Sunday, 10 July 2016

Sigulda: Three Castles Trail

 Sigulda station

Sigulda is the entry point of the Gauja National Park and we found this walk from Sigulda to Krimulda and Turaida, taking in three castles. The route starts at Sigulda's rather lovely station building (the information office is next door from where you can get a hard copy of the route).

Just in front of the station is the slim and elegant Laima Clock bearing the date 1870. A far cry from the much more elaborate sort of thing erected to celebrate Queen Victoria's Jubilee in England!

We headed off towards the old and new castles and were immediately drenched by a sharp rainstorm. The entrance to the castles is a fine mock gothic gateway …

 … and set in colourful gardens you first see the new castle built in 1878 with its wonderful, but entirely disproportionate, tower. There is a belvedere to the left of the new castle offering views over the valley towards Krimulda manor.

The old castle is behind the new one and is a fairly simple ruin. It was built originally in 1207 for the Order of the Brotherhood of the Sword (which sounds a bit Dan Brown) who later became the Livonian knights. These all seem to have been orders of warrior monks like the Knights Templar.

We retraced our steps and headed off towards the cable car, passing first of all the Lutheran church …

… and then the rather quirky Walking Stick Park established in 2007. Apparently Sigulda has a 200 year history of making walking sticks.

The path then leads to a cable car which crosses the Gauja Valley at a height of 42 m to reach Krimulda. There is a glimpse of Turaida castle as well.

Suddenly there was a moment of hilarity as a tree just below us seems to have a surprising occupant.

Once safely on the other side (we were surprised that most of the other occupants of the cable car didn't get out) we headed left to find Krimulda Manor House. This dates from 1822 and is now a centre for the rehabilitation of sick children. Judging by the water cascading over the gutters it is in a poor state of repair.

Just beyond it is the pleasing octagonal Steward's House which is thought to date from the 1820s.

We found our way to the rather minimal remains of Krimulda Castle (built 1255 and burnt down in 1601) and headed downhill along the Serpentine Road towards the valley bottom.

When we reached the bottom we headed towards Turaida along a path to the left of the road. Beside the path was a large grassy area with scattered silver birches. We spotted these lovely vetch-like flowers.

This section ended at the disappointing Gutman's Cave (the "biggest cave in Baltic" according to the leaflet). It is a shallow hole in the rock in and around which people have been inscribing versions of Kilroy was here since 1667.

From here we found a path through the woods towards Turaida, which at one point led up a set of no less that 309 wooden steps. At the top a view of Turaida suddenly presented itself. It was still necessary to follow the hillside around a way to arrive at the entrance to the Turaida Museum Reserve.

This is a surprisingly large estate containing many buildings apart from the castle including Turaida church dating from 1750 – one of the oldest wooden churches in Latvia. There are also lots of sculptures and other art works.

The highlight is undoubtedly the main tower of the castle built by the Brotherhood of the Sword in 1214. It was ruined by fire in 1776 and restored in modern times.

We had a nice glass of wine in the cafe and then caught the bus back to Sigulda.

Conditions: very wet at first, becoming brighter.

Distance: 10 km, 6.2 miles.

Rating: five stars. Great fun, especially the cable car, and full of interest, even if some of the sights are a little over-sold.

No comments: