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The Rothaarsteig is also called Der weg der Sinne; the Trail that stimulates the Senses. Long stretches pas through forest. Situated in Germany, it runs between Brilon and the historic town of Dillenberg. Depending on the route, its length is 154 or 188 kilometers. The Trail is marked, easy to follow and relatively level.
In Germany there are many long distance footpaths to choose from. If you want to walk long distances, you can choose one of the European Long Distance footpaths going through Germany. If you want to walk through mountains you can choose one of the tracks through the Alps. The Rothaarsteig© does not climb mountains and its length is moderate. It is a linear Trail between the towns of Brilon and Dillenburg. It was opened in 2001 and you can choose to take a short route of 154 kilometer or a long one of about 188 kilometer. The long route makes a detour to the Westerwald forest and this will add about one day to your walking. Most of the Trail is on unpaved roads or tracks. The Trail passes through forest most of the time. Some take 5 days to complete the Trail; others take a more comfortable 8 or 10 days.
The Trail is also called Der Weg der Sinne. This translates into something like ‘The Way of Senses'; all your senses will be challenged when walking the Trail. The Trail has been promoted and you will meet fellow walkers. The busiest times are the periods before and after the summer holidays. During the summer the route appears to be quieter.
The Trail is marked with the Rothaarsteig© logo; a red field with a white indication of the silhouette of a mountain. Official Rothaarsteig detours are marked with the same logo but on a yellow field. At major intersections additional signs are placed. These indicate what direction to take and how far the next destination is.
Along the Trail there are several shelters and benches. Most of these are placed by the Rothaarsteig Verein; the organisation responsible for the Trail. There are also Rothaarsteig Rangers, easily recognised by their hats. Their task is to assist the people walking the Trail, look after its condition and to see that the regulations on the protection of the forest, animals and plant life are adhered to.
This book is made for walking. In this book, you will find all the information necessary to make the Rothaarsteig© a pleasant journey. The core of the book is a comprehensive Trail description. Additional information is given on where to find accommodation, where to get supplies, what to bring along and public transport.
The name of the route originates from the Rothaargebirge, the Rothaar mountain range. Most of the Trail follows the direction of this range. There are different explanations for the name Rothaargebirge. The ones that spring to mind and the most romantic ones, like a tale about a red haired lady in distress are unfortunately far from the reality. ‘Rot’ or red is most likely linked to the high iron content in the soil, making the soil or the water in rivers that run through it, somewhat reddish. The ‘Haar’ in Rothaar comes from an old German word for height.
The Rothaargebirge is a natural territorial border and a divide between religions and local dialects. It is also the watershed between the Rhine and the Weser Rivers; the rain falling on the western slopes running off to the Rhine while the water running of the eastern slope runs of to the Weser. The region was once important for its iron industry. Iron and other metals were mined and wood was available to light the furnaces. During the last century this industry lost its importance. The tourist industry is now a major source of income. This is particularly visible in Willingen and Winterberg, where there are many hotels and holiday facilities. Winterberg is well known for its healthy environment and many health resorts are situated here.
Things to see or notice along the route
The Trail begins at Brilon, leading form north to south. There is nothing against starting in Dillenburg, going from south to north, just that this route description will then be of less use for you. Brilon has a long history and acquired municipal rights in 1220. Trading was once a major industry and it was part of the Hanseatic League. Later, mining in the region became an important source of income.
Leaving Brilon you pass the Möhnequelle or ‘Möhne’ spring, the start of one of the tributaries of the Ruhr River. It is the first of many springs along the Trail. Soon after Brilon you reach the first forest. As mentioned, most of the route passes trough forests. In January 2007 a severe storm felled nearly 20% of the fir trees in the region. It changed the character of the Trail; where there used to be a dense forest there are now open areas of several hectares. The Trail description had to be adjusted because of the storm, at several places where forest was mentioned, the forest had disappeared. The storm has improved the Trail considerably. There were too many trees to look at and especially during rainy days it was more a Trail of sensory deprivation than stimulation. Now there are wide clearings and good views of the surrounding countryside.
