When Corina David first tried hillwalking in Scotland, she felt transported back to the Carpathians.
When I was a little girl I believed in the idea of past lives and future lives. Donâ€™t ask me if I still believe this as I wonâ€™t know what to answer. Iâ€™m too busy â€“ like everybody is â€“ and Iâ€™ve been absorbed by the daily grind. But for some reason as a child I always imagined I had lived in Scotland in a little stone cottage on a steep cliff with the sea below. I must have watched some films and my imagination must have clung to one particular image and amplified it.
I grew up in a country wandering on hills with the wind in my hair and my pot-bellied dog faithfully accompanying me. The only thing missing was the sea below.
I grew up in Romania and got to visit and live for a short while in Scotland. And I must say I was not disappointed.
The sense of freedom that trekking and camping creates has no borders, no countries. Itâ€™s uplifting and universal. But unlike the Alps, which I had the pleasure to visit about four years ago, Scotland felt like home. Itâ€™s my closest refuge when I want to escape Londonâ€™s fumes and hectic lifestyle.
If I was asked what these two landscapes have in common, Iâ€™d say friendly people, very clean and affordable accommodation and superb scenery that can easily be conquered.
Let me give you some geological and geographical facts. The Carpathians are the second longest mountain range in Europe after the Scandinavian mountains. Just over half of the Carpathian arc is in Romania, and the range abounds in thermal and mineral waters, with Romania having a third of the European total. As someone whoâ€™s tried these, Iâ€™m telling you theyâ€™re not bad at all. If youâ€™re lucky enough to live within the mountainous area, thereâ€™s an 80 per cent chance that thereâ€™s a mineral or thermal spring within a two-hour drive. If youâ€™re extra lucky, as I was, you can reach it in less than an hour.
Herculane and Borsec have thermal and mineral waters, and any visit to these resorts will take one back to bygone years when attendance by the upper classes was customary.
Next to these splendid architectural ruins, there are modern villas and top restaurants that will delight your senses with the local cuisine. At Easter people eat a dish called drob, made from lambâ€™s organs, which has something in common with both the Scotch egg and the haggis. Itâ€™s absolutely delicious, and while lamb is only eaten at Easter, the dish can be prepared with pork and chicken as well.
If you decide to go higher in the Carpathians, thereâ€™s only one accommodation option available â€“ the tent. And itâ€™s this that makes Romanian mountains an unforgettable experience. Itâ€™s only passionate outdoors people that will make it to the top. From the camping sites (you can only camp in certain areas) shorter day trips await you, and once back thereâ€™s always the chance of an interesting chat with your tent neighbours, sharing a glass of wine or whisky to warm the chilly night.
If you opt for such an adventure, you really need to be fit as youâ€™ll be carrying food to last you for about 3-4 days. Two-thirds of the rucksack will be taken by this and unless you select everything carefully you risk getting tired before you even start the ascent. The ascent will be a gradual one and will give you the opportunity to experience various relief forms and types of vegetation. The rocky profile that defines Scotland is only present in Romania at altitudes higher than 6,500 feet.
Itâ€™s this last bit that I treasure the most, and this may be the reason why Iâ€™m drawn to Scotland. Add to this my fascination for the lochs and the salty scent that perfumes the air. In Romania I had to climb 6,000 feet to feast my eyes with lakes and rocks; in Scotland I felt that things were the opposite with the lochs and rocks at the foot of the mountains.
I managed to conquer Ben Nevis in June and while that will remain a memorable achievement, I think I enjoyed the pre-Ben Nevis scenery and experience much more than the actual ascent. We started from Corran Bunkhouse, north of Glencoe and south of Fort William. I chose it because of its proximity to Ben Nevis and a loch and feared that it might be too good to be true.
I couldnâ€™t have been more pleased with my random choice â€“ the lady in charge was helpful and friendly and the hostel was impeccable. A hot shower and some clean linen after 12 hours of trekking seem like pampering fit for a king. So far my rambles and adventures have enabled me to try about 15 hostels in various European countries, but it’s the Scottish ones that have never disappointed me â€“ Iâ€™ve tried others in Edinburgh, Mallaig, Oban and Inverness.
My group decided that we are all fit enough to avoid the standard route and conquer Ben Nevis via Carn Mor Dearg. Half way up we regretted the choice, but when descending via the standard tourist route we realised our first choice had been a wise one.
It just seemed a bit too crowded, with too many people either trying to prove something or merely supporting a good cause. This is great, but I think people should allow themselves a bit more time to enjoy what Ben Nevis and the surroundings have to offer. No matter how good the cause is, if people are only climbing Ben Nevis because of this, then they havenâ€™t climbed it. One needs time to breathe in the beauty of the mountain rather than do some sort of extreme fitness activity.
In the Carpathians, though you may want to reach the summit and descend with a winner’s smile on your lips, the higher altitudes make this a reckless and risky venture that, even if all goes well, will make demands on your night vision and get your adrenalin pumping.
Life may take me to other paths and other mountains, but Iâ€™ll always look for the sense of familiarity and the homely feeling that so far Iâ€™ve found only in Scotland.