A Walk in the Black Forest (Part 2)

Schauinsland (12.5 km - 290m ascent - 1020m descent)

Schauinsland is one of most accessible parts of the Black Forest to Freiburg. It only took two short tram rides from our base in Vauban and one short bus ride up the Guntertal, a green valley snaking away from the city into the forested hills, to reach the base station of the Schauinsland Bergbahn. There were six of us on this walk, our entire family in fact with the fair Nello and I, Robyn, Salim, Aisha and Lina and the gondola quickly brought us up to the 1200m high plateau that overlooks Freiburg.

After a rotwurst hotdog and potato with sour-cream for lunch, we headed up the short climb to the observation tower on the peak. From here lay glorious 360° views - west out over the Rhine Valley to France, north back to Freiburg, east over Feldberg and the heartlands of the Black Forest and south over the green meadows of the Hofgrund plateau.

Schauinsland landscape

Valley leading up into the Black Forest

The gondola to Schauinsland

View north from the Schauinsland summit

Panoramic view south over Hofgrund

Then it was downhill, as we wound our way around the back of the peak, past a series of intriguing wooden sculptures, through shady beech forest and out onto the grassy meadows above the village of Hofgrund. The sun was warm, the breeze cool and the views spectacular - it was a perfect walking day.

Heading down towards Hofgrund

Our destination was the Schniederlihaus, a typical Schwarzwalder farm house of the 19th century, with its timber and shingle construction, huge roof, small windows and geranium lined balconies, built into the side of the hill - a lovely place on a summer's day, but life must have been hard here during the long winters.

View towards the distant summit of Feldberg

At the 19th century Schniederlihaus

From the hut, we climbed back up the winding road, detouring to pass the entrance to the old silver mine, with its rusting ore carriages and machinery. For 800 years up until 1986, this was a working mine and beneath the mountain there is a vast network of galleries and tunnels.

A magnificent old beech

The rolling meadows of the Hofgrund

At the top, we found the track that led back down to the base station. It was not particularly kinderwagen-friendly, so Salim took it and Aisha, who had decided that she had done enough walking for the day, back down by gondola. Nello, Robyn with Lina in back-pack and I head down the 6 km descent through the steep forested slopes of Schauinsland on foot.

Robbo and girls at the mine entrance

Heading down from Schauinsland ....

Path beneath the tall trees

... in the shade of the Black Forest

Back into the sunshine

... past hilltop meadow and wind turbines

The view beyond the forest

It was a very pleasant way down, first on a narrow and rocky footpath, then on a wider mountain-biking track, then interchanging between gravel forestry road and steeper descents via single file footpaths. The track took us through the dappled shade of beech, the darker shadows of tall fir and spruce, beneath a pair of massive wind turbines and out into the occasional bright patch of sunlit meadow - the stillness of the forest flavoured with a spectacular view or three. It was a good recipe for a walk in the Black Forest.

An intense late afternoon light illuminates the valley below Horben

Finally we reached the base station of the gondola, beneath the hill-top village of Horben, just in time to catch the bus and head on home. It had been a great afternoon outing - thanks Robbo, for suggesting that we do it.

Jakobsweg - St Märgen to Eschbach (16.5 km - 230m ascent - 710m descent)


Robyn and family had headed off to Mannheim for a few days to visit some old friends. We decided to visit an old friend too, the Camino de Santiago or Jakobsweg, as it is known in German. A few years ago we walked large sections of the Camino / Chemin de St Jacques in France and Spain and now we had the chance to walk a section in Germany. The network of routes that comprise the Jakobsweg gradually converge from points all over Europe (we had actually walked a couple of kilometres of it (the Jakobus Pot) in Slovenia while heading out to cross the Julian Alps earlier on this trip. Freiburg is a point of convergence for several such paths, one of which passes through the Black Forest.

Maria Himmelfahrt Church (built 1718)

A typical old building in St Märgen

We decided to walk a section of it that was rich in culture, as well as landscape, between the villages of St Märgen and Eschbach, starting and finishing at their historic churches, as is fitting for a pilgrimage.

It took a little over an hour by tram, train and bus to reach St Maergen from Freiburg and, on arriving, we headed straight to the local coffee shop for a hot coffee and decadent slice of Bienenstich before heading down to the twin yellow-walled towers and cloisters of Maria Himmelfahrt (Church of the Assumption of Mary), built in 1718 on the site of a 12th century Augustinian Monastery. This baroque pilgrimage church was our official starting point for the day's walk. The air was cool, perfect for walking, as we headed out of town and along the the narrow road directly up the meadow-covered slope of the Kapfenberg to the north. The only downside was that the scattered white clouds that had been drifting by before our coffee had developed into large, grey and billowing ones that left little room for the sun to shine through.

Goodbye sunshine - hello clouds!

Grey skies or not, the expanding views behind us over St Märgen, in its classic Black Forest village setting surrounded by green meadows and backed by forested hills, was superb. On reaching the edge of the forest near the hilltop, we began a long section where the path followed the fringe between meadow and forest with glorious views out to the distant hilltops of Feldberg and Schauinsland to the south.

