An early Biedermann heavy frustuk. A glamourous blonde German woman of the later years says: “I hope you jogged,” when I explain where I have walked from.
In the wi-fi annex I meet Antonio, an Australian travelling with his wife. He’s running the Cologne half-marathon soon. More pertinently to my needs he has an IPad and we talk SIMs and roaming and pros and cons.
Rheinfels is already moodily higher than the town of St. Goar, it looks imperiously down – but frankly all the castles do that. Down there is a pretty motley collection of cafes and cuckoo clock shops, and it holds little allure. I head up, away from the river, climb through the hinterlands to avoid the two valleys which add two more climbs and descents. Lets be efficient about this.
I’m moving upriver, through a flurry of larger bungalows and then into open land, rectangles of colour, like 60s wallpaper. Like yesterday, except that the light is very different; and this is starting to matter. It’s not that I am becoming an artist; it is just that I am looking more closely at everything, and more slowly. It is a dark wet morning, the clouds are pale gray, or darker, hinting at coal. Burrowing down on the abbreviated horizons, ploughing the painters’ facades I’m seeing every moment. The uneven geometries of grazing land, fields, forests and pathways, primeval information highways; from dark pastels yesterday to full rich oils today. These scenes are all around, emergent from the light morning darkness. Once again I whirl, a wet dervish this time, wiping the camera lens often, yet frequently finding on “playback” that a spot of moisture has ruined the shot.
Cows and bulls lumber; the isolated trees stand proudly morose, thoughtful. And then, past the bird-watchers’ raised hut and into the woods. Properly now, light fades, is glimpsed through the tips of trees. 25 kilometres to go.
It’s been raining all morning, lightly. Now outside the forest the deluge begins. I put on my wooly hat for the first time since crossing the French Alps from La Chambre, three years ago. June 2007. New hat.
A new kind of silence descends, far from absolute quiet, but far also form the bustling cacophony of the riverside. Which in turn is church peaceful in comparison with even a small town, with Oberwesel or Bacharach. Bird songs and falling leaves lead the chorus; the Steve Reich monotony of the rain droning above.
Enclosed now, the footpath is narrow, at the right hand edge the ground falls away steeply down deep ravines, below fallen trees, upended, assume new positions, different ecological roles to play. I feel closer to Tom than for ages, certain that he was around here. A turn; a choice, left or right. Soon, naturally enough, the diurnal connection with Tom is bust and I am vaulting streams, walking across upended trees, temporary bridges, and scrabbling hillsides. Another choice, left, right. Open land again, progress. I look across to a pair of trees, like a Kiefer. They are the same trees I’ve obsessively photographed an hour ago, from another perspective. The light and the rain are different now, so I obsess
some more. Then turn around. Back into the forest. Hours pass. I see pizza sized and coloured – like a pepperoni – mushrooms. Every kind of mushroom; apple trees; hear bird songs I cannot place. It is cosy in the forest, hermetic – signalless.
Eventually I emerge to a stunning almost horizonless vista of fields and plots and horses. In the dark distance pretty much Constable’s Haywain – minus the haywain. I plunge the camera to lower and lower angles, emphasising either the vast gray-white clouds or the moist green fields broken apart by long straight farming paths and lanes. Finally a village. I must be close. A football field. A church spire in the distance, peeling. It is three in the afternoon. I ask a local man how far now to Boppard.
It’s about 20 kilometres, perhaps you should go to St. Goar and take the bus? It’s only 2 kilometres away.
I have inadvertently walked a giant five hour circle. Brilliant me. St Goar may be 2 kilometres away but I am down the wrong valley. I climb through vineyards wet with ripe and readiness, and then in the cloudy distance my castle home emerges, with the Rhine next door, still rolling along. The castle, like Greta Garbo, gives good face in all kinds of weather. She’s moody today. Perhaps she is still angry with the Plastics’ boys singing last night.
Down, down, to the river and outskirts of St Goar. My wonderful Merrells are soaked through. For my unexpected new afternoon back at Rheinfels castle – I will have to stay another night now – I could do with some trainers, something. I walk into a wet half-empty town, the forlorn cafes of storm-time in mid-week. In Tourist Information I ask about shoe shops in St Goar. “Ah, yes we have Birkenstock, just down the road.”…
We Mexicanly stand-off for a few seconds; she breaks first. Into laughter. “I guess sandals aren’t exactly what you want? Sorry.” I laugh too – it’s funny.
In the Birkenstock shop window Heidi Klum’s silver “designer” sandals get pride of place. With no brick to throw, I wanderweg back up the final climb to Rheinfels. I take a muddy right half-way up the hill walk and find a small outhouse, known as a “Tusculum” . A place of retreat and creative solitude. It was the idea of Landgravine Anna-Elizabeth, born in 1549. Otto Dix, the artist, came here a lot in the 1920s. I make a note to 1) learn some proper German history 2) Find out about Otto Dix.
Back in Biedermann-Spa territory I change rooms, download the new John Le Carre, Our Kind of Traitor, because some of it is set in Switzerland, and polish off a bad though strangely compelling book before dinner. Dinner experiences no acapella singng and in the late night house bar the cattle owner’s wife has some trouble fighting off an 80 year old German with a pepperoni pizza red nose, who spends most of the evening in pursuit of her upper thighs. I guess you have to kiss a lot of Biedermann ass if you run a castle-hotel five minutes from Loreley.
Later I get to meet a Lion – which is like the Rotarians, I learn, only they have an unlikely seat at the UN. He explains the Rhine wines is great detail, loving detail. The bullet point is that the roots of the Riesling grape can be incredibly long. I wrote down 15 metres, but perhaps I had drunk one too many Rieslings. So it needs very particular kinds of soil, and earth. AKA around here.
Chardonay is a slapper, by comparison. She’ll do it anywhere.
Fritz wasn’t always a sommelier, he used to run an electric organ factory nearby, employing 80 people. Then the banks got involved. “You know that everyday those guys play with eight times the world’s GDP?” he says.
I don’t. “They really do run the world.”
Handy: I’ll be in financial Frankfurt soon, I can see for myself. On the curious time-machine digital jukebox that Gustel the High German Scribe cum barmaid plays Gilbert O’Sullivan is singing “Nothing Rhymed.” I’m so tired from my circular day it sounds positively Irving, if not Isaiah, Berlin. Upstairs walking to my room in the old castle I stumble across one of the staff in full medieval costume. The team are having a locked door party downstairs somewhere. It is 11.30.In the morning I’ll walk to Boppard the river route, zoning out the cars and trains and cruisers. I’d like to – like – get there.
I chat to Antonio about IPads some more in the post frustuck wifi annex meet up zone. Mouthful. He tells me there’s a wine tasting weekend kicking off in Boppard tonight. With live music.
I wonder if it will creep beyond the 1970s?