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The spirit of wilderness on a Polish horse

A hesitant sun edged over a greeny valley  The air was cool and fresh. A serene atmosphere filled the whole Beskid – mountainous region of Poland, famous for its wilderness, dark forests and legends dating back to ancient times. We rode down a winding trail that led to a rain-beaten moor. A day in the saddle, riding a trail that winds in and out among lush gullies, murmuring birches and shimmering brooks.After a short trek we reached a signposted track passing vigorously clumps of broad-leafed trees.A hush of the wind-whipped valley set off trotting hooves. Once on a bushy hill the mountainous horizon dipped a little in front of us. In a distance a group of huts appeared hesitantly-G³adyszów, a quiet tiny village located in the centre of the Beskid Niski Mountains, said to be the world’s biggest farm breeding the Huculs, a unique Polish mountain horse breed.

For those looking for horseback riding adventure in a scenic mountainous area, horse rides organised by Gladyszow stable will be a perfect choice.  The Hucul is a type of a mountain horse breed indigenous to  the  Carpathian mountains. Living in the harshness of woods and rugged mountain slopes the breed became strong and resistant to severe living conditions. From the very beginning the horses were harnessed and domesticated by highlanders of the region. The Huculs can be described as sturdy and clever but they are also easy to ride on and friendly to riders. That breed closely related to the wild Tarpan was used for both riding and work Because of those features, the breed became popular in Poland and in 1959 first horse farm of the Huculs was established.  Now, the Gladyszow stable of the Huculs became of international interest, both short and long horse trails in the wilderness of the Beskids are becoming more and more popular .

The whole Beskid Niski offers a wide range of hiker-friendly trails, the one we chose goes from Gladyszow – Kamienny Wierch(forested mountain 710m)- and lonely  villages in the Wisloka valley: Radocyna (548 m), Nieznajowa, Wolowiec( 490m)-Krzywa. The whole trail is 27 km long.

We decided to set off in the morning time. As we reached the pasture our horses were grazing happily, seemingly enjoying the tranquil atmosphere in the shade of Magura Malastowska slopes. Before getting into the saddles we took a short hike around G³adyszow guided by one of the horse riding instructors who spent his whole life vagabonding in the area.
As we learnt, our guide was one of the Lemks – an ethnic group that once inhabited the area of Beskid Niski. As far as we know they were shepards of Balkan origin living in a close contact with nature and cultivating the old rites and traditions. They appeard in Beskid Niski in 14th century and the majority of them were deported in 1947 for political reasons. After 1956 small communities of Lemks reappeared in the area of Magura. We were walking slowly down the road. Our guide ( a lanky man in his thirties, clad in black with  a nice cowboy hat )told us a story of the land and its heritage. In thick morning fog a wooded orthodox church of old Ukrainian style appeared in front of us. ‘As a matter of fact, said he, there are still monuments in Gladyszow such as Orthodox churches, chapels and cemeteries dating back to the WWII, the symbols of the old times and also of the Lemks’. We went downhill taking a untrodden track that zigzaged to the pasture. Once the sun cut across dense clouds we saw long shadows of   St. John Chapel .That splendid edifice stored valuable religious items such as old Lemks’ ikons .Surely, the chapel is a must -see place for history and architecture lovers. We got on horses and chose the track leading out of the stable .

Once in the forest we learnt that that area is full of wild game. The fauna of Beskid Niski includes brown bear, wolf and lynx, which are the most important species of Polish predatory animals, as well as fox, deer,badger, otter,   and beavers that are easy to find in the vicinity of Gladyszow. After about twenty minutes of ride we stopped near a small brook that mirrored the beauty of the mountainous landscape. In front of us there was a steep ascent to the Kamienny Wierch, a mountain ridge near gloomy Jasionka village .

At a little hunch of heels the horses broke into a fast, shuffling trot and we finally reached the sun-bathed summit. From the very top of the mountain it was easy to see the monuments vividly depicted by our guide. We could hear stories of Catholic chapels and Orthodox churches being built and destroyed during wars. “There-  uttered the guide pointing toward northen part of  forested hill- the cemetery of Austrian people fighting during the  world war I”  I nodded reminding myself of small graveyard we passed by while trotting out of Gladyszow. There was a stone board with short but thought-provoking inscription:  ‘Let the death of a soldier be considered as a holy thing (..) whoever he was :a brother-in-arms or an enemy, never should  be remembered as such. Both brothers and enemies ought to be loved equally’. Eastern Front of the First World War stretched right through the area, and monuments the Beskid Niski witnessed tragic struggles of Russian, German and Austro-Hungarian armies.

The eastern wind hissed oddly as we galloped into Radocyna leaving aside  a grassy slope and swirling streams. Higher up path faded into a mossy plateau. Radocyna was a small village of Lemks till the World war II when all of its citizens were deported. In 1946 a large part of the surviving community was sent to the Soviet Union and in 1947 the whole region was depopulated and demolished . At that time the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA) was fighting against the Polish People’s Army. The area was a place of cruel battles and manslaughter. Now, the village is abandoned but one can feel the spirit of old times around wooden chapels and awesome ruins sitting gracefully by the main road.  Visiting old churches in Beskid Niski can be a rewarding experience. Almost all of them house priceless icons as the Lemks traditionally belong to the Eastern-rite churches, either Orthodox or Eastern-Catholic.

After a little of scrambling a muddy path led us to Nieznajowa village. There, only few lonely ruined houses remember the times of prosperity. The hooves hit the track winding through Nieznajowa green valley .Wind echoing away and the silence of the place made us feel being lost in time. Half-ruined mill rose sharply in front of us and a vehicular path leads us back to G³adyszów cutting through a boggy wood. Stepping back to the stable one can see the mountainous landscape ornamented by old shrines, some turned into ruins, some proudly towering over the dark forests. Trotting downhill we could once more glance at the old pine timber cottages built in Lemks’ style and called by them  ‘chyze’. As our trek continued only wooded crosses signposted the road.

The sun was setting as we reached our destination. In a distance some greyish horses were grazing pacefully but the spirit of old days of wars and victories was all around. Any visitor of Gladyszow can say that Beskid with all it offers can be a tourist paradise both for lonely travellers, adventurers and horse lovers.

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