Eifel National Park, Rursee Lake

Mar 2024

A long weekend trip to nature and mountains not too far away by car. This was the requirement for which I searched for somewhere to go to. Hit upon Eifel National Park, which is a bit over 3 hrs drive from home. Booked an apartment on the edge of Rursee lake, as picturesque in real life as the photos promised!

Day 1: The Drive

We had hoped to start at 9 or so, but thanks to B having drinks at work the previous evening, and unexpectedly having too many(!) we left at 11:20. I took the wheel, with the B instructing me to be gentle on the curves 😀 to prevent the alcohol from sloshing around too much in his head.

We hit traffic along many segments all the way through south east Netherlands, mainly Eindhoven area, and Maastricht.

Map of driving route to Eifel N.P.

So we smelled (figuratively speaking!) the spring meadows with sheep and lambs while sitting in traffic. Stopped at a rest stop and at a view point close to our destination. It was a sunny, beautiful day, with blue skies and puffy white clouds. As it turned out, this was to be the best weather day of the trip.

We had navigated to a point on the map which in real life ended abruptly in the middle of a road. Luckily, the navigation did not direct us into the lake, like in some of the horror stories you hear of blindly following navigation. A kind German couple walking their 2 dogs steered us back to the actual destination, which we had overshot by a kilometer or so. Most of the going back had to be done in reverse gear, as this was a narrow cliff road with a drop to Rursee lake on the right, and falling rocks on the left. I handed the car to the B to drive this part, and we got to our stay without incident.

The location, as you can see from the pictures, was idyllic. We had an apartment on the first floor, with a mezzanine floor within for the bedroom under a slanted roof.

Set out to find a grocery store, as we didn’t want to carry perishables on a long drive. Located a couple of options on the map and drove to each, but found all closed that day (Good Friday). Germany being an extra religious country, this was somewhat expected. We were relieved to see that they would be open the next day, though not on Sunday or Monday (Easter). Found a Turkish doner cafe on our way back and decided to get pizzas for dinner.

Day 2: Rursee view hike

We wasted a couple of precious hours this morning in securing food for the rest of the stay. Forced to do grocery shopping for the next days, for fear of God that nothing, not even restaurants, would be open for Easter in Germany, and we would otherwise have to drive to the Netherlands for food!

This was to be our day in nature, to be in the mountains, which I felt happy to see and be in after months of flat Netherlands.

Looking for local hikes (where we did not have to drive to the starting point) turned out to be tricky. All local info online was in German, and nothing presented us the local hikes on a map, so that we could know whether there were any close by. Based on a map by AllTrails.com, an American hiking routes website, we picked a circular route that seemed to pass by our location. The B took a dislike to this site as it was being very pushy to create an account, and bad/sneaky UI that kept resetting the map if you touched anything, with popups to make you create an account. To not spend too much time indoors researching, I sold my soul and created the account it wanted. We just decided to loosely follow this route.

Started the hike on the side of a mountain along Lake Rursee, right outside where we stayed. Noticed that our path overlapped with a route called Smuggler’s way (Schmugglerweg, route 60 – see link for story source), which I later found to have interesting history : the residents of the town of Schmidt used to smuggle coffee and other stuff in across the near by Belgian border, after WW-II. The priest gently guided 😉 the smuggling residents into donating part of their ill-acquired gains towards rebuilding the local parish Church of St. Hubertus (Schmidt was blasted to the ground during the war). So the church is still popularly called St. Mocha in honor of the coffee smuggling that helped rebuild it!

The AllTrails route kept us on the more or less level road part way up the mountain above Rursee, hugging the contours of the lake. We walked clockwise with the lake to our right, and the mountain on the left. In parts there were rock falls, and severe warnings, though there was a constant stream of mountain bikers and a few hikers in both directions – so we inferred that it was possible to pass through, even though it was closed for cars. There were a couple of large rock drilling machinery parked where the road was completely blocked off (not for cycles and peds).

Looking up at the slopes to our left, I was getting antsy to gain the “ridge” as I kept calling it, which became a running theme of the hike: the holy ridge became a goal, more and more urgent as we kept staying on the level path.

We came to a wide clearing around a bend in the path, which was one of the points for scuba divers to enter the lake. There is a metal “sculpture” of a diver, which is an interactive exhibit – if you wind up a little wheel to the side, it tells the story of diving in this lake. You have to literally do the work to hear the story. An led burns red if the power from your winding it up is draining, and turns green if you have done enough to hear the audio. There are 3 buttons to hear this story in the language of your choice: English, Dutch and German. The B wound the wheel and kept the led green, while I recorded it (in Dutch), and it lasts for about 2 and a half minutes.

The synopsis is that the shore there is very steep, the water is 40 m deep, pitch black, where the diver cannot see their own hands below a certain depth. This spot with its interactive exhibit is in honor of a local famous diver and diving instructor, Werner, who has led many dives here.

This was a good distraction from me wanting to climb up to the ridge. We stopped here for some 20 mins listening to the story, looking at the grey dreary view and the forbidding dark waters, and eating comforting sweet and salty trail mix.

