THE GRAND TOUR: CZECH 17/18th JUNE

9/ 26km

Heading into town in the morning , past some inviting holiday accommodation,

 the helpful lady in the info centre directed us to the uranium mine that had been opened to the public. Getting there we were told to come back in 3 hours. It seemed like they were busy with school groups. We read that there was a 9km trail from there that takes in some of the concentration/ prison camps and the sites of mine shafts from the soviet era from 40’s to the 60’s, so set off in the sunshine into beautiful scenery that belied it’s brutal past. We past the remains of camps

 one of which had been converted into a restaurant at some stage and the slag heaps and panning ponds

 and poked about in small buildings with unknown purpose.

 There were poignant maps of the past

 set amongst the placid woods.

 A walk that contrasted the beauties of nature with the savagery of man,the trail brought us round to Jachymov, now again a bustling and attractive spa town host to tourists not slaves.

  It got easier to imagine the horror of that past reality when we went underground into the uranium mine itself passing through the welded gates that kept the prisoners in.

 The tunnels open to the public extend for about 200mt which was more than enough to make you realise how grim it must have been.

 On the way back into town afterwards we went down the old wooden steps the prisoners used every day.

After that somewhat somber experience it was time to top up on the good times so we drove northeast to Bohemian Switzerland on the German border, another national park and area of great beauty.

On the way across the flat central plains we past lots of power stations with cooling tower chimneys sending plumes of smoke into the blue sky, and more massive areas of what looked like strip mining of coal. We had read that their had been extensive devastation of the forests in the Jachymov area in the 70’s and 80’s due to coal mining and burning but as went north again into the hills the ancient forests spread as far as the eye could see and looked very healthy.

We drove along the Labe river valley in the sunshine to the pretty town of Hrensko where the towering sandstone blocks for the which the area is known began.

 Another few miles and we were at our camp in the tiny Menzi Louka deep in the forest where a collection of cabins had seen better days.

The following days hike was a real pleasure despite the many steep ups and downs. The ascents through the beech, oak and pines were made easier by the steps either of timber logs or often cut into the Rock.

The woods were magnificent. Towering trunks straight as an arrow shot up from the steep slopes between huge hunks of weathered sandstone.

Where there was light foxgloves filled it with colour

 there were ladders and cables and handholds to enable you to get to the pinnacle of some of the imposing rock towers which gave us views out across a sea of trees.

 The dogs were left below a few times as we clambered up some pretty hairy stuff incredulous at the efforts put in to make it possible.

 One of the peaks even had a little hut bolted securely to the rock with picture windows

 All enchanting, as were the carved benches and picnic tables in scenic spots along the way.

 There were carvings and graffiti dating back nearly 400 years.

 Glorious, spectacular, awesomeness.

We emerged, hungry, five hours later into Jetrichovice and stopped to eat some unknown items from an unreadable menu. So far we’ve been lucky but awaiting the time we have to tuck in smiling to a dish of unthinkables like we order it all the time.

The wooded architecture in these rural Czech towns is stunning and it’s nice to see that quite a few old one are being restored. They are also keen gardeners and we were treated to some heady scents as we walked out of the town and down along a stream.

As we followed the steam down through the woods

 between sandstone cliffs on either side we passed a number of religious shrines, crosses  and wells all dedicated to different saints.

Eventually the stream led us to a collection of ruins on the banks of the bigger river in a majestic setting.

There were some laboriously carved rooms with stone beds set into the cliff which , coupled with the shrines along the way, made us think that this was not just the mill the info said it was.

One last major climb

 and an offshoot of the way to a viewpoint with a large soft rock carved over the centuries by many weary walkers.

We added ours before finishing the hike by passing some more handsome wooden buildings on the way back into camp.

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