Sunday, 5 August 2012

12. July 8th- Rain and Rhine.

We woke up to rain- luckily the campsite had a covered area so we did as much packing under the shelter as we could but had to pack the tents up in the rain. Unfortunately in my hurry to fold my tent I somehow managed to break one of the struts on my fold up tent- I tried to bind the strut up with duct tape and hoped this would hold [ it didn't, but more of that later].

We hoped to move away from the Maas and rejoin it as the Rhine in Germany. We left Holland fairly quickly but there were no signs telling us that we had moved from one country to another- a photo opportunity missed.

As we moved from Kranenburg to Kieve the drizzle turned to rain which then turned into an hour long torrential downpour. We were on a road following the route of a roman road so we could see that there was nowhere to shelter so we stood under a tree and got progressively wetter, and wetter, and wetter. Bruce and I also made the discovery that our waterproofs weren't.

After getting soaked to a point where we couldn't get any wetter we decided to cycle through the unabated rain and see if there was any sort of shelter in the next town- Kalkar.

We got to the town and the only place we could see open was a small cafe that had nowhere to park the bikes. We cycled past this three times and each time we could see the relief on the faces of the patrons and the owners when each time three completely sodden cyclist didn't grace their establishment with their custom.

In the end we sheltered in the entrance of a closed Netto and tried to cheer ourselves up with a few cereal bars - ah, the romance of the road.

The rain had relented and changed from torrential to relentless and continual, when it then changed to continual and heavy we once again set out and headed towards Xanten, the next big town and one where Nicky Kearsley from Robert Peel has a house? or relatives? or even both.

Anyway, when next Nicky visits Xanten the inhabitants will no doubt still be talking about the three drenched English cyclist who appeared out of the gloom and sat themselves down at an outside table at a very upmarket cafe/ restaurant at the top end of the market square.

Inside were all the good folk who had dressed up for a Sunday afternoon of coffee, cakes and pastries. Outside were three cyclist dripping water everywhere and taking trainers off to wring out completely sodden socks. All credit to the staff, they served us and gave us directions as to how to get to the next town. Mind you it was probably in their interest to move us on as quickly as possible before we affected trade too much.

A word about Xanten- it's an attractive town with a very picturesque, large town square. It also has the remains of a very large Roman fort- see photos.

A very damp Bruce and Fred outside Xanten.

Some of the remains of the Roman fort outside Xanten - we knew that Roman road must be leading somewhere.

Finally the rain relented and we cycled ourselves dry. We only had the very large Michelin map for this stretch so navigation was a matter of map reading and faith- mainly faith.

We felt that the clue of where the Rhine might be was in the name of the town Rhineberg. We cycled close to there and after going mainly on instinct we cycled up a road, came over a crest in the road and immediately, much to our surprise, came across the Rhine.

It really is an impressive sight; very wide, fast flowing, and with huge industrial barges continually passing by.

First sight of the Rhine.

We had met the Rhine just north of Duisburg, an area full of heavy industry and manufacturing activity. On both banks of the Rhine freight trains went by every few minutes, the banks were lined with huge factories and the skyscape was dominated by chimneys, factories, warehouses and chemical plants.

Somehow the Germans seem to have kept many of the things we have lost or surrendered. Where we were the whole impression was of busyness and industry, and the Rhine was obviously the main artery enabling the movement of goods and material.

Yet another unhelpful map.

Impressive as all this was the area we found ourselves in could hardly be called scenic. We asked a number of people [ when I say 'we' I mean Fred and Bruce, I just played the role of the grinning accomplice], if they knew of any campsites but were met with very blank stares. One person we asked even got his smartphone out and came up with a nil return for the whole area. We cycled through the factory areas of Duisburg with the dawning realisation that you would only open a campsite in that area if would wanted to lose a lot of money quickly as a tax dodge.

It was now getting dark and went into the town and couldn't even see anything that looked like a hotel or guesthouse. After cycling out of the town and ploughing on for a bit more we came to the decision that we would have to find a patch of ground and camp where we could.

The best bet seemed to be on the bank of the Rhine and we eventually found a footpath that took us down to  underneath a large railway bridge.We were  very aware of the strong wind that was whistling between the arches of the bridge. Luckily, Fred found a spot beneath the very last arch that seemed relatively sheltered. We put two tents up- it was decided not to risk mine considering the mishap in the morning- and admired the factories, the chimneys, and the whole industrial scene.It was neither the most romantic or scenic spot to camp.    While we were setting up a German came up and started talking to us. He said that the pillar we were under supported a twin railway bridge- when I asked what had happened to it he said that it was destroyed in the second world war- that helped to bring home just how important the Rhine was both as a conduit of the German war industry and also what a huge barrier it must have been for the Allies.

After setting up we shared the inevitable cereal bars and also shared some of a bottle of malt whisky that I had had the foresight to take. I then reflected that in two short months I had moved from being a headteacher to sleeping rough and drinking whisky underneath a railway bridge- sad.

With the sound of Rhine barges travelling through the night, long freight trains rumbling overhead and the wind swirling through the arches we settled down for a fairly short nights sleep.

 Be it ever so humble there's no place like home.

 Stabling the bikes for the night.
 Well, at least it wasn't raining.

 Self explanatory.
 Fred defending his pitch.
 Bruce, looking for the toilets.

Trying to see if our situation looked any better after working our way through the whisky.

It really didn't look much better the next morning.

No comments: