Trip to the Tatra Mountains

Trip to the Tatra Mountains

We’ve just got back from a few days break away in the Tatra Mountains in North Central Slovakia. Thankfully, it wasn’t having the same weather as we have had for the last few months. The air was clear, cold and bright rather than damp, foggy and swampy – although we do have a lot more snow than there. It sort of felt like Spring.

We stayed at a friend’s Pension (another post will cover that) in the historic mountain ski resort of Stary Smokovec. On Saturday there was an international ice sculpting competition up the mountain at Hrebienok so we talk a wander up the muddy rock track to check it out (we came down on the road as it was way too slippy and dangerous to descend). My legs are still aching as I’m out of condition. The wind roared and really ripped my ears and face.

It was good to get away from where I live for a bit. The Tatra Mountains have many foreign visitors and the resorts are expensive so it was nice to see a change in cars and fashion. I like the bush but sometimes a bit of luxury is called for.

The photo of the bin with paw prints on it is from outside my friend’s pension. In October last year a mother bear and her two cubs (brown bears, called Grizzlies in the US) tore up the outside of the bar, including their leather furniture, so they now have a bear-proof bin. The sow was using the metal security as a back scratcher. Two policemen, who came to scare the bear away as it was clawing up the place, ended up being chased away instead. It’s a really dumb idea to approach a mother bear with cubs…. My friend says there are often bears wandering along the road outside their place at night and she will let me know when they start appearing again so I can go and photograph them – preferably from the safety of the balcony.

 

Here’s a video of what bears do to non-bear-proof rubbish container:

 

As for my Discovery, Vlochka, she has led me to believe that the Land Rover adventure thing is all about whether the car will start or not, or if it will actually get you the whole way home or break down. After she didn’t start yesterday (I was supposed to pick my wife and kids up from the wellness centre at Hotel Kontakt), I spent many hours with my friend’s partner trying to work out what the problem was. Alternator? Starter? Central locking? A short or loose connection? The air conditioning? The new radio? And then she started. I really need to take her to the nearest city to a Land Rover dealer for some proper diagnostics. At present, she’s just not what I’d call reliable. Immense fun when she is working but not exactly stable. She sort of reminds me of a spoilt, pretty gold-digger – If I’m going to ride her then I’m going to have to spend a lot of money on her first….

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Kestrel in tree

Kestrel in tree

I really hate taking photos when the sky is like this but you have to seize the moment. This is a Kestrel (Falco tinnunculus) with unusual plumage. Unless it’s something else…

New year, new wheels

New year, new wheels

It’s been a while since I last posted and a lot has happened.

Thanks to the new wood stove we could stay at the house over Christmas and New Year at a livable although not comfortable temperature. New Year’s Eve was minus 15 Celsius and that was hard going. The stove now allows us to be be able to live, should the need arise, without mains connection.

My brother and his girlfriend have left Slovakia after spending almost 8 months here. They gave it a good try, first at his hill fort and then later in a rented apartment, but it’s a harsh environment to get set up in financially and bureaucratically. I wish them the best back in the UK.

Finally, the snow has come after only a couple of fleeting earlier visits. We spent several months in dense fog, mud and rain with no sunlight and that was utterly miserable – and completely different to the true winters we’re used to. We’re currently expecting minus 20 and below.

As usual, my family celebrated Slovak Christmas on the 24th, English Christmas on the 25th and then Ruthenian Christmas on the 6th of January (their New Year’s Eve was this Wednesday).

Finally, I have a Land Rover – a Discovery Mk2 TD5. I’ve wanted a Land Rover since I was a toddler, albeit a LWB Defender, but Discovery was always my second choice. Because of what I actually need it for, the Discovery seemed a much better idea. It’s taking a bit of getting used to – when I’m driving I’m half shaking with nerves and half grinning from ear to ear – as I’ve been driving a low powered saloon for the last 6 years. I still can’t believe I’ve finally got one, and it’s mahoosive.

Just getting the car was an adventure in itself (buying a  car or house out here can be problematic to say the least) and saw me taking a long pre-dawn bus ride through small bush towns and through snow draped countryside, dealing with scary dodgy blokes in big cities, going from police station to police station… but I finally got it. Just need to change the clutch now.

Today, after returning on isolated bush roads from Bardejov, where the boys and I went to buy a new stereo for it, I got to see just what the Discovery is capable of. I hit a  bad patch of ice coming out of a sharp bend and the car slid this way and that with me fighting to rectify it and slow it down. I really thought it was going to flip and then go crashing down a hillside into trees but i managed to swing/slide it across the road into a steep, snow filled ditch on the other side. We came to a stop, in shock, nose facing downwards and with the right rear wheel up in the air. Having come off icy and snowy roads into ditches in several different cars over the years out here, i suddenly realized that the Discovery is way too big to be pulled out by the average passing car and would need a tractor from a nearby village some several kilometres walk away. And then I thought why not see what it can do? I told the boys to stay in the car to weigh their side down and then I put it into low and reversed. It did so, without any effort whatsoever.

I was stunned.

The Discovery reversed on 2, maximum 3, wheels, out of a deep, steep, snow filled drainage ditch. I put it back into high and, with heart still pounding, we drove carefully home on the icy and snow-covered remote roads through the hills. I’ve had way too many adventures with it over the last two days to fill me for a while. For now, I’m content to just watch it from the window.

I’m hoping that this year is a good one and will bring some positive, forward, momentum. And money 🙂

Bushcraft Magazine Autumn Article

Bushcraft Magazine Autumn Article

The Autumn issue of Bushcraft Magazine is out. They’ve included an article of mine on the benefits and techniques of Trail cam usage as both a learning tool for and a moral alternative to trapping.

Go order a copy. As usual, the magazine is beautifully printed. Support real bushcrafters – those dedicated to sustaining ancient skills in the modern world.

New green ceramic wood stove

New green ceramic wood stove

This week I realized an aim I’ve had for several years – to have a wood stove which cooks and heats. When we first bought the house it had one of the old, traditional brick and ceramic sit-on stoves, a giant contraption. Unfortunately, I tore it down and replaced it with a modern fireplace which heats part of the house via tubes.

We also have a ceramic and brick heating stove in another part of the house and a propane cooker in the kitchen. What i really wanted was something that both heated and cooked and kept its heat. This new stove is extremely, back-breakingly heavy as it’s made of cast iron, ceramic tiles and the interior is clay. We also had to have a new chimney made to use it due to new regulations. Hopefully, it doe sthe job as room temperature in my house at the moment is a balmy 6 degrees Centigrade and winter hasn’t even really started.

New Beech Marten footage – good quality!

 

Cousin of the Pine Marten, Beech or Stone Martens are the bane of village life out here in the Carpathian Mountains of Eastern Slovakia. They plague attics and cause a lot of damage. My garden is littered with large chunks of roof insulation and their scat is everywhere. Also, they run around all night which echoes across the ceiling. They’re also extremely aggressive and will hiss and scream. The sound of them catching their prey, and its screams, a few feet above your head at 3 in the morning is a shock.
After months of problems capturing the marten on the trail cam as it was aware of the infrared, it seems to have become adjusted to it and I finally managed to get some good footage. It’s winter so the marten is redecorating my attic to make a nest. And shitting all over the place. Very thoughtful of it…

Just call me Noah…

 

I’d forgotten all about this until transferring some old files this morning. One of the best adverts ever made – it’s such a shame that Lynx / Axe bowed down to PC pressure and stopped their humour.

It still makes me grin… 🙂