Day 10- I blame the wife, myself.

Today’s cycle took me along the Danube valley, almost all on really well surfaced cycle paths, or on country roads. From my perspective the route was not all that interesting as it took me through intensive agricultural land, across many dams and through the numerous towns and villages along the Danube. And as it was Saturday cyclists of all types and shapes were on the road, which was nice to see. Everywhere I looked there were cyclists stopped at cafes, putting more calories into themselves then they could possibly use up, at least not without breaking into a major sweat. Which they didn’t; apart from myself I didn’t see a bead of sweat on anyone. The challenge for me was not to get too detracted by the cakes and ice cream on display; I succumbed once for a small (ok, large) slice of apfel strudel but it was by way of a cultural experience.

The early part of the cycle brought me along a very flat and quiet road leading from one of the towns. It obviously was used as a training run, for I met many cyclists with their tri-bars and carbon-rimmed wheels. God, I love the sound those wheels make when in the hands of a powerful cyclist on a good road- the Vvooo- Vvooo- Vvooo as they power along. I began to regret bringing my trail bike on this trip, for think of the fun I could have with my road bike on these roads. But after the forth or fifth of these lads powered past me leaving a whiff of aftershave or lynx in their wake, I came to the conclusion they were all a shower of poseurs, and my trail bike was perfectly fine, thank you!

I pulled into a small village next to the dyke around midday. As I cycled down the main street a really load siren went off- scared the lining daylights out of me. Must have lasted for 15 or 20 seconds. I was wondering had Trump finally initiated WWIII or had some other calamity befell the world of which I was unaware. A couple of minutes later an old man walked up the street. I stopped and asked him what was the alarm? He looked at me quizzical – What alarm? The siren, just a couple of minutes ago? Ah! 11.55 was it? Each Saturday- it is a test alarm to make sure the flood alarm works. Well it works alright, but I suspect the locals no longer hear it.

At another one of my stops, eating a snack by the river shore, a young family of goosander swam past. Unlike our common mallard, which are a dabbling duck (Ogden Nash famously noted that ‘…when it dines or sups, it bottoms ups’) goosander are a diving duck. The family of a mother and ten chicks moved upstream, no more than 10 metres from me, like a troop of highly drilled synchronised swimmers, diving and sufracing in unison. That was a special treat to see, for goosander are a scarce duck in Ireland, with ony a handful breeding each year in Wicklow.

Later on in the day I came to a patch of wet marsh, and the toads were in full voice calling away. They really do make a racket when they get going.

It was only for the last 10km or so of the day that the route brought me to fruit growing region. The cycle track was now lined with cherry and apple trees, and there were stalls selling apricots, peaches and strawberries every so often. Then I arrived to a valley with vineyards creeping up the steep slopes.

Now I know it is stating the obvious but cycling the second longest river in Europe is, well, long. I have been cycling now for ten days, and while I know I’m no Peter Sagan, I have averaged almost 110 km each day. So I have covered more than 1,000km yet I am not quite a third of the way along. There is still just over 2,000km between me and the Black Sea.

To put this in perspective, if I had chosen the Shannon rather than the Danube, I’d have cycled it’s length three time already! So, Im not that sure this was such a good idea.

Now I am married to a wonderful woman, and one of the many things that I love about her is that she is a rock of sense. In my time I have come up with quite a few hair-brained ideas, but she has always been there to bring perspective (i.e. to tell me I’m being daft). She can analyse and synthesize schemes in a blink of an eyelid. But when I first mooted the idea that it would be a good thing to cycle down the Danube, I was expecting more ‘perspective’ – instead I was greeted with a ‘ Well isn’t it well for some?’. Now Josephine is working really hard to expand her SpeltBakers business, so I suspect her finely tuned radar for daft ideas may, for once, have let her down. As I sit by the bank of the Danube, somewhere in the middle of Austria, wondering what the hell I signed up to, I blame the wife myself.