At kilometer 8, you reach Borbergs Kirchhof; Borbergs Graveyard. This is a place of historic importance. Excavations revealed the remnants of a defensive wall. Part of the wall has been reconstructed. Graves were also found, which explains the name Borbergs Kirchhof. It appears that victims of the plague were buried here. On this site there is a small Maria chapel. People yearning for peace after the First World War built it in 1925.
Near kilometer 13, you can choose between the regular Trail and the Klettervariante; Climbing Version. The Klettervariante is more demanding but also more rewarding because you get a much better views. Among others, there is a nice view on the Bruchhauser Steine (the stones of Bruchhausen), which the route passes later.
Where the two alternatives merge again, you reach a road. A large totem is placed here in which elements of the nature in this area are sculptured. A short distance later one can again choose between two alternatives: the regular Trail and the Sommervariante Bruchhausen; Summer Version Bruchhausen. The Sommervariante comes closer to the Bruchhauser Steine but only one of them can be seen. The main difference with the regular Trail is the more quiet nature of the Sommervariante. The Sommervariante is closed during winter because of forestry works.
The Bruchhauser Steine are 4 large rocks protruding from a hill, named: Ravenstein, Bornstein, Goldstein, and Feldstein. They are of volcanic origin, of hard rock that weathers away at a lower rate than the surrounding area. The four rocks form a square and remnants are found of defensive walls between them. Even in historic times people where attracted to these stones. There is also evidence of calendrical observations in the landscape surrounding the Bruchhauser Steine.
The area of the Bruchhauser Steine is a nature reserve. Some plants that grow here are unique for the region. There is a special project on the reintroduction of the falcon. During the last century the falcon became extinct in this area but it was later successfully reintroduced.
After the two routes merge again, you soon reach Richtplatz, the former location of a court of justice. People used to be tried here and executed if found guilty. Most likely by hanging and not by the sword, as the plaque suggests. Soon after, you reach Langenberg; the highest point along the Trail (843 meters).
Near the Ruhrquelle; Ruhr spring, you arrive at a large parking area. Seats are provided at the spring for your comfort. After passing the spring, the route soon continues on a paved road. On this road, you pass a little shrine dedicated to St. Jacob. The shrine was erected in the year 2000 and reminds you that, at this point, you are on one of the Pilgrims ways to Santiago the Compostela in Spain. Centuries ago people already passed this way for a pilgrimage to Santiago. Roads at that time were constructed on the high grounds because the valleys were to wet and swampy.
The next large place is Winterberg. Winterberg acquired municipal rights in 1270. It was situated in the center of several trading routes and was, like Brilon, member of the Hanseatic syndicate. Winterberg is a well known sky resort, has a bobsled track and an international ski jump and is very tourist oriented. From Winterberg, the Trail continues to Kahler Asten, the third highest place in Northwest Germany. Some say that when you include the buildings and tower it actually is the highest spot, but that is cheating. What is proven is that this is the coldest and wettest spot in Northwest Germany, in short, weather-wise the most miserable place to be. It is a well-known location and the site of a meteorological station.
Skirting skiing areas, you pass through several small villages. The Trail runs on the top of a ridge so there is a good view of the surroundings. This stretch of the Trail is named Grenzweg; Border road. In early times, this ridge used to be a border between towns and a dividing line between religions and local dialects. Even today, it serves as a border between the towns of Winterberg and Schmallenberg. A few kilometers after passing Hoheleye one has again the choice between two versions: the Talvariante; Valley alternative or the Kammvariante; ridge alternative.
