf Plus is a taller version of the popular regular VW Golf, almost mini-minivan-like in proportions, resembling a guppy. But the extra height meant extra space for bicycles.

After going to the airport, Saturday was spent visiting the Altstadt in Düsseldorf, introducing Dr. Chef to Uerige Alt-Bier (of which he approved) and attending a variety show at the Apollo with my friend Uwe from Münsterland. As a warm-up ride on Sunday, we participated in an RTF (Radtourenfahrt) put on by a club in Essen. I brought my steel Marinoni touring bike as the Tarmac was now hors de combat and after we registered and were making our way out to the road the bike, which is probably the only Marinoni in Germany, drew a lot of attention. An older gentleman was particularly excited about it and then I noticed he had a Rickert shirt and was riding a nice blue Rickert so of course I had to talk to him about this. His name was Hartmut and he told me that he was going to ride in Düsseldorf at the Klassikerausfahrt ride the next week. I said I would be on the lookout for him. He is a serious collector of Rickerts, owning a dozen, between complete bikes and frames. I told him mine was a really nice purple colour and he really lit up, saying he had never seen on in this colour before. He also pointed out that I did not need to worry as we ride different frame sizes!

We took the shortish route of 77 kms as we had plans for the evening. The ride was very well-marked, with only one turn that was confusing to everyone, and, as usual with RTFs, took us through some of the most scenic areas around. Of course, I did not realize that the course would take us south and west back towards Düsseldorf and my apartment! I had ridden some of the sections before but enjoyed them nonetheless. The route generally took us along quiet backroads although at times there was some traffic, a problem that you cannot get around in this, the most densely-populated part of Germany. That evening we took the Golf Guppy to Brühl, between Cologne and Bonn, and attended a lovely classical concert in an old church near the impressive Baroque castle that is one of the finest buildings in NRW.

Getting up early the next morning, we headed south and east to a part of NRW that I had been hoping to ride in since I arrived here last year: the Sauerland. This region is sparsely-settled and has hills and woods throughout. It is a region that has some tourism and is noted for winter sports, actually offering some downhill skiing but we were after something else this cool August day: the Sauerlandradring.

We scooted down various Autobahns but eventually the road became quite narrow and rural, with a speed limit of 70 kms for a good distance. We drove around a big reservoir and after just over two hours of travelling reached the parking lot at the Finnentrop train station. The bikes were quickly assembled and we immediately got confused by the GPS route until I remembered that we would ride the Sauerlandradring in reverse.

The Sauerlandradring is an 84 km route that takes in a number of small towns as it travels through four communes (Finnentrop, Eslohe, Schmallenberg and Lennestadt). The first part of the route we travelled was similar to other marked bicycle routes in Germany, following secondary roads, bike paths and, occasionally, main roads or forest tracks. The GPS arrow pointed us nicely along the route and we soon were riding along the banks of the Lenne River, which had been canalized in some places, and then along the main road in Grevenbrück, where there was bit of a nasty climb on a dirt track, before we were able to cruise onwards past Lennestadt and then to the extremely charming village of Saalhausen, where we stopped for some photos but were disappointed that, this being Monday, pretty much everything was closed.

The village has 2,000 residents and is dominated by a church built around 1900, although the records indicating settlement of Saalhausen go back to the 13th Century. It has a Kurpark and some cute little hotels and cafés but finding no place for coffee we pressed on. Although we had not ridden so far, it was not warm (around 14C max) and looked like rain.

The next stretch of road was quite busy but still safe and we made good time as we passed the Cutlery Museum in Fleckenburg. Now we went up a long hill that brought us into Schmallenberg, around 35 kms into our ride. Time for a break and we cruised down the main road into the Altstadt. Although there were plenty of people around shopping, it did not look quite so promising but my eagle eye suddenly spied a Konditorei, which even better than a mere Bäckerei! We put our bikes against the front wall and entered Cake Heaven, otherwise known as the Bäckerei Café Pension Paul Dommes, established in 1914. The front of the place had showcases with wonderful cakes and breads and we made our choice and took a seat in the apricot-coloured café at the side. The cake was delicious and was surprisingly inexpensive. Dr. Chef insisted that rather than our usual coffee we try some hot chocolate as he had seen some delivered to another table and it was also excellent.

