So, where were we? Ah yes; in a very wintery Munster getting hailed upon… On the terrace of the bar where I wrote up the report for cycling day 46 yesterday afternoon I was at least protected from the ice but not the cold. Even my hand warmers – those small liquid bags containing a piece of metal that need to be clicked to activate a chemical reaction (how does that work?) – couldn’t really contend with what Mother Nature was throwing at me. Horrible weather! Fortunetly yesterday evening I had organised myself with a Warmshowers host. His name was Dirk and he lived just to the south of Munster in a flat. It was the plan for me to stay in the ‘house in the large garden’ if you remember. Flat? Garden? It didn’t seem to fit. Anyway, I met Dirk as arranged outside a hospital near to where he lives. We went straight to the ‘garden’ which turned out to be… an allotment just behind the hospital. OK… And my suspicions about me staying in a ‘shed’ were actually well-placed. It was a large shed with windows and furniture however so on the range of shed comfort it was up at the more luxurious end. But it was still a shed. Dirk was good company; in his late 30s and originally from the eastern part of Germany he had completed some not insignificant cycling tours of his own with his girlfriend Anita, most notably a long cycle from Alaska down to Panana, a journey of some ten months and 10,000 km. Impressive!
Via the supermarket we made our way to his nearby flat where Anita prepared delicious home-made pizza and we spent the next few ours chatting about cycling and life in Germany, especially their childhoods of having been brought up in the east. It was all interesting stuff. Later in the evening, Dirk escorted me back to the shed where I was left with instructions about what to do with the key in the morning and how to prevent rabbits from attacking the crops overnight. I was not only a guest in the shed but also a security guard. The sofa bed was comfortable and I did get some sleep but my mind cast back to the last time I stayed in such accommodation – in Albania in 2013 – where all I could hear was the scuttling around of tiny (mouse? rat?) feet. Last night I couldn’t hear anything; it was a very silent night indeed but my mind was on edge waiting for the scratchings to start. Keeping the radio on all night helped as I hoped that any vermin noise would be drowned out by Radio 5 Live but that just also kept me listening. I think in the end I did sleep for a while but nothing of great significance. It wasn’t disimilar to a night in the tent. If I had heard the noise of mice and rats I’m not quite sure what I would have done; pitching the tent outside and locking myself in did cross my mind but erecting the tent in the darkness? Did I really want to do that?
So to cycling day 47 (nearly half way!)… I’ve had some shortish cycling days this week and my average has edged under 75 km. When I arrived in Munster it stood at 74.2 km/day. That may not sound like much under 75 but the more days I cycle, the more difficult it becomes to quickly changed the average. I suspected however that another short day was in store as Osnabruck, my intended destination, was only about 60 km away. After breakfast of a couple of croissants and a coffee back in the centre of Munster I set off along the Dortmund-Ems Canal. The canals in these parts are just as industrial as the ones back in the UK are for pleasure. The traffic is almost all large barges transporting goods from the northern ports and the canals themselves are wide and suprisingly modern. I don’t know when the Dortmund-Ems Canal was originally built but it has been maintained and upgraded to look like a canal that is new; the banks, bridges and locks are not quaint bits of infrastructure from the 19th century but most definitely contemporary. However, like almost all canals, their towpaths do make for good cycling paths.
Dirk had recommened that I visit the small town of Tecklenburg en route to Osnabruck. Any man who has cycled 10,000 km through the Americas let alone is owner of a fully-fitted shed should be listened to so I took his advice and veered away from the canal (with the help of Google directions which rather expertly guided me along many kilometres of good quality cycle routes, some off road, some on road but mainly deserted country lanes) in the direction of the pretty town. It required a short but very steep climb just before I arrived but after many days of cycling on the flat it came as something of a relief that I was still capable of climbing hills. If truth be known I’m eager for more hills to become a feature of the cycling over the next few weeks; I don’t suddently want to arrive at the foot of a mountain in Norway having had no period in which to ease myself back into vertical as well as horizontal movement. In the main cobbled square a band played and a woman sang to the small number of people sitting in the terraces of the cafes. Many were, like me, cyclists but only I was the one carrying four pannier bags and heading for Northkapp; the others were day trippers dressed in cordinated Lycra. That’s strange isn’t it? Imagine saying to your friends prior to a Saturday night clubbing (I haven’t been clubbing on a Saturday night for probably a quarter of a century by the way but stay with me on this one…) “now, we must all make sure that we wear exactly the same thing tonight, even down to the socks, OK?”
After Tecklenburg the landscape was a bit more interesting than it has been of late, perhaps even the most interesting that it has yet been in Germany. Gently undulating hills topped with small woods and punctuated with well-kept farms and houses. It reminded me of Slovenia albeit Slovenia where the sun wasn’t shining. The day wasn’t wet or cold by the way, so things were a big improvement on yesterday, but it still wasn’t what you would call ‘warm’ and ‘dry’. A few spots of rain fell and I stayed well wrapped up all day, snug under my three insulating layers. Osnabruck appeared rather quickly, despite the signs telling me it was 15 km away. I cycled through the centre looking at people intently. The Rough Guide had informed me earlier that the people of Osnabruck were the happiest in all of Germany “according to surveys”. How do you work out such a thing?
“Are you happy?”
Is that it? The people that I examined didn’t look any happier or more miserable than the rest of us. Indeed some gave me strange looks along the lines of “what are you staring at?”. I cycled on.
Had it been any other day of the week I might have stayed in Osnabruck for a little longer than I did but although there were people ambling around the city centre, most of the shops (of which, incidentally, there were many ‘outdoor’ shops; there are no such shops in France and Spain but I’m glad to say that the ‘outdoor’ shop in Germany is alive and kicking as I need to pay a visit to some of them in Hamburg prior to embarking upon my Scandinavian episode) were closed and other attractions didn’t seem thick on the ground. I sat for a few minutes in a bus shelter to assess accommodation options; it was only mid afternoon and there was still plenty of cycling time in the day. Should I push on for another 20, 30 km? In the end, lethargy got the better of me (I could feel the effects of a night in the shed beginning to kick in) and I decided to head for the nearest campsite. Upon arrival the reception was closed but I hung around for twenty or so minutes munching my way through a packet of Tuc biscuits that I had earlier purchased at a service station along with the rest of my evening meal. It wasn’t the greatest of campsites. Quite a few caravans but no tents and only one or two people. I suspected the caravans were permananetly stationed there and visited at the weekend, the weekend which was now coming to an end so almost all the owners had all gone back home. I could sense a hotel moment coming my way so went to explore on the Internet. I found a place – the Hotel H. Kortlueke – only 7 km in the direction of Bremen at a very reasonable price. Just before I pushed the ‘book now’ button on my phone, a chap appeared and asked if I was staying the night at the campsite. He didn’t look like one of the ‘happy’ people of Osnabruck so I told him that I had decided to continue cycling and I hit the button!
The hotel is just what I need after the last few days climbing up through Germany. My clothing is being washed as I type (I hope) and a decent bed awaits me. No risk of mice here. I hope…