On the Talvariante you pass two villages, Latrop and Schanze, both provide accommodation. The name Schanze comes from the road block that was once situated here. This road block was necessary because of local disputes and as a defense against robbers. From Schanze the route continues downhill to Latrop. On the way to Latrop you pass a small monument commemorating that around 1738 Latrop was resettled. It had been deserted around 1450 after local wars and an outbreak of the plague. At the same spot the Altarsteine can be found. There are several explanations on what this stone is. One explanation is that it is a large rock damming the little stream so the water could be used by the charcoal makers. Another explanation that is more appealing to the imagination is that at this spot pagan ceremonies where held and offerings were made by the heathens in the region.
On the Kammvariant, you soon reach a large steel sculpture ‘Kein Leichtes Spiel’. This and the other sculpture ‘Stein-Zeit-Mensch’ on the Trail, form part of a series of 9 sculptures along the WaldSkulpturen Weg; Wood Sculptures Trail, a walking Trail of 20 kilometers that runs from Bad Berleburg to Schmallenberg, crossing the Rothaargebirge/Rothaarsteig© on its way.
The two alternative routes merge again at Millionenbank where there is a shelter. From here, it is 2 kilometer to Jagdhaus. Apart from the 3 hotels, there are no other facilities. From Jagdhaus your next destination is the Rhein Weser Turm; the Rhine Weser Tower. On the way you pass the Margarethenstein, one of the oldest boundary stones in the region. Near the stone is the Blutborn; Blood spring.
I found a few versions of the story explaining these names, so I hope this one is right. It is a nice but tragic one: Two forest workers were in love with the same girl, Margarethe, but she could not make up her mind which of them to love. To decide who could court her, the two forest workers duelled. Unfortunately, both were killed in the fight. Margarethe, witnessing this, dropped dead on the spot. The blood of the two boys coloured the water of the nearby spring red, hence the name Blutborn. The boundary stone was named after the maiden. The story ends with the burial of the three, with Margarethe in the middle.
The Rhein Weser Turm was build during the depression of the last century. From the tower one has a good view over the surrounding countryside. The tower houses a restaurant. Near the tower there is a guesthouse providing accommodation. Soon after passing the tower, you reach the Waldschule; Forest school. In an open air classroom, information is given on the most common trees in this region. Going downhill alongside the Schwarzbach; Black brook, you reach the Schwarzbachtal. Once used for grazing cattle, the valley has been transformed into the natural state of a brook with marshes and a meandering riverbed. It is now a nature reserve.
A short distance away form the Trail is Ginsberg Castle, an old castle first constructed in 1292. For the Dutch it is of historic importance because it was here that William of Orange assembled his army to free the Netherlands from Spain. There is a café at the castle.
Lützel is a small village that has accommodation but no other facilities. It is situation on a railway line with a regular service to Siegen. From Lützel the Trail continues upstream along the Eder, a small stream at this point. The Eder runs trough a nice valley, a nature reserve. Near the spring of the Eder, you reach the Kohlenstraβe; Coal Street. As mentioned earlier, iron ore was found in this region. In the early days, the ore was melted locally; later this process was transferred to the valleys where waterpower could be used to work the bellows and hammers for forging. The wood or charcoal had to be brought to the furnaces and this is where the name Kohlenstraβe comes from. The charcoal was transported on two-wheel carts. Later these roads were paved and drained so preventing the forming of ruts and making them all-weather roads. The Kohlenstraβen lost their importance when the charcoal was replaced by coal.
Near Groβenbach you pass the Siegquelle, later the Ilmquelle and the Lahnquelle. Notice the little graveyard in the middle of the forest near Heiligenborn. Once a village, now only a few houses are left. Near Heiligenborn is the Ilsequelle. This used to be a spring well known for its healing powers and it was the place of a health resort. Even these days you can see people filling up containers or bottles to use the water. For your convenience, drinking glasses are provided.
After the Ilsequelle the Trail continues for about 13 kilometers on top of a wide ridge, only making a small detour to visit the Dillquelle. There is a large shelter at this spring. Along this stretch, accommodation is only available by descending to one of the villages. Not that you will notice it, but on the way you will walk over the longest railway tunnel in this part of the country. At the Tiefenrother Höhe; Deep red height, there is a viewing platform from which you have a good view of the surrounding countryside.
