ORL Day Nine: Kleinkastell Meisel to Kastell Saalburg

The weather forecast did not look too promising for our last day walking, the culmination of our trip as we aimed to reach our finishing point at Saalburg. We returned to Kleinkastell Meisel, finding it hiding within its copse, and continued our journey eastwards. The Limesweg, after a minor zigzag, heads up to Glashütten, where an explosion of information is contained within the modestly named Limespavilion.

The Limespavilion at Glashütten

On we go, along the valley that once housed a thriving glass-making industry in the 15th and 16th centuries, and then up, up, up to Rotes Kreuz, a pass through the Taunus for a medieval (and probably earlier) road through the Limes. Soon after we came across the remains of Kastell Feldberg, beautifully presented, were it not for the small tractor cutting (perhaps massacring would be a better word) the grass in the pouring rain. With sundry internal buildings, including an apsidal principia sacellum, and four single-portal gateways, as well as an external bath-house, it is well worth a visit. We carried on climbing gently, before descending to Sandplacken for lunch; a fine stretch of bank and ditch can be seen here, as can WT 3/54 perched precariously on the roadside verge. Remarkably, that busy old fool, the unruly sun, had begun to put in occasional appearances.

The ditch and bank near Sandplacken

After lunch we headed off once more, taking in the remains of a rather hirsute Kleinkastell Altes Jagdhaus (which, unsurprisingly, had the remains of an old hunting lodge inside it) and a contrastingly manicured Kleinkastell Heidenstock before we began a long, 3km descent to Saalburg. The sun, thankfully, was out as we arrived at the end of our 105-mile odyssey.

Kleinkastell Heidenstock

Saalburg itself looked better than when I last saw it, freed of the renovators’ scaffolding and decidedly spruced up. The only down side was that construction work in the fabrica (oh, the irony!) meant it was not accessible. The intermittent rain showed off the eavesdrips to advantage, whilst the principia cross-hall was, as ever, breathtaking. We ate in the taberna before taking our leave of Saalburg and the Obergermanische-Raetische Limes … for the time being.

Statue of Antoninus Pius at Saalburg

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ORL Day Eight: Kastell Zugmantel to Kleinkastell Meisel

The fort at Zugmantel, so important in Roman frontier studies in so many ways, is frankly a mess. Caged behind wire mesh, entering its compound is not exactly a path to enlightenment. The north and west ramparts can be made out, as can the location of the north gate, but the rest is so overgrown (it is, of course, in woodland) and riddled with unbackfilled excavation trenches that making sense of it is not on the cards.

Zugmantel rampart

It is easier to understand the amphitheatre, which is the only visible part of the substantial civil settlement, and which lies half way between the fort and the Limes, where the reconstructed tower and palisade may be seen.

Zugmantel amphitheatre

After admiring Zugmantel, we set out along the line of the frontier (the bank survives up to 2m high along here), aiming for a lunchtime stop at Dasbach. We followed the frontier above the village of Eschenhahn, but whilst the Limes was free to plough straight on, we had to zigzag downhill, passing through Eschenhahn, before climbing up out of the valley of the Auroffer Bach, and then descending into the valley of the Worsbach, crossing under an Autobahn (the E35) and a railway and over another railway. We rejoined the line of the frontier just before yet another reconstructed tower (WT 3/26) just south of Dasbach.

WT 3/26

Following lunch, we started climbing again, but this time we took advantage of a frontier BOGOF deal, because the Limes was split between an older (hinterer) and newer (vorderer) course, both of which are upstanding.

Junction of the Vorderer and Hinterer Limes

The two frontiers reunited before WT 3/29 and carried on in a straight line to near Kastell Alteburg, where an ancient open-market continues to be held. As the Limes strode directly over the Totenberg, we were forced to take a much less direct route until we at last rejoined it at the site of WT 3/36. Then we had a more-or-less straight run uphill to Kleinkastell Meisel.

Kleinkastell Meisel

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ORL Day Seven: Kleinkastell Kemel to Kastell Zugmantel

Low cloud hid the giant wind turbines as we stepped out of Kemel, blades roaring softly through the water vapour. There is nothing to see of the fortlet, but a timber tower lurks behind the village fire station.

WT 2/49 reconstructed

Striding across the fields, we weaved around the bases of the turbines, and skirted the edge of the recycling centre. We soon arrived at the Father Ted watchtower (‘…this watchtower is small…’) before descending past the Villa Lilly, a health resort and turning off towards Lindschied, and the first of the major changes to the Limesweg this year (I am only just beginning to appreciate how often this path changes course!). It now avoids going into the village almost completely, only briefly flirting with it before beginning the long descent into the valley of the Aar (which will see the start of Strecke 3 of the ORL). On the way down, we turned off to inspect the only inscribed quarry face in this part of the German Limes, commemorating a bored Ianuarius Justinus.

The Iustinus stone

We retraced our steps, crossing under the railway and over the river and nodding a greeting to Kleinkastell Adolfseck, before climbing once more to get to our chosen lunch place near WT 3/8.

After lunch, we plodded on through more forest, now mindful of our looming meeting with Dirk Augustin for a spot of living history. Now the weather began to turn against us, showers becoming heavier until they explored the possibility of turning into downpours. By the time we made it to the watchtower at Zugmantel, we were moist to say the least. Dirk displayed and explained weaponry throughout the Roman period, before mixing (and inviting us to sample) some moretum.

Zugmantel watchtower

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ORL Day Six: Kleinkastell Pohl to Kastell Holzhausen

Our half-day’s decursio begins outside the reconstructed Kleinkastell at Pohl and takes us up a country lane, across open fields, the frontier just a line on the map. On our way we see one of the more unusual Limesweg waymarkers: a sign painted on the road.

Limesweg sign painted on road

Passing through the village of Holzhausen (birthplace of Nicolaus August Otto, inventor of the Otto engine), we are unable to resist a coffee in the local bakery/coffee shop/general store. As we exit the village, I note that the Limesweg route has changed yet again here (third visit, third variant!), helped by the fact that there is now a pedestrian walkway/cycle track all the way to the nearby roundabout, cutting out the need for threading through the village and surrounding field.

Soon, however, we leave the road, follow the line of an old narrow-gauge railway for a short distance, then enter woodland again, guarded by a piece of chainsaw art in the shape of a legionary shield.

Chainsaw art of a Roman shield

The Limes is in there waiting for us, bank and ditch in fine fettle amidst the trees and abundant leaf litter, and we follow it towards our destination, Kastell Holzhausen.

Ditch and bank in the Holzhausen woods

The fort is one of the most impressive sets of remains so far, with walls standing over a metre high, well preserved gateways, and an apsidal HQ building. Naturally, we are the only people there: we have yet to see another Limesweg walker who was not a local out for a stroll or somebody jogging or exercising their dog.

Part of the HQ building at Holzhausen

We take our leave of the site and go off in search of the coach and our packed lunch before making for Idstein. The showers were half-hearted, we were determined, and our morning was a rewarding one.

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ORL Day Five: Bad Ems to Kleinkastell Pohl

We begin Strecke 2. The Kleinkastell ‘Auf der Schanze’ lay next to the main station in Bad Ems, just south of the River Lahn. Using the station underpass, we begin our treck up to WT 2/1, way above us on the hillside. The route begins on the streets but soon weaves its way onto woodland paths, finally delivering us next to the first reconstructed tower on the LImes, built in honour of Kaiser Wilhelm II. Short and squat (it, not him), it is the antithesis of modern reconstructions of Limes towers, but the view from its base is enchanting enough to make minor carping over details seem irrelevant.

WT 2/1

We trot along a ridge for a while before some more climbing becomes necessary, ultimately leading us to a good stretch of bank and ditch, a short length of reconstructed palisade, and a sign (literally) that the Germans do have a wry sense of humour.

A German joke

Soon, roadside watchtowers (WT 2/5, 2/6, 2/7, and 2/8) start appearing next to the track we are using, and then a fortlet (KK Becheln) before we reach The Grey Stone, a boundary marker on the Limes nicked in the early 20th century and only returned a century later.

By now, showers have begun and lunch is had under a tree next to the village of Schweighausen, before rejoining our journey and being treated to a crop mark indicating the line of the Limes ditch as it runs across a field of just-ripe barley. Much dodging in and out of woodland, the occasional flirtation with a village, and finally a mobile section of mini-Limes, bring us to just south of Dornholzhausen.

Mobile Limes

On, down a considerable straight length of frontier, past some chainsaw art (a German warrior on one side, a centurion on the other), before we cross (down one side, up the other) the valley of the Mühlbach and burst into the village of Berg, only to find it near-deserted.

Wall ornament in Berg

Leaving it in the rain (again), we briefly inspect the Gemüse- und Obstlehrpfad (examples of Roman plants), before trogging on, past the site of its fort, to Hunzel. In the village, we pass a huge mural on the side of a building of Roman rural life, and then we leave the village and start across the fields again. Ultimately, we reach the edge of yet more woodland, where the frontier is once again tangible. We stalk it amongst the trees and finally emerge, blinking, on the far side, to be greeted by the welcome sight of the reconstructed Kleinkastell Pohl. We cannot walk directly to it, but must negotiate the outskirts of Pohl (including Ernst-Fabricius-Strasse) before we are finally welcomed inside by a Roman legionary, Thomas, who is to be our guide.

Kleinkastell Pohl reconstructed

A thorough inspection of the contubernium, museum display (with handling of reconstructed items), hall, and adjacent watchtower, is followed by a Roman-style meal in their small cafe. We are not the only ones there, as local school children are performing a concert in the hall. KK Pohl has an important local, social role to play, as well as entertaining passing tourists like us. The big surprise was that some of the stones from the Mittelrheinisches Landesmuseum were on display in the hall, including one rather famous Roman soldier. All in all, a packed, tiring, but enjoyable day.

