Friday, 30 July 2010

Simplicity ?

A calm evening, a bank of cloud pushing in silently from the west hiding the setting sun but soft orange escaping across the sky. It reminds me of one of those old coal-effect electric fires. I turn and linger to take it in and Lady returns to urge me on. There is a slight chill in the damp air which holds the fragrance of ripe wheat.
I have always craved simplicity. What do I mean by that? I don’t want to confuse simplicity with naivety, I have this desire to strip away unnecessary baggage and find the simple truths behind it all, to remove the superfluous trappings that hide the real meaning. Then there is this wish to bring things down to a level where I have something that I can cope with. However I so often strip away too much and the important is ignored. Another balance which is so hard to achieve and makes meaning hard to find.

But I am me and I seek simplicity, something to grasp onto because I am so easily overwhelmed.

Saturday, 17 July 2010

E10 Stage 1 Varnsdorf to Novy Bor (Through the TolstejnRegion)

The memory of that Sunday in early May 2004 is not complete but some memorable moments stand out. The first was hearing a cuckoo, my first of the year, as I made my way down the hill from our village to get the bus to Prague with nobody else to enjoy this wonderful late-spring bright clear blue-skied morning. The next vivid recollection is getting on the bus out of Prague, I was admonishing a young man for trying to skip the queue and although I succeeded in getting him to wait, incomprehensibly to me he seemed to have the sympathy of those he was pushing in front of. My next memory is the bus leaving me in the main square of Varnsdorf after the 2 hour journey from Prague. Varnsdorf is a border town with a population of about 15 000. It was necessary to walk the kilometre to where the E10 path crosses in the Czech Republic from Germany. It was the month that this country joined the EU so the border crossing was being run down. I have no photographic or other documentary evidence of this dramatic beginning, there are no known witnesses but I was there, I am sure of it.
The path back to the town centre headed through an allotment area and around a small lake and then took me out of the town, across a meadow, through the edge a forest to the village of Jiretin entering Tolstejn country.
From here the path took me up the pilgrims path on Holy Cross Hill to the chapel at the summit. These pilgrims paths or "stations of the cross" are to allow pilgrims to meditate on Christ's walk to Calvary. On the way are a number of stations representing the 12 Apostles or 10 Commandments.

The chapel is at 560 metres but after a short descent there is another climb of another 100 metres or so that takes the path between the twin peaks of Tolstejn and Jedlova.

The ruins of
Tolstejn castle on the left peak dates back at least to the 13th century. Despite this fortification, this was very much bandit country and there are numerous legends of local rogues. Descending this ridge I came to a railway threading its way through the hills. At the isolated station, frequented mainly by walkers, there was a small cafe which provided some welcome soup to add to the lunch I had brought with me, the clear skies of early morning now having given way to clouds and a damp, cold wind.
Continuing through the forest I tagged on to a school group and kept with them to the next village, Svor, where I headed up into the lowering cloud around my last climb of the day, Klic (Key). As I got to the summit, still in the forest, the wind got up and the cloud deposited some of its load. On the descent to the day's destination, Novy Bor, the rain cleared and the wind warmed up and dried me out.

The peak of Klic looking back towards Tolstejn and Germany

I took the train back to Prague from Novy Bor. I remember nothing of the homeward journey but with the help of images from the internet and map browsing I have recalled something of that first stage.

Wednesday, 14 July 2010

E10 The story so far - (1) Why ?

It began in anger back in 2004 but the roots go back before that, way before. There was this awareness of "E10" on some footpath signs somewhere north of Prague. The 1:50 000 maps listed this as a long-distance path and I began to trace its route across these maps. At some stage I found basic information from the internet ( ). The seed was sown and germinating, fertilized by the fact that it didn't seem a popular aim and watered by a feeling that I would learn more about my adopted country if I walked through it. This feeling originated partly from the discovery about 10 years ago of a copy of John Hilaby's "Journey Through Europe" which I eagerly read having previously found and read a copy of his "Journey Through Britain" in the library on the Antarctic base where I was in the 1980s. So the roots are deep, it was going to happen. Well if not this, something similar would have emerged from what was laid down over 20 years ago, probably earlier.
To walk more than the section in the Czech Republic was not considered. The aim became to look closely, to feel the country from border to border. You know something (or someone) better when you see the boundaries, the limits; even if, as with many of life's important lessons, it can be a difficult, painful experience.
So in spring 2004 the traverse of the country began. I made no record of the early stages but in following posts I will recall what I can.

Saturday, 10 July 2010

What about me?