Entering the Black Forest

Homage to Hansel and Gretel

The picturesque village of St Märgen

View south towwards Feldberg

Good spot for a drink

Farmhouses between St Märgen and St Peter

Occasionally, the path took us for a brief foray into the forest before re-emerging on its fringe to look out over lush green pastures and scattered farmhouses in a scene commissioned by chocolate-box makers. When the sun did shine, the green of the meadows became luminescent - almost unnatural for someone used to drier climes.

The luminosity of a sunlit pasture

A small wayside chapel

Tiny chapel near Schmittenbach

Interior of the 4-seat chapel

On a forestry trail

We passed two tiny wooden chapels as we followed the ridge along, before finally beginning our descent by the forest roads, country lanes and farm tracks of Schmittenbach to the neighbouring village of St Peter. At varying points, the bright yellow towers of Maria Himmelfahrt stood out like beacons across the greenness, pointing out the whereabouts of St Märgen on its hillside, even though it was now several kilometres away. By contrast, the twin brown-stone towers of the baroque church of St Peter were hard to spot, even at close range - well camouflaged against the framing hills.

Clouds above the mountains of the Black Forest

One last view of St Märgen ....

... and first glimpse of St Peter

The intense greenness of the rural Black Forest

The courtyard and towers of St Peter's
(built in 1727)

Reaching the village, we stopped in the cloistered courtyard of the former monastery, dating from the 11th century, for a bite of lunch - the present church, built in 1727, may not have a bright exterior, but this is more than made up for by the ornate baroque interior (fascinating in an over-the-top sort of way).

The village square at St Peter

Baroque interior of the church of
St Peter

After lunch, the yellow and white diamond markers led us out through the village streets and up to the start of the Lindenweg on its southern flank. This path, lined with linden trees and a set of stone pillars showing the Stations of the Cross, took us through field and meadow, with superb views back over St Peter, the village framed by the forests and meadows of the Kandelberg hills. We had reached the top of Lindenberg with its all-round panoramic views.

A backward glimpse over St Peter

The pilgrimage church of Maria Lindenberg

Back in the forest

Wildflowers in the Schwärzlehof Valley

Grey skies on the Lindenweg

Staion of the Cross on Lindenberg

A dramatic play of colours on Lindenberg

A good choice of walking tracks

The path now began to descend, passing a grove of mixed conifer and broad-leaf trees. Ahead to the west, we could see the wind-turbine topped hills of the Rosskopf and directly down the valley to the distant flat plains of the Rhine River (where the sun was still shining). Ahead lay the pilgrimage church of Maria Lindenberg, set on a balcony with sweeping views eastwards over the valleys of the Ibenbach and Rechtenbach brooks. It was a good place for a coffee.

Heading down towards Maria Lindenberg Pilgrimage Church

Panorama from Maria Lindenberg over the Ibenbach and Rechtenbach Valleys

The fringe of forest and field

Road home in the Eschbach Valley

From this church, we followed the narrow ridge down into the forest, picking up an asphalt road just after passing a farmhouse at the top of Schwärzlehof Valley. This quiet road was our route down beneath the forest to the Eschbach Valley, and on reaching the valley floor, we wandered quickly down, alongside the main road that passed through this elongated village to reach the 18th century Church of St Jakob, a fitting place to end a great walk along the Schwarzwalder Jakobsweg.

The village of Eschbach

The bus to take us to the train station and back to Freiburg arrived a few minutes later. It may be a long time since witches lived in its deep recesses and wolves terrorised little girls in red cloaks, but the Black Forest of today still has a fairy-tale attraction and the transport is such that there are few places not accessible to the keen walker.

Im Wutachschlucht (The Wutach Gorge Walk) (17.5 km - 250m ascent - 150m descent)

Some 70,000 years ago the watercourse now known as the Wutach flowed down from the Black Forest into the Danube River and on to the Black Sea. Then there was a geological upheaval in the region and the waterflow was redirected to the Rhine and out to the North Sea - big consequences for the blocking of one gap! The Wutach has formed Germany's deepest gorge, which alone warrants a walk through its depths. Since arriving we had walked to the highest point of the Black Forest, beneath its dark canopy of conifers and broad-leafed trees and across some of its more bucolic rural landscapes. A walk in its deepest parts would nicely complement our activities and so, on our last Saturday in Freiburg, five of us - the fair Nello and I, Robyn and 6-month old Lina and Ursula (Lina's oma) - set off by tram, train and bus for the 1½ hour trip from Freiburg to the start of the walk. The trip itself was interesting as the train cranked across the forested slopes of the Black Forest and out onto the fields and crops of its eastern fringes. This low flattish rural landscape was not what you would expect to hide a deep and lushly vegetated gorge.

