Easy hiking in Germany
Hike along Three Moated Castles
Borken in the extreme northwestern corner of North Rhine Westphalia is, in a way, a strange mongrel of a town: staunchly catholic, rural and conservative, it is culturally a part of the Münsterland, although in fact geographically closer to the coketowns and coal mines of the Ruhr – and more conveniently located for them, too.
The distance from Borken to Münster is 60 km, and the only way to get there is by bus (a 1 hour ride), whereas Essen, the heart of the Ruhrgebiet, is only 40 km away, and there is a rail connection, too. So this is something you can do if you are stuck in the Ruhrgebiet and are looking for a great way to pass a day.
Maybe you can even accomplish something that we did not quite bring about: complete the Triple Crown of visits to the Western Westphalian “terrific threesome” of moated castles – Gemen, Pröbsting, Döring – which are conveniently located in a semi-circle around Borken, although, as it turned out, not conveniently enough for us. (And thereby, dear reader, hangs a tale.)
Turn right out of Borken central station (where the buses stop, too) down Ahauser Straße and turn right after half a mile into Coesfelder Straße, following – for a very short walk – the signs to “Jugendburg Gemen”, number one on your list.
Burg Gemen is easily one of the most impressive of all moated castles in the Münsterland, one of the oldest (originally from the first millennium AD) and one the best preserved (dating, in its current shape, from the 16th century).
It’s now used as a youth centre by the Catholic Diocese (hence the “Jugendburg”), so you cannot visit it from inside. But you can enter the courtyard and take a long walk around it.
When you have seen enough, walk back towards Ahauser Straße – through the picturesque village centre of old Gemen – and turn first right, then immediately left into Neumühlenallee.
Continue down Neumühlenallee until you hit a very busy road, the B70, and look for the underpass. Walk through and turn left to find yourself immediately in the idyllic landscape of the Bocholter Aa, the small river that will lead you all the way to castle number two on your list, Haus Pröbsting.
Be careful: the restaurant that is still being mentioned in some of the articles you can find about Haus Pröbsting on the Internet no longer exists and was apparently closed when the place was converted into a psychiatric clinic.
They still allow you to move around freely around the forecourt and the moat, however. (Just one word of advice: the strange-looking chap who observes you making pictures of the building may just be a weird fellow tourist – or perhaps not.)
There is also a lake near-by with a couple of cafés, so if you haven’t brought anything to eat with you, at least there is coffee and cake.
The castle as you see it today was largely constructed in the 19th century, but there was a moated fortress here as far back as 1221. They even have their own house ghost: once, when the castle was under siege, an enemy spy charmed the Lady of the Manor into opening the door for the attackers – who then entered and slaughtered everybody in sight. Including the Lady herself who, ever since, has been cursed to restlessly roam the surroundings.
But don’t worry, it’s just an old woman’s tale, and the woman all dressed in white standing pensively by the moat is probably just a tourist. (If you try to make small talk with her: don’t mention the siege.)
Now for the last stage of the tour, the walk to Haus Döring, and this is where things got decidedly iffy for us.
Theory first. Do what I say, not what I do and turn left out of Haus Pröbsting on the trail marked by a lozenge before continuing on the X3 trail after the Pietà memorial.
Follow the direction to Sühling, then to Grütlohn, turn right into Im Stelder Esche and Bleekenweg before turning right again into Op den Dahl which will lead you straight – having crossed the B70 (again) – to Haus Döring. From here, it is but a short walk back to Borken town centre.
This is what the two of us, too, planned to do, but in practice, we veered off course. I cannot even say exactly where, but somehow we lost our way, winding up – as we eventually reconstructed – on the road to Raesfeld rather than Döring.
That something was not quite right dawned on us when it took us well over an hour, then two hours for what should have been a walk of 3 miles.
Mrs. Easy Hiker – who loves a hike and is as brave and levelheaded a woman you can hope to find anywhere in the world until things go wrong – was beginning to wonder whether there would indeed be a village, any village, at the end of the road.
Maybe there would just be a busy highway, another busy highway, with no way of crossing it or walking by the side. Maybe we would never arrive anywhere at all, cursed like the Lady In White, restlessly roaming in between cornfields until the end of time.
And then the sky was getting dark, and it was beginning to drizzle. Which was exactly the moment we spotted Raesfeld in the distance.
My helpful remark that Raesfeld, as luck had it, was also blessed with a moated castle and that we might replace the last stop on our itinerary with the local castle which was little more than 1 mile away was answered with an almighty swing of Mrs. Easy Hiker’s plastic water bottle – jokingly, of course. In all probability. Still, I can’t help wondering: would she have hit me if I had not ducked?
For me, however, it was a great day. I love it when things go wrong. It is adversity, after all, that makes experiences special, particularly if there is a little danger attached to it: what would happen if there really was no village at the end of this road? Under almost any other circumstances, what would be just the sight of a nondescript village thus becomes a moment of epiphany, and the red roof tiles of Raesfeld glitter like the Golden Domes of Jerusalem.
Everybody doubted you when you said: let’s just plough on and everything will be okay in the end, and who was right?
Now I know how Winston Churchill must have felt.