Saturday, November 1, 2014

Angry Black Cats at the Gates of Zell

Half term and Madam and myself conquered Le Manche and swept across the Polders intent on reaching the Rhine. Midway up the German part of the Mosel to be exact and a room on the river at a place called Zell. I'd visited before on my first trip abroad on a state secondary school trip that also took in Amsterdam and included fifty twelve year olds being taken to several wine producers for a few hours wine tasting,

school trips were a little different then,

the Amsterdam leg of the journey included being let off the leash after tea and a game of street football in the red light district with an exotically dressed opposition.

Anyway, to misquote fans of Galatasaray , welcome to Zell. A pretty town halfway between Trier and Koblenz that seems to exist for pleasure alone, principally the production of wine, and as we awaited our host to grant entry to our apartment we joined forty other visitors in the town square sipping glasses of wine at two euros a pop produced from grapes grown on the hill behind (Dublin take note) Riesling wouldn't be our grape of first choice and the sun doesn't shine long enough to get any oomph into the soupcon of red produced but the dry Riesling we quaffed wasn't half bad and didn't have the gloopiness of some of the Riesling we have drunk at home, and so the pattern was set.

Burg Eltz is a spectacular castle in the middle of a forest that stands as a testament to hedging your bets or backing both sides in times of conflict, perfectly preserved it is inaccessible by road. A trek of many miles through impenetrable forest may have had its part to play in its preservation as Madam and myself set out in inappropriate footwear to test its fortifications and after an hour emerged blinking from the forest to join the throng who had caught the bus halfway up the other side of the hill. It's guided tours only, and the multilingual chap who showed us around was a bit of star. Lunch was taken in the castle refectory and comprised two bowls of green soup with a frankurter hidden within, a pint of Pils and a large glass of wine all for the price of a pint and a half of Ireland's best froth on the same afternoon a week before. Returning through the forest along the banks of a stream a similar size to the Dever we spotted trout and tell tale signs of anglers at work. Always at spots where trees had fallen over, light had entered the stream and ranunculus flourished, the tunnel shaded by firs bore few signs of life. We missed the Oktoberfest at Cochem by minutes but took in yet another pretty town and popular destination for the elongated Rhine River cruisers that wouldn't last five minutes with the slightest chop on the water.

Trier traffic was a trial, and we bailed out in favour of the park and ride. The half timbered buildings in the medieval square are impressive, as are the two cathedrals and the odd palace but the perfectly preserved Roma gate and cloisters that housed modern loos serve as a reminder that the valley was first planted with vines almost two thousand years ago by a Roman empire establishing a foothold after giving battle with goths and visigoths various.

Koblenz the next day which sits at the point where the Mosel feeds into the Rhine, and Madam and myself paid nine euros each to travel an hour by train down the valley. A scenic ride and popular with both locals and visitors it will no doubt draw the eye of Michael Portillo at some point in the near future. Koblenz played host to further invaders as a cruise ship retracing the steps of the US 82nd Airborne division in WW2 took in the town, Koblenz was bombed heavily during the second world war and while parts of the old town are well preserved, there are obvious gaps, Three years ago, 45,000 people were evacuated following the discovery of a two ton unexploded bomb in a muddy bank of the Rhine.

Lunch was taken in a cafe that provided the perfect nutritional storm of bread, beer and cake (there's no tea here) before we headed to the river and a ride on a cable car that lifted us across the Rhine. A pretty park played host to a draughty museum and a free viewing platform that provided a perfect view of the city and the point at which the Mosel meets the Rhine, which is marked by an imposing statue of on old Kaiser who bore the unassuming nomenclature of "William the Great"

Back behind the gates of Zell, which are guarded not by a many headed hound but by a statue of a large black cat on the third roundabout. Schwarze Katz is the most well known wine from the village and further glasses were taken at a variety of Gasthauses which were proving to be a distraction from the small shops and tiny streets although one display of dusty old Leica and Leitz caught the eye.

Having made it through another night we rose at dawn for a spot of walking and fishing, pausing to take in a few of the boats that chug up and down this stretch of the river that is a vital transport link in the pan European canal network that links several major rivers. A procession of coal moves from southern Germany to industry in North East France, and one ninety metre long craft that passed under the bridge appeared to be skippered by children. Further up the Mosel several seek to locate large carp or the odd silur, but there was little evidence of their work on this stretch although a fish finder may reveal more on such a large river with few features. Trotted sweetcorn, a couple of rod lengths out, accounted for several good chub and roach. Cormorants fishing in your swim kill the mood, and a few hundred tonnes of coal moving through your swim makes your float bob about a bit, and then came a first for me.

Fishing in slightly shallower water a little closer to the bank, my bait tripped along the bottom and I caught several fish I failed to identify, which irked me a little. Identification was sought via google, that revealed the small fish was a bottom dwelling round goby and an alien invader working its way through the river system and impacting on native fish populations. It's passage across Europe was aided by the pan European canal network created by linking up several of Europe's rivers in the last century to further economic development. A public information board at the bottom of the river details two other such invaders and a species of native caddis that has all but bit the dust as a result. It then goes on to explain that such things while regrettable are a necessary sacrifice when weighed against the development of the economy and reads as follows:

"In reality, one finds just a modified structure of the aquatic life communities. Whether such changes are understood as loss of enrichment for the life communities depends on the point of view of the observer, on economic interests, and on the goals that we pursue in nature conservation."

It's a little different from the take on alien Invaders in the UK and heaven help us if such a board were put up on the bank of a chalkstream. The take on EU Habitat Directive and River Restoration also seems to differ from our own. The pretty streams that tumble into the Mosel are not chalk streams, but the rules regarding light, weed and biodiversity still hold, as was confirmed during the opening leg of our expedition to the castle where weed flourished wherever light penetrated the tunnel of trees and were marked by anglers' tramplings. EU habitat directive has afforded the UK's chalkstreams a greater level of protection than our own agencies and laws and if I was a member of a Mosel fly fishing club I would be banging the EU habitat directive drum a little louder.

Are all corners of the EU implementing Habitat Directive as diligently as the UK?

If not, why not?

Filling the boot of the car with Sauerkraut and Bitburger which, if my translation of the promotional label is correct, will, when mixed in the correct proportions, combine to form an elixir that guarantees everlasting life, we drove through Belgium as fast as possible, and returned home with no little trepidation, as exactly twelve months ago we returned from a failed mission to fish the Marne that dissolved in a haze of bubbles. The rain had begun to fall and the first trees had fallen over, principally the mother of all willows that blocked the bottom bends and took a week to remove.

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