The Café Paul Dommes also offers eight guestrooms at extremely reasonable prices so I am already planning to go back, although the railway only goes to Finnentrop. Actually, the railway is the reason we were riding the Sauerlandradring because the next stretch, between Schmallenberg and Finnentrop, is almost exclusively a rails-to-trails route featuring 44 kms of perfectly-paved bikeway, cruising through the scenic hills. Passenger service had ended on the route in 1995, although there was some slight freight traffic for the next five years, but the far-sighted Burgers of Finnetrop was an opportunity and beginning in 2004 the first stretch of right-of-way was converted to bikepath. By May 2007 the route was complete, and a further extension will be completed later this year, linking the Sauerlandradring with the Ruhrtalradweg.

Dr. Chef and I enjoyed this section of the ride immensely as we quickly got up to racing speeds. We had the path to ourselves for the most part and there were still traces of the railway in the form of signals and old wagons to look out. There had been some stormy weather the day before and we had to stop at one point to climb over a fallen tree.

From Bad Fredeburg the roue dropped down to Eslohe (57 kms) and then began to climb again. It was here that we ran into some light rain but it soon let up as we approached the marvellous Kückenheim Tunnel (also called “the Fledermaustunnel’). This is nearly 700 m long and beautifully paved and lit, a pleasure to ride through if not as scary as the Paw Paw Tunnel on the C&O Canal that Dr. Chef and I had ridden through in 2007.

It was with a bit of disappointment that we rolled back in Finnentrop since we wanted the second half of the ride to just keep going on. Dr. Chef was feeling pecking, so we grabbed some baked goods and cold drinks at the Penny Markt before putting everything back into the Golf Guppy and heading for Düsseldorf, not meeting any of the feared traffic jams near Cologne. To celebrate we returned to the Altstadt and Dr. Chef, who had been promised some Lebanese food, proceeded to order everything they had on offer it seemed. Then we dragged our bloated selves over to the famous Pia ice cream parlour where I ordered an Eiskaffee while Dr. Chef had some kind of massive chocolate parfait thing that even he could not get through.

My first experience of the Sauerland did not disappoint. In addition to the Radring, there are many other marked bike routes that the local tourism office has put together, including GPS coordinates. Although the weather was not ideal, this is some of the best of what Germany has to offer the adventurous cyclist and I look forward to returning.

Thursday, 15 September 2011

My Latest Book Review on

Well, this might be my latest at Pez but it is actually a revision of a previous review I posted here on the Tin Donkey. You can read the Pez version here.

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Meandering through Münsterland: Trip No. 2

Not satisfied with accumulating seven castles in a single day and not having seen Schloss Nordkirchen, I was determined to get back to Münsterland soon and a week after my first trip at the beginning of August I was able to do so, accompanied by my colleague and friend Henri. I had browbeaten him into buying an excellent Storck bicycle and I needed to make sure that the cycling infection had truly taken hold in him. The local newspaper had run a series on cycling in Nordrhein-Westfalen and an excursion into Münsterland was featured, albeit a bit shorter than what I planned for us.

Taking the newspaper route as a start, I mapped out a ride from Haltern am See, a one-time Roman Army frontier base, eastwards back through Lüdinghausen with its two castles and then on to Nordkirchen before looping back to Haltern. After plotting the ride, I entered it onto my recently-acquired Garmin Edge 605 GPS unit and it seemed to be correct. The route was quite complicated as I had aimed to avoid busy roads as much as possible. Thanks to my clumsy mapping abilities, I noticed that one stretch I had marked overshot the turn we needed to make, so we would have to backtrack on the road, which seemed easier than redrawing the map.

Leaving the Düsseldorf train station just after 8 am, our Regio train brought us swiftly to Haltern in an hour. A number of other cyclists had also embarked and I was surprised that this train taking us into the popular-for-cyclists Münsterland region had only a single bicycle compartment in one of the six or seven doubledecker cars. When I lived in Berlin a decade ago, the trains always had two compartments (in the first and last cars), which are equipped with folding seats which can be used when there are no bikes around. Needless to say, if a lot of cyclists show up, not everyone is going to get a spot and extracting a bike at intermediate stops would also be a challenge.

Arriving at the Haltern station, a brief stop revealed Germany’s most disgusting public washroom and then we were off. The GPS route seemed to work as we quickly left the small city and soon were riding along the shore of a reservoir, the Haltern Stausee. The route soon switched from asphalt to hard-packed dirt. There were a lot of friendly joggers and dog-walkers out on this fine Saturday morning. We rode over a small bridge and passed along another reservoir, then circling south and passing through Kökelsum after failing to find the windmill mentioned in the newspaper article.

Our route took us on very small farm roads and occasional dirt paths. At this point 21 kms into our ride we reached the highest point in the trip, climbing to a dizzying height of 88 m ASL. Down to the crossroads of Tetekum, and soon we were rolling north to Lüdinghausen, where I had been only the week before.

