Romania: Timewarp

June 2016

I know a meadow where every step makes the air sweet with crushed thyme.

Meadows at Daia2

This is not Surrey, although it greatly resembles it. We do have some precious fragments of untarnished wildflower meadows in the North Downs, and I’m fighting to protect them. One of the things that gives me energy in that battle is the memory of another, wilder meadow, one where I was privileged to spend eight weeks last year, tracking wildcats and bears through fields that have never known a tractor’s fumes.

This is Romania – to be exact, Transylvania, the horseshoe of farmland ringed by the snow-capped Carpathian Mountains. It is almost the last place in Europe where farming is still genuinely environmentally sustainable. Tiny, family-owned farms grow a few vegetables, and there’s still time to take cattle for a walk.

Walking the cow

Harvest needs a horse.

Bringing the hay home

At Transylvania’s heart are the 12th century Saxon villages, built by the kings of Hungary with fortified churches to hold back the Ottomans and Tatar invaders. During the project, I stayed in seven of them, learning the landscape while collecting data on carnivores who leave fieldsign as blatant as this:

Bear scratch marks 270616

The scratches are the handiwork of a brown bear, Europe’s largest carnivoran south of the Arctic. Transylvania has a widespread bear population, and although I don’t trust Romania’s official figures for wildlife, bears are certainly doing far better in these orchid-rich meadows than in the rest of lowland Europe combined.

So, I’ll recount my stories from all seven of the Saxon villages over the next few days. Travel back in time to a world where horses outnumber cars and wildcats drink from unnamed streams…

Meadows Mesendorf

11 thoughts on “Romania: Timewarp

  1. I visited Romania only once, when I was 13 and it was a ski trip to south western part of Carpathian mountains. I was not much of a skier so, while my brother and aunt spent their time skiing, I was hiking around, not too far away from a hotel (I was 13, after all ๐Ÿ™‚ ). Most of the days on that trip were sunny and I will never forget the view from one of the nearby peaks – as long as your eyes could reach there were mountains covered with snow, in a sharp contrast with a dark blue sky. Too bad I never thought going there again and explore, when I was older. It wouldn’t be too expensive and, by your experience, it would have been and unforgettable experience.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That sounds like a magical vista. I could see the crest of the Carpathians from some of the hills in Transylvania and even in high summer, ice was evident. I would like to explore the mountains.

      I hope you do have an opportunity to travel in Transylvania some day ๐Ÿ™‚ The only thing is, the livestock guardian dogs are extremely aggressive and need to be given a very wide berth. It is quite unnerving to be climbing a hill and suddenly see 11 hostile heads pop up out of the grass…but I’ll get to that story later!


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