June – August 2016
Something is different; the price to enter the latest fortified church, for starters. Viscri is still very ‘out there’ for a British traveller, but there is a change of tone after three weeks in the remote lanes of Richis and Mesendorf. Viscri has tourists, German mostly, come to celebrate the land of their ancestors, or buy traditional Viscri socks, or pull up on the roadside and ask me directions to Prince Charles’ house.
Yes, he keeps a property here. Somewhere. I am never quite sure which one it is, but the church itself is grand and timeless.
Tourism has not ruined Viscri by any standards, but it has some subtle impact. My routine post-survey survival kit of chocolate and melon-favoured icecream is more expensive here. More seriously, the local farms are sliding towards modernisation, which is already showing signs of throttling Viscri’s biodiversity. I’m expecting to find far less on the transects than in the first three villages.
First, though, I need to explore the village itself. Here puppies greet horses.
And tourists or no, milk is still gathered in the traditional way.
Every evening the cows bring themselves home, right home, each turning into her own gate. Swallows swoop over the water provided for livestock right in the centre of town.
Home for the week is a room, not a tent. I’m staying in one of the many guesthouses, a short walk from the heart of all things: Gerda’s lovely farm. A small army of ducks, geese and guinea fowl wander noisily out of her gate every morning, and back again every night.
Guarding them is the smallest of watchdogs, and he seems far more interested in playing with the nets used by the butterfly survey team.
As for wild mammals – one is very close at hand. Livestock and puppy are joined in this farmyard by a wild hedgehog!
It is a very peaceful hoggie, but causes a taxonomic debate. Officially, there are only eastern hedgehogs Erinaceus concolor here, but this individual, and all others that we’ve glimpsed, are clearly the western species Erinaceus europaeus. The mammal information book has erred.
It remains to be seen what surprises Viscri’s transects will bring.