Moving on, we followed the deep furrows of the lake’s edge for another couple of kilometers. Finally I saw a broad marked path leading up the hill to the left, and we deviated off the all-trails route there. Until here, though the GPS was a bit patchy, it showed us correctly on the map which we could verify from looking at the shapes and furrows of the lake. This would change soon, but right now we were blissfully unaware.

We climbed up to the town of Schmidt. It was a huge plateau, not at all a ridge, but we kept calling it the ridge anyway. The sun came out in short bursts but the lake views from there were all obstructed by bushes and trees in the foreground. I could imagine that the view of the surrounding low hills covered in shades of green, and the modern steel windmills here and there, would have been brilliant on a better lit day, but today remained mostly grey. The only color I found was the occasional spring flowers.

Soon after, we completely lost the route we were following. The all-trails map, and google maps were putting us on random spots all over the Eifel area thanks to poor GPS. Not following one of the physical routes marked on the paths, we were quite unable to find a route back home. We didn’t want to be wandering around these foresty paths in the dark. Though both of us had aching feet, the B especially was showing signs of tiredness, which was unusual, and we realized that the booze from the Thursday was still having its effects after all.

After a bit of deliberation, we picked a broad downward trail which seemed to know where it was going. “Down is good” was our motto for the moment. A stream was gurgling alongside, giving extra confidence – B reasoned that the stream would lead to the lake, and we can follow our outward route back from there.
I was dubious about the stream leading to the lake – this can go wrong in a few ways, say, if there is an uncrossable gorge in between (the stream will happily tumble down and go on its way, while we will be stuck).
But luckily we could follow the stream to the known route next to the lake without further adventure. Only, we ended up way further back in the route than we hoped, so it was a 4 km long trudge back home. We were slightly rewarded by some color in the sky due to the setting sun.

We had in total walked almost 15 km, and I had burnt over 1000 kcals! Exhausted but happy, we got home. As it turned out, B was more than exhausted, which we didn’t realize that evening.

Our hiking route tracked by my activity tracker.

Day 3: Solo sight-seeing

Unfortunately B fell sick after that hike (combined with the excesses of the previous day). Cough, fever, and body pain. Which did not improve as he could not sleep all night.

It was a sunny morning, and I hung around downstairs to see how things will shape up. It was afternoon by the time we decided that I would go out on my own as B could not join me today.

I first set out along the same path as y’day. Walked for about 1.5 kms, taking pictures but in the end discarding most, as by this time, the sun had disappeared, and it was grey as before. The few decent pics from this walk are below.

Went back to the car, and drove to one of the view points. Two of them were not even 100 meters from where we were yesterday, outside the town of Schmidt: “Schöne Aussicht, Schmidt – Eifel-Blick”, and “Hubertushöhe”. The sun was out again. Took my kindle along, so apart from taking pics, lazed at a couple of different spots reading.

Where to from here? Looked on the map and saw some castle ruins about 30 mins drive from there, so decided to go there. Brug Hengebach castle is in the pretty town of Heimbach, also bordering on Lake Rursee.

All the drives around this region are on mountain roads with sharp hairpin bends. It’s been a while since I drove on such terrain. Reminded me of the drive from Santa Clara over the hills to Santa Cruz, which was my multiple times a week commute to university when in California.

While still a couple of minutes from the castle, I saw a huge parking lot on my left, next to a river at a very pretty place. Impulsively decided to pull in there. The (paid) parking lot was for some nature/ wilderness / adventure / family park thing. I ignored that, and just wandered around taking in the river Rur, a wooden bridge and a stone bridge across it, a statue of a violinist (whose story I didn’t look up), the mountain called Meuchelberg across the river, and the bustling touristy town of Heimbach. Contrary to Easter expectations, the street cafes and some souvenir shops here were open, giving the place a more lively feel.

Continuing on to the castle, was happy to find free parking. The castle, though well preserved, was very un-touristy – no tickets, no opening times, just free for anyone who wants to wander around, climb the watch tower, and bask in a bit of history.

After absorbing the castle at a relaxed pace, I drove back to the apartment. Halfway through the 40 min drive, a hailstorm suddenly broke out. Furious pelting hail, rain, lightning in the distance – a spectacular show, which I was grateful to witness from within the car. Don’t remember driving in such weather in recent times, it was exhilarating. Too bad that B had to miss this day.

The trip came to an uneventful end the next day. B still sick, we just packed up and drove straight home.

The overview on google maps with places visited. I loved the snake-dragon-like shape of Rursee lake! The bottom extension is actually a connected but different lake, Obersee.

PS: The only wildlife we saw were some great tits, Canada geese, blue jays, some hawk-like bird of prey, a tiny mouse, and a toad. The mouse was seen scurrying about under and around the wooden slats outside the neighboring apartment. The toad was on the steps to our apartment, and froze in place hoping no one would see it if it stayed still.

PPS: We had picked up interesting fresh baked breads, and German specialty dishes of Spätzle and (vegetarian) Maultaschen on our grocery run. I ate the fresh breads, but as B fell sick and I didn’t feel like opening the large specialty packs just for myself, most of it we brought back and I worked through in the following days at home.

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