I showed Henri my two previously-visited water castles, Burg Lüdinghausen and Burg Vischering. Unlike my first trip, Vischering today had lots of visitors wandering around. The restaurant and museum were open and well-patronized by the silver-haired generation. Even the bicycle parking area had lots of usage, filled with the very heavy and very equipped (lights, fenders, suspension) trekking bikes so loved by older Germans.

After our walk around Burg Vischering we let Mr. Garmin take us out of Lüdinghausen and we reached our goal for the day, Nordkirchen, much more quickly than I had expected since it was only about 8 kms from our last stop.

Reaching the gates of Schloss Nordkirchen, we were already impressed by the entry and gardens of this so-called “Versailles of Nordrhein-Westfalen.” The castle, constructed in the baroque style between 1703 and 1734 in stages by the Prince-Bishop Friedrich Christian von Plettenburg-Lenhausen and his nephew. In 1833 it came in to the possession of the Counts of Esterahazy, the famous Hungarian family (and one-time employer of composer Franz Joseph Haydn). In 1959 the state of Nordrhein-Westfalen purchased the property and has since purchased the surrounding woodlands. The building has been used since 1951 as a university-level school for finance and banking and parts of it can be visited. The chapel is used for weddings, and one of these was taking place as we cycled by.

Riding past the extensive stables, we were soon on small country roads again. At this point we were thinking lunch might be a good idea but in the next village, Selm, we could not find anything of interest so we kept on riding. Olfen looked more promising and although the bakery on the main square was closing (things shut down by 2 pm in rural Germany on a Saturday), we were attracted by the fine fragrances wafting from a nearby pizzeria and enjoyed a well-earned lunch.

The GPS took us through little roads and we passed numerous older cyclists on their trekking bikes, enjoying the summer weather. The roads were well-paved and we made good time, returning to Haltern am See in time to ride along the marked “Fahrradstrasse” to the centre of town and an ice cream parfait before the train back to Düsseldorf. A fine day with three castles, 78 kms and, ahem, 300 m of climbing.

Monday, 5 September 2011

Meandering through Münsterland: Trip No. 1

The View from the Basso's Handlebars: Quiet Backroads of Münsterland

It was with some surprise that I realized that I did not have to work on August 1, which is a holiday in Canada (cleverly named Civic Holiday) but not in Germany. Now that I suddenly had a long weekend, I decided to try and do some more bike touring, although the weather was not so promising. Looking through my maps and brochures, I thought a nice easy weekend would be to ride in Münsterland, which is the northwest corner of Nordrhein-Westfalen (NRW) and borders the Netherlands. I have friends in Laer, near the main city of Münster, and they were gracious enough to accept my self-invitation to stay with them for three nights. An emergency lunchtime trip to the Stern-Verlag bookstore and I scored my detailed cycling map of Münsterland.

So it was on Friday evening, July 29, I rode to the main train station after work with my big backpack and got onto the IC (InterCity) train, which has a bike compartment. I always reserve on train trips as this part of Germany is densely-populated and train travel is popular but this evening the train was pretty empty. My Weapon of Choice for this weekend was the Beautiful Blue Basso (BBB), which has 28 mm tires and extra cyclocross brake levers, as I expected to ride some dirt paths and cobbles on the weekend. It also has SPD pedals which allow me to walk around any of the villages or castles I came into.

After getting off the train in Münster, whose train station is in permanent construction mode, my friends collected me and we quickly got to their village. Laer is about 14 kms west of Münster. I unpacked my cycling gear and then we had a pleasant evening, entertained by the antics of Franziska, Carmen and Uwe’s 18 month old daughter.

On Saturday morning I looked at the map and figured out a course that would allow me to see some of the castles on Münsterland’s much-loved “!00 Castles Bikeroute.” Leaving Laer, I immediately headed in the wrong direction but soon found the quiet sideroad I had seen on the map. This straight road took me past small farms to the crossroads of Beerlage. I then turned west, passing the pretty stone church in Aulendorf, before making my way to Billerbeck, a larger town, where it began to rain very lightly.

Not much happening in Billerbeck on a Saturday morning, so I headed eastwards, following a sign indicating a bike route. It took me behind the little train station and then onto a dirt path between farm fields. The path was dry so I made quite rapid progress until coming back to a paved road.

Going south now, I climbed the edge of what is probably the only “mountain” in Münsterland, the Baumberg, passing the transmission tower of the WDR radio network. The Baumberg is the highest point in the region and I had an actual climb up to the Longinus Turm, whose base stands at a towering 187 m ASL. The tower, which was built between 1897 and 1901, is 32 m in height.

