Transylvania

Countless counts

…I know what you are thinking…

The best board game ever!
The best board game ever!

My visit to this notorious region of Romania has nothing to do with the works of Bram Stoker. His novel has spawned a micro-industry whose popularity in these parts extends no further than a smattering of tourist tat vendors. Indeed Bran Castle – the impressive “home” to count Dracula – begrudges one solitary room to the story.

Dracula's courtyard
Dracula’s courtyard

When 800 years of power have been wielded by monarchs and rulers from within these walls you don’t need to resort to fiction to tell a great story. Today the castle is a popular but worthy visitor attraction despite, not because of its literary affiliations.

BranCrown
Traditional Bran Castle headwear

Bran is one of many castles that lend a fairytale quality to the region. Bordered by the Carpathians and swathed in forest you really feel like you are travelling through some vast film set. Which would explain why Transylvania is a popular set location for film directors.

More palace than castle
More palace than castle

The royal palace of Peles near Sinaia might just have been penned by Walt Disney. I have been fortunate to visit the bonkers castle of Neuschwanstein in Bavaria and Peles left me with that same feeling of wonderment.

Astonishing detail and craftsmanship in every room
Astonishing detail and craftsmanship in every room

Despite any number of remarkable old buildings Transylvania’s greatest assets are natural. We don’t have anything as mountainous in the UK as the Bucegi range. One bright but breezy day we commissioned a 4WD tour to summit the Caraiman peak (the cable car was closed due to the winds).

Postcard scenery above Bucegi
Postcard scenery above Bucegi

Our hairpin ascent finally broke through the tree line to leave us in snow near the 7800 feet summit – almost double the altitude of Ben Nevis. In the winter months much of this area is transformed into ski resorts and I’m tempted to return and experience that elemental rawness, followed by the fireside hospitality of some welcoming lodge.

I forgot the flag again
I forgot the flag again

The valleys and foothills are every bit as dramatic and for the most part unspoilt. Perhaps the pot-hole strewn track into the Piatra Crailui national park has been instrumental in warding off developer attention. Our hire car is a suitably rugged 4WD Toyota Hilux (named “the beast”) which seems the minimum requirement for this route, until I see a Daewoo Matiz romping along the track, in a cloud of dust and detached body parts.

The Beast
The Beast

With a mere scattering of farming settlements and lodges the park offers peace and tranquillity. And this view…

Speechless
Speechless

A 6 mile walk through the valley unfolds a dream-like panorama. The snow capped mountain ridge dominates a dense forest that gives way beneath the foothills to a lush green valley and glacial melt-water river.

It’s hard not to be on the constant lookout for movement in the trees. Are we being watched? Brown bears live in this area leaving me torn between the desire to see one and the desire for it not to see me. Needless to say I witness no sign of bears or of the resident lynx, wolves or adders.

Born to be wild
Born to be wild

The marvellous Libearty Bear Sanctuary nearby in Zarnesti hosts 85 of these beautiful creatures, often rescued from incarceration . Romania has a bad track record on animal welfare. Many of the rescued bears spent their former lives chained up or caged outside mountain lodges in this region so it’s good to see a change in public attitude.

Stork - between delivering babies
Stork – between delivering babies

Today’s walk is not without its natural encounters. Disturbed turf where wild boar have been rooting for food. Beautiful horses roaming with a sense of freedom. Buzzards circling overhead and ungainly storks perching on one leg. Why do they do that?

Free to roam
Free to roam

Time outdoors here is restorative. The aches and pains of modern life evaporate and the week’s dietary excesses (see my previous blog on Romanian food) are forgotten, if not forgiven. My family are not so forgiving when the route I have led them on expects us to ford a fast flowing river. Like I’ve been here before…

Fording the river would have been more fun
Fording the river would have been more fun

A weathered shepherd materialises from the landscape to guide us across a concealed log bridge. Life must be very tough in the cold months when isolated communities like this are cut off in the snow. There is little in the way of automation for the many Transylvanians who spend their lives tending herds or growing crops. People here are tough – they just get on with it.

Sheep herding. Like the Peak District with bears
Sheep herding. Like the Peak District with bears

This landscape must be full of stories. People have witnessed a lot of change – the fall of communism, induction into the EU and creeping globalisation – but some things haven’t moved on. It’s common to see people working the land with a scythe. Horse drawn carts remain in widespread use, whether as an aide to farming or family transport.

A 1HP vehicle
A 1HP vehicle

Nowadays the shepherds are invariably fiddling with mobile phones and even the cart drivers are glued to Angry Birds, but Transylvania, like the Caraiman peak, rises dismissively above the diversions of modern life.

Countless counts
Countless counts

Even Dracula

 

Cleveland Way #7 – Staithes to Whitby

I’m beginning to feel like Mr Benn. Every day I wake up in a different room and it takes a second to work out where I am and remember what I’m doing. Today I’m a sailor. At least I’m in a nautically themed bedroom in a harbour cottage built by a sea captain and seagulls are making a racket outside.

With another huge cooked breakfast under (and indeed over) my belt my landlady asks about today’s walk and when I tell her I’m off to Whitby she asks me whether the tide will allow me to traverse Runswick Bay. If only I had actually read my soggy guide book – it does actually say that you can’t complete this section of the walk if the tide is in. Fortunately it’s going to be out, but that’s just pure chance.

Victim of the elements on Friday's walk of misery
Victim of the elements on Friday’s walk of misery

During check-out the landlady once again stands passively by and watches her cat rub moulting hair all over my rucksack and attempting to lick my water supply mouthpiece, before I whip it out of kitty’s unhygienic grasp. She is a cat obsessive to the point that not only does she let them do what they want but they know that they are more important than her or any of her guests.

