“We’re going to Hainault National Park!” That’s what I’ve been telling everyone, ‘cos that’s what Mark told me. “It’s the oldest and most unspoilt beech woodland in Germany.” I enthused. “It was used as a military area by the Russians and is the largest woodland that is not in any commercial use. But it’s odd that it’s got the same name as a suburb of North East London…”
To be fair to me, Hainault DOES have its own forest – and it borders Epping forest. So it is very foresty. But you won’t find wild cats, canopy tours or any signs of the Red Army occupying Hainault. At least, I don’t think so…
It was the prettiest drive that we have done so far, through Hansel & Gretel forests and gorgeous, half-timbered towns.
Once again, several roads were closed completely, so we had to do a couple of U turns and re-routes. Even without the aid of ‘German in 3 Months’ we have worked out what the German is for ‘diversion’; ‘Umleitung’ – and where there is more than one diversion, we found that it is wise to follow the miniature and barely visible signs bearing the number of your particular diversion or heaven knows where you might end up!
We crossed into the former East Germany and reached The Hainich (NOT The Hainault!) National Park. However, at a cost of €2 per night per dog and advice from the campsite owner that “dogs off the lead vill be shot” we decided to move on the following day! (I read later that dogs are not allowed off lead in any woodland in this whole area of Thuringia.)
The border with former East Germany was just after a very pretty town on a river called Wanfried. There was a very Eastern European looking castle on the hill in the next town and the houses definitely changed and became more utilitarian.
Then as we skirted the Hainich forest, the landscape was flat as far as the eye could see! We passed near a place called Spielberg. With my new understanding of German, that means ‘Play Mountain!’
The campsite at Hainich, Campingplatz Tor am See, was really well kept and the proprietor spoke perfect English – he had previously lived in Torquay and then Florida! The site had lovely little sitting areas. Luckily it was very windy as the temperature was 36ºC. To add to the mood that evening, we heard an air-raid siren and shots were fired!
We hoped that it wasn’t the Luftwaffe strafing unrestrained canines in the National Park!
Hainich to Camping Outtour; Unstrut
“Hallo! Would you like these?” A Dutch lady appeared at our caravan window the following morning and handed us some tourist brochures for Hainich. Amid a cacophony of barking from the Fab Four, she managed to explain “We are here for the Looters.” Visions of smugglers and pirates passed before my eyes . “It is the 500th Anniversary of Martin Looter. A lot of Dutch people come here for that.” I hadn’t realised that Martin Luther was ordained in nearby Erfurt.
We were at the mercy of road closures again, we went via Erfurt, which was full of very utilitarian tower blocks and were a whisper away from Weimar, birthplace of a Republic and the lovely, seal-coloured Weimaraner dogs.
The landscape was amazing – flat in every direction as far as the eye could see. This is where Geography and History come together – it is easy to see how Germany’s destiny is tied in with the landscape to the east. There are no natural barriers, mountains or large rivers, to hinder an invasion and it is not hard to see how the landscape enabled the Russian incursion so far into Germany.
However, after following some gorgeous cobbled roads, we rocked up in a little piece of heaven! It took some grit and 3 hours to cover the 60 miles to get there; “20 miles ago, we were 12 miles away. Do you think the whole area is just closed?” Mark asked before stating “If there’s another road closure, I’m going straight to Colditz!”
I said that I was rather looking forward to the little campsite by the river and when we encountered the next road closure, I managed to persuade Mark to carry on. I am so glad that I did. We wound up in a tiny little campsite right next to the river Unstrut with a walk to a castle from site! It is just our kind of place! The owners run a canoe business and I am really excited about taking the dogs on the river through the beautiful National Park, which is in the process of being accepted for UNESCO status. There are medieval villages and it is a big wine area. We saw most of the area, having approached it on 3 sides of a square due to the omnipresent road closures!
Unfortunately, this was the last stand of Jean’s Reefs – the flip flop sandals given to me by a friend. I slipped on the hill near reception and the toe post broke.
Join us next time as we follow a kingfisher with the Pups on SUPs and discover the father of modern gymnastics in the ‘Tuscany of the North’!
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