COBBLES

Thunder storms were forecast, with heavy downpours as an accompaniment. That they arrived several hours late was a bonus, but had we not faffed around with some peculiarities of map-reading, some odd signage and Germanising bits of the route. It is not that we can’t do any of them, it is just that when combined without care you can end up with the worst of all three. in other words we had lengthy detour; we got lost; went astray. Sensibly we resorted to basics. we want to go east, so we shall do east. That, and asking.

A few spectacular castles appeared on hill tops. Visiting the Konradburg by accident, we took a brief look before heading back to find that the unsigned right hand fork of a dirt track - we had ignored it for the tarmac road - was actually the cycle route we had temporarily been following. A sign some fifty metres along confirmed this. That there was no sign at the junction is a small matter on the great scale of the human experience, but it is something that has caused me to ponder.

Cycling on cobbled roads is an interesting experience. When there are as many different cobbles to be found as the old East German road builders managed to include in their tessellations and how sporadically they they appear is both frustrating and enjoyable. Most of the main roads are tarmac surface. Village and smaller town centres are cobbled - except for the main drags; roads between villages may contain, as that between Freckleben and Sandersleben did, broad blue and grey cobbles,faded-pink and sand-yellow cobbles, large brown lump cobbles (the correct wrd os probably setts) and a variety of red. These appear and disappear with great regularity, often with short trips of asphalt to lure you into a touch of speed before bumping over them again.

The main contrast between of East and old West Germany is in the obvious signs of change. A small village clearly nice had a butcher, a baker, a pharmacy and other shops, but all were closed down and many of the houses in tatters. the kind of beautiful timber-framed houses that resonate in bright colours in the west are dun in the east. Water-mills were still functioning - a great green venture or a sign of a backward economy?

Halle an der Saale, birthplace of GF Handel - the well-known English composer (?) - is wealthier as cities often are. Its great churches and historic buildings are a wonderful testament tot he power of the city in former years. the great delight though is the the ride in along the Saale. Germany promotes its river cycle ways and for all the roughness of some of the tracks we have followed on some routes almost all the way between Alsleben and Halle was on an “autobahn” of a radweg. The exceptions were in the towns and villages - mixed cobble and tarmac and paving and a mixture and a few earth surfaces. If it is all built to the higher standard it will be a wonderful ride.

On the Saale Radweg we passed through Wettin, one a Ducal seat of power and with a castle that towers over the ton and its little ferry. It rained headily …… so, in Wettin we got a wetting, which is a bout the bet that could be managed at the time.

Sixty-eight miles.

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