Stage 5

Nýrsko to Horní Dvořiště
(233 km, completed 2-5 Jun 2011)

Stage 5 route plan
Šumava - the largest continuous area of forest in Central Europe and the biggest national park in the Czech Republic - is the setting for Stage 5 of my trip. It’s a stage of two halves, this one: a brutally hilly first 100 km and a flatter latter section. Instead of following the relatively easy Šumava Cycle Trail (Šumavská magistrála), I’ve elected to use lesser known and - I hope - more interesting paths that pass through some of the remotest areas of the park. The climbing begins as soon as I leave the official start in Nýrsko and culminates the next day at the viewing tower on top of Poledník. At 1,315 metres above sea level, this will be the highest point of my entire journey around the Czech border. Later, I’ll be passing by the source of the Vltava, the river on which Prague stands. Things should get a lot easier on day 3, when I hit the 45-kilometer-long Schwarzenberg Canal, formerly used to transport timber out of the forest towards Vienna. As well as the Czech Republic, I’ll be riding through parts of Germany and (for the first time on my circuit ride) Austria. And if time allows I’ll take a detour in search of the most southerly point in the Czech Republic, before catching the train home from Horní Dvořiště.

Stage 5 route
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Stage 5 slideshow

Stage 5 starts Thursday
Stage 5 of my trek around the Czech border will start on Thursday this week. I'll be cycling through the "green lungs of Europe", better known as Šumava National Park. My route (described in more detail here) starts in the town of Nýrsko with a daunting 650 metre ascent through the forest to the pass at Špičák. After overnight stops in Železná Ruda, Strážný and Vyšší Brod, I hope to reach the stage finish in Horní Dvořiště on Sunday and catch the train back home to Prague.

Stage 5 blogging on the go:
Bottomless, unfathomable
Hard climbin' man
Easy rider
Castles in the Sumava sky
Stage 5 completed

Riding down memory lane
Stage 5, day 1 (Thursday, 2 June 2011): Nýrsko to Železná Ruda (36 km)
Just a half day’s cycling in store for me today, on the back of a four-hour train ride from Prague to the start point of Stage 5 - Nýrsko on the northern edge of Šumava National Park. I begin by retracing a small section of the Prague-Munich ride I did with a couple of friends three years ago. Back then, the weather was cold and wet. The steam rose from our backs as we laboured up the climb to Špičák pass, and the subsequent descent chilled us to the bone. In Železná Ruda we took refuge in a pub to warm up, but the manager switched the heating off as soon as we arrived. It’s none too warm today, either, and for reasons not even known to myself I’ve booked a room at the same place tonight. It doesn’t bode well.

The forest is crying
Stage 5, day 2 (Friday, 3 June 2011): Železná Ruda to Strážný (78 km)
The mournful title track of “The Forest is Crying” (an LP of Bulgarian vocal music I bought back in the 1980s) starts to play in my head as I emerge on the plateau of the Šumava National Park and take in the sheer scale of the devastation up here. Much of the former dense forest has been reduced to stumps. Logs litter the ground, ghostly pale after having been stripped of their bark. The silence is broken by the rasp of chainsaws as foresters fight to control a barely visible enemy: the bark beetle. It is a pest that is turning these “Green Lungs of Europe” brown. The forest is indeed crying.

Channelling Šumava
Stage 5, day 3 (Saturday, 4 June 2011): Strážný to Vyšší Brod (94 km)
The Schwarzenberg Timber Floating Channel (Schwarzenberský plavební kanál) was designed by forestry engineer Joseph Rosenauer and was built in two phases between 1789 and 1823. It begins on the Czech-Bavarian border, crosses the watershed of the Danube and Vltava rivers, and runs for 32 miles through the Šumava forest before flowing into the River Mühl in Austria. It is around 2.5 m wide, 1 m deep and draws water from 27 springs. During its 100-year heyday between 1793 and 1892, almost 8 million cubic metres of firewood was floated out of Šumava to Vienna. The city’s grateful authorities made Rosenauer an honorary citizen for his efforts. The channel fell into disrepair after timber floating ended in the 20th century, and it is only now gradually being restored to its former glory. Why am I telling you all this? Because I cycled almost its entire length on this day of my trip along the Czech border.

(Not) going to extremes
Stage 5, day 4 (Sunday, 5 June 2011): Vyšší Brod to Horní Dvořiště (26 km)
I am - you might say - extremely inefficient. Last year I failed to visit the northernmost extreme of the Czech Republic because I was in danger of missing my train back to Prague that evening. And in April this year I got within a few hundred yards of the westernmost point before the path disappeared into an uncyclable bog and I threw in the towel. Today I’m standing on the Czech-Austrian border looking up a sign that reads “Most southerly point of the Czech Republic 300 metres” and I already know this is as near as I’m going to get.