Later along the Trail you reach an information sign on Haubergswirstschaft. This term is difficult to translate in English. But ‘Hauen’ is to cut off. In this area the forest was cut back to the roots every 18 to 20 years. The wood was used for practical purposes like heating the communal bakery ovens of the villages, making charcoal for the mining industry and the bark of oak trees was used for the tanning of leather. Because relatively young trees were cut, the forest would regenerate on the old roots. After cutting, the cleared area was first used for growing grain and later, once the new saplings were too tough to be eaten, for grazing cattle.
Near this site the Trail branches into two. With its 20 kilometer the Dillvariante is the short Trail to Dillenburg. The Westerwaldvariante to Dillenburg is 53 kilometer long, so adds about one day to your walk.
Dillvariante: After the start of the Dillvariante, you soon reach the Lucaseiche, an old oak tree. Soon after the Lucaseiche you reach the Krummbach; the Trail continues in its valley for about 2,5 kilometers. At Forsthaus Steinbach you leave the forest. While still passing through some sections of forest, most of the countryside is cultivated. After crossing a railway line you are welcomed by the village of Rodenbach. From here the Trail continues uneventful through some farmland and forest until you arrive at Galgenberg (Gallows Mountain) on the outskirts of Dillenburg. It appears that in former times criminals where hung here. From the Galgenberg the Trail descends to Dillenburg.
Dillenburg is an old and picturesque town. It has a long relationship with the Netherlands because William of Orange was born here; he was one of the first kings of the Netherlands and he tried to free the country from the Spaniards. The name Dillenburg is derived from the strong fort that once stood on the hill overlooking the town and the river: the Castle on the Dill River. The 40 meter high tower that now dominates Dillenburg was build to commemorate William of Orange and houses a museum on the house of Orange-Nassau.
In recent history Dillenburg thrived on the metal industry, iron was mined here and there were furnaces and other metal related activities. During the second half of the last century, this industry more or less disappeared from the region. The Trail ends in a park near the center of Dillenburg.
Westwaldvariante: After the start of the Westwaldvariante, the Trail leaves the Rothaargebirge and continues in the foothills of the Westwald. The hills are lower but the Trail crosses from one river valley to the other so there is still some climbing to do. Soon this is demonstrated when you have to climb about 140 meters out of the valley of the Steinbach; Stone brook. After this climb, the Trail continues downhill and you pass underneath the A45, a highway. If you turn left at this point you reach the Hamlet of Kalteiche, in 1796 the scene of a major battle between the French and the Austrians; the French won. The total amount of casualties was around 1500. From the highway it is about 2 kilometers to Wasserscheide, this is a small village with basic facilities, a bus stop and a railway station. When nearing the village, notice the Heimhoftheater, build in a former horse stable, its size is remarkable for this small village.
From Wasserscheide, the Trail leads you to Lützeln. The local nursing home invites you to have a real cheap coffee and cake in their restaurant. The deal is that your presence provides some diversion for the people living in the nursing home; a nice initiative. After passing a soccer field you reach an area where Kaolin, China clay, a white clay, is mined for the production of ceramics. Shortly after, the airport of Siegerland and its installations come into view.
Liebenscheid is only a small village but since it has a shop it is of some importance for you. It once housed the castle of Liebenscheid. The father of the famous painter Rubens was imprisoned here; he was accused of having an affair with the second wife of William of Orange, Anna of Saxony. Near Weiβenberg the Trail continues uphill to the Ketzersteine. This is a large outcrop of basalt. The name Ketzersteine probably relates to a former border crossing. It seems that this outcrop does funny things to your compass.