But after the second beer and musing on life, sitting here watching the barges chugging upstream and listening to the swifts screeching overhead, maybe, just maybe, she got it right once again. It is only 2,000km and sure isn’t it all downhill!

Day 9 – It’s tough being a naturalist

I stayed the night in Kesten because I wanted to visit the Danube Valley Nature and Natura 2000 Information Centre in the nearby Engelhartszell. I had heard about it and thought it would be worth a visit. Natura 2000 is a network of the prime natural habitats remaining across Europe where nature conservation is the primary objective – and the protection of these sites is underpinned by the very strict legal framework of both the Birds and the Habitats Directives. All too often, especially in Ireland, these are only perceived as a restriction on development and generally just a nuisance. But there really is much more to them, they also present opportunities. So it was brilliant to have an Information Centre to see how it is done properly. Here there is also an INTERREG project that promotes ways of encouraging people to move away from their cars to walking and cycling to better experience the nature of the Danube Vaĺley. This was certainly the way to go. And as I walked towards the Information Centre I passed a group of American tourists that had just been disgorged from a cruise boat for an hour’s sightseeing – wasn’t it great that they too had the opportunity to visit the Information Centre to find out more indepth information about the area, rather that having only the usual kitsch offerings in such places? Hah! This is the way to do things. And as I turned the corner there in front of me was a swanky new building with a big banner declaring here was the Natura 2000 Information Centre. I bounded up the stair with great enthusiasm, pushed the door- Geschlossen! Offnungzeit 14:00hr bis 17:00hrs. Doh!

Downstream the Danube valley narrows and winds it way through a series of S-bends where it cuts its way through a granite ridge. Here the cycle track switches sides of the river, and you have the option of two small wooden ferries to take you across. I had the ferry to myself so I struck up a conversation with the ferryman. He picked up on the marble (marmor) of the Marble City Cyclers jersey I wore- he was curious about that. He also told me that at one stage the river used to flow as rapids down this section but because of an agreement and with the help of the many dams to regulate water levels, to help barges ply the Danube the minimum clearance at all times was now 4 metres. Where we crossed the river was 10 metres deep. Having seen these massive barges laden down with their cargo, it surprised me that they only needed 4m depth.

The next 30km or so took me along this wooded valley. There was a opening to a forest track just near the cycle path where I stopped for a while. The area seemed suitable for butterflies as it was sheltered, had sunny slopes and gravel areas for basking. To me this was a lovely spot, and I enjoyed seeing and photographing butterflies like Silver-washed Fritillary, Comma, Red Admiral and Map. Mostly they were basking on the ground/gravel just by the cycle path.

Now Middle Aged Men In Lycra are a collegiate family, so when one sees a fellow MAMIL in difficulty the instinctive response is to offer assistance. So as I stood to the side of the cycle track in my lycra, with mobile phone in hand staring at the ground, I was greeted with an ‘Alles OK?’ – Ja! ‘Alles gut?’ – Ja! ‘Haben se probleme?’, Haben sie schwierigkeit?’ Brauchen sie Hilfe?’ – Nein, Nein, Nein! Just leave me be, I’m only photographing butterflies!!

At Aschach, further down the river, the Fire Service were having there annual water sports weekend, when the great fire men and women from across Austria come and test their boating prowess. It was midday Friday, so things were only just hotting up, yet there were fire men/women all over the place carrying paddles, poles and life jackets. The warm up event seemed to be a cot race, upstream for about a kilometre, where the two per boat use poles to push their way up, then downstream for about a kilometre using paddles, before turning for home once more using poles. And all this was done standing. Judging from the spectators, it seemed to be mighty craic altogether, mind you the competitors took it deadly seriously.

Stopped for the evening at Mauthausen- a place with a terrible history. Somehow it felt a bit odd sitting there in the evening having a beer and pizza, while cheering on Portugal in the World Cup.

