Cheb to Přimda (92 km)
I’m standing at the base of Milíře, a steel telecom tower built in 2001. I’m feeling pretty exhausted after a long day in the saddle, so it takes me quite a while to persuade myself to tackle the 126 steps up to the viewing platform. As I ascend, my cycling shoes beat a slow percussive rhythm on the metal grill steps. The sound contrasts eerily with the plaintive moaning of the wind rushing through the girders around me. My cycling muscles complain painfully about this unfamiliar form of exercise, but I keep going to the top, where I can feel the whole structure swaying in the breeze. Some 80 feet below me, the long shadow of the tower on the field points east towards my destination for the day - the town of Přimda.
Přimda Castle from Milíře
On another sunny but cool morning I left Cheb’s almost deserted George of Podebrady square and headed south out of the town before veering east across open fields to take a look at Jesenice reservoir. On the far side were the remains of a partially sunken bridge that used to connect the two parts of the village of Všeboř across the River Odrava.
"Sunken bridge" in Jesenice reservoir
A few miles down the road I stopped in the picturesque village of Doubrava, whose timbered houses date from the second half of the 18th century. The village also has some fine old trees, most notably a 330-year-old beech.
Traditional local architecture in the village of Doubrava
Before setting off on Friday, I’d worked out on the back of an envelope that I would reach the halfway point of my ride around the Czech border roughly 97 km into Stage 4. This coincided with the border crossing near the tiny village of Mýtina, so I duly stopped there to make an (an admittedly rather banal) audio and visual record of this milestone of my journey.
Just over the border, the relative affluence of Bavaria was immediately visible in the spick-and-span town of Neualbenreuth. I headed uphill out of the town to the Grenzelandturm viewing tower and paid one euro to climb to the top. To the east I could see the ridge of Dyleň (Tillenberg). Local tradition has it that in 1813 Napoleon declared this mountain the geographical centre of Europe. Further up the road I came across a sign pointing towards this landmark up a steep and rough forest trail. In cowardly fashion I elected to ignore it and continued along the main road to Mähring.
Grenzelandturm viewing tower
Dyleň on the skyline
Just outside Mähring I found another viewing tower, this time adjoining an unattractive chapel built in 1953 (and later extended) as a gathering place for Sudeten German pilgrims. Both the tower and the chapel were closed, so I rode back into the town in an attempt to find somewhere to eat.
St Anna's Memorial Church in Mähring
Having found no restaurants (or anything else) open in Mähring, I crossed back into the Czech Republic and back onto the switchback trail heading south through the Bohemian Forest. An alarmingly steep drop past a dilapidated old military control tower (one of the few remaining visible relics of the Iron Curtain I passed) was followed by an equally brutal climb to a small nature reserve called Bučina. I took a break at a picnic table there and wolfed down some of my emergency rations to keeping me going.
Military control tower on the Iron Curtain Trail
Eventually, at 3 pm, near the border crossing at Bärnau I found a filling station and filled up on food while observing a steady stream of German cars arriving to buy fuel and beer. Thank God for petrol stations, I thought to myself as I munched on a tuna and egg sandwich. I wonder where we hungry touring cyclists will go to refuel when the oil runs out.
Another long straight section of the Iron Curtain Trail
I continued through rolling scenery on a quiet road on the German side of the frontier. The next border crossing was not a busy road, but an unassuming short track connecting two fields. From there I was soon back in the forest and careering down a long hill to Zlatý Potok (“Golden Stream”), where people used to pan for gold in the Middle Ages. For a while I cycled along the “History of Glassmaking Nature Trail” past the sites of yet more German settlements cleared after World War II. According to one sign, this area used to be teeming with life. I found it almost entirely abandoned.
Site of a former village on the History of Glassmaking nature trail
Leaving the quiet of the forest I rode into Rozvadov, a succession of casinos, brothels and tatty roadside market stalls that is a serious contender for the hotly contested prize of “Least Salubrious Czech Frontier Town”. I left hurriedly, but not before bruising my ankle by dropping my bike on it while trying surreptitiously to photograph one of the aforesaid stalls.
I rode over the busy D5 motorway and on up through the village of Svatá Kateřina to Milíře viewing tower. As I described in the introduction above, I really wasn’t in the mood to climb it, but the views were worth the effort. From this vantage point, Přimda Castle - the oldest known stone castle in the Czech Republic (dating from the year 1121) - was clearly visible on the skyline, glowing in the evening sunshine.
The climb to Přimda was not nearly as bad as I’d feared, but the final ramp up to Hotel Kolowraty finished me off for the day. I stood gasping and sweating inelegantly at reception while three members of staff debated at length whether I should be signed in as a Czech resident or a foreigner.
I was the sole guest at the hotel until two guys checked in while I was eating in the restaurant. After chatting up the waitress over dinner, they headed off to a casino in Rozvadov to play poker. I, meanwhile, took the boring (and probably cheaper) option of an early night.