Once upon a time there was a big-nosed television presenter called Julia, who enjoyed doing all sorts of things on the telly. She flew with the world-famous Red Arrows and managed not to be sick in the tiny cabin. She climbed a tall, spindly sea stack that rose forebodingly from the icy waters of Scotland, and once dined on a feast of squirrel with a woodsman called Ben who lived in Prickly Nut Wood.
One day a shiny television executive made her dreams come true. He commissioned another of her walking series, but this time she would not follow in the footsteps of Alfred Wainwright or steer the path of a railway line; this time the talented, immensely skilled and witty presenter (look, it’s a fairy tale, OK?) would take her walks further afield. First stop – Bavaria.
“Bavaria?” my friend Amanda, who is a shepherdess in North Yorkshire, exclaimed. “I cannot even think of anything I know about Bavaria. Actually no – soft cheese.” Oh dear… it was wurst (much worse), and what about the beer, lederhosen and sauerkraut?
This picturesque spot is located in the south-east of Germany, a lamb’s limp from the Austrian border and it benefitted from Napoleon’s decision to reorder the map of Germany when it doubled in size. My reason for being there was King Ludwig II. In the series of walks for the BBC we took in the landscapes of Germany and South Africa, as well as another set of UK hikes. Each walk took in spectacular countryside and offered a decent physical challenge, as well as a good story.
Ludwig, born in 1845, was the long-awaited heir of Prince Maximilian and his wife Marie, a princess of Prussia. He and his brother Otto were brought up in the company of their mother, some servants and mountain farmers. With very little contact with the outside world, Ludwig roamed the valleys around the family castle and fell in love with the mountains, becoming enraptured with literature, music, poetry and drama. Mama Marie was quite a lady – she encouraged her progeny’s love of the outdoors and nurtured his artistic side. Such was her love of walking that she started her own Alpine walking society, a sort of royal version of the Ramblers. Membership was by invitation only, on condition that you could make it up nearby Berg Achsel three times.
Things did not go well for Ludwig when he came to power in 1864. His love of the arts didn’t really set him up to be the Obama of his day. A brief abdication, two disastrous wars and many expensive castles later, Ludwig was declared mentally insane by his detractors and his throne was stolen from under him. On 13 June 1886, he was found floating in a lake at Berg Castle with a medic called Dr von Gudden. They went for a walk and never returned. To this day it remains an arcane death.
I’m used to bad weather in the Lakes but from the moment we arrived in Fussen at the foot of the hills it was grey and very wet. It remained that way for three days solid. Neuschwanstein was Ludwig’s dream castle – the project he started but never finished. More than 6,000 people visit every day.
‘Snap-snap’ went the cameras and ‘pat-pat’ went the rain. Continuously. So we cancelled the shoot and headed home, to glorious sunshine and the opening week of Wimbledon. Hello British summer – how welcome you are. I’ve just taken my first outdoor shower in my back garden. Who needs fairy tale castles to live happily ever after?
This feature was taken from issue 25 of Countryfile Magazine. To make sure you never miss an issue subscribe today.
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