A local struck up a conversation with me while watching the football. All was going well while we stuck to football and the merits (or not) of Ronaldo, but when we moved on to talk about what I was doing and how I was interested in nature, I could feel the camaraderie dissolve into the night air. He sat beside someone else for the second half. It’s tough being a naturalist!

111km covered during the day.

Day 8 – Auf weidersehen Deutschland

I arrived tired, cold and late to Deggendorf last night, and had difficulty finding accommodation. I could see no redeeming features of this neck of the woods. This morning, however, with a good night’s sleep I almost thought this was a nice place to be. Amazing how your mood is transposed onto where you are. But I soon got over my feelings of goodwill towards Deggendorf and headed out of town.

The morning’s cycle took me through more good agricultural land. I had hoped to spend some time looking around the Seebach Meer, some lake near the Danube, but there was a detour which took me away from there.

At one stage as I cycled I got a distinct smell of chamomile in the air; then when I turned a corner, ahead of me was a few acres of chamomile planted. This intrigued me- was this planted as a cash crop, or for some other reason? A short time later I think I got my answer, as I came across land that was specially managed for breeding skylark, lapwing and grey partridge. A couple of acres of creeping thisle and other wild flowers- the sign said this land wasn’t cut from 15th March till 15th July as an agri-environment measure. To my eyes I thought this blast of diversity and colour in a sea of green monoculture was a delight to see; I could just imagine many of my farmer friends from home saying what a waste of good land….

A bit on further up the road, with no visible signs of agri-environmental management I did see a pair of displaying Lapwing. A turtle dove also landed near me- delightful, as it is years since I had seen one.

Arrived in Passau late morning- I know, towns and cities in this part of the world are generally beautiful, but even against this benchmark, Passau wins out. Situated on a peninsula at the confluence of the Danube and the River Inn, with hugely impressive baroque buildings perched on the overlooking hillsides. The old town is a series of beautiful cobbled narrow laneways meandering under medieval archways, before widening out into stunning open squares. And tourism is a significant business here, and the place generally has a kind of hip scene. Bit of a contrast to the rest of Bavaria; whatever words you would use to describe the parts of rural Bavaria I cycled through, hip would not be one of them.

Left Passau along the southern bank of the Danube. From here, the first large tourist boats are visible; you can travel by boat from here right down to the Black Sea but what fun would there be in that?. The valley narrows here with wooded hillsides. A few kilometres outside Passau you arrive at the Austrian border. Leaving Germany gave me a great sense of finally making progress and moving more into the international waters. Apparently the Danube is the most international of all rivers in the world. So crossing the first border is a start.

Once across the Austrian border the river takes on a different character; the river narrows and wooded hillsides framing the view. The cycle trail now follows a road rather than going through farmland, but the surface is great and the view is not too bad either. Stopped for the evening at a very odd looking guesthouse, but the proprietor was friendly, and the beer, food and view were good. What more could a man ask for? Oh, football! I also watched Russia play their opening World Cup match. Bliss!

Covered 100km today – must be getting a bit closer to the sea.

Day 7 – A bit of culture

After a week of really warm humid weather I awoke to a cool overcast morning- I’d say the temperature dropped by 10 degrees overnight. Bit of a shock to the system.

Spent a bit of time exploring Regensburg, described as one of Europe’s best-preserved medieval cities. It’s narrow cobbled alleyways and open squares of the old town with beautifully maintained traditional buildings makes the city special. The Steinerne Brücke, built in the 12th Centaury, is the oldest bridge crossing the Danube in this section. It is a massively constructed stone bridge, currently being fully restored. I just had to cycly across that.

The Danube is at it’s most northly point at Regensburg, and from here it flows in a south easterly direction towards the Black Sea. Regensburg also signals the start of the heavy navigational use of the Danube, for the first large river barges that are used to transport goods can be seen on the river.

Today’s route took me through Straubing and to Deggendort, other towns that had large and beautifully maintained old squares, evidence that this part of Bavaria is not only wealthy today, but there has been wealth here for a very long time. Along here you also pass Walhalla, a huge marble temple built in 1842 and reproducing the Athenian Parthenon. A crazy folly that appears in your sights towering over you as you make your way down the valley. King Ludwig I who commissioned the building obviously had plenty of spare cash hanging around the place.

