Zurich to St.Gall
14 ¾ stunden = 48 English miles.
A diligence goes daily.
Taking up just 12 lines of his “Handbook For Travellers In Switzerland 1838”, the briefest notes of all his 136 routes, I had my doubts that John Murray had actually travelled this way, given there was no informative description of any of the seven towns he mentions.
The road is the same as Route 9 as far as Winterthur.
Although Murray doesn’t offer it, it is possible to take a more direct route than that described in Route 9 by heading to Winterthur from Lindau following the no.5 cycle route signs instead. Doing so, helps you avoid the tough 300m climb up to the beautiful castle at Kyburg, saving yourself 8km and avoiding a possible heart attack in the process.
Leaving Winterthur, following the signs for St Gallen, it’s not long before we’re back out in the countryside on the road towards Elsau.
Hence by Elgg and Dutwyl
Elgg was like a ghost town when I arrived, however the old buildings in the town square obviously dated back to when Murray would have visited.
I soaked up the sun whilst admiring the ornate details of each of its inns, milk and cheese shops, either converted to shops and apartments or still in operation – although all sadly closed on the day I visited. Over half the town was rebuilt following a fire in 1876.
Looking up at the wide choice of inns in the tiny village – the Restaurant Elggerhof, Gasthaus Krone, Haus Zum Ochsen, Gasthaus zum Lowen, Haus Zur Meise, Restaurant Frohsin, amongst others – , you can imagine how busy the town would have been back in 1837, and I vowed to return on a Saturday, when the traditional market still takes place, or on Ash Wednesday when the locals dress up in period costumes for the Äschli celebrations.
The road to Tuttwil (or “Dutwyl” as Murray called it) took me away from the main road and up a long steep climb, rewarding me with a pleasant farming village…
…a nice panorama…
…and a great descent on the other side to Holzmannshaus before…
Crossing the Murg to Münchwyl
Münchwilen was somewhat busier and gave me chance to stock up with lunch before getting back on the bike.
Despite the blue sky and bright September sunshine, the temperature was becoming surprisingly unseasonably cold and I’d only set off with a short-sleeve cycling jersey. I stopped in a local bike store to invest in a rather expensive cycling jacket, which got me thinking as to what provisions John Murray would have packed for his journey.
Without the aid of planes, trains and automobiles back in 1837, he would have left London with relatively little luggage allowance and, other than the larger post horse stagecoaches, there would have been very little room for his bags on the diligence or horse and carriages that would have sped up parts of his journey.
These were the days before the telegraph, let alone smart phones, kindles, Internet cafes and Tourist Information offices. His research would have either been carried out in libraries or with his trusty books as company. He refers a few times to his copy of “Ebel’s Traveller’s Guide through Switzerland“, Robert Glutz Blotzheim’s “Handbuch für Reisende in der Schweiz”, and Schiller’s “Wilhelm Tell”, all with which he travelled. And as an avid collector of antiquarian travel books, I can vouch for the fact that just one volume of these would have added an extra kilogram to his backpack. And here was I, begrudgingly having to pay through the nose for the results of scientific breakthroughs that had produced such feather-light, yet incredibly warm, sweat-proof fabrics, made with fluorescent colours to help keep me safe whilst travelling on a relatively fast form of transport, which – let’s not forget – had not even been invented during his time. Who says modern life is rubbish?
2km outside of Münchwilen is the Die Wallfahrstkirche Maria Dreibrunnen, which, in keeping with the rest of the route, is not even mentioned by Murray despite dating back to 1330 when it was founded at the behest of Pope John XXII. After changing hands various times throughout its history, today it is a pilgrimage church.
Murray then takes us through Wil (“Wyl”) without any further details, recommendations or descriptions. I checked out its wonderfully preserved historic old town, which includes the Baronenhaus and the Dominican Abbey of St. Katharina.
St.Katharina (or Catherine of Alexandria) was a beautiful 18 year old student of philosophy who confronted Emperor Maximinus about his tyranny. Unable to answer her arguments, he snapped “yer doin’ me ‘ead in woman!” and called in Time Magazine’s Top 50 Philosophers Of The Year, AD 310, to confront her. After they too admitted to being convinced by her arguments, unable to fight her religious reasonings with their scientific facts and figures, each converted to Christianity and, as a result, the furious emperor cancelled his Time subscription and sentenced them to be burned at the stake whilst offering to marry her in the process. She refused after claiming that Christ had already appeared to her in person on top of the Eiffel Tower at sunset, had gone down on one knee and placed his gold ring on her finger (presumably after getting permission from her father first). Influenced by the ancient tome “L Shades of Grey”, the Emperor had her beaten for two solid hours and then imprisoned.