The green and grassy landscape above the Wutach Gorge

Descending from Schattenmühle to start the walk

Silhouette of the track ahead

On reaching the trail head at Schattenmühle, a former mill and now restaurant and guesthouse, we set off, stopping briefly on the road bridge to take our first glimpse of the clear, tea-coloured waters of the Wutach. Then it was off, past the restaurant and on to a narrow and rocky footpath. The upper part was more deep valley than gorge and the track wound its way along the north-bank of the river beneath a cool and lush forest canopy.

The river itself is a mix of sunlight and shade

The cliffs and trees of the gorge

A section of the upper river

At times, it climbed the valley sides in dappled sunlight or followed the river's edge as it rippled its way down a stony bed, glistening in the sunlight. At other times it crossed a lush green clearing in the forest or passed a tiny stream flowing down across the path from the valley heights - a very peaceful stroll. After climbing up to a small waterfall that tumbled softly over a thick mat of moss, we dropped down to reach the Dietfurt Bridge, where we crossed to the south bank. It was a good place to stop for a break as the river tumbled over a series of boulders.

Track across the valley slopes

A lovely mossy waterfall

Resting by the river

The Wutach below the Dietfurt Bridge

Once on the south side, we climbed up through the forest of the deepening valley wall before descending again to cross a series of river flats, shoulder-high in dense undergrowth and almost steaming in the warm sunshine. We were now in the middle section and the track was becoming busier, as people descending from Bad-Boll joined the gorge walk.

Climbing up through the forest

St Josef's Chapel

Waterfall near the chapel

For the first time we were starting to see the white cliffs of the gorge, rising up from these flats. Passing the tiny Josef's chapel, we came up to the face of the cliffs as they squeezed the valley tightly to form the gorge proper. The narrow track, protected in parts by cable railing led us high up the cliff-face, where we traversed its sheer walls. Deep beneath the tea-coloured river flowed through the lush green vegetation - the views here were superb.

Start of the climb up to the cliffs

The river flowing through the valley flats

First view of the limestone cliffs of Wutachschlucht

View back down the gorge from the cliff

Cliffside traverse

The colours of limestone

Steep path across the forested slope

From the heights of the cliff, the track descended gradually to reach the river again at Schurhammerhütte, a grassy car-accessible picnic point. Needless to say, this meant lots of people, so we pressed on, working our way around the base of another set of cliffs to reach a lovely spot on the sun-sparkling river, the pebbly bank beneath the shade of overhanging branches - time for lunch and for young Lina to get her feet wet and escape the confines of a baby-sling.

A narrow section of the gorge

Lunch break on the river's edge ....

... and our lunchtime view

The section at the base of the cliffs was one of the nicest parts of the walk and we hadn't gone much further after lunch than we reached a bend in the river, complete with sandy beach, where the sheer white walls of Wutach diverted the stream and overhung it.

A broad section of the Wutach

Limestone cliffs on the river's edge

The river near Rümmelesteg Bridge

A tranquil stony beach

It was so nice that we stopped again for Lina to enjoy a play in the sand and for the rest of us to enjoy the tranquility of the river and the stillness of the forest. Still, time was edging on and we had deadlines for buses.

Lina enjoying a break from walking

We pushed on, following the river around to the wooden suspension bridge at Rümmelesteg. Crossing back to the north bank we quickly reached the track junction leading up to the village of Bachheim. Here we parted ways - Ursula had to get home earlier and headed up towards Bachheim and the bus / train home, while the rest of us, with more time up our sleeves ,continued on down the gorge. We had left the popular middle section of the gorge and the track was now a lot calmer.

Another cliff-side traverse

The path between cliff and river

The play of afternoon light

Water pouring out of the cliff-side spring

It wasn't long before we were back on the south bank again, courtesy of a bridge that seemed to run straight into the cliff face. However, the track deviated to the east and followed a narrow ledge between river and cliff, crossing a set of powerful springs that surged out into the stream from the base of the layered rock. The route through cool forest flats and along cliff bases was particularly aesthetic as we pushed eastwards towards the mouth of the Gauschachschlucht, a smaller side gorge coming in from the north.

Sunlit reach of the river

A cliff-side pathway

The covered bridge over the Wutach

We crossed a pretty covered wooden bridge to reach it and, farewelling the Wutachschlucht, headed up the Gauschach. For the first time we were gradually climbing, on a damp and often slippery track beneath the cool dark canopy. Though smaller, this gorge had a more isolated and closed-in feeling, as trees completely overshadowed the narrower Gauschach river.

The tea-coloured waters of the Wutach

Heading up the Gauschach Gorge

The Gauschach River

Rest stop at the Burgmühle

Criss-crossing the river, we reached the Burgmühle and its welcome restaurant, where we stopped for a cool drink and received advice from the staff that, contrary to my plans for returning, the train did not stop at Bachheim station this afternoon. We would have to take the bus, which meant a fast climb up the gravel vehicle road and out of the gorge, followed by a longish road walk beside hay field and ripening wheat crop to reach the bus station in time to connect with the train from Loffingen to Neustadt and then on to Freiburg. It was a circuitous route that took us almost 2 hours to reach home, though the memories and reminiscences of this great walk in Germany's deepest gorge made the time pass more quickly (either that or I dozed off!).