Any great river, worthy of the name, has a disputed source and the Danube is no exception. There is an ornamental pool in the town which is fed by a spring which, according to one of the books that I have read, only yields one cubic inch of water per minute. There are two streams, the Breg and the Brigach which unite with the cubic inch just to the east of Donaueschingen to form the Danube. Both these streams originate in sodden meadows further up the valley and both have a better claim to be the source than this effete pool. However some local dignitary has formalised the position and so it was to the ornamental pool that I went to start my journey. Easier said than done. The pool was in the middle of a building site and as I cycled onto the site all the workers there starting shouting "Verboten! Verboten!" Etc etc. I pleaded for two minutes and managed a couple of hasty photos before I was ejected. All of which was a bit of a disappointment. A send off from the local burgermeister was probably too much to hope for but perhaps there might have been some German OAPs starting a similar journey with whom I could have enjoyed some friendly banter. Something along the lines of "Oy Fritz what kind of a bike is that you've got there? Is it a Fokker." You know the sort of thing.
So there it is, an inauspicious start both for the Danube and me. I exited Donaueschingen through a pretty park and then rode for some miles through broad water meadows.
The route is mostly tarmac and is immaculately signposted. The man who organised the signposting even caters for those nagging doubts that crop up after you have been going for a while without seeing a signpost even though there have been no possible turnings. At the very instant that these doubts start to surface in one's consciousness a reassuring sign will appear. It's almost magical. The Danube path is largely traffic free. Occasionally one has to join a road for a kilometre or two and often (deliberately) the route takes you through the middle of the small towns and villages that dot the banks of the river.
There is a railway line that runs along the valley and both it and the path cross and recross the Danube regularly as the topography of the valley demands. The path is almost deserted. There are a few elderly couples, one couple is English, who one overtakes and then is overtaken by if one stops for coffee or to take a photo. We wave cheerily at each other but don't stop to chat.
After lunch the valley closes up and limestone cliffs rear up on either side of the river but after a few kilometres the Danube literally vanishes. All that remain are muddy pools where the main watercourse should be. The river has seeped down into the porous limestone and for twelve kilometres it travels underground. Apparently the water spends 60 hours finding its way through the underground system before gushing out once more at a rate of 10,000 litres a second.
Then the sun comes out and it is a glorious afternoon, pedalling up and down a path that hugs the side of the spectacular cliffs, occasionally rising to take a shortcut over the top to cut off a loop of the river. I was hurtling down a gravel path with forest on one side and river on the other thinking that life doesn't get much better than this when Ptang! Doris pulled up suddenly, we skidded along sideways for a few yards before coming to an undignified halt. Something had caught in the rear wheel, a branch on the track perhaps but in any case Doris was mortally wounded. Her gear assembly had become entangled with the spokes of the rear wheel and was sheared in half. The gear mounting itself was also broken. I pushed a fully laden Doris the fives miles to Beuron where we were booked into a hotel. The hotel owner was sympathetic. He rang a bicycle repairman in the next village who said he could look at it in the morning. I had little faith that in a tiny village in rural Westphalia this man would have the parts to do the job. I went up to my room depressed and desperately trying to come up with Plan B. There is always a Plan B. I could rent a bike for as long as it took to fix Doris but that would mean trekking back to this village from somewhere hundreds of kilometres further on or I could just dump Doris (think the unthinkable) and buy a slut of a German bike. The one consolation of the day was the view from my third floor balcony across the valley to the onion domed abbey in the centre of the village. Later in the evening I watched through my binoculars while the
local volunteer fire brigade practiced their hose technique.
I managed to avoid the worst excesses of the hotel menu by ordering Tortellini and salad but had to endure a CD which must have been titled The Worst Muzak Ever. Unspeakable, as was the decor in the dining room. In southern Germany every bar has its regulation issue clutter. Hunting trophies, alpine prints, kitsch religious carvings and so on, not unlike rural pubs in England with their horse brasses etc. But there was nothing old in this dining room everything was modern, almost new and had been carefully selected by someone (I blame the owner's wife, a ghastly woman) and every single item was hideous.
It was a relief to go to bed and have troubled dreams of Doris in the rough insensitive hands of some tattooed Westphalian cycle mechanic.