My cycling trip began in the town of Oberndorf am Necker. The Necker is a name that conjures up warm memories for many an Irish person for, in a stadium on the banks of the river a few miles downstream from here, in 1988 Ray Houghton stuck the ball in the English net; an event immortalised by Christy Moore in his wonderful ‘Jockster goes to Stuttgart’.
But for me it was turning my back on the Necker and heading deep into the rolling hills of the Schwarzwald in search of the source of the mighty Danube, about 50km to the southwest. The morning’s cycle was tough; although I was used to cycling a lightweight road bike, hauling a heavily laden trail bike up nasty little inclines meant there was not much time for sightseeing. I suppose it should not have come as any surprise to me when my route took me along places like Bergstrasse and Schoenblick, and the halfway village was a place called Hardt. Mind you, I resisted the temptation of visiting nearby Hardter!
My destination for the morning was a place called Donauquella, the source of the river Breg, the longer of the two tributaries that meet downstream at Donaueschingen,and where the Donau (Danube) proper begins. The high ground here is open undulating meadows,rich in herbs- not much evidence of fertiliser use here.The final ascent to the source of the Danube is through wooded slopes, then a few metres below the ridge that separates the Danube and Rhine catchments, two of Europes mighty rivers, is an unassuming trickle of water that flows from a hole in the ground. Mind you this unassuming trickle is adorned by a statue of some wild looking Connemara man without any clothes.
I filled my water bottle and drank from this fresh clear spring- which I found out later was the first of my mistakes.
Having loitered for a while to soak up the sense of place in this remote head water, it was a steep and rapid descent toward Donaueschingen, where I would visit the second place to claim the source of the Danube. I suppose laying claim to where the Danube rises is something worth fighting about.
40km or so later I arrived in Donaueschingen, the home to the Furstebergs and more famous in Ireland for their beer. Then just behind St. Johanna”s chuch, an imposing building in the centre of the town, is a circular well, the official source of the Danube.Tossed a coin into the well to bring me luck and tried not to look at the plaque on the wall telling me it was 2,840km to the sea. Had to go for a pint of Furstenberg after that!
Cycled 103km and climbed almost 2,000km- not a bad day’s work.