The Rotthäuser Bachtal is a nature preserve just east of the Düsseldorf suburb of Gerresheim. Trails accompany a creek valley whose Western bank is made up of steep cliffs made of sandy yellowish soil with many erosion paths. The east flank of the creek is largely flat, and dotted with pastures. The area is heavily forested, mainly with splendid old beech trees. As the soil has eroded beneath them, many of these trees have begun to tip over at hair-raising angles, and some have been uprooted entirely by storms. If the fallen tree blocks the trail, then so be it: most of the fallen trees have been left where they are, and you just have to climb under or over them.
The trail is twisty, with moderate ups and downs, plenty of tree roots, and some marshy areas, so it’s something for my 10-year-old Trek mountain-bike, Tapio, not my cross-bike, Elfriede. The creek has been dammed to create a series of fishponds which attract many native bird species, including a magnificent gray heron which exploded into flight right next to me as I skirted one of the ponds. There are also some protected plant species, like the odd-looking horsetail plant, with its long, spiky “leaves”. Of course, marshy areas mean mosquitoes in late summer, but they’re more of a nuisance than anything else.
The southern part of the trail skirts the Gerresheim Forest Cemetery, which opened in 1906. The idea behind a German forest cemetery is to leave large parts of the forest intact, and to spread graves around in a random-seeming manner, as if they had been scattered about by natural forces. The trails run up and down 20-meter inclines around the outside fence of the cemetery, which extends across the crowns of several hills. Owing to the height difference, the cemetery offers a free bus service for people who don’t fancy climbing to the higher graves on their own.
After snaking around the trails next to the Forest Cemetery, you descend into the idyllic pastures surrounding Pappendelle Farm, with its two large ponds, half-timbered farmhouse, and contented cattle munching grass.
If you live in central Düsseldorf, your ride home takes you through the former Glassmaker’s Quarter in Gerresheim. This used to be a massive glass factory drawing workers from all over Germany, but it has been torn down to make way for new apartments. All except for the former water-tower, which is now a protected landmark.
The Rotthäuser Bachtal is one of the gems to the east of Düsseldorf, in the outskirts of hilly Bergisches Land territory. The trails are well-marked, the scenery diverse, and the ups and downs make for a solid workout. If you haven’t paid it a visit yet, now’s the time — the fall foliage is just coming in.