Meandering in the Mosel John Pye | Posted: 30 July 2015
Self guided walking in Germany
Self guided walking in Germany
Self guided walking in Germany

If your idea of a good walk is a strenuous hike through the Hindu Kush, periodically fighting off bandits with your trusty revolver, you won’t like Inntravel’s Meanders of the Moselle holiday.

You are never far from civilisation when walking in Germany, and in the Mosel (German spelling) you are walking through a landscape that has been cultivated for thousands of years. It’s a bit like walking in the Cotswolds, except that the public toilets are clean, public transport is cheaper, cleaner, more modern and more frequent, and the wine is cheaper and more abundant. And the cakes are better. And you are unlikely to bump into Jeremy Clarkson.

In fact, if you go in early May, like Joan and me, you are unlikely to bump into many people at all mid-week. We walked the Moselsteig for hours in leafy solitude alone with our thoughts and birdsong. There were plenty of signs that people had been there, though. In a number of places someone had been along helpfully labelling all the flora. I became so used to this that when I saw three little lizards basking on a rock I found myself looking for the sign to tell me what they were. The rock was labelled, though – red sandstone. Later, seeing a bird of prey effortlessly riding the thermals, I half expected an arrow to appear in the sky with the word “buzzard” attached to it.

On some walks, we have all experienced the feeling that a particular section has gone on for too long, particularly when going up. Here, nothing goes on for too long. On strenuous ups you almost always reach a flat bit just at the point when you are beginning to need one, and steep downs are likewise followed by easy strolls along the contour of the hill or languid dawdles in the valley.

You pass through shady woods, both deciduous and pine, and when the shade becomes a little too cool, you suddenly emerge into brilliant sunshine onto a path between vineyards. Underfoot, grassy paths give way to pine needles, then to beech mast, then to gravel lanes, to stony tracks, to metalled roads and back again.

At one point we passed through a sort of heathland area of scrub and grassland with hunters’ hides (the Inntravel notes told us this was what they were) on stilts dotted about. I wanted to know what the hunters would be hunting and looked for an explanatory notice, but for once there wasn’t one. I am thinking of writing to the authorities about it.

At every viewpoint there is a noticeboard to explain what you are looking at, and there is also a seat, just in case you need a rest. Occasionally, there is a board to explain the sorts of physical jerks you can do if you don’t need a rest. Often there is a picnic table in case you need to have something to eat, and occasionally there will be barbecue facilities in case you need to do some cooking. Sometimes these facilities seem almost impossibly lavish. Just above Traban-Trabach near a little chapel we came across a hut with a barbecue oven and chimney, vast enough to roast a small ox. Since we are not in the habit of carrying quantities of raw meat with us on our walks we failed to make use of this facility. Nor indeed did we engage in any gratuitous physical jerks.

The locals are clearly very alive to the possibilities of the Moselsteig for education, recreation and even advertising. At one point on the way to Beilstein, you walk up out of Senheim on a path that passes between vineyards. The vineyards above you are retained by a rather attractive random-stone wall into which plaques commemorating local wine-making worthies are cemented. Other plaques display various wise sayings to edify you and broaden your mind as you wend your way. I particularly liked the little poem that went like this:
Süsse Milch ist für die Kinder
Saure Milch is für das Schwein
Wasser saufen Pferd und Rinder
Doch für uns schuf Gott den Wein

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Meanders of the Moselle Valley

Spend a week following the languid turns of the Moselle River, enjoying splendid walking, fabulous views and wine tasting, whilst gaining unique insights into the heritage and culture of the region.

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This translates as follows: “Sweet milk is for the children / Sour milk is for the swine / Horse and cattle booze on water / but just for us God gave the wine.” “Saufen” means “to swill or swig” and a “Saufabend” is a boozy evening, “besaufen” is a rather vulgar term for getting drunk. Notice that in line three, the word order is inverted, “Wasser” being the object of “saufen”, not the subject.  The choice of the word “saufen” implies rather wickedly that God gave us wine not just to drink but to get drunk.

The poem seemed especially appropriate in that someone was clearly planning a boozy event. The first evidence for this had come just out of Senheim as we turned up the slope between the vineyards. Ahead of us there was a parked van, and next to it a man was erecting a sort of wooden gazebo, which, as we came closer, resolved itself into a temporary bar, complete with fridge and portable electricity generator. Cases of wine and barrels of beer could be glimpsed through the open door of the van. A little way off and above on a side path to the right was the unmistakable light blue Tardis-shape of a Portaloo.

For me, the sight of this became father to a thought, and the thought began to insist that it should become father to a deed. I announced to Joan my intention of using the Portaloo. She was scandalised. What if the man saw me? It was obviously his Portaloo, and we were clearly not invited to the party for which the Portaloo was provided. Ignoring her unintentional alliteration, like many a criminal, I tried to dilute my guilt by enlisting her as an accomplice, and suggested she should use it too. She could even go first while I kept watch. But no, she was adamant. She adopted the mortified look she uses when she discovers that I have been walking around all day with one trouser leg tucked into my sock.

Undeterred, I scampered up the path towards the Portaloo which leaned at a slightly rakish angle, as if it had just been plonked there until a more level spot could be found. It was the cleanest Portaloo I have ever been in. It was a sunny, breezy day and the flimsy plastic cabin trembled and the door rattled a little in the wind. As I was washing my hands with some particularly pleasant-smelling soap, a stronger gust hit my refuge, and suddenly I was counterbalancing a tilt in the floor, amid plasticky, grinding noises and a definite sense of motion from below. An icy hand clutched at my heart.

Then the movement ceased. Not stopping to dry my hands, but not failing to notice with satisfaction that paper towels had been provided, I fumbled the door open and stepped out. Marks in the gravel suggested that the Portaloo had shifted about an inch. A stronger gust might just have been enough to shift the cabin beyond its tipping point. It would have toppled over with me in it, and the momentum attained in the fall might have been just enough to carry it down the slope, the loose stones on the track lubricating its passage. Gathering speed it would have hurtled across the T-junction, past Joan who was standing with her back to me, pretending I wasn’t with her and admiring the view over the Mosel.

There, if I was lucky, it would have come to a halt. I imagined climbing out, unperturbed, saying something like, “That was fun!” If I was unlucky, it would have bounced into the next vineyard that sloped at forty-five degrees, a couple of hundred metres or more down to the road and the river. The headlines didn’t bear thinking about. I briefly wondered whether the unauthorised use of a Portaloo would have invalidated my travel insurance.

I dried my hands on my handkerchief, and by the time I reached Joan I had regained my composure. I eulogised the Portaloo, extolling its cleanliness, the fragrant soap, the paper towels…

As it happened, mine was not the only Portaloo. It turned out that these temporary bars were being erected at intervals all along the path to where it emerged above the next village. At a discreet distance from each bar there was a Portaloo, securely placed on the level. Joan made discreet use of one.

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