The tower is named after zoologist Friedrich Westhoff, who was a founder and first President of the Baumberg-Verein, a hiking/nature club. He was also the author of a two-volume book, “The Beetles of Westphalia.” He was very tall and wrote under the pen name “Doktor Longinus.” He was born in Münster in 1857 and died of blood poisoning there in 1896 at the early age of 41.
The Longinus Tower served as a radar installation during World War II until damaged by an American artillery shell. In 1952 it was the site of the first television transmission in West Germany. The tower not having an electricity supply, the equipment was powered by a car battery.

Various unsightly additions were made to the tower over time and in 2005-2007 it was restored to its original configuration. There is a plaque commemorating Herr Westhoff and another for television pioneer Reinhold Holtstiege. There is also the Café Longinus at the base of the tower, which proclaims itself to be the highest café in Münsterland.

There was a bit more climbing and then a rapid left turn whooshed me down into Havixbeck, where, peering through the gate and over the fence, I found my first castle, Haus Havixbeck. The building dates from 1562 and survives today much as it was when built. It is typical of the “water castles” which are basically moated manor houses to be found in Münsterland. The moat was filled in in 1850. The Twickel family has owned the house since 1601 and they were not around to let me in. The house is on a very sizeable piece of land on the edge of Havixbeck and like much of the region seems to be given over to raising horses.

It was time for a break so I rode into Havixbeck proper. It has a little pedestrian mall where people were going about their Saturday shopping and I found a nice bakery where I enjoyed a coffee and some pastry. There is not much else to see in Havixbeck (although it turns out that I missed seeing Haus Stapel, another water castle) but it was quite pleasant to enjoy the small-town atmosphere.

Signore Basso and I headed north out of town and along some excellent sideroads and paved bikepaths. The route took us past a charming traditional brewery with an outdoor garden and then I turned east towards Altenberge. The road brought me past the “Schlepper und Geräte Museum,” which was celebrating itself with an apparent festival of old tractors. I stopped to watch for a few minutes and saw some wonderful old machines, including tractors from Lantz, a marque known to me from the Milton Steam Age in Ontario, to Wesselers, which were built in nearby Altenberge.

Klute's traditional brewery

Altenberge itself was pretty disappointing. Towns in Münsterland are inconsistent, with some being completely charming and others, like Altenberge, being the sort of place where there is no reason whatever to linger. I soon found myself back in Laer and at the end of the day’s 57 km ride. It had not involved very much exertion as I climbed a total of 319 m for the day. I had been a bit disappointed in only finding one castle to gawk at but with two more days of riding I knew I would make up that deficit.

Uwe and Carmen (and Franziska) wanted to show me some more of the area, so we drove the short distance to one of Münster’s most charming towns, Steinfurt. This is an impressive place and the Schloss, whose moat was fully intact, was quite wonderful. There was a big park behind the Schloss which took our attention for a while but the town itself is marvellous. The Rathaus looks like one of the structures in the Münster Altstadt, dating to 1561. There are many interesting buildings from the 17th Century and a very good ice cream parlour where Uwe “forced” me to try some bitter chocolate ice cream, which is almost black in colour. Excellent!

The weather looked a bit better on Sunday morning, but was still cool and grey. Carmen, who rode a racing bicycle and did the Jeantex Transalp event a few years ago but sold her bike before she had Franziska, mentioned to me that a neighbour, Andreas, was part of a group of local riders who did a circuit every Saturday and Sunday and that I would be welcome to join them. I took the opportunity and was warmly welcomed. Andreas was joined by a few others and then we rode over to the next village, Holthausen, where we met the majority of the pack.

There were about a dozen of us MAMILs (Middle-Aged Men in Lycra), with a few younger riders mixed in. Everyone was riding fancy carbon bikes except for me but I thought BBB, although 24 years old and of comparatively heavy steel, would be able to keep up well enough on the flattish roads of the region. Of course, I had been warned that our pace would be 25-30 km/h over the 60 or so kms of riding but leaving Holtzhausen the group turned up the speed pretty quickly. The Germans are not very good at riding pacelines (except when I was in Mallorca and Sicily) as they do not like to come off the front. This was fine with me and for a good part of the morning I felt like one of the protected riders of the Tour de France.

Of course, the route had to include some climbing and we powered our way up the Baumberg, a hill that I was to cross several times during my Münsterland visit. There were some other shorter, but steeper, hills as well and I felt a bit out of breath on one of them. The gearing of BBB is not ideal for climbing but it was a good workout for me.