During the morning I visited Stöcklwörth Nature Reserve, a large flat grassland area that is being managed primarily for breeding waders. Breeding Curlew is one of the target species, so not only are Curlew doing poorly in Ireland and Britain, but here too in Bavaria. The meadows seem to be managed in a patchwork fashion, with a mixture of grassland of different heights available to the brreding birds. As I cycled along the path through the reserve, up rose a Curlew calling and flying overhead- obviously I had gotten too close to her nest or chick, so she was not happy. I moved on quickly not to disturb her any more. Hearing the alarm call of the Curlew took me right back to the 1970s, when I remember lying in bed in my aunt’s house near Abbeyfeale and hearing calling Curlew outside; how much the landscape has changed as the hills around Abbeyfeale have long since fallen silent – a silent spring indeed. Strange what experiences trigger a response from your past.

The remainder of the route followed the Danube dyke to the south and the Bayerischer Wald to the north, with a strip of very good quality farmland in between. At one point there is a steep southeast facing escarpment with some small vineyards. Apparently this is Germany’s smallest wine growing region- from what I could see there were only a handful of vineyards. Would have been nice to stop and try some of this wine, but it was too early in the day for an Irishman to drink alcohol- as everyone knows the Irish only drink after 5pm!

I was cycling out of some village and passed this very elderly man on a Zimmer frame. I remarked to myself that this is a fairly active man of such age to be out on his own, away from houses. Seemed to have a ring of ‘The Hundred Year Old Man who Climbed Out a Window and Disappeared’ about it. And sure enough, about a half a mile further on I met two very flustered nurses, half walking half running, asking if I had seen a man with a walking frame. I said I had, just down to the left. For a fleeting second, in honour of Allan Karlsson, I thought about saying ‘yes, just up to your right’.

The last 30km or so took me through very sparsely populated farmland, where the Danube formed a massive natural barrier to movement. Hemmed in by the dyke to the south, the only people moving here were local farmers and cyclists. I know this is good farmland; miles upon miles of mostly maize and corn, but it is boring. Nothing much here to disturb my ruminations.

Another thing that played on my mind was just how goddam perfect this part of the world is. Everything is in order (ganz ordentlich); the cycle routes are wide and well maintained and the villages are immaculately neat and tidy.There is hardly anything out of place. I can’t but wonder does anyone in this part of the world wake up in the morning and say ‘today I couldn’t be arsed to pull that little weed out of the crack in the pavement’ or ‘maybe I’ll argue with the wife today rather than rake the driveway’? No, I guess not- Bavarians are made of sterner stuff apparently!

Stopped for the night at Deggendorf, having covered 110km. Austria tomorrow…

Day 6 – Back to nature

Just downstream from Neuburg there is a large nature reserve- mostly woodland, but with open heath areas too. I spent the morning here, aimlessly cycling along paths deep inside the nature reserve. At one stage the track narrowed to just a dirt track along a river channel, so I definitely got off the beaten track. Met a photographer here who looked like quiteness and seclusion were what he was most seeking, but while he did tell me kindly that he was trying to photograph wildlfe, I suspect my trundling through his demesne at that time disturbed hours of precious set up time.

In one open area, called the Jeckl-Brenne biotope, I spent some time searching out butterflies. There were plenty of marble whites, map and dark-green fritillary, as well as the usual whites, blues and peacock. Was delight to see (and identify) short-tailed blue butterfly, a new species for me.

I stopped for a break and while sitting there I saw both black and great-spotted woodpecker and was serenaded by a golden oriel, nightengale and cuckoo.