The last post was all about Tramp and another of his lone walks - without me! (That reminds me of what Tramp said after a trip with a group of friends: "It was OK, I suppose, but next time I'd rather go on my own with somebody else").
So today it's my turn.
First of all, I've had a haircut. I must say it makes this hot weather a bit more bearable.

Also I am rather enthusiastic about my walks as I expect you know. There's so much more to experience than he writes about, he doesn't see the half of what I get up to (thank goodness). If there's some long grass I must push into it, snout down and explore the smells. I don't know why he doesn't do that, there he is looking up at clouds. By this time of the year with things starting to dry out it isn't uncommon for me to get a piece of hay or grass seed lodged in an ear. This happened last week and although they managed to get it out for me, it caused a slight infection which is a bit uncomfortable (but quite good for getting sympathy).
The vet, who knows me quite well, has pronounced me the biggest actor among all her patients. She says that if I was human I would long ago have got to Hollywood or the Czech National Theatre. Now, I take that as a compliment.

Lastly, Tramp told me about this Solitary Walker who is into backyard camping. Just to show that he's not the only one to brave the elephants...

Keep cool ... Lady

Thursday, 8 July 2010

The E10 Project

I have this project which Lady doesn't take part in. In 2004 I started walking through this country from north to south on the E10 footpath. It crosses into the Czech Republic from Germany at Varnsdorf and leaves the country for Austria in the south near Vyssi Brod. The original idea was to walk one stage a month so the trip would be over within 2 years. This project has spent long periods on the back burner with the gas on low but it has always been kept on the cooker.
And so with 9 stages under my belt, about half way through and some 50km south of Prague, it was time to press on. There had been a week of very hot weather dampened down by some welcome heavy rain. Conditions were ideal and it only required the inspiration of reading of George's walking trip across the UK to get me back on the road.
An early start got me to the village of Obory (approx 49°41'N, 14°13'E) by 7.30, where I'd left off last year.

This part of the walk is not regularly walked, a sturdy hazel stick served as weapon against the undergrowth. I am not the first to have had difficulties here, a local legend tells of Jan Luxemburg (king of Bohemia in the early 14th century) who got lost here while hunting and built a chapel as thanks that he found his way out again. To tell the truth old JL was never really at home in Bohemia, he agreed to marry Eliska, the last of the Premyslid dynasty which went back to before St. Wenceslas. Jan brought his own men to Bohemia to serve under him which didn't endear him to the local nobility. His son, Karel, or Charles, was a different matter and a story for another day. No kings about today but four-legged friends:

The path then followed small roads giving a completely different rhythm to walking, the stick now employed as a propellor rather than for path construction. High octane fodder in the form of strawberry tart preceeded the descent to the Lisnicky stream where gold has been panned in past centuries. Any there?

After following the stream for a couple of kilometres the path climbs over a small hill to the village of Smolotely where there is a rundown chateau dating from around 1730, built on the site of a late gothic manor house.

The owners of the chateau introduced many exotic species of trees and shrubs during the late 19th century. They also planted an avenue of acacia trees, still quite small despite their age.

The path then follows the road to Bohostice where a pub provided a late lunch before the final kilometres (including a deviation due to creative navigation) to Kamenna, where today's stage finishes. Just a short walk to Cetyne to get the first of four buses to get home.

Tuesday, 6 July 2010

Independence and Selfishness

After a week of long sunny days there was rain this afternoon. When it was over it had done little more than settle the dust. This evening the sky is still heavy with storm clouds and a trickle of breeze in the air, a promise of more to come. These are ideal conditions for a walk, as Lady is so keen to inform me, also ideal conditions for reflection.
I’ve been away for a few days, a trip on the River Berounka. I was with a group I’ve been with before, I know three of them well enough to call friends, friendships cemented by mutual help and shared experiences over the years. Each year they construct a raft, boards laid on planks sat atop old inner tubes. Everything required for the four day trip is carried on board and the craft makes its way downstream sometimes paddled, occasionally gently turning on the current. It is pushed, pulled, man-handled over the weirs loaded and unloaded. The group gets down the river through teamwork.
I’m happy to be in a team, contributing what I can to the common good, but sometimes, just sometimes, I have to express the unease that I feel. There’s that feeling that I’m being coerced, manipulated, I’m losing something, my individuality is being nibbled away. In many situations in my life I’ve felt this, from the positive side proud of a tough independent streak, from the negative side embarrassed by the selfishness of it.
This evening I’m with a dog, a less demanding relationship.