The route chosen by the leaders was quite nice and we even passed a big convent. We rode through Havixbeck and then a bit further south than I had gone on my first ride before turning west and passing Nottuln before getting to Billerbeck and then coming through Aulendorf before returning to Holtzhausen and Laer. It had been exhilerating at an average speed of just under 30 km/h for 60 kms but not much for sightseeing as we did not stop on the road, so no photography and no coffee. And no castles, alas.

To remedy this, I refilled my water bottle, had a sandwich and then left Laer again, heading out of town on Darfelder Strasse south towards, surprise, Darfeld. I passed on out-of-commission ancient windmill and continued down the fairly busy road until I saw another mysterious bike route sign. I followed this, which took me by sideroads and a few dirt paths into Oberdarfeld and then Darfeld proper. The town is quite small but it still took a few wrong turns until I found a sign for Schloss Darfeld.

This water castle, which does not appear with a photograph in my little guidebook to castles in Münsterland where it does not fall into the category “absolutely must-see” or even “must-see,” is quite spectacular. It was built from 1612-1616 and currently has two wings. It originally was supposed to be a baroque structure with eight wings (!) but the owner and the architect had a falling-out. This was probably about money as the castle then went through a number of owners before winding up in the hands of the powerful Droste zu Vischering family (of whom I will write more) in 1680.

The castle was badly damaged by fire in 1899 and rebuilt partly in the original style but partly in a neo-Renaissance style, giving it a rather Italian look. It is privately owned by a Dr. Hamann and can only be looked at from the outside, which I did of course.

After admiring the ducks and taking photos of the old mill near the castle, it was back on the bike and heading east, turning south towards Havixbeck again. Another castle near Havixbeck had been recommended to me and I took the fastest route out to it. It was not actually in Havixbeck but considerably to the east, and I had to ride along the wide paved bike path along the main road for what seemed like a good 10 kms before I saw the entrance to Burg Hülshoff.

This wonderful house, sitting surrounded by a huge moat, is in beautiful condition. The location became the seat of another noble family, Droste zu Hülsoff (not to be confused with the unrelated Droste zu Vichering gang!), in 1417, although the first part of this house stems from 1540 to 1545. Over the centuries it has been remodeled numerous times, most recently in the mid-19th Century. It is particularly celebrated as the birthplace of Annette von Droste-Hülsoff (1797-1848), deemed to be one of Germany’s most significant poets and of whose works I know almost nothing. I suspect she is not much read anymore.

Unlike Schloss Darfeld, where I had been pretty much alone with the ducks, Burg Hülsoff was a happening place, with busloads of old folks being carted in. The grounds are quite lovely and there were many flowers to look at. The castle contains a restaurant and a museum devoted to Frau von Droste-Hülsoff and her work. I only lingered to take some photographs and then cycled the now-familiar route back to Laer via Havixbeck. Another 61 kms completed, giving me a nice total of over 120 kms for the day. To celebrate, I stopped at the local ice cream place for a great big blueberry ice cream parfait.

That evening I treated my friends to dinner. Uwe picked a favourite place, Hotel Steverburg near Nottuln, on top of the inescapable Baumberge. It is a beautiful building constructed in the 1920s from local sandstone and had been originally built as a youth hostel; these conversions usually go the other way around. After an excellent meal, I slept soundly that evening, dreaming of yet more castles tomorrow.

Monday, August 1: a new month and new roads to conquer. I very much wanted to see “the Versailles of Westphalia” in Nordkirchen but it looked pretty far considering that I wanted to be back in time for a late afternoon train to Düsseldorf. But my track south would take me by at least two good castles, as well as a smaller one that Uwe had showed me before we went to the restaurant the evening before.

Riding south again to the Beerlage crossroads, I turned east along the heavily-travelled road (although it was not really too bad at this time) and rode for a short distance until I came to the “Haus Runde” sign. I turned Havixbeck and over the inescapable Baumberge, I turned right and followed the small country road a short distance, past the little Haus Runde fruit packing place to Haus Runde itself. This is a very traditional Münsterland water castle that is definitely not on the tourist track as it is a bit overgrown. The moat around it is in good condition and the 17th Century gatehouse, like a downmarket version of the ones I saw at the castles in Steinfurt and Darfeld, is still standing. It is private property and I did not want to trespass but the manor house (from what I could see through the trees) seems to be in good shape and serving as the administrative centre for the surrounding farm. Haus Runde may be rented for films and the Internet has allowed me to look at the property a bit better than my personal visit. It has a pleasant garden and a 19th Century brewery building, which seems to have been converted to a home. The property was first recorded in the 15th Century and by the 17th Century had come into the possession of the Runde family. The present ensemble of buildings dates from various periods and uses different materials. It came into the hands of the current owners in the 18th Century following litigation according to one source, marriage by another. But today the whole place is quite charming and very, very quiet. Castle No. 1 for the trip!