In her cell she was fed by a dove, who delivered pizza from the nearest takeaway, and then Christ popped up once again in a vision. The story then goes on to say that the Emperor’s wife (he was already married!?! The snake!) and an officer had gone to visit the prisoner out of curiosity, where she successfully converted them to Christianity. The guard, in turn, converted 200 men of the imperial guard. All were condemned to death.
Catherine was sentenced to be killed by means of a wheel made from spikes, a torture tool (and firework) now known as “St.Catherine’s Wheel.” When she was tied upon it, the bonds miraculously loosened, the wheel broke, and the spikes flew off, killing most of the people in the front row. Finally, they reverted to chopping her head off, ensuring that the first three rows were kept free for safety reasons. From her severed veins flowed not blood, but fresh white pasteurised semi-skimmed milk, and her bones continued to ooze olive oil for many years after her death, which was used as medicine and to light the lamps in those churches who had negotiated a contract with their local Commercial, Agricultural, Catherine & Domestic Oil Supplier.
Even the Vatican admitted that this was probably bullshit and she was probably a made up character, dropping her feast day in 1969, although they decided to reinstate it in 2002 due to successful lobbying by firework and torture wheel manufacturers who had suffered greatly as a result of their initial decision.
The town though is dominated by the Hof castle, the former seat of Prince-Abbot Michael Knight, a high-tech ancient crime fighter assisted by KITT, his advanced artificially intelligent, autonomous, self-aware and nearly indestructible talking black horse famed for its flashing red nose band.
As if he couldn’t end the route quick enough, Murray does spend more words informing us that there is a “station of post-horses, by the Kratzeen bridge (Route 69)” at Flawil (“Flahwyl”). He’s referring to the imposing old Restaurant Hirschen (now closed) next to the roadbridge over the Glatt river at Oberglatt who largely provided horses for those travelling in the opposite direction up the steep hill into Flawil.
Oberglatt is a beautiful tiny hamlet on the important old trading route, which is now St.Gallerstrasse. It was incredibly important in Murray’s time when Flawil was little more than a small village of farmhouses, similar to Oberglatt now I presume.
Photo: Google Maps
The route from here basically follows the railway line through Gossau into St.Gallen (“St.Gall”), which Murray describes in Route 66.
This was a thoroughly enjoyable route worthy of more than just the twelve lines which Murray dedicated to it. His lack of notes also meant that it wouldn’t be until Route 66, that I’d actually get to revisit St.Gallen and explore the beautiful city and the hilarious tales of the Irish monk from whom it took its name.
ACCOMMODATION / RESTAURANTS IN ST GALLEN (97km):
Hecht (Brochet) very good
The Hecht was the oldest hotel in St. Gallen, dating back to 1624, with the building taking its current form in 1813. One of the most prestigious buildings on the Bohl market square (also accessed via the back entrance on Hechtgasse), it was left derelict from 1987 until 1993 and today houses the Kitag Scala cinema and Der Leckerei vegetarian restaurant.
Whilst there was a Hotel Rossli at Zurcherstrasse 62 on the outskirts of town, I have so far been unable to tell if this is the same as the one that Murray refers to.
Zurich to St.Gall
14 ¾ stunden = 48 English miles.
At 105km (or 97km if you take the short cut), this is an enjoyable although physically challenging route, with many rolling hills along the way – although you can avoid the long climb up to Kyburg if you have done it already. The entire route is possible by road bike with trains running on most of the route.
0km ~ ZURICH
35km ~ SCHLOSS KYBURG 260
42km ~ RIETER-SIFTUNG, TÖSS 70
45km ~ WINTERTHUR → flat
* = Possible Alternative Route to Winterthur from Lindau:
If you have previously cycled Route 9, and don’t fancy the need to climb up to Schloss Kyburg again, you can take this more direct route to Winterthur, following the No.5 cycle route instead of the one specified by Murray, which includes an incredibly steep downhill section not for the faint hearted or those running low on brake rubber.
17km ~ LINDAU
34km ~ RIETER-SIFTUNG, TÖSS 70
37km ~ WINTERTHUR → flat
46km (or 38km) ~ VILLA LINDENGUT → flat
57km (or 49km) ~ ELGG 95
64km (or 56km) ~ TUTTWIL 120
69km (or 61km) ~ MÜNCHWILEN 20
74km (or 66km) ~ WIL 65
88km (or 80km) ~ FLAWIL 180
90km (or 82km) ~ OBERGLATT
105km (or 97km) ~ St. GALLEN 200