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.

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