Ramblers Worldwide Holidays Board Member, Clare Bonnick, recently returned from the European Ramblers Association (ERA) Annual Conference in Saxony where she enjoyed meeting many fellow walkers from across Europe…
I arrived at Munich Airport not knowing quite what to expect. Although RWH has been a member of ERA for a long time, this was my first time as representative and so it was all new to me. ERA is an umbrella organisation with around 60 different ramblers organisations from across Europe as its members and apart from one part-time member of staff, is run by volunteers. It is principally known for the E-paths – the pan-European long distance paths and the Eurorando series of walks that take place every five years – but is now increasingly getting involved in other projects, such as the approval of paths as ‘Leading Quality Trails’ and developing a walks leader training programme.
I chatted to Jacques from Belgium who was also attending for the first time – there were about 20 other people on the coach who seemed to know each other very well. The transfer took four hours so it was straight into dinner when we arrived – and there were about 60 people already there who’d come by car or train who got up to shake hands and hug many of the new arrivals, obviously renewing old friendships. Over dinner, I got to talk to people from Sweden, France, Germany, Holland … just for starters. Altogether there were attendees from 22 European countries! The mixture of languages was fascinating – ERA has three official languages, English, French and German – but people were chatting in their native tongues too. I was made to feel very welcome.
Our hotel was in Schöneck in Saxony, in the area known as Vogtland, only about five miles from the border with the Czech Republic. It’s now 25 years since the Wall fell – and before then this part of Germany was in the German Democratic Republic. Schöneck means ‘beautiful corner’ and we were told that the hotel had a fantastic view of the village below and the surrounding area. Unfortunately we woke the next day to thick fog and rain so had to take their word for that initially…
After a traditional German buffet breakfast we spent the morning on short know-how sessions, with presentations about various subjects such as forthcoming events in connection with the E-trails, access to the countryside and how public rights varied across Europe, and a test walk in which we learned about the criteria which are taken into account in the assessment process to award a path Leading Quality Trail status. Lunch was followed by a walk down into Schöneck with local guides – nobody was put off by the continuing fog and rain. After looking around we were ushered into the town hall for an official reception with the Mayoress. There was much merriment with traditional music, food and drink. Then most of us squeezed onto a little ‘train’ for the trip back to the hotel – not exactly a speedy return as those on foot arrived back at the same time.
We got back just after 6pm, so I took the opportunity for a quick visit to the hotel’s Erlebnisbad – a fantastic swimming pool complex with flumes and a wave machine. There were all manner of other sporting facilities available here - archery, bowling, trampolining, cycling, climbing, tennis, squash, etc, etc. And also skiing in the winter. As one of my new friends from Hungary reminded me, the German Democratic Republic was very keen on promoting sport and this hotel stands as a testament to that.
The next day was the official Annual General Meeting, followed by an interesting talk on a recent survey of the German walking market. After lunch, we had the choice of two excursions. The one I picked took us firstly to the Vogtland arena, to look at the ski jump there. We went to the top of the slope in little buggies, then climbed up to the top of the tower where the jumpers start from. Not for the faint-hearted!
We then walked down a lovely forest trail into Klingenthal, for another official reception by the Mayor at the local harmonica museum – Klingenthal is renowned for the manufacture of musical instruments. Back to the hotel for a quick turn-around before the final gala dinner. Everyone dressed up a bit, and some people appeared in national costume!
The next morning, it was a very early start for those of us travelling back to Munich, so most of our farewells were done the night before. It was a real privilege for me to attend and meet so many people from all over Europe who feel as passionately about walking as we do at RWH.