The route leaving Basel followed the same as Route 2 for the first 12km, crossing the Birs river along the left bank of The Rhine towards Augst, before turning off towards Liestal, just after Pratteln.
7km up the valley from here, I cycled into Liestal, a town that had really only started to take shape just five years earlier than John Murray’s visit.
As explained in “Murray’s Handbook For Travellers To Switzerland 1838”, Liestal is the chief town of Basel Landschaft, the canton formed in 1832, following a July revolution against Basel Stadt, where the countryside folk, who made up 80% of the canton of Basel rebelled against the city folk.
“Liesthal contains 2170 inhabitants, and since the Revolution has been hurriedly fitted up with the apparatus of government, a “kanzley”, or chancery, an arsenal, a prison, two gens d’armes, and three sentry-boxes.”
LIESTAL ACCOMMODATION / RESTAURANTS (16km):
Murray mentions two inns; the Schlüssel (le Cle) remains a restaurant and cocktail bar, The GoldenKey at Rathausstrasse 72, whilst the Baselstab has long since gone. There are plenty of other old restaurants and hotels that would have existed back in the 1830’s too, including the Hotel Engel and the Restaurant Neuhaus, now a Chinese restaurant.
“The pretty and smiling valley of the Ergolz, in which it is situated, was the scene of a shocking massacre in 1833 (August 3). In consequence of the aggressions of the country people the inhabitants of Bale town were compelled to march against them a force of about 1500 men, chiefly citizens, merchants, and shopkeepers, little skilled in the arts of war. The countrymen, having gained intelligence of the movement, at the instigation of a number of foreign refugees, placed themselves in ambush along the sides of a narrow defile overlooking the high road. No sooner were the incautious townsmen completely enclosed within the snare, than a merciless fire was opened upon them by their enemies from behind rocks and bushes. They were instantly seized with a panic, became totally disorganised, and, throwing away their sons, attempted to save themselves by flight. Hemmed in, however on all sides, they were completely exposed to the deadly aim of the rifles of their opponents, who picked off the officers and butchered indiscriminately many of the wounded and prisoners. While of the Bale countrymen scarcely a man was touched, 70 of the townsmen, including some members of the first families of Bale, were killed, and 200 wounded, in an affair which, from the advantages, both of numbers and position on the side of the countrymen, deserves the name of a wholesale murder rather than of a battle.”
For the next few kilometres, I found myself cursing and snarling at every friendly farmer I passed, returning their cheerful waves and “grüezis” with angry replies of “bastard” and “murderer”, until I finally accepted that they were probably no more responsible for the killing of 70 innocent shop assistants than I, some 182 years after the event.
By now my anger had switched to my legs anyway, as at Waldenburg, I started the 5km, 200 metre climb of the Oberer-Hauenstein Pass.
As Murray described, the ascent wasn’t too challenging.
Above the town, the imposing ruins of Neu-Falkenstein stand proud on a rock, located in a strategic position at the junction of the Basel to Solothurn road and the Passwang Pass over the Jura mountains.
This position gave to its ancient owners the power of levying black-mail upon each of these passes. It belonged at one time to Rudolph von Wart, who was broken on the wheel for his share in the murder of the Emperor Albert, and was consoled in his agony by the presence and fortitude of his wife.
The castle was destroyed by the men of Basle, because a waggon, laden with saffron, belonging to their merchants, had been pillaged by the lords of Falkenstein.
Presumably those crazy Baslers loved their spices back in the 18th Century as that is some revenge. I can only think that the Basel saffron traders must have been the Mexican drug cartels of their time.
The whole valley around Balsthal is full of military history with taxes once being levied on all those passing by the owners of the three castles, Neu-Falkenstein, Schloss Neu-Bechburg (which can be seen from the road, behind the apartment blocks on the left in Oensingen) and Schloss Blauenstein (which Murray describes as being south of the town, although was actually 40km north, on the French border).
Maybe he was confusing it with Schloss Alt-Falkenstein, which is at the entrance of Balsthal, on its border with Klus, where the iron furnaces Murray mentions in his book still loosely exist in the form of an industrial estate of factories making high power hydraulic tools, tunnel building equipment and metal recycling, as well as the Strahlwerk Klus sandblasting plant.
From here, we join the main road into Solothurn, passing Schloss Bipp on the right (not mentioned by Murray) through Wiedlisbach and, at Feldbrunnen, take a diversion to Schloss Waldegg, which Murray praises for “its old fashioned gardens, laid out in terraces.”
Further along from the castle, behind the car park for the church at St. Niklaus, you will find the entrance to what is surely one of Switzerland’s best kept secrets…
“Beyond the village of St. Nicholas, lies the chapel and Hermitage of St. Verena, at the extremity of a pretty valley, hemmed in by rocks, embowered in trees, and traversed by a sparkling rivulet. It is rendered accessible by paths, originally formed by the French emigres, who, at the outbreak of the French Revolution, sought an asylum here, to the number of many hundred.
The valley abounds in caves and grottoes, partly natural, partly artificial, and at its further extremity, within a natural shelf of over-arching cliff, stands the little Chapel of St. Verena.
Now regarded as one of Switzerland’s prettiest cities, Murray was seemingly not impressed back in 1837, the Baroque style obviously not being to the Englishman’s taste…
On entering the Old Town, the Naturmuseum sits in the square, with its collection of Jura fossils, to which Murray recommends to be of great interest to geologists.
There are nearly 30 specimens of fossil turtle, rarely found elsewhere, together with teeth and palates of fish, and numerous fragments of saurians.
Sadly, the museum was closed when I visited, leaving me greatly disappointed that I could not admire its collection of fish teeth. Its website however kept me informed that the three floors of exhibits still included “the fossilised turtles from Solothurn are of international renown.” I wondered if their international fame was solely down to “Murray’s Handbook For Travellers To Switzerland 1838”… and perhaps, now, my blog.
