Black Forest Mittelweg – Days 4 to 6

After setting off from the Hotel Hirsch with its gloomy Russians, I quickly found myself deep in the woods. Most of the morning was spent on a very narrow trail for hikers only through the very thick, beautiful and occasionally magical forest. The trail in fact followed the old border between Baden and Württemberg. This border was marked by stones every 50 m. On one of the stones, I saw the date 1737. I must have followed about 10 km of this old border and gave up trying to figure out how many border stones there could possibly be. I was in the middle of a pretty thick forest, some distance away from any roads or forest tracks, which meant that the men who placed the stones here must have carried them a very long way, probably on their backs as it would have been impossible to get a cart up here. All that to keep the petty dukes happy and mark out their territory.

This trail through the forest was tough going at times because there were a lot of stones and roots and the trail itself was very narrow.

The deep woods

However, it was a lot more fun than yesterday’s monotonous forest tracks. All the way along, there were mushrooms of every size and variety.

The weather was dry, with a fair amount of wind. The sun appeared from time to time too. Rain was forecast for later in the day, but I hoped to reach my destination before it began. I managed to keep up a good pace of 4 km an hour, stopping to rest now and then at the different huts along the way. At the Salzlecke hut, there was an information board warning hikers about the Bohnet, the ghost of a mountain farmer who lures travellers from their path. Another of the countless legends about the Black Forest that make it so magical and eerie.

I made a longer stop at Teisenkopf to climb the viewing tower and to relax on one of the comfortable wooden recliners that you find all along the trails here. I stirred myself when I found myself dozing off there and set off on the steep descent to Schiltach.

Just as I arrived at the bottom of the valley, it began to drizzle, but I was so close to my destination that I didn’t bother putting on my rain gear. Schiltach looks quite amazing when you arrive along the river as I did: a succession of half-timber houses spreading over the hillside like something out of a Grimm tale. At a local bakery, I had a slice of peach tart with some tea before checking into my hotel, the Sonne, on the market square. A quaint and creaky old place, with great owners and an excellent burger for dinner. At dinner, I found myself sitting one table away from a guy who had been at the Russian hotel that morning. He said he had seen me set off and so had been following me all day. He too is on the Mittelweg but only for a few days, stopping in Sankt Georgen tomorrow. We both agreed that the morning section along the old border was perhaps the most beautiful part of the trail so far. There was something truly magical about it.

The rain of the previous day had cleared when I woke on the fifth morning. The hotel breakfast was good, with really strong coffee for once. And I needed it because the day began with a very steep climb out of the Schiltach valley. Part of it unfolded on a Bible-themed section with a very odd-looking Jesus and, at one point some low concrete posts painted blue with waves on them so that people could pretend to walk on water. That struck me as a little blasphemous. Unfortunately my trail veered off from the biblical one before the crucifixion, so I didn’t get to see how that was presented.

The trail continue to head uphill on a mixture of forest tracks and narrow roads, passing a first restaurant and guesthouse that looked permanently closed, before reaching the mountain hotel at Fohrenbühl where I stopped for a fortifying cappuccino. This point marked the end of the stiff climb up from the valley and, from then on, the hiking was a lot easier at an altitude of around 900 mètres. The trail frequently skirted open farmland, with some great views and some beautiful old farmhouses.

At one point, there was a self-service honesty bar carved into the rock. You just had to open the door, pick a drink, pay and then sit in the sun enjoying it. I can’t imagine this kind of thing working anywhere other than in Germany.

I stopped for a late lunch at Windkapf where I had some of the best maultaschen (the local ravioli) that I have ever tasted, before beginning the steady descent to Sankt Georgen.

The trail continued to make its way across areas of open farmland before diving back into the woods. The walking was easy, but I noticed that today, more than most other days, the information given in my guidebook was way off the mark. The distance indicated for today was 28 km and I ended up doing 31. As for positive elevation, the guidebook gave it as 780 metres, while I climbed 1100. This was my first experience with a Rother book and I really wasn’t impressed. The maps in the guidebook lack detail and the description of the route is far too wordy, with a lot of personal details by the author. Until now, for my hikes in Germany, I have used the excellent Hikeline guides which have more detailed maps and nothing but the necessary information for the trail, including what you’ll be walking on (asphalt, dirt tracks, forest paths, etc.). Plus their paper is waterproof. But, unfortunately, they don’t do a guidebook for the Mittelweg.

Sankt Georgen was not the prettiest of places but it did have a magnificent hotel, the Federwerk, in a former factory building. My room felt luxurious after the rather basic accommodation that I had been in up until now. The very good restaurant did a great burger of dry-aged beef and the waitress picked up right away on my French accent when I speak German. She was so happy to practice her French, I didn’t have the heart to tell her I’m British.

Day six began with a lie-in. As I only had 16 km to walk (according to the guidebook) and the night’s rain was due to stop at 1 pm, I decided I would set off later than usual. The hotel breakfast was absolutely magnificent, all à la carte with great coffee. However, by 11:30, I was chomping at the bit and eager to get moving so I donned my rain gear for the first time on this hike and set off. The rain wasn’t particularly heavy but did continue to fall for the next couple of hours. I went about 3 km out of my way at one point because I couldn’t really check the hiking app on my phone in the rain and misread the way mark because I was not close enough to it. After a lengthy walk along the wrong path, I suddenly realized I was heading back to Sankt Georgen, which explained why I hadn’t seen a marker for a long while. So I trekked back the 1.5 km or so that I had just walked by mistake.

Shortly after, the rain stopped and the sky turned a clear blue, probably because of the high wind that was blowing. Not long after, I came across an ancient set of gallows on a ridge. They were built here because, on this high point, they could be seen from just about everywhere around and so acted as an efficient deterrent. The sign next to them said that the people who were hanged there were all buried nearby. More ghosts to haunt the Black Forest.

Just after this rather unpleasant reminder of the past, I stopped at the highest point of the day, the Stöcklewaldturm, for a cappuccino. Because the weather was now nice and clear, I decided to climb the tower for the view, which was truly spectacular.

From there, it was a fairly easy and pleasant 200-metre descent to Furtwangen where I would be spending the night. There were some fantastic views along the way and the afternoon weather, although chilly, was bright and sunny

Furtwangen is not the usual overnight stop for day six, but the Kalte Herberge, the recommended inn to stop at 7 km further on, was fully booked. This was the German Reunification holiday weekend, meaning that there were a lot of people out and about. So I opted to stay in Furtwangen, even though it would mean a very long hike the next day. My hotel, the Ochsen, was right in the centre, just next to the Mittelweg. It was another creaky old place with friendly owners. My room was basic but, once again, very comfortable.

Dinner was huge: a mountain of sauerkraut and mashed potatoes with a smoked sausage and two thick slices of gammon. I managed to devour the lot, persuading myself that I needed fuel for the next day. And so, after that, it was an early night to prepare for what would be the longest day of this hike. To be continued…

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