The romance of the shepherd in Nördlinger Ries

Shepherd Willy Maurer

The romance of the shepherd in Nördlinger Ries

Shepherd Willy Maurer

A shallow crater in the middle of a hilly landscape – the Nördlinger Ries stands out from its surroundings for all to see. The shape of the depression was determined by its ancient past: A powerful meteorite landed here 15 million years ago and left behind a circular crater. Shepherd Willy Maurer and his flock ensure that this cultural landscape with its many endangered species remains intact.

Willy Maurer knows the broad juniper meadows between Holheim and Utzmemmingen like he knows the inside of his pockets. Between mid-April and Christmas, he can be found here every day, surrounded by around 700 sheep and goats.

But it is not just the animals that depend on Willy Maurer: The well-grazed juniper meadows have become a rare, ancient cultural landscape. Without the wandering flocks, nature would take over. That would mean the end for rare plants such as the carline thistle, the Karthäuser clove or the blue gentian. No machine works with as much precision as a sheep: These woolly landscape gardeners keep the heathland well cropped.

A natural quest - the Shepherd’s Trail

Willy Maurer’s pastures border on the 18 km “Schäferweg”, or Shepherd’s Trail – a popular walking route that leads right through the Geopark. The Shepherd’s Trail leads walkers along the old drovers’ trails, from the lush interior of the crater at Nördlingen to the leaner meadows on the edge.

'I enjoy chatting to people.'

Along the western edge of the crater, the land rises up to the Riegelberg and the famous Ofnet Caves. Colourful rocky debris, heavy boulders, ancient fossils - event panels explain how the unusual rock formations and archaeological discoveries of the Ries came about.  The return route follows the course of the Eger River towards Nördlingen. The entire circuit takes around six hours on foot.

Meet a genuine shepherd and his flock

Many walkers on the Shepherd’s Trail are delighted to meet a genuine shepherd, his flock and his two faithful sheepdogs. “I enjoy chatting to people”, says Maurer. The animals are totally unimpressed by passers-by and continue to graze in peace.

'I know at a glance if all the sheep are there - I can sense it.'

Being a shepherd is Willy Maurer’s true vocation: “I know at a glance if all the sheep are there - I can sense it.” He is now 71 years old, but he has no intention of retiring.

He cannot imagine a life away from his home and the impressive landscape of the Nördlinger Ries: “This is where I feel at home. It’s just beautiful up on the hills.”

Schäferweg Geopark Ries

Start: Parkplatz Freibad Marienhöhe
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address: Herkheimer Weg 8, 86720 Nördlingen
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web: //www.geopark-ries.de/wege/schaeferweg-683/