Retracing my track to the main road, I crossed it and tried to locate the next manor house, Haus Langenhorst, which seemed quite close by on the map. I rode down a side road followed by a nicely-paved farm road that brought me to a complex of farm buildings. I looked around and did not see anything at first but then I saw, far off in the back in the corner, a small building made with the distinctive Baumberge sandstone in the lower half and topped with red brick gables. It was hard to see very clearly and have not been able to get any information about the date it was built but since I made all the effort to look at it I will count this as Castle No. 2.

I next rode back along the main road towards Havixbeck, turning east on a road my friend Uwe had suggested. It led past a veterinarian’s place devoted to horses and soon turned into a gravel road. But this only went for a short distance before becoming asphalt again. It really was an excellent road for cycling (it is marked as a recommended route on my ADFC map). A tunnel took me under the railway line and there was a little bit of very pleasant climbing before I arrived at the Bombeck crossroads and headed south towards Böckinghausen with the idea of passing around the inevitable Baumberg. This did not work, of course, although I only reached an altitude of 165 m instead of 187 m ASL, but I did have a nice fast descent into my next town, Nottuln.

I had been told that there was a baroque ensemble of buildings in Nottuln. I rode over to the imposing church, St. Martin’s, which had built after a big fire in 1749 and looked around. There was a small row of buildings next to it that might have been fairly old but nothing much was marked. Nottuln, which is a township and not just this town, was quite busy and I was happy enough to leave its very bumpy cobbles and traffic behind. My route took me through a section of town that was all single-family homes and then suddenly I was on a dirt path in the forest. This did not go on for very long and I popped out on a road that took me towards Appelhülsen. I came to a crossroads and took the road that was more direct but turned around when it was obvious I was coming to a Bundestrasse, a major thoroughfare with a boring bike lane alongside.

Back on the quieter road, which was marked with a bike route sign, I passed over the A43 Autobahn and then came to some railway tracks. I turned left towards Appelhülsen, passing the non-railway station (ranked by the local radio station as the 5th busiest of 14 in the Coesfeld county area!) and thought I would find a coffee in town somewhere. After a few minutes of riding it became apparent that Appelhülsen was one of those Münsterland towns with nothing of interest at all so I turned around and headed south on the main road in order to reach my next castle.

Castle No. 3, Kleine Schonebeck, is directly on the main road and is clearly a lived-in kind of place. The major part of this brick manor house was constructed around 1520, and an eight-sided tower for stairs dates to 1587. It has stepped gables. The place originally had the typical layout of a Münsterland water castle with a gatehouse on a little island connected by bridge to a second island where the main house was located but parts of the moat have been filled in and the outer buildings are gone. It may have been spun off of the larger property of Gross Schonebeck but its earlier history is not completely clear.

With this successful viewing, I headed for Gross Schonebeck but could not actually find it although I think I did locate the street it was on after I made several exploratory detours. It is supposedly viewable from the road or the bike path that runs along the Stever River but this was not the case. It was at one time church property and the oldest section of the existing buildings dates to 1400 so it was a disappointment not to see anything, even from a distance.

I rode now along a bike path following the Stever River. This was dirt but quite rideable on the Basso and I made good time as I enjoyed travelling alongside the meandering little river. It eventually brought me to the edge of the Dortmund-Ems-Kanal in Senden and I followed another bike path that brought me to an impressive castle, Schloss Senden.

Parts of the castle probably date to the mid-15th Century and it has had a remarkably varied history, having been attacked by the Spaniards in the 16th Century and the French in the 18th, half-burned down in a fire in 1900, heavily damaged in World War II and used to house 2,000 Russians, Poles, Czechs and Italians for 8 months in 1945. Renovations in the 1950s took place as it became a private school, a hotel with a casino, a residence for refugees from the Sudetenland in Czechoslovakia and a student home at various times. It has been empty for several years and parts of it are now falling apart. There is a recently-launched committee looking at how to save this historic and interesting building but it will be a major task to do so.

Leaving Senden, I made my way through a big construction area as work takes place on the canal and crossed it on a small bridge, heading south. Castle No. 5, Haus Kakesbeck, suddenly appeared on my right. I backtracked along the road to get a better view. It too is in private hands but the view from the road is very good if you are not adverse to making your way through some underbrush.