In the afternoon much of my route took me along the top of the flood dyke constructed often as part of the dam network. At this point much of the Danube has massive dams every so often, giving you a sense of just how important it is for electricity generation. The dykes are great for they give you a great view of the river and the surrounding landscape. The sloping banks are also well drained and full of wildflowers, so there is always something to see. A constant companion is the Banded Demoiselle – they are everywhere within flight of the river. I did have my first encounter with a snake as it slid away in front of my bike – I know I should cherish all wildlife equally, but I really would perfer not to get too up close a personal with them. I also got a bit too close to a young family of greylag goose and the parents let me know in no uncertain terms to feck off and leave them alone.

The higlight of the afternoon’s trip was a short boat trip down the Donaudurchbruch, where the river flows through a rugged gorge with no road. This provided great views of the gorge, while eating a currywurst mit pommes! And it was an effortless way to get to Kelheim.

I decided to continue to Regensburg for the evening, another 30km or so, to get to the nearest camping site. Regensburg is familiar territory for me, for I spent a week here learning German shortly after I got married, so that I could understand my new in-laws. Actually, so that I could speak to my in-laws; as anyone will tell you, you need to be equipped with more than a common language to understand in-laws!

Had covered 119km by the time I rolled into Camping-AZUR that evening.

Day 5 – Mr Bonjour!

I feel there is a bit of false advertising going on with the Donauradweg – the Danube Cycle Trail. You’d expect the trail to, well follow the Danube, right? Well those Fränkische Alb tourist people have managed to get the cycle trail to meander not along the river, but up dell and down dale so unsuspecting cyclists can see their offerings, whether they want to or not. Not that the region isn’t picturesque, it’s just it was a bit of a surprise, that’s all. If I wanted hills I might have opted for the Wicklow 200 instead.

Cycling the Danube Trail is a different experience; although it is mostly you and your thoughts, you do meet fellow cyclists along the way. You recognise people from campsites and no matter what your pace, with stops and detours, you tend to rendezvous with the same cyclists each day. Today I passed a skinny little Frenchman who I recognised from our camp site the evening before. So we greeted each other with a cheery (and heartfelt) Bonjour! Later that morning the same Frechman was stopped at the side of the track – I stopped too for a snack, with the idea of striking up a bit of a conversation- kindred spirits and all that. Unwrapping my snickers I greeted him with another Bonjour! But that was where the conversation began and ended, for I have no French and he had neither English or German. For a minute or two we tried to communicate through babble and hand gestures but soon gave up. We eat in silence, somewhat uncomfortably, until a discrete period of time passed so I could head off on my way.

Well, that was not the end of our encounters; however we managed it we passed at least four more time during the day’s cycle- each time we shared a Bonjour! but it was getting a bit ridiculous.

The afternoon cycle took me through farmland; cropland, mostly wheat and barley, but also alot of maize, potatoes and spinach. There were also strips of sunflowers planted around the edges of some fields so the landscape should look even prettier next month. Interesting that outdoors, there was not an animal to be seen. For a naturalist, the landscape offered meagre pickings; a couple of roe deer, red kites overhead and singing yellowhammers, plenty of yellowhammers.

In the late afternoon I was planning my stop for the evening and decided I would stay in a campsite at Neuburg, about 20km further on. I rounded a corner and who should be on the track ahead of me again but Mr Bonjour. Ah jaysus! Well I slowed thinking I could amble on behind him, but as I slowed, so did he. And he slowed…. I have no idea what kind of a game he was playing but I’d never get to Neuburg at this rate. As the track rose a bit, I saw my opportunity. A short gentle incline of about 50m lay ahead. I powered on, passing him with our by now customary Bonjour! making a break for it. I was pulling away, delighted to see the back of my French friend. And just as I was beginning to feel the exertions of my spurt, what happened but as I rounded a corner what did I see but feckin’ Alp D’Huez rising up ahead of me! Well I don’t know about the French man, but I nearly killed myself on that climb. But as I crested the summit, I achieved one thing, it was Au revoir! to Le Frenchman.