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ORL Day Four: Hillscheid to Bad Ems

We arrive at Kleinkastell Hillscheid in intermittent rain, mist drifting lazily through the trees (the Germans say ‘the fox is cooking’!). We set off, waterproofed and resolved, into the murky forest. Encouragingly, two of the narrower, less frequented (and consequently poorly maintained) lengths have been superseded by longer, but much more acceptable routes. It has to be understood that the Limesweg is made up of lengths of existing paths strung together to make a route that follows the frontier as closely as possible. Hence it is easy to modify routes without actually building a new path; to use a railway metaphor, they just change the points in a couple of places!

A misty forest near Kleinkastell Hillscheid

We follow the ditch and bank, then criss-cross it a few times, all the time being dripped and rained on with enough frequency for it to be annoying. Finally, however, in time for us to arrive at Arzbach for lunch, the BBC weather forecast for Koblenz came good, the rain stopped, and the clouds parted.

Arzbach was our second fort (as opposed to fortlet) site (there’s nothing to see) on the line of the Limes after Niederbieber and it was situated next to the church. Its water supply was fed by a spring just up the hill (the Römerquelle), which we visit after lunch. That well-timed meal fortifies us for the climb up to the Stephansturm, a Wachturm (1/84) perched impossibly high on top of a hill with a truly stunning view across Arzbach and neighbouring Dornbach.

WT 1/84

It also possesses permanent and very insistent wind. Trudging up the steep path, we make it to the top and are rewarded with stunning views and a sense of accomplishment. There is, however, a bonus: in a yellow field far below, the ditch of the Limes is clearly visible as a dark green crop mark running across it.

The view from the Stephansturm

Back down we go, then on along the frontier, past another section of reconstructed palisade (group photo: say ‘Limes’!), over the Kurfürstlicher Wildtierbanngrenze (it kept wild animals out of agricultural land around Trier) and on. Suddenly, the Limes sweeps round in a ninety-degree turn and makes for Bad Ems. We follow it and see the first signs of some 20th-century archaeology: craters from a jettisoned stick of bombs. A small path leads us past more of these, until we find the remains of WT 1/88 (narrowly missed by one bomb).

WT 1/88

We continue, by now set on our goal of Bad Ems which will, inevitably, involve a loss of height at some point. When it happens, it is sudden and drastic, the frontier charging recklessly straight down a hillside which we are obliged to negotiate on paths which weave their careful way down.

The Limes near WT 1/93

Finally, passing one last section of reconstructed palisade, the lane (running in the ditch, with the bank to our left) leads to an impossibly steep road that takes us down into the heart of Bad Ems. Tomorrow, we will cross the Lahn, but for now, we are done.

Bad Ems

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ORL Day Three: Sayn to Kleinkastell Hillsheid

A pleasant wander through the Schmetterlingsgarten (butterfly garden) and on into the small town of Sayn found us gradually exiting it and climbing boldly up onto the Dusty Mountain (Der Pulverberg). As we went, we passed the exciting-looking Kletterwald (literally ‘woodland scrambling’) where all sorts of shocking, risk-assessment-withering activities could be undertaken within the tree canopy by those of a bold nature. Climb, climb, climb, and we gain height until I stop and am about to address the group on the hazards of Limesweg mountain-bikers … when two burst out of the undergrowth, emerging from the steep path we are about to take, making my point eloquently for me. This happened next to a patch of (for the Rhineland) unusual clear felling, the reason for which soon becomes apparent.

Auf dem Pulverberg

We continue our ascent and finally arrive at WT 1/54 (‘Auf dem Pulverberg’), with a fine view across Sayn, now considerably aided by that clear felling of a strip of woodland (in imitation of what the Romans had almost certainly done). This is followed by a pleasant stroll through woodland, occasionally ambushed by lengths of the Limes. A descent leads us to where we take lunch, next to Kleinkastell Anzbach, which is next to a wastewater treatment works (as you do). The skies are blue, the sun shining, and the poo not at all intrusive.

We continue after lunch, past a house adorned with giant murals of Asterix, Obelix, and Getafix, then climbing gently up a valley, and past more lengths of frontier.

The rampart and ditch

We head on, down past a mill, back up into open agricultural land (a quick flash as a buzzard spirals down on his prey) and we are climbing again towards Hillscheid. We finally arrive at the Limespavilion Hillscheid, where the custodian is summoned by phone and gives us a long and informative guide to absolutely everything, ever, for which he is much appreciated. A 1994-vintage reconstruction of the nearby WT 1/68, it has an adjacent Roman rural garden (although sadly its faun statue was recently vandalised).

Limespavilion Hillscheid and the Roman garden

The last part of a our march takes us onwards and upwards, in a quest to reach Kleinkastell Hillscheid, located in yet more woodland. A fortlet with an annexe, an adjacent WT (1/69), and a length of reconstructed bank, ditch, and palisade, it is worth the steady climb to get to it. Now, however, it is time to head back.

Kleinkastell Hillscheid

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