Up the steep cobbled hill – a cyclist’s worst nightmare – the stunning gothic St. Ursenkathedrale seemed to impress Murray less than the museum’s collection of fish palates, merely earning the description as being “distinguished by its size, and on the whole, handsome.”
Close to the cathedral, Murray takes us to the Zeughaus, which in 1837 contained “the most extensive and curious collection of ancient armour in Switzerland”, some of which was for sale, making those plastic knight helmets and shields you can buy in today’s museums seem rather shit.
The Baseltor gate and can be found here too, which was presumably the home to Ambassador of France to the Swiss Confederation, until the French Revolution, that Murray refers to. It was the home of the Catholic Bishop of Basel when Murray visited in 1837 and is possibly today the Hotel Baseltor.
I can only presume that John Murray mixed up his town gates, as he refers to the Kloster St. Josef being located outside the Berntor (across the Wengibrücke on the opposite side of the river, and destroyed in 1877), when the actual convent is outside the Baseltor (straight across the roundabout and on the left). Either way, like much of what Solothurn had to offer him, the miserable bugger wasn’t impressed.
The sisters of Si Joseph’s Nunnery, outside the Berne gate, make artificial flowers, sweetmeats, and other articles, which they sell at the grating. Their pincushions are clumsy, and themselves not very interesting.
Back within the town walls, much of which had been removed in the year or two previous to his visit, Murray seemed just as sceptical about the beautiful Zeitglockenturm.
The clock tower (Zeitglockenthurm), in the market place, a continuation of the same street, is stated by the guide books to be a Roman work, while a German inscription upon it attributes its foundation to a period 500 years earlier than the birth of Christ; but it owes its origin in reality to the Burgundian kings. It is square in form, and constructed of the most solid masonry, rough outside, without window or other opening, for 80 feet. If we are to believe the two Latin verses on the front of this building, Soleure is the most ancient city in N.W. Europe except Treves.
Close to this, Murray directs us to the house of the aforementioned Tadeusz Kościuszko, at No.5 Gurzelngasse, now the Museum Kosciuszko (at no.12), dedicated to his life.
ACCOMMODATION IN BIEL/BIENNE (105km):
Hotel du Jura, outside the town, recently established and good.
One of Murray’s recommended inns, the Hotel du Jura, is still open and also boasts a restaurant, although a 4km walk from the centre of Biel/Bienne.
Couronne, within the town.
This very historic hotel in the old town square, dating back to 1574 and closed down in 1915, has been kept in its original form but now houses a theatre workshop. You can identify it from the golden crown built into its brickwork.
To Soleure 12 stunden = 39¼ English miles; Thence to Bienne, 3¾ Stunde.
At 110km (68 miles), the route seemed to be 45km longer than that advised by Murray, and other than the 5km long, 4% average climb (10% maximum) of the Oberer Hauenstein Pass, was relatively flat. Unless of course, you’re mad enough to cycle The Weissenstein, the steepest mountain pass in Switzerland at 22%, rather than take the cable car from Obenstein.
The entire route is paved and therefore possible by road bike, with cycle lanes giving you breathing space from the cars.
You have a few options with this route to break up your journey, and there’s a number of hotels along the route to choose from. Unless you’re mega fit with a lightweight bike and a good set of gears, I would recommend splitting your journey if you want to cycle to the summit of the Weissenstein after already covering 75km. Doing so, instead of catching the cable car from Oberstein will add an extra 10km to the journey, 12km of climbing from Solothurn with the last 5km past the cablecar station averaging a muscle bursting gradient of 22% – yes, twenty two percent! For that reason, I’d recommend staying in Solothurn or even on the Weissenstein itself, especially if you can make it before sunset.
16km ~ LIESTAL ↗ 90 m ↘ 45 m
30km ~ WALDENBURG ↗ 240 m ↘ 25 m
35km ~ OBERER HAUENSTEIN PASS ↗ 200 m
40km ~ HOLDERBANK ↘ 80 m
45km ~ BALSTAHL ↘ 165 m
47km ~ KLUS → flat
55km ~ WIEDLISBACH → flat
65km ~ SCHLOSS WALDEGG ↗ 50 m ↘ 40 m
67km ~ EINSIEDELEI SANKT VERENA ↗ 70 m ↘ 40 m
71km ~ PFARREI St. MARTIN ZUCHWIL ↗ 15 m ↘ 90 m
73km ~ NATURMUSEUM SOLOTHURN → flat
74km ~ St. URSENKATHEDRALE SOLOTHURN ↗ 10 m
74km ~ ZEUGHAUS SOLOTHURN ↗ 5 m
74km ~ BASELTOR SOLOTHURN → flat
75km ~ KLOSTER St. JOSEF SOLOTHURN → flat
76km ~ ZEITGLOCKENTURM SOLOTHURN ↘ 5 m
76km ~ MUSEUM KOSCIUSZKO SOLOTHURN ↗ 5 m
[POSSIBLE SIDE TRIP: + 30km round trip to the Weissenstein (including 5km, 22% climb)]
3km ~ LANGENDORF ↗ 55 m
6km ~ OBERDORF ↗ 165 m
[HERE YOU CAN TAKE THE CABLE CAR IF YOU DO NOT FANCY CLIMBING THE 22% PASS]
11km ~ WEISSENSTEIN ↗ 645 m
16km ~ OBERDORF ↘ 645 m
23km ~ SELZACH ↗ 25 m ↘ 235 m
84km ~ SELZACH → flat
90km ~ GRENCHEN → flat
105km ~ BIEL/BIENNE → flat