Friday, 22 October 2010

Bogland

Stage 3, day 3 (Monday, 20 September 2010)
Vejprty to Kraslice (72 km)

Almost every day of my ride around the Czech border so far has started with some sort of climb. It’s the last thing any cyclist wants first thing in the morning. And today’s is a real beast - ten miles almost continuously uphill to the summit of Klínovec, the highest peak in the Ore Mountains. It’s a long way above my starting point, Base Camp Vejprty - a full 1,670 feet in fact, making it one of the biggest ascents of the entire trip. Worse still, it’s a decidedly chilly out here and I’m cycling into a pretty hefty headwind.

My hotel in Vejprty - The Harlekin

After checking out of Hotel Harlekin in Vejprty I cycled upstream along the Polava (Pöhlbach), which forms the border between the Czech Republic and Germany. A steam train came puffing towards me on the other side, but by the time I’d fished out my camera it was disappearing smokily into the trees behind me. Further down the road Fichtelberg Mountain came into view, with Oberwiesenthal - the highest town in Germany - nestling below it. But it was not until I’d passed through Loučná and hit the first steep part of the climb that I first glimpsed Klínovec towering above me.

View up to the top of Klínovec (4,081 feet above sea level)

I made slow but steady progress up the flank of the mountain, battling into a strong breeze on its more exposed sections and gladly accepting the shelter of trees when it was offered. About a mile from the top I turned off the main road and onto the final approach. A group of runners were jogging down in the opposite direction. A final burst of effort took me around the last bend and into the summit car park. I arrived at ten past eleven, some 90 minutes after setting off from Vejprty.

Crumbling summit buildings on Klínovec

In its present state Klínovec would make a good location for a horror movie. The place was suitably chilly and desolate even in this relatively clement weather. The summit buildings, including the observation tower (built in 1884), were in a dilapidated state and strictly off limits to visitors. Even the views up here were marred by the tatty, out-of-season clutter of the skiing industry.

View from the top of the Ore Mountains

I spent quite a while atop Klínovec, sending messages and taking photos to record this landmark of my trip. On the way down, the cold west wind gave me such a blasting I had to seek refuge in a guesthouse in Boží Dar in order to defrost. A mug of mulled wine and an excellent plum tart soon put me to rights.

Boží Dar, the highest town in the Czech Republic

I struck out across the Boží Dar peatbog, the largest nature reserve in the Ore Mountains and without doubt the most beautiful section of my lap of the country so far. On my left-hand side, Božídarský Špičák, an extinct volcano, swelled above the surrounding moorland. Further on I came across a small herd of longhorn cattle grazing lazily on scattered hay.

Božídarský Špičák, the highest basalt volcano in Eastern Europe (fortunately extinct)

I cycled along the Blatenský Příkop, a 7½-mile-long water channel dug way back in 1540-1544 to serve the tin and silver mines that used to dot the landscape hereabouts. I turned off the main road past a large group of German cyclists and rode up to the viewing tower at the top of Blatenský vrch. A man in a takeaway van at the base of the tower sold me an entrance ticket and I climbed the 85 steps to the top.

Start of the Blatenský Příkop

By now I’d worked up quite an appetite, so I freewheeled down to Horní Blatná, where a group of Dutch school kids were being taught how to use their hired mountain bikes. In a pub on the town square I tucked into the classic Czech dish of svíčková (slices of beef in a sweetish creamy sauce, served with dumplings and cranberry preserve) and watched the lads outside pulling wheelies to impress the girls. At an adjacent table another group of cyclists - this time Czech MAMILs (Middle-Aged Men in Lycra) - were also taking a late lunch.

Blatenský vrch viewing tower (built 1912-13)

Just out of Horní Blatná I turned off the highway onto a narrow road running through dense forest. I was on my own now. Every mile or so I passed a shelter intended for cross-country skiers in the winter. I re-emerged on the main road at Jelení, site of a Nazi labour camp and tin mine during WWII.

Přebuz Moor (with no sejpy in sight)

North of Přebuz I stopped to look for “sejpy” (hummocks left over from ancient mining activity). They were marked clearly enough on my map, but, try as I might, I couldn’t see them on the ground. After a while I gave up the search and continued across Přebuz Moor. Much of the 10-foot-thick layer of peat that used to cover this land was dug up for fuel long ago and the area is only now slowly returning to its natural state. I recently went to a recital given by the Nobel-prize-winning Irish poet Seamus Heaney. He read a poem called Bogland, which instantly transported me back to my sojourn in the Ore Mountains.
Every layer they strip
Seems camped on before.
The bogholes might be Atlantic seepage.
The wet centre is bottomless.

A long, bumpy, winding descent down Rájec Valley brought me out at a village named Nancy. I was now close to my destination for the day - Kraslice. However, time and the weather were on my side, so I decided to take the long way round, up to the viewing tower at Olověný Vrch (or Bleiberg in German). A group of pensioners out walking gave me some welcome encouragement up the climb. A sign at the roadside informed me that the tower was closed on Mondays, but I kept going to the top regardless. It was indeed shut, but the view was worth the effort.

Olověný Vrch (built in 1933)

I arrived at my guesthouse in Kraslice, Pension Krista, at about 5 p.m. The guy at reception seemed confused by my arrival and even showed me to the wrong room. I had a coffee in the restaurant downstairs while he got himself organised. The reason for his muddled state became clear as he showed me the way to the bicycle shed: he’d got married just two days earlier. Obviously he was still recovering.

Church in Kraslice

The restaurant shut early that evening. After dinner I tried and failed to summon up the energy to brave the cold night air in Kraslice. Instead I had a quiet night in writing up the events of the previous few days for the blog.

2 comments:

Karen said...

Simon, what research do you do before you do each leg of the trip? I love how historically descriptive each of your posts are - everything you write is new to me!

Circuit Rider CZ said...

My father-in-law is a walking encyclopedia of Czech history and geography (among other things), so I like to pick his brains. Otherwise I use the standard sources: websites, books and maps. I also pick up quite a lot of information along the way - if I see an interesting tourist information board, for example, I'll photograph it so I don't forget what's written there.

One of my reasons for doing this trip and writing this blog was to learn more about my adopted homeland. I'm certainly far less ignorant now than when I started out. I'm glad you find it interesting as well, Karen.

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