Haus Kakesbeck (whose aristocratic owners had once owned Schloss Senden as well) has been the site of very extensive archaeological excavations. It is situated on a former Roman road and a pair of Stone Age graves, dating back 5,000 years, were found there. There was a small Roman settlement here and Roman artifacts dating to 50 B.C. have been dug up. It continued to grow and by 1300 Kakesbeck was already an important fortification. The main house has components going back to 1290 and the other buildings, located on several islands are very old. The complex under went a transformation to the baroque style in the 1700s. A three-arched bridge with a double gate was built, although a wing of this was destroyed by American tank fire in 1945. Haus Kakesbeck is an equestrian centre today although a a restoration project is apparently still underway after 40 years.

The bike route took me through very quiet country backroads as I approached my primary goal for the day, the town of Lüdinghausen. Nordkirchen was still 14 kms away, which would have added an additional 28 kms to my trip there and back and I thought I had ridden fairly far already. It was very easy to find Castle No. 6, Burg Vischering.

Burg Vischering is one of the best castle in Münsterland and dates primarly from the 16th Century. The family that owned it relocated in 1681 to Schloss Darfeld and subsequent building activity was primarily repair only. This castle was not damaged in World War II. The gatehouse was built in 1519 and the impressive octagonal stair tower is from 1622. The castle is surrounded by a moat and is in excellent repair. On this Monday I was one of the few visitors there and the restaurant that occupies part of the main building was closed. There is a museum devoted to the castle as well but it was very enjoyable just to walk around it and gawk a bit.

The castle was taken over by the County of Coesfeld in 1971 and there has been renovation work since then and the opening of the museum. It is certainly well worth the visit.

Castle No. 7 was not nearly so interesting. Located in the middle of Lüdinghausen, Schloss Lüdinghausen has a nice gatehouse and is surrounded by a moat. However, it is currently undergoing renovations to be turned into a Nordrhein-Westfalen archive building so there is nothing much to see at the moment. It is a very attractive building nonetheless. The oldest parts were constructed in 1568 in the Renaissance style and additions were made until 1907. A major renovation was undertaken in 2000 and the building has served a variety of purposes, including use as a school, cultural centre and municipal offices.

Lüdinghausen is an attractive town and after enjoying lunch I began the ride back to Laer. It had taken me over four hours to get to Lüdinghausen but by choosing a more direct route (which was still quite traffic-light), I was back with my friends two and a half hours later. It had been a very successful day with no fewer than seven castles visited, lots of photos taken and 105 kms ridden.

After I had a relaxing Radler at Klute's, the traditional brewpub I had passed several times in my travels, I left the Basso with my friends in Laer for the next Münsterland excursion as there are still a lot of those 100 castles for me to look at. I took the very crowded InterCity train back to Düsseldorf and was back home in just over an hour.

A reward for a great long weekend of cycling!

Klassikerausfahrt Finale: No Spirits Were Dampened in the Making of this Ride

One of the great cycling pleasures of living in Düsseldorf is the opportunity to participate in the monthly Klassikerausfahrtgruppe (catchy name!) ride, which takes place on the first Sunday of the month. It unites an interesting gang of riders who are joined by their interest in lightweight steel racing bicycles, although more modern bikes are present from time to time. Some great rides have taken place, including one in Holland, but most are local 2-3 hours rides around Düsseldorf. Although it is conceivable that no group on racing bikes has ever been so slow or so disorganized, we always manage to find our way back to the start at Ricci-Sport, perhaps lured on by the post-ride cake and coffee (which mirrors the pre-ride cake and coffee). There are generally no crashes, just a few flats, and always great camaraderie.

Yesterday's ride was the final official one for the season and I had special permission from houseguests to go out. Timing has been an issue for me so this was only my third group ride (the others have been written up here and here). However, many familiar faces were there with not only some old bikes but even some different old bikes. As this was the last ride and we were going to be photographed, we had been instructed to bring out the best in order to impress the locals as we rode through town. It was finally time for me to take down the SBDU Raleigh off the wall stand, pump up the tires and ride it for the first time in Germany, and only the fifth time since its restoration in early 2010. Since it was very humid, I decided to leave my wool Raleigh jersey at home and went with the old-style maple leaf one.

By the time I arrived at Ricci-Sport at 10:30 a great big group had already assembled and was working on the cake and/or admiring and comparing bicycles. It was clearly Rickert day as the made-in-Dortmund marque was represented by no fewer than four bikes, with two matching yellow ones from the early 1960s, a beautiful fully-chromed bike and an excellent blue one, the latter brought by Hartmut Snoek, who had come all the way from Münster. I met Hartmut last Sunday at an RTF ride in Essen, when he admired my Marinoni and I admired his Rickert. He is a serious collector of the brand, with around a dozen, including frames.