The Trail passes Fuchs Kaute; Foxes lair, also the name of the nature reserve situated here. The meadows you are crossing are similar to Alpine Meadows and the fauna and flora are therefore unique. There is a wind farm nearby. Hotel Fuchskaute provides accommodation. The high antenna is used by Radio Amateurs.
The Trail skirts the village of Rabenscheid and continues to the valley of the Aubach, which it follows for about 3 kilometers. What appears to be a cave is actually the site of an old quarry. After passing underneath a railway bridge you reach the point of the Wildweiberhäuschen; Wildwomenhauses. The story goes that on this spot there once lived some women who cared for the poor and punished those that did bad things. Because of the noise the mining and quarries created, the ladies left the area.
For about one kilometer the Trail follows the old route of the Rheinstraβe, an old trading road between the Westerwald and the Rhine. At the Kornsberg near Donsbach a shepherd is often seen with his sheep. From the Kornsberg it is another 4 kilometer to Dillenburg, the end of the journey. When nearing the highway near Dillenburg you can follow the Trail as it is marked. My advice is, however, to continue in the direction of the Wilhelmsturm, joining the Dillvariante. You will then have the possibility to visit this historic point (without having to climb al the way up) and to enjoy the view over the town.
When to go
Considering the weather, it is best to plan your walk between the second half of April and the end of November. Planning your walk between November and April is possible but not recommended. If there is a mild winter, the main handicap will be the short period of daylight. If there is a proper winter with snow and storms, the Trail will turn into a completely different category. The risk of getting lost and hurt gets higher and some of its stretches are exposed and a few kilometers away from civilisation or proper shelter. Walking during these months should only be done with the proper clothing and equipment and the knowledge how to use it.
Where to start
You can either start at Brilon or Dillenburg as it is a linear Trail. Most people start at Brilon. The Trail description follows the North to South trajectory.
How much time does it take
Depending on the route you take at the end of the Rothaarsteig©, the Trail is about 154 kilometers or 188 kilometers long. However not all accommodations are on or close to the Trail and to reach accommodation will often take a few kilometers, this easily ads another 15 to 25 kilometers to the total journey.
How many days it will take to complete the Trail depends on the kind of walk you have in mind, your physical condition and the kind of pack you are carrying. For a relaxed walk (remember you are on a holiday!!), for a person with a regular physical condition, carrying normal luggage for overnight stays in hotels or pensions, allow for about 7/8 days walking for the Dillvariante (154 kilometers) and 9/10 for the Westerwaldvariante (188 kilometers).
Condition of the Trail
Most of the Trail is on unpaved roads through forest or farmland. Some stretches are on paved roads and only short stretches are on tracks. Good walking or hiking boots are essential on only short stretches mainly because they tend to be muddy. In general, European class A/B walking shoes/boots will do when carrying a light pack, or class B when carrying a heavier pack. In dry weather most of the Trail can be walked in sturdy walking sandals.
In general, the climate in this part of Germany is favourable for walking but it can get wet, so bring a raincoat. If you can afford it, get a good and strong one with breathable lining that can stand up to the wear and tear of carrying a back pack and hiking. If you plan your hike in the beginning or end of the season be prepared for cold weather, rain and fog and there may be even snow. Bring clothing along that not only protects you but also keeps you comfortable.
There are different categories of accommodation along the Trail. A complete list of accommodations on or near the Trail is given. The accommodations in this list are not rated; I am always happy to find a bed at the end of the day.
In Germany there are several names for hotel like accommodations: hotel, gasthaus, gaststätte, gasthof. Some are actually only a restaurant while others provide a meal and accommodation. In the accommodation list, facilities that provide a meal and a bed are indicated as Hotel. Facilities that only provide bed & breakfast are indicated as Pension. An indication of the price based on accommodation and breakfast for one person is given. In the accommodation list there is also an indication if dogs are allowed (usually at extra cost and you provide the dog food).