It can't be - or can it?
It can’t be – or can it?

Staithes harbour detains me for some more photos, not only of the natural scenery but also of the BBC camera unit filming Old Jacks Boat. What’s this? – CRIBBINS AHOY!!

Cribbins!
Cribbins!

Bernard Cribbins – the great old man himself – is there mulling around in the lead role of Old Jack. This is a man who has featured in Carry On films, worked with Alfred Hitchcock, appeared in a Bond film, narrated the Wombles and almost landed the Dr Who role ahead of Tom Baker.

Salty the dog
Salty the dog

From what I overheard last night in the Cod And Lobster he secured the Old Jack role ahead of Sir Ian McKellan, while his wage demands forced them to drop Angelina Jolie and Morgan Freeman from the original supporting cast. Just rumours mind. Apparently I’m not able to talk to him as he is “in character” but I do get to stroke Salty the dog – the real star of the show.

The REAL work still goes on in Staithes
The REAL work still goes on in Staithes

All of this is obviously a time-wasting scheme to delay my first hill of the day. In fact the hills are getting easier as is the walk itself.


Former quarrying site Port Mulgrave is soon upon me. A perplexed looking man asks me if there is a way down to the sea. I passed a sign to the cove just 30 yards back and I can see another sign ahead – he can’t have looked very hard. It’s only a tiny inlet and there won’t be much down there but since he pulled up in a Range Rover he probably just has a body to dump.

The top catch from Bully's prize board
The top catch from Bully’s prize board

Runswick Bay 40 minutes later is an altogether more impressive affair. A rotund fisherman dressed for all-weather action sits in his fishing vessel as a tractor tows it to the sea. Incongruously he sips tea from a dainty cup while his vessel is not some crusty old wooden junk but a flash speedboat. Maybe he’s just some amateur carp fisherman who won the star prize on Bullseye.

Low tide at Runswick Bay
Low tide at Runswick Bay

The panoramic bay is sandy until it meets the cliffs which explains why the walk cannot be completed at high tide. Time to write a post card and read the Cleveland Way guide book – something I haven’t been doing since it was borrowed by Davy Crockett. It says that there are caves in the cliffs known as Hob Holes and that according to legend whooping cough can be cured by the hob-goblins that live in them. I could be mistaken but I’m sure I heard this quoted somewhere before, perhaps from Gillian McKeith.

Into the valley of confusion
Into the valley of confusion

Did the hob goblins sense my scepticism and seek to punish me? All I know is that after passing the caves and entering a signposted gully I managed to miss the turn-off for the trail and continue walking up a steep path for some considerable distance, through a strange assortment of grouse enclosures littered with shotgun cartridges. The mistake cost me an hour and robbed me of my sanity. On the plus side I saw an otter that I would otherwise have missed, in a hillbilly valley that was just one banjo short of “Deliverence”.

From now on I will double check the signs
From now on I will double check the signs

Once normality is restored the journey to Sandsend is easy and rapid. The precipitous cliff path offers some dramatic views down to the sea with the horizon broken only by the odd container ship. There’s a hive of farming activity on the landside as purposeful growling machines plough and harvest. I envy the farm-hand that gets to drive the Claus Dominator. Their workload must diminish a little each year as landside succumbs to landslide.

A chance to put my feet up
A chance to put my feet up

Eventually I round the headland into Sandsend where I camp myself at a cafe overlooking the beach and order a coffee. There’s plenty to keep me entertained. Four cute ducks waddle in line across the sand until they reach a freshwater stream that feeds the sea. An ADHD kid runs around the sandy expanse shouting to nobody like a lunatic (I’m just jealous). Best of all, a flash-mob style gathering of people picking through the piles of storm blown driftwood for any samples that can be passed off as art or interior decoration. Habitat is dead. Long live Habitat.

Driftwood but no whisky
Driftwood but no whisky

There is just enough time to complete the walk to Whitby via the long sandy beach before the rising tide closes my window of opportunity.

Barely a soul on the beach
Barely a soul on the beach

I know Whitby well and my B&B on East Terrace is of classic build and in a great location.

View from outside my lodgings across the harbour to Whitby Abbey
View from outside my lodgings across the harbour to Whitby Abbey

I learn that it was built as a home for Captain Cook’s wife who presumably had the run of the place most of the time, what with Jimmy always swanning around places like Hawaii discovering new cocktails.

Bram Stokers Whitby - Goths, Ghouls and creatures that go Bite in the night
Bram Stokers Whitby – Goths, Ghouls and creatures that go Bite in the night

A light evening squall deposits just enough rain to clear the streets of casual tourists leaving silent Whitby at its most dramatic, as dusk approaches and the Abbey falls into shadow over the east cliff. I steal a window seat in the Duke Of York at the foot of those steps nursing a pint while watching the harbour lights flicker into life as the rain beats down. Whitby’s still got it.


Here’s today’s walk in point form…

In a nutshell
A day full of drama: a film set in Staithes, a personal melodrama in Runswick Bay, the setting of a literary classic in Whitby

High point
Meeting Salty the dog

Low point
Getting lost in redneck country

Looking ahead
A short walk to Robin Hoods Bay – another very special place

Daily Stats
Stage  7 – Staithes to Whitby
Distance  13.2 miles Speed  2.6 mph
Lowest  125ft Highest  512ft
Ascent  558ft Descent  794ft

…and the route taken…