‘Hobbits!’ I thought as J and I tucked into our second breakfast of the morning – Hobbits, you see, have second everything and breakfast at our hotel was now being followed a couple of hours later by a veritable feast. We were being hosted by a couple of ranking bureaucrats (no names to protect the guilty) who were taking the opportunity to bunk off on the pretext of a public relations junket with ‘important’ visitors from Okçular.
The object of the exercise had been for J and I to spend the day exploring and wandering about in parts of the fabulous Yenice National Park up here in Karabük. I say ‘had been’ because, as sometimes happens here, ‘mission creep’ blunders on to the scene and takes over. As it happens this creeping mission turned into the most wonderful of experiences.
Our pair of hookey-playing bureaucrats had brought with them a couple of Orman (Forest Ministry) 4x4s and the renowned chief forester of this world-class chunk of mountainous forest who would be our guide! J and I were each presented with a copy of the excellent official guide book and maps, which we reciprocated with the Okçular book, and then off we set.
Yenice is a vast, mixed forest set in a land of towering mountains and precipitous canyons. There are rivers and plateaux, scattered villages and upland meadows, ponds and meres. Access roads to the lower villages are reasonable but once above these you are in the land of the 4×4, ‘Shanks’ Pony’, real ponies or even buffalo!
Rhododendrons drip down the mountainsides at this time of year adding bright splashes of colour to the forty-shades-of-green of the trees.
Ahmet Elbir, our passionate chief forester and guide, stopped at various places along the road and led us through trackless forest to places that looked out over stunning views and dizzying drops. It didn’t take me long to find my first orchid of the trip.
We stopped for a coffee at a newly refurbished traditional wooden house that is being converted to a lodge for walkers and cyclists. Albergo Butik Otel will be open for guests in about a month and I can tell you that J and I will be back sometime soon – they don’t have a website up yet but you can get info at Yenice kaymakam’s site.
Back on the track the 4x4s were soon demonstrating why they are essential tools for the guardians of this forest. There is so much water flowing that many parts of the route are a mud bath – in fact, such is the terrain that much of the logging that is done relies on teams of buffalo to get the timber out.
We slithered, bounced and ground our way upwards until, around a bend in the track, a great, area of upland meadow opened up to us. Cows and sheep grazed and kangal dogs kept watch against bears (which some of the party had spotted lower down), lynx, wolves and human intruders. We debussed and wandered a short distance to the temporary homestead of a herding family who, forewarned, were to be our hosts.
Greeted like long-lost cousins we were soon tucking into warm, fresh-baked bread, home-made cheese, salad, ayran, chilled spring water and lashings of tea.
A great platter of fresh woodland fungi was produced with the promise that this would be cooked up and served with more fresh bread after we returned from our hiking/wandering.
Hiking up the gentle slope I was soon distracted and side-tracked by swathes of orchids and violets, a species of arum and a number of other plants that will have to wait until I get home to my reference books for identification. Such is the geography of this vast forest that micro-climates and various eco-systems abound – the diversity is mind-boggling!
Back at our host’s encampment we were soon tucking into a mound of succulent fungi, fresh bread and tea. We were joined by the matriarch of the family and a splendid time was spent with much chat, laughter and hugging that is such an endearing quality of Turkish country folk.
Later, as we slid and bounced our way back down to the less civilised civilised world, J and I were left with the warm glow of gentle kindness, our cameras full of reminders of sights and things.
It has been one of the most absolutely fabulous days ever and we have our two truant bureaucrats, our celebrated chief forester, their drivers and a generous family of mountain shepherds to thank for the experience – Oh! and Toprakana – Mother Earth, of course!
Alan in Okçular
ps since this post from Archers of Okcular was posted May 2013 this amazingly beautiful place has been under threat of a hydro-electric dam project. I guess over the retired body of Chief Forester Ahmet Albir!