4.30 am we arrived Folkestone, having left home two and a half hours earlier, and last slept the previous morning. We may have missed using the lounge and the wifi (and the complimentary croissants), but as the only people in the flexi ticket queue, and one of only a handful of cars lining up for the 5.45 crossing, we did get to be the very first people on the Shuttle, and when you have three little people in the back seat, who have been wide awake since the midlands because they are just so excited about finally getting to go on holiday, getting to drive down the length of the train is just about going to make your day.
I’d love to tell you about the crossing, but truth be told this is the point that the not sleeping combined with the motion of the train knocked us all out for most of it. I was just about awake when we got to the other end, but as soon as I’d got John on the right road out of Calais, I yielded to the siren call of the pillow, and next woke up a good hour later in Arras for a breakfast stop and my turn to drive. And that’s how we spent our first holiday day, swapping between driving and snoozing as France rolled away behind us, until it wasn’t France anymore.
The borders in Europe aren’t usually much more than a road sign, but the moment when the signs for sortie turned into auchfart we finally started to allow ourselves to get excited about arriving.
We made it to our campsite in Germany at around 4.30 European time. Tired, hungry, a little stiff after sitting in the car for so long, but so very very happy to be there. We pitched camp just above the stream, cooked supper as the last of the sunshine slipped away over the hill, and with one last look up to the hills around us, fell fast asleep.
The plan had always been to get to Enzklosterle as fast as possible, and then have at least one day where we just stayed in the village to recover so our first morning involved porridge for first breakfast and then a happy meander down into the village for second breakfast at the bakery. Warm pretzels, pastries and a gallon or two of coffee for John is exactly how all holidays should properly start. From there we took a path up the hill behind us; Enzklosterle is nestled in the crossroads of two valleys and the hills all around are laced with cycle tracks, and occasionally slightly lost cyclists. We took the low road, but even that revealed a beautiful view of the village, and sight of what we were oblivious to last year, the grassy swathe cut out of the far hill to be the village’s ski slope.
Up on the bike tracks, sitting in the brilliant sunshine, and hearing the whisper of the trees around us, I breathed out properly for the first time in ages, and we all began to relax. Crazy as it was, that long drive was worth it.
If last year our Black Forest exploring centred around the towns and villages, this year it was about the trees. We set off one morning with a rough guide to a circumnavigation of the forest courtesy of a campsite leaflet, and after a little detour a bit too far south, when serendipity found us not only a supermarket but a supermarket with a bratwurst stand outside just as we hit lunchtime, we found ourselves curving around mountain roads and driving down avenues of impossibly tall trees, wending our way through the valleys . And our patience paid off as the forest offered up some stunningly beautiful views.
We stopped at Ruhestein where our guide suggested a walk out to Wilder See. It would have been beautiful I’m sure, to see the lake tucked so far away and out of reah, but little legs weren’t quite long enough this year, so we just drank in the hills, the cows in the pasture clanking their bells as they grazed, and what was to us the incongruity of being in a ski resort without a flake of snow in sight.
I know that most places in the world that have similar summers to the UK, tend to have a decent dump of snow over the winter. Protected by the gulf stream we don’t go in for extremes of temperature, and I think it conditions us to expect that snowy places have to be cold enough to keep the snow all year round (the top of Gornergratz for example!), and anywhere that’s as warm as home, can’t possibly get more than a few flakes. The woodstores stacked up by every house in the area would tell you different, and while not quite as pointy as the alps, the Black Forest has a decent ski season. Even when we knew, when we could tell ourselves that in winter the whole forest would be under a blanket of snow, my default setting would be “where are the mountains for all these ski lifts?”.
From Ruhestein we headed along the Schwarzwaldhochstraße , literally the “Black Forest High Street”, and a great example of the joys of German as a language that produces quite impossibly long words, pausing where we could along the side of the road to look out over the foothills, and there all the way out on the horizon, the hills that mark the beginning of France.
Mummelsee, tucked into the top of the hill was very much not what I was expecting. When our little leaflet said lake, I thought of coming back down to the bottom of a valley floor, and a lake fed by streams cascading down the side of the hills, but the Black Forest likes its lakes right at the top, and we were surprised to come across Mummelsee at one of the highest points of the road. It’s a funny little place, no more than a pond really, and nestled so closely into the rock that you could easily drive past it but for the tea shops and tourist traps.
The path around the edge takes you away from the grockle shops and the pedal boats and the man dressed up as Neptune, and becomes a beautiful walk through the trees while the lake sparkles at you in the sunshine. Mummelsee has mermaids in the same way that Loch Ness has a monster (hence King Neptune), and at the far end of the lake a full size bronze mermaid keeps watch over the water, and over anyone who chooses to paddle out to sit with her.
I think the girls would have happily spent hours pottering around at the water’s edge or running up and down the path, and despite all the people visiting, it never felt too crowded.
Last year we ate Black Forest Gateau in Baden Baden, and I was determined that this year we would again have Schwarzwaldkirschtorten in the Schwarzwald, and therefore make it a tradition that must be adhered to on every future visit, and my chance came at Mummellsee. The cake came a mile high and a yard wide, and while completely delicious, two slices more than fed the five of us.
It was the fulfilment of a wish and one of those moments where I wanted pinch myself that this was really happening, not just that we were sat in a beautiful spot eating cream cake, but that we travel at all. It takes a certain amount of adventurous spirit to decide to take three small children camping and travelling around Europe, and I’m sure that there are holidays that we could go on that would be easier, but I don’t thin they’d be quite the same. Part of the joy in the moment comes from knowing the amount of work we put in to make it happen, the cake only added to it.
And as always, I took little snippets of video while we travelled, to share with you the things that words can only try to capture; the first of our postcards home: