TODAY was THE DAY.
The weather was right. Everybody was fighting fit.
Finally, the time had come. We were going to do THE BIG WALK!
We were lost from even before the outset. We parked at the village of Rathewalde, but I had been so busy trying to pronounce Rathewalde properly (Rathe Valda. RaTe Valda. Grrrrat e Valda) en route that I had failed to navigate to the free car park that Marco had told us about, a short walk from the village centre.
We paid to park in the village and then started our walk by immediately passing the free car park. Thus, I efficiently annoyed Mark on a number of counts simultaneously!
Almost as soon as we set off, it all got a bit Bear Grylls. Mark checked the map as our path petered out in a forest. We realised that we were gazing down a precipice. We quickly clipped the dogs on to their leads. Unaided, we had found the quick way down to Uttewalde Grunde!
We backtracked, meeting hoards of other lost souls, most of whom didn’t even have maps. We found that we had made the schoolboy error of missing a route-marker that was painted on the wrong side of a tree. We saw it – beautifully clear and evident – as we returned from The Wrong Way!
We had another quick check of the map to identify which precipice we had been staring down. It is always good to identify exactly where you might have stepped off into the void to meet your maker! I suspect that the path that we had followed was a climbers’ track, where rock climbers exit from the top of a climbing route. It goes to show that just because you can see a clear path, it doesn’t mean that it is safe to follow…!
We finally entered the Uttewalder Grund; a secret, mossy canyon, via a staircase. We felt like we had stepped into Jurassic Park.
The steep, cool gorges generate their own micro climate and are host to many plants that would normally be found at much higher altitude. We passed through the rock arch, the subject for many a painter.
We passed a sign to the Basteibrucke. We decided that, even though it was very commercial, since we were close and it is one of THE iconic sights in Saxon Switzerland, it had to be done. It was 6pm and after we had stopped to refuel with a welcome sausage break, the worst of the crowds had dispersed. The Bastei is free to visit, however that is not the only draw. When you see the majestic rock formations and the magical 76.5m stone bridge, it is not hard to see why it has attracted tourists for 200 years!
Bastei means ‘bastion’. The rock formations here formed a natural fortress long before Victorian painters came in their hoards. Neurathen Castle (Felsenburg Neurathen) was occupied in the Middle Ages. As you walk around, you can still see evidence of rooms hewn into the rock and even a stone shot from a medieval catapult remains!
We negotiated the fortress individually, taking turns to hold the dogs. There didn’t appear to be a restriction on dogs, but much of the fortress tour was on metal walkways and steps, on which our puppies’ paddy paws are not too keen! (This was also free of charge, although there was also a turnstile to negotiate and an intimation on the website that payment could be required.)
The current Basteibrucke (Bastei Bridge) was constructed in 1851 to replace an earlier wooden bridge. 200m above the river Elbe, the bridge doesn’t actually lead anywhere, it simply allows tourists to get up close and personal with rock formations created a million years ago by water erosion. A staircase with 487 steps leads up to the bridge; we negotiated the staircase the correct way. DOWN!
The whole area is a fantastical landscape, reminiscent of Tolkein’s ‘Middle Earth.’ It came as no surprise to find that parts of the ‘Narnia’ films were set here.
The views are to die for in every direction. From the Bastei, there is a jaw dropping vista of the impressive Schrammsteine, a ridge of jagged mountains.
On the descent, we also caught a few little glances across to the table mountains of Lilienstein, Pfaffenstein and Konigstein, all cradled by a bend of the River Elbe.
Our return took us via the Amselsee Lake and Amselfall waterfall. Amselsee is also a little commercial, but in the early evening, it was tranquil and we had it almost to ourselves. That more than made up for not being able to buy an ice cream!
I rather wish I had taken a photo of Amselfall. The famous waterfall was barely a dribble! We also passed the natural, rock, open-air theatre at Rathen. Ratten. Grrrr-aten.
We followed the route back to our starting point at Rathewalde. Rathe Valda. RaTe Valda. Grrrrat e Valda.
The final fling of our route took us through Rathelmuhl. Ratel Muhl. Grrratel Mule – where even the mill itself had beautiful, stained glass windows!
Which brought us right back to where we started, Grrrrat e Valda.
And as you can see, after all that walking and practice, I had that pronunciation NAILED!
I just can’t imagine why Mark was so interested in that man shed…
Details of a version of our walk from a different starting point, at Rathen (Grrr-aten) is designated ‘The Golden Triangle’ on the official Saxon Swiss website, as it takes in many of the main attractions. Click on the link for a route plan.
Our walk took in some of the sights of one of Julia Bradbury’s walks. Julia’s Verdict on Saxon Switzerland: “I’m already thinking that for UK walkers at least, this might just be Germany’s best kept secret.”
A GOB – see, what did I tell you?!
Join us next time as we peruse the collective noun for something that should quite simply never be seen in daylight, never mind in multiples as we get NAKED in the Polenztal!