Hiking between Two Moated Castles
Is there a prettier sight than a moated castle, a stately home entirely surrounded by a body of water?
Probably not – but there are nevertheless good reasons why our forefathers did not build more of them. Moated castles were only ever constructed in areas that met three conditions.:
- First, the land had to be flat. If you are a medieval squire who can protect a house in any other way, digging a trench all around it and filling it with water would not be number one on your list of preferences.
- Second, the land had to be humid. The water to fill that moat most come from somewhere. Remember: we are talking about the Middle Ages here. They could not just open a tap and fill their moat much in the same way that you and I might run a bath or fill our swimming pools.
- Thirdly, the land had to be rich. Digging trenches and diverting entire river systems may produce castles that are as handsome as they are safe, but it does not come cheap. Only rich and fertile soil was able to produce an aristocracy that had the cash to scatter the landscape with such expensive buildings.
The Muensterland – the area of North-Western Germany near the city of Münster – fits the bill perfectly on all three counts.
Flat it most certainly is. And humid it certainly is, too. (The saying goes that in staunchly Catholic Münster, it either rains or the bells are tolling – and when both happen at the same time, it must be Sunday.)
And thirdly, the Muensterland has also generated considerable wealth throughout the centuries – although it has always been understatedly prosperous rather than ostentatious.
Even the grandest families have descended from sober-minded and patrician “aldermen” rather than from grand absentee landlords of the let-them-eat-cake variety. Which, it must be said, did not prevent these families from amassing quite stunning fortunes.
Typical representatives of this local aristocracy were the Droste zu Hülshoff – a family that produced many prince bishops, generals, mayors and local governors.
Nowadays, of course, all of the family’s once prominent scions are practically forgotten – all, that is, with the exception of one mousy frail and short-sighted spinster who died at the age of 51 in 1848 and who was later recognized as one of the great German poets, Annette von Droste-Hülshoff, sort of a Teutonic Emily Dickinson,
Our day hike connects the two most important homes ín her early life
… but this day hike to a moated castle is one you can enjoy even if you have never read a single line or even heard of her. (And if you cannot stand poetry in any language, never mind in German.)
We start our hiking at Haus Rüschhaus, a place to which Annette was “exiled” in 1826. From downtown Münster, take bus no. 5 in the direction of Nienberge until the stop called, straightforwardly enough, Haus Rüschhaus. Continue straight ahead and turn right after a few metres. (There is a large sign which should be difficult to miss.)
The house was constructed in the 18th century by the Baroque architect J.C. Schlaun (who also built the far grander palace for the Prince Bishop of Münster, nowadays the central administration office of Münster’s University) as a residence for himself. Later, it was – like everything else in the area – acquired by the Hülshoff family. Annette moved in with her mother when her father died and they had to vacate the family seat for her brother.
The fact that she resented Haus Rüschhaus because she felt forced to live “under much reduced circumstances”, as she complained more than once in her correspondence, tells you all you need to know about the life of the high and mighty of her time. (It looks like a pretty posh family pile to the modern observer and has a lovely French-style garden which can be visited for free.)
From here onward, our walk will follow the trail marked X4 and start by continuing past the crazy golf court where Annette spent many an engrossed afternoon refining her putting skills. (Or perhaps not).
Soon, we arrive at Haus Vögeding – originally built in 1353 – which was also part of the Droste zu Hülshoff property portfolio. But even a large aristocratic family can only inhabit so many different residences.
Eventually, they decided to rent out the building and its surrounding farmlands to a genteel tenant – who was genteel enough for Anette to befriend his daughter and to chew the fat with her over a drink whenever she took a rest on her walks from Haus Rüschhaus to the family castle. (The drink in question was buttermilk.)
Today, Haus Vögeding is still a working farm, and the bulls in the large barn on your right hand side will soon be coming to a plate near you.
The moated residential building itself has today been converted to rented flats. The fact that the present owner of the property prefers to live in the fairly nondescript (okay then: ugly) new house opposite says a lot about the practicalities of inhabiting historical buildings.
Having passed Haus Vögeding, take a left turn in front of the next farm and cross the busy road ahead of you (the L529).
When you meet another busy road, the K22, turn left and continue for a few hundred meters until you see a sign on your right pointing the way to a shop called Stoffsalat.
Turn right here and follow that path until you can see the gates of Hülshoff Castle in the distance.
Walk straight towards that gate no matter how forbidding it may look – there is a path around it that will guide you straight to the main entrance. (Access to the castle is free, but there is a fee if you want to visit the Annette museum inside the building.)
Hülshoff Castle in its present form dates back to the 16th century. (The chapel wing is a 19th century addition.)
Back then, moats already had a decreasing defensive value, but castle owners wanted them anyway – for similar reasons, I guess, that Eastern European gazillionaires today want their country houses to look like Windsor Castle. Or the Acropolis.
The castle has a pretty good and, all things considered, not overly pricey restaurant – a good place to have a drink (perhaps even something a bit stiffer than buttermilk) or a smalI bite before setting out on your return journey.
If you are lazy, you can cut this return short and take the bus back to Münster, but the next stop of line R64 – back on road K22 – is still a brisk 15 minute walk away. (Also note that buses circulate hourly Monday through Saturday and once every two hours on Sundays.)
We decided to walk all the way back to Haus Rüschhaus, albeit on a slightly different route (marked by a rhombus) which diverts from the X4 when you hit the main road (the K22) and rejoins it roughly at the level of Haus Vögeding.
Our overall verdict?
You surely get a lot of asphalt under your hiking feet, and even though most of the roads are barely used supply tracks, there is also some major traffic you will have to negotiate. On the way in, this is not so bad, knowing that there is something to look forward to (a castle, a meal, a hot cup of coffee), but it must be said that the back leg can be a little dreary.
On the plus side, however, you do get a great insight into the grandeur of the aristocratic lifestyleon this day hike. Just imagine: all the land you cross once belonged to a single family, and Annette could walk for well over an hour without leaving the Droste’s back garden once.
Even today’s Eastern European gazillionaires will find that hard to beat.