Stuff, Wanderings

Absolutely Fabulous!

hobbit menu‘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.


Orman 1 leads off

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 Book and Map

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 – Chief Forester and passionate defender of Yenice

Ahmet Elbir, our passionate 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.

unknown orchid 1

as yet unknown orchid

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.

guest house bathroom

always a good idea to check the bathroom!

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.

buffalo logging2

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.

shepherds house

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.

 our hosts

J with our generous hosts


lashings of ginger beer!

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.

fungi feast

WOW man! – then say it backwards WOW!

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!


unknown Arum

unknown orchid 2

another unknown orchid (as yet)



strange flower

the seed pods of the hellibore


Muscari – and there was so much more

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.

our sponsors

truants, forester, shepherd hosts and a tourist (serious faces aside we had a great time)

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.

wild ride

it was a wild ride back down – this was the view through my eyes as well!

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 Fenn, Okçular Köyü

ps to those who had trouble with the photos I can only say that Windows is the most useless OS I’ve ever had to deal with – roll on getting back to Ubuntu!

'Burası Türkiye!' 'This is Turkey!'

Friends and Neighbours

J and I love to get out and about our area. We are privileged to live in a little, horse-shoe shaped valley at the foot of Kösten Dağ. This mountain has formed the backbone to many of the walks described in my two books; ‘Okçular Village a Guide’ and ‘Backways & Trackways’.

Kösten is a walking, cycling and nature lover’s paradise with small villages clustered around the foot and isolated farmsteads and one village scattered over the massif. It is a living, breathing thing in every sense.

Much of it is forested and here in Turkey the Orman Bakanlığı (Ministry of Forests (and much else)) has responsibility and control.

About eleven or twelve years ago J and I were much disturbed by the arrival of work gangs of men and women with chain saws, trucks, JCBs and lots of tea making equipment who proceeded to start cutting down great swathes of pine trees near our house. We were truly dismayed to observe young trees cut along with mature ones in an apparently indiscriminate way.

Determined to do something about this ‘vandalism’ I wrote a dilekçi or petition to our local kaymakam (governor) demanding an explanation. Five days later a great, grey 4×4 arrived at our gate and the ‘suits’ got out – I thought they were here to deport me!

Instead, they proved to be the local regional forestry manager and his staff armed not with a writ but a box-load of maps and files and bucket-loads of charm!

Over copious glasses of tea they patiently explained their policy and plans – we learned an enormous amount and rapidly gained an enormous respect for these true professionals and guardians of this particular part of Turkey’s heritage. They have 5, 10, 15, 20 even 50 year plans. Their maps are amazing and beautiful – printed in full colour on linen! Their approach to the harvesting and protection of various species is thorough and very professional.

They explained why they clear-cut the species around our house –‘Komando Çam!’ they exclaimed, ‘tough as old boots’ (or words to that effect). Why they leave all the cones covered by layers of bark and trimmings to protect the new seedlings from the sun after natural germination takes place. 18 months later, totally unbid and unannounced, they sent one of their staff to take me and show me how effective the method is. As I said; professional.

Did you realise that the Orman is a totally self-sustaining organisation? We didn’t. Did you realise that there are whole areas, particularly around the coastline, where nothing is ever cut, fallen trees and dead wood is left to decay naturally, nothing is disturbed so that wildlife can thrive? We didn’t. Did you realise that this ministry is responsible for erosion control, wildlife protection and the establishment of special reserves for flora and fauna? We didn’t.

So much we didn’t know.

Apart from their permanent staff of thousands they employ vast numbers of villagers all over Turkey for thinning, planting, cutting – you name it, with a huge impact on the local economy and well-being of families living at subsistence levels. They are also carrying out reforestation at an amazing rate (20,703,122 hectares in 1997 to 21,188,747 hectares in 2008) in addition to replanting where cropping has occured. Is everything rosy? No! But credit where it is due.

‘Çay içermisin?’ ‘Would you like tea?’

Anyway, enough of that; back to Kösten Dağ and our wandering about just recently – we were amazed but not surprised to find a veritable army of villagers beavering away clearing, cutting and stacking vast quantities of wood along existing as well as some newly made tracks through parts of Kösten’s forest. Knowing what I know now I am no longer dismayed – I understand that timber is a crop and I know that re-planting will be under way soon enough. Meanwhile, a whole array of new or previously unspotted plants, birds, animals and insects will populate the changed landscape providing plenty of opportunity for observation and study.

Having wandered these forests and mountains for fifteen years now, we have become identified as ‘locals’ and it is one of our pleasures to find ourselves hailed and summoned to take tea or break bread with those we consider our arkadaşlar (friends) and komşular (neighbours).

As an aside to this; whilst the suits were explaining their stuff, our neighbour and illicit local odun man, Halil, arrived with his donkey and proceeded to unload the first installment of our winter firewood supply. J and I wanted to die but the suits could barely suppress their splutters of laughter – Halil hadn’t even noticed the 4×4 with ‘Orman’ plastered all over it.

Alan Fenn, Okçular Köyü