Explored a bit of Neuburg before finding the campsite for the night- it is a walled town with beautiful cobbled streets. Treated myself to a massive iced coffee from an Italian ice cream outlet- felt I deserved it.Then off to the campsite. I registered and was allocated my pitch- as I turned into where I was directed, who was sitting there beside his tent but Mr Bonjour!

Managed 100km for the day.

Day 4- The Blue Danube

Well my visit to Blautopf didn’t disappoint. In the side of a hill, water flows forth from an underground karst spring, welling up with microparticles of limestone, giving it a turquoise blue colour. This is the source of the Blau River that joins the Danube downstream. It is hard to describe how blue the water is in this 21m deep spring without seeing it at first hand; it is certainly worth travelling to see. Geologically this feature is similiar to the spring at Cong, Co. Mayo, but without the colour.

I was fortunate that I visited the site just before it began to rain, for the thunder showers arrived. I sheltered for a short while but decided to move on. Cycling in the rain is not a novelty for an Irish cyclist- and at least it was warm rain.

The spin to Ulm,a city about the size of Limerick, the first large city on the Danube was uneventful- I put the head down and just got into a rhythm to cover the distance. Managed to get hopelessly lost in Ulm – managed this a couple of times! Ulm is the first place you get the sense that the Danube is growing into a mighty river. Getting wide here, and plenty of people out using the river – boating and paddling on it.

The rain stopped in the afternoon, but it never really dried- it was one of the most humid days I experienced for a long time. As I cycled I noticed the drying soil gave the air a metallic, pungent small- very unlike the sweeter, organic small you get from soil at home.

In a mixed beech and oak wood that I cycled through, I noticed quite a bit of butterfly actiivity so I stopped for a while. Large fritillaries (they probably were Silver-washed, but like everything else in Germany, they looked bigger) and white admiral were flying around in sun spots. I tried to photograph some but I was eaten alive by mosquitoes. Clearly exotic pasty white flesh was too much of a treat for them to pass up. Lasted here no more than half an hour before I fled to safety on my bike.

In the afternoon downstream from Ulm I passed into Bavaria, giving me a sense of progress. Stopped for the night in Dillingen having covered 112km.

Day 3 – Losing my way

Now the navigation challenge set by cycling down the Danube is not that great, particularly for a Geographer. Find the river- it helps that it is generally the biggest around – then find the path that runs along the river, and head off in the direction of the flow of water. Simple, any old eejit can do it. Yet get lost I did- headed off to a nearby town. But evidence that there is a God out there, for had I not got lost I would never have experienced the Mengen Street Festival. The town was crammed with revellers, stuffing their faces with all kind of food from a multitude of stalls. There was music from stage and street, and all sorts of family events. A favourite was the cow milking competition right in the middle of main street, where teams took turns to see who could milk the cow the fastest. I should add it was a life-sized plastic cow that was being milked, not a real one (don’t know if that makes it better or worse!). This was serious business. Being a keen observer of such matters, I saw there were two approaches used to different effect; there were the teat pullers and the teat strokers. And it seems the teat pullers won the day. I wonder, if the cow was asked would she have agreed?

Once back on track the route took me through rich farmland overlooked by charming towns and villages of wooden framed houses with red slate roofs, each village more picturesque than the last. It really was picture postcard stuff. But you couldn’t help notice everything was tidy and nothing was out of place. I’d say its not an easy place to live, specially if you are a messer.

The route followed small hard-surfaced roads and well maintained farm tracks, beautiful for cycling on. This is stork country, a delight to see their huge nests in farmyards; at one spot there were 10 white storks feeding in a field within 50m of the track. I also got close-up views of a green woodpecker and a red-backed shrike. It is always nice to see birds that don’t occur in Ireland, but generally this is a heavily managed landscape.

Close to Ehingen there were a series of lakes by the river. They mostly seem to be used for fishing, but some were left as nature reserves from what I could make out. They must be good birdwatching here during migration.

