A Romanian at home in the Highlands

Lochan Meall

Lochan Meall, Lochaber

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. Don’t ask me if I still believe this as I won’t know what to answer. I’m too busy – like everybody is – and I’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.

Retezat mountains

Retezat mountains, Romania

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. It’s uplifting and universal. But unlike the Alps, which I had the pleasure to visit about four years ago, Scotland felt like home. It’s my closest refuge when I want to escape London’s fumes and hectic lifestyle.

If I was asked what these two landscapes have in common, I’d say friendly people, very clean and affordable accommodation and superb scenery that can easily be conquered.

Lucky

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 who’s tried these, I’m telling you they’re not bad at all. If you’re lucky enough to live within the mountainous area, there’s an 80 per cent chance that there’s a mineral or thermal spring within a two-hour drive. If you’re extra lucky, as I was, you can reach it in less than an hour.

Herculane by Ovidiu David

Herculane, Romania, by Ovidiu David

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 lamb’s organs, which has something in common with both the Scotch egg and the haggis. It’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, there’s only one accommodation option available – the tent. And it’s this that makes Romanian mountains an unforgettable experience. It’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 there’s always the chance of an interesting chat with your tent neighbours, sharing a glass of wine or whisky to warm the chilly night.

Experience

If you opt for such an adventure, you really need to be fit as you’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.

It’s this last bit that I treasure the most, and this may be the reason why I’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.

Me on Ben Nevis

Corina on Ben Nevis

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 couldn’t have been more pleased with my random choice – 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 – I’ve tried others in Edinburgh, Mallaig, Oban and Inverness.

Homely

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 haven’t climbed it. One needs time to breathe in the beauty of the mountain rather than do some sort of extreme fitness activity.

Me on Retezat mountains

Corina among the Retezat mountains

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 I’ll always look for the sense of familiarity and the homely feeling that so far I’ve found only in Scotland.

Corina on the ferry towards CorranCorina is an enthusiastic traveller who treasures any opportunity to discover new places and people.
She enjoys trekking, hiking and scrambling, always wearing her trusty Surfdome socks, and celebrates any conquered summit with a crisp apple.She now and then plays the philosopher, trying to understand the meaning of everything – Corina’s Words is the result of this attempt.



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One comment on “A Romanian at home in the Highlands
  1. Alex says:

    Nice post Corina. I’m an enthusiastic traveller too from Romania. A trip on Romanian mountains, is really an unforgettable experience. But I would really love to visit Scotland one day. I hope it will be soon. Thank you!

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