Thursday 12 April 2012

Return to Münsterland: Yet More Castles, Please!

After my successful visit to Münsterland last summer (although the weather was not very summery!), I spent the second half of the Easter Weekend visiting my friends in Laer and setting out on the next leg of my own “100 Castles Tour,” with my plan being to enjoy Easter Sunday with my friends Carmen and Uwe and participate in the thrilling backyard Easter Egg Hunt with 2 year old Franziska and then reserve Monday for a long ride doing part of the 100 Castles route Northwestern loop before taking the train back to Düsseldorf in the evening.

Leaving the big city on the 8:12 InterCity, I was the only person in the train car and, needless to say, the Blue Basso was the only bike to be seen as well.  I enjoyed the quiet trip of about 75 minutes and disembarked in Münster, where the main train station has been under reconstruction for what seems like several decades, and quickly made my way to the parking lot where I met Uwe, who was driving a very impressive black Skoda Superbe station wagon rental car.  Although I had installed mudguards on the Basso, it was no problem fitting the bike into the back with only the front wheel removed.  A quick 20 minute ride and we were back in Laer.

In addition to my friends and their little girl, there was another couple there with there 2 year old, Lily.  After an extended and relaxing breakfast, we all put on our warm clothing and went out into the yard for the Easter Egg Hunt.  This was very entertaining as the two 2 year olds basically had no clue what to do as they stood there with collecting baskets.  Helpful parents directed the toddlers to the various caches of eggs (which were in rather plain sight) and after a good deal of pointing and urging everyone had a large haul.  And the visitor from Düsseldorf was treated to a big Lindt dark chocolate bunny.

Chapel near Laer
The sun was shining brightly and with the weather forecast for Monday looking decidedly grim, I decided to change my plans and attempt my castle tour on Easter Sunday, although I realized that with my propensity for getting lost (even with the GPS) an afternoon start on a 115 km long course would not be so smart so I figured I would just shorten it a bit.

Leaving Laer around 1:30, my first leg took me a mere 6 kms to Horstmar, which in spite of its population of 6,000 is deemed to be a “city.”  I passed the old railway station and noticed a lot of construction in the area around it.  Just to the north of the station begins a beautifully paved rails-to-trails bike route and the construction indicates that the right-of-way paving will continue to Laer.  I wanted to take a photo of the bike route, which Uwe later told me goes 40 km to Rheine, and at that moment two cyclists on racing bikes obligingly passed by, making a more interesting photo!

I rode into the city itself, passing the Schmitz Cargobull logistics office and warehouse (once the largest sock factory in Europe when Horstmar was a textile centre) and came through two pillars marking the boundary of the old town.  Horstmar, which was first established in the 9th Century, has a very odd feature.  It is set out as a big square and within the one-time city wall were a number of “Burgmannhof” features, which were basically walled compounds within the walled city.  These were occupied by the gentry or lower nobility and had a defensive purpose.  Their owners had administrative functions to play as well in the town.  Of the original eight Burgmannhöfe in Horstmar, five still exist and I took pictures of two of them.

In addition to this novel feature, the city has a fine Altes Rathaus dating to 1571 and used for meetings and weddings now, along with an impressive church that goes back to the 14th Century.  I was so impressed by Horstmar that I rode out of town unintentionally failing to go look at Haus Alst, the castle that I came to add to my list.  It is found a bit to the northeast and easily reached from Laer.  Next time!

My route took me further west now to Schöppingen along a rather busy Bundestrasse.  The course I laid out before leaving took me somewhat the wrong way but not only did I see the very nice 1538 Rathaus but I also found the local mill museum, which disappointed somewhat through its lack of a waterwheel.  It stands on the little Vechte river, which apparently offers a bike route along its 160 km length.  The mill also offered two signs in Platte, the regional dialect, and the locals are so proud of their dialect that they have posted poems in Platte at various bikepath points, something I have never seen before in Germany, which has no shortage of regional dialects.

Leaving Schöppingen I rode north towards Metelen and then proceeded to take a really boring main road further north to Wettringen, a place I had not really intended to visit but which I had confused with nearby Welbergen.  I had passed a sign for Haus Welbergen, which was one of my castles for the day, but thought I could go around and still get there.  This was completely wrong and I as I sat eating a sandwich in front of the nondescript Rathaus in boring Wettringen, I decided to try to find Haus Welbergen and then shorten my route back to Laer instead of proceeding to Bad Bentheim and Rheine as I had planned.  Easier said than done.

My navigation skills failed me as I headed toward Ochtrup, which was not really on my itinerary but soon I headed south through Welbergen, but no Haus Welbergen there, of course, and I missed the Villa Jordan, a fancy 1920s mansion built for the van Heek family (more anon).  I was on a marked dirt bike path which was pleasant enough but since I was not sure where I was going I asked an older lady walking her dog how to get to Haus Welbergen.  She directed me through the next village, Langenhorst, and said that once I left that place I should turn left and I should get to Haus Welbergen, which was perhaps 1 km out of town.  She mentioned that Langenhorst had a particularly nice church.

The church was built from 1180-1225 (although damaged badly by fire in the 16th Century) and is indeed impressive.  It served as the church for an Augustinian abbey until 1576 when a foundation of noblewomen took over the church and abbey for charitable purposes.

Haus Welbergen
After several wrong turns and mounting frustration I finally found a sign for Haus Welbergen and soon rolled up to the entrance on a very quiet side street.  I was thinking that it had better be worth it for all my annoyance in getting there and I was delighted to discover a really superb example of a Münsterland water castle in excellent condition.  It had been given by Bertha van Heek, who died in 1961, to a foundation for German-Dutch friendship and is used for meetings and events.  The property came into the hands of the Barons of Wellbeghe in 1282 and the current house, with its moat and gardens, dates from the 16th Century.  The park around it is part of the European Heritage Garden Network, although the formal garden within the moated area was only offering some daffodils when I was there.

After enjoying views of the house, I returned to my bicycle and rode in the direction of Steinfurt, which I had visited by car with my friends during my last trip.  The road was actually closed as it had been freshly paved but since only the white lines were missing I enjoyed a fast ride to Steinfurt, one of my favourite Münsterland towns.  Of course as it was Easter Sunday not much was open and I passed through the impressive old town, stopping only on the outskirts to look at and photograph some very old buildings (including the oldest half-timbered building in Westfalia, which dates to 1380) at the Kommende, which had been set up by the Counts of Steinfurt-Bentheim to settle some of the Knights of St. John who had returned from the Crusades.  The town has a remarkable history and there is still a Count occupying the castle.  I had photographed the impressive castle and surroundings on my previous visit.

Ignoring my GPS course which would have taken me on the main road back to Laer, I instead took a somewhat meandering course that added a few kilometers.  I also thought I would try to get back on the course as I neared Laer, which was a mistake since I ended up on a very small agricultural road followed by no road at all and I had to walk the last 200 m across a field to the main Steinfurter Strasse.

It had been a satisfying ride, even if I had not seen all the castles I had hoped for.  I had put in just over 80 kms but without getting lost it would have been quite a bit less!  On the next trip I will do my planning a bit more carefully and take the bike route up to Rheine and Bad Bentheim, avoiding main roads.

I was glad that I did the ride on Easter Sunday as Monday dawned cold and wet, with light rain.  It was enough to discourage thoughts of more riding so after another fine breakfast, I took my leave of my friends and Carmen dropped me off in Münster at the station for an earlier trip back home. 

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