The last bit of today’s route was a dogleg upstream along the Schmiech valley to see as the guidebook says the ‘spectacular Blautopf blue lagoon, source of the Blau River’. We’ll see tomorrow if it is as spectacular as the guide book says ( ince bitten twice shy and all that). I stopped in Schmiech for the evening a few kilometres from the Blautopf. Schmiech itself is a lovely quiet village nestled into a small intimate wooded valley.

When I stopped I had cycled 97km for the day.

Day 2- In search of beavers

Awoke to a rumbling in my stomach that I felt potentially could erupt at any stage. So much for drinking my cup of contentment at the source of the Danube- cup of contaminant more like it. Nothing too bad but I couldn’t contemplate eating anything; not a good way to start a day’s cycling.

Headed off downstream following the Danube proper now, crossing the first of many bridges just outside town. The early part of the day took me along the open floodplain of the upper Danube.

I was looking forward to seeing the Karst area called Donauversickerung, an area where some of the water of the Danube is lost undergroud to the Rhine through a series of sink holes. They calculate that with time, all the flow from this part of the upper Danube will eventually link directly to the Rhien. The guide book wrote of being able to cross the river bed during dry spells without getting your feet wet. There is even a special viewing point to see this spectacle! Well the view that awaited me was brown standing water: a bit like the Barrow downsteam of Goresbridge, only the Barrow is prettier. So much for the guide books.

Further downstream the river began flowing through the limestone of the Schwäbische Alb. The valley narrowed and soon the river was hemmed in by tall wooded limestone cliffs on either side – a very different landscape from earlier in the day. The first part took me through the spectacular Mühlheim Nature Reserves, a narrow valley with beautiful species rich grassland on limestone and slopes of scattered scrub and sheer cliffs. There are lynx here, but the area is perhaps best known for the beavers that were reintroduced here. And there is evidence of them everywhere. The rivers are strewn with dead trees, cut by the beavers to create dams. Consequently the river has a really wild feel to it; I was expecting at anytime to see Davy Crockett sail past in his canoe.

From here it was into the steep limestone ravines for many kilometers- a really spectacular landscape.

By mid afternoon I began to struggle on the bike, and I realised that hidden by the rumbling in my stomach were pangs of hunger- my body was running on empty. I had quite a distance before I came to the next village, by which time I really needed some food; I was thinking of perhaps a healthy salad or a ham and cheese roll- nothing too heavy. But as luck would have it, the only shop in the place was closed. So cycling out of the village, cursing myself that I didn’t have some stash of supplies, I spied a fast food trailer parked up at the side of the road. Great, a portion of chips would do the job. But Slavic’s Giros was all out of chips; he was all out of everything apparently except Doner Kebabs. Well I didn’t hesitate, ‘Ein Doner bitte- mit alles’! Well what was served up was the largest offering of greasy meat in a pitta bread I ever saw. But coveting my kabab much in the way that Gollum did his preciouss, I headed to the nearby bench to devour my prize. Half an hour later I realised that was not the smartest thing I’ve ever done; now pushing not only my bike and dodgy stomach but half a tonne of doner kebab too. Suppose it did make going downhill a bit quicker!

The remainder of the journey continued through this spectacular gorge (excuse the pun) scenery, where many a castle and monastery were perched high above, virtually impenetrable from below.
This area is really stunning, and I couldn’t help noticing that the area was alive with wildlife- the cacophony of grasshoppers and crickets calls coming from the grasslands is a sound now all but lost from the Irish countryside. At places in the woods, there were signs telling of the value of dead timber to wildlife, the valuable role insects play in decomposition and all about nutrient cycling. I was thinking, this place has it right; why can’t Ireland have as good an attitude to nature conservation? But soon after I began noticing signs all over saying that mining wasn’t welcomed here. Apparently the foresty service has plans to quarry the limestone nearby and some of the locals aren’t happy. Ah well! My idyll shattered. Stopped for the night in Sigmaringen, having covered 96km. Not bad considering….

Day 1- Finding the source(s)

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.