There were a lot of interesting bicycles. A Dutch cyclist had come with his Benotto and matching wool jersey (and white tires!). Conrad had a very fine Dutch RIH and a lady was riding a child-sized Colnago. Klaus had one of the yellow Rickerts instead of his usual Bottechia and there were Gazelles, and Koga Miyatas and a lovely blue/white Eddy Merckx, along with some makes unfamiliar to me.

As we prepared to ride out we were joined (with exceptionally loud brake squealing) by Richard of Ricci-Sports, who is a usual participant on these rides but broke his leg badly in July during a race in the Netherlands. He is down to one crutch instead of two now and managed to ride to the shop from home yesterday, which must have been a challenge. He brought out the second yellow Rickert and rode a block with us before turning back.

The weather has been unsettled and while it had been beautiful and hot on Saturday, the forecast was not so great. But we all started in great spirits, and in the usual semi-random disorder. We rode through the area near my apartment and then through the Grafenberger Wald. It was here at 6.5 kms I discovered that bikes that have not been ridden for a year should be checked out more carefully as my Campagnolo shifter went into "auto" mode: that is, once I shifted down at the base of a hill, the bike decided on its own to shift all the way back up five gears to the hardest gear. I had to get off, shift onto a smaller cog and firmly tighten the shift lever, something I had learned to do on my first test ride last year. I was the last one up the hill but had no further shifting issues for the rest of the day.

There were a few other hills to climb but the roads, many of which I have ridden before, were excellent and quiet on Sunday morning. We stop at the top of hills to regroup and things were going nicely when we looked to the north and saw some very very dark clouds, and heard some thunder. Someone cheerfully pointed out that the wind was blowing the clouds away from us. This may have been true at that point but once we were into Essen-Kettwig and about to begin the nice climb called "the Esel" (the Donkey), the skies opened up and the rain poured down.

At this point we were about to turn left past a Greek restaurant on Essener Strasse. It had an outdoor terrace with umbrellas and we zoomed into it and stood there while the rain came down in buckets. It was good timing as well for Karsten, who had the Usual Flat Tire of the trip. Most of us had left our bikes on a stand out front but two or three were standing with their bikes under the umbrellas, much to the dissatisfaction of the owner. I would have thought that with 20 or so cyclists totally captive by the rain, it would have been a good occasion to rev up the coffee machine or bring out the apfelschorle and make some profit but he was clearly anxious to get rid of us. We obliged as soon as the rain let up and began the climb up the hill.

I first rode the Esel last Sunday during the Essen RTF ride and really liked it. It is not extremely steep and has three nice switchbacks. The shifting on the Raleigh was working perfectly now and I could accelerate quite nicely up to the top. I was with a small group and then came the sucker punch as the rain suddenly began again in earnest. We pulled over to stand under the trees but it was pretty pointless as after a few moments we were soaking wet.

Once the rain let up again we were back on the road, looking like soaked rats. Klaus complained that his wool jersey soaked up water like a sponge and some of the other riders noted that their old-fashioned shoes did not have drain holes. Someone suggested that as a result of this ride my Raleigh would be worth half as much as it had been at the start but our spirits rose as the sun came out and we began to dry off in the warm wind. It was also obvious that on the short hills some of the oldie bicycles were not equipped with modern gearing for climbing as some of the oldie riders had to work heroically to get up them. At least I was able to use my toe clips and straps fairly effectively by the end of the ride. They are essential for the retro-look but clipless pedals are far, far better!

We passed through the woods around Oberdorf and soon rejoined our outward-bound route, taking us through Ratingen and back to Düsseldorf, Grünerstrasse and Ricci-Sports. There was lots of coffee and really, really excellent cake to balance any of the calorie-burning effects of our 44.34 km ride, with just under 400 m of climbing. Our 2:02 time of actual riding was pretty much matched by the amount of time it took me to clean all the grit off of the Raleigh today. And before people left, there was an opportunity to have your photo taken with your bike, using a large blue dumpster as a backdrop, which might perhaps be seen by many in the modern cycling community as appropriate given what we ride.

A group of the riders will go back to Holland on October 18 to ride with some of the Dutch steel lightweight enthusiasts but unfortunately I will be unable to join them. Many of the Düsseldorf group will be in Tuscany for l'Eroica so I look forward to exchanging coffee for Chianti with them then!