In the Northern part of the Trail, accommodations are close together and you are flexible in the distances you walk each day. On the Westerwaldvariante, the accommodations are more spread out. The ‘Qualitätsbetrieb Rothaarsteig’, quality accommodations as recognised by the Rothaarsteig© organisation, provides more than a decent bed and a meal. They provide several services for the walkers along the Trail, for instance transportation of luggage to the next destination along the Trail. They may also collect you from the Trail when the accommodation is not along the Trail itself and return you the following morning. Most of these accommodations fall in a higher price bracket.
There are tour operators who will arrange the trip for you. Your accommodation will be booked and your luggage will be transferred between accommodations. Usual arrangements are for 6 or 8 walking days for the Dillvariante. Your part in these deals is paying about 82 Euros per walking day if walking alone, or 72 when walking with two. Dinners are not included. For more information see www.rothaarsteig.de
Hotels: Most of the Trail can be done by staying in hotels. There is a wide variation in standard, some are comfortable, and some are basic. Some have a closing day which is often flexibly applied and is mainly for the restaurant but not for the rooms. When known the closing days are mentioned in the accommodation list, so you can plan your trip around it. Hotel bills can generally be paid by credit or bank card.
Pension: In Germany, a Bed & Breakfast is called a Pension and provides good value for money. Apart from the breakfast, meals are usually not provided but some have kitchen facilities. Basic facilities are provided. The bill is paid in cash.
Campsites: Most campsites are situated in the North and are open all year and it is not possible to walk the whole Trail using official campsites. On the map, some unofficial campsites are indicated where owners allow people to camp on their property. Usually, camping is allowed in a meadow near a farm. The problem is, that at places there are few meadows on or near the Trail and where there are meadows, the owner usually lives in a village a few kilometers away, so asking permission is a problem.
Wild camping is illegal in Germany. If you are camping wild, leave you site as you found it and during dry periods be sure that your cooking does not cause a forest fire.
Youth Hostel and similar facilities: There are Youth Hostels in Brilon, near Willingen and Schmallenberg, Neuastenberg and Hilchenbach. The Youth hostels near Willingen and Schmallenberg are at some distance from the Trail so you will have to take a bus or taxi to get there, to Hilchenbach you can take the train. Youth hostel-like accommodation is available near Oberhundem in the Alpenhaus, an Alpine cabin and in Heinsberg.
Cost of accommodations: Some indications of the minimum daily cost for accommodation and meals: Camping cost about 5 Euro per night. When preparing your own meals, the provisions will cost another 10 Euro. It is not possible to cover the whole of the Rothaarsteig© using official camp sites. So, unless you are camping wild or camping near a farm, you will have to use alternative (and more expensive) accommodation.
Travelling alone and staying in pensions expect to pay between 20 – 30 Euros for your accommodation, including breakfast. For hotels expect to pay 30 – 40 Euros per day. Travelling together reduces your per person cost for accommodation somewhat since most places charge extra (about 5 Euros) for a single occupancy of a room or a one bed room. Lunch or dinner at a simple hotel or restaurant will cost from 10 to 15 Euros for a simple meal, excluding drinks.
Other facilities along the Trail
Facilities like shops and banks are unevenly distributed along the Trail. Near the Trail and reachable by detour or public transport, these facilities are more widely available. For an uncomplicated journey, plan what supplies and cash to take along and do not forget to incorporate the weekends in this planning.
There are several bus lines along the Trail and most places can be reached by bus. Many of the lines are school orientated, run only on schooldays or run less frequent on non-schooldays and in weekends. Some of the places along the Trail can be reached by train.
The maps in this book, along with the Trail description should be sufficient to keep you from straying from the Trail. It is useful however to have a wider view of the area, for instance in case you want to leave the Trail and want to return to your starting point. For this purpose, the 1:50.000 map published by the Rothaarsteigverein is perfect. It covers the whole of the Trail and other walking Trails are indicated, as well as points of interest. It can be ordered on the following website: www.rothaarsteig.de On this site, which has an English version, other publications on the Trail are available, mostly in German.
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