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Bike – The Solothurn History Tour (Part 1)

    Büren an der Aare

    Inspired by this post from a mountain biking blogger in my area where they talked about visiting the remains of a Roman Villa which I had no idea existed, despite spending most of my life for the last 6 years within a few kilometres of it. I got to thinking about what else I missed and how I could link that up with what I knew to cover as much history as possible in one reasonable bike ride (including a surprising number of war memorials).

    This is barely even scratching the list of every historical object in the area. These are just the more interesting or unique sights/events. There are god knows how many listed farmhouses and other historical points of interest that could keep a local historian happy for years along the way.

    I have added links to websites with more details, but due to the limited local interest much of it is going to be in German.

    A stage 2 going to the north and east will follow at some point with a better collection of castles and some UNESCO listed prehistoric lake dwellings.

    Key Information

    Route: Solothurn – Utzenstorf – Büren aA – Grenchen – Solothurn. GPX of the route.

    Length: 81km, +/-1100m.

    Date: 2021-May-13. Note: Photos are a mix of what I took on the day (mostly markers and memorials) and what I already had nicer photos of from sunnier days.

    Practical Information

    Season: This can be down year round (though if it actually snows that might make it a bit harder). A slightly miserably grey May holiday seemed as good a time to do this as any. The weather was warm enough for comfortable cycling, but too cool, windy, and with a constant threat of rain for many people to bother going out on the paths or for a scenic drive.

    Arrival/Departure: From your house if you live in Solothurn, otherwise trains to and from the main station.

    Supplies: There are plenty of fountains for drinking water, restaurants, and shops along the route.

    Equipment: This is best suited to a gravel/trekking/hybrid bike. There are a few sections of bumpy single trail and quite a bit of gravel.

    There are a few instances of heading out to a location and doubling back to the main route which could be improved a bit to make the flow a bit more interesting, but mostly it is a solid route that avoids any horrific climbs or busy roads.

    Notes along the route

    Solothurn old town.

    This could keep you busy for days by itself, and it is at least worth wandering through every little alleyway. But a quick tour of the main sights will do here.

    • Roman walls in Löwengasse and Friedhofplatz dating from 400 AD. The wall in Löwengasse used to be essentially part of my front door, it is kind of sad how quickly that went from being really special to just something that I sometimes remembered was there.
    • Altes Zeughaus. The old armoury, now a museum filled with lots of armour and big guns.
    • Schanzengraben. The remaining defensive walls on the north east side of the town. This is a very nice spot in May when it is covered in wildflowers. It is also the best spot to see the Alps from the old town area.
    • War memorial for the fallen Swiss soldiers in WW1 (influenza, not guns). One of the stranger parts of moving to Switzerland was that the military history and memorials that are evident everywhere in the UK vanished, and active soldiers and defences like bunkers suddenly became more prominent. So it came as a surprise one day when I noticed this, and then realised how many war memorials there are hidden around.
    Baseltor in Solothurn.
    Solothurn old town.

    Along the Emme

    • Wasseramt memorial (Hauptstrasse, 4552 Derendingen). A memorial for the fallen from the French invasion in 1798. Not much to see, and if you didn’t know to look for it you could pass it a million times and never notice it (I just found it by browsing around with but our first bit of history outside of the old town. Bit more info.
    • Turning off the Emme into some housing and industry seems oddly unpromising until you round a corner and find Schloss Landshut. A moated castle/palace with nicely done gardens. The Schloss itself is a beautiful building with a cafe in the courtyard, the inside itself is partly accessible as the Swiss museum of game and hunting. The gardens are free to enter and it is well worth a visit by itself. Best to walk the bike through the gravel pathways here.
    • Bätterkinden B-24 memorial (Fritz Althaus, Zähringerstrasse 30, 3315 Bätterkinden). A memorial to commemorate a US B-24 bomber that exploded and crashed in a field near Bätterkinden in 1944 (with no injuries to the crew who bailed out earlier, or people on the ground). A surprisingly positive reaction from the Swiss to an abandoned bomber on autopilot that could have killed half the village. It is not very easy to find without the address, I had to contact the local council to find out where this is (map in the imgur album).
    Schloss Landshut.
    The B-24 memorial in Bätterkinden.


    • Schloss Buchegg. A tower dating from 1546 which along with a few bits of wall is all that is left of an older castle. You can approach the tower and walk around outside it, but the inside is private and you need to arrange a tour to go inside.
    • Nothing of special historical note for a while, but riding through the hills and pretty little villages of the Bucheggberg is always a favourite of mine. Especially in May when everything is green and the meadows are full of life.
    • Grabenöle. A mill dating back to the 1600s. Hidden in a valley which is always fun to ride down. The mill is open to visit on periodic weekends.
    • Tüfelsburg. A motte and bailey fortification from the 10th/11th century. Long since gone to ruin and swallowed by the forest, only the earthwork mound is visible now.
    Schloss Buchegg.
    The mound of the Tüfelsburg.

    Around Büren an der Aare:

    Büren aA old town.
    Internment camp Häftli memorial.

    To Grenchen

    • A slightly roundabout route across the Witi through meadows, fields, and farms that was actually much more pleasant than I had expected. Other than briefly crossing the main road it felt quite remote, the wind probably helped by drowning out any road sounds.
    • Roman fountain by Grenchen. The remains of a once sizeable Roman villa with underfloor heating. There isn’t anything much more than a stone well and some bits of wall now. Still it is a really nice quiet spot under a tree – far nicer than you would expect for being right on the edge of Grenchen.
    • Entering Grenchen we join the French invasion of Switzerland in 1798 which steam-rolled its way along the south feet of the Jura through Pieterlin, Grenchen and Bettlach to Solothurn with a series of skirmishes. The German wiki page is very detailed on this. In Grenchen itself are a few memorials to locals who fought against the invaders (hidden behind a bus stop in an obscure part of town). Notably Anna Maria Schuerer who someone later made this image of. I love the mindset of “Sod the romantic heroic image, just have her looking pissed off and ramming a pitchfork into someone”.
    • Grenchen also has the watch history, but that isn’t of much interest in itself (certainly there isn’t anything attractive to see there). You can find buildings with brand names on them but nothing that anyone but the most hardcore watch nerd will be impressed by.
    • Grenchen might be a strong contender for the ugliest town in Switzerland, but it is actually quite nice to ride through for an urban area at least. The road system is nicely done to keep speeds down and the streets are wide and feel very safe.
    The remains of the Roman villa outside Grenchen.
    Memorials to those who died fighting the French in Grenchen.

    Back to Solothurn

    • The French continued to smash their way along towards Solothurn. This was (still sort of is) my commute to and from work, which seems a bit more exciting now knowing this fact.
    • From Grenchen the route passes by the Bettlachstock which is the latest addition to the Swiss UNESCO list for its old forest.
    • Leaving the French invasion a climb up the hill leads to the Dinosaur footprints from a Brontosaurus or Apatosaurus by Lommiswil. At 145 million years old these win the oldest thing award for today by quite some way. The footprints are visible on the wall of the quarry (best seen when the sun is low), there is also a little viewing platform with a few information signs (only in German/French).
    • Back down to rejoin the french invasion as it briefly mullers the local resistance by the Bellach Weier, then through the Solothurn suburbs to the Heidenkäppeli where Solothurn was given the demand to surrender. The latter is sat unceremoniously by the main road doesn’t even have anything to suggest it is a chapel from the outside, let alone a plaque for the event, I always assumed it was just a shed or something like that.
    • Passing through the old Klosters on the way into Solothurn. Most of these are now converted to other uses. The former Kapuzinerkloster is open from time to time for events and is worth a visit just for the building – the Christmas market there is my favourite in Switzerland.
    • A diversion to Schloss Blumenstein and and Schloss Waldegg would be an obvious inclusion, but I will save them for part 2.
    Dinosaur footprints above Lommiswil.

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