We were up before ‘cock-head’ and after a light breakfast of boiled eggs, salami, goat’s cheese and yoghurt (I may have exaggerated about the ‘light’ bit) we drove the few km’s back to Sibiel. It was a cool morning but that turned into a blessed relief as the footpath up from the gravel road to the Piciorul Fantanilor ridge was long, steep, and quite a rutted mess in places. It was literally rutted. That isn’t me trying to substitute a more sweary word for a less sweary word. Fortunately the way was well marked by the blue circles every few metres. Unfortunately the weather set in and towards the top and we could only just about see each other through the mist, let alone the view. We were lucky enough however to sight our first ever fire salamander:

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Towards the top of the ridge we came across three locals collecting berries. Unfortunately this then meant that I had an audience when a further four metres along the track I managed to trip over the only twig on that stretch of path, and come down hard on my left hip. I was slightly miffed that the berry pickers laughed, so once I’d righted myself turned around and gave them one of my renowned ‘Hayley looks’. It was only a few days later that Rich confessed that he too had chuckled. Not because I’d fallen, but because I’d done it over an obvious obstacle. Git. Especially as that’s my dodgy side. Still, my lovely osteopath and pilates teacher have since righted the damage. You kinda get used to tearing bits and bobs when you have EDS. Still the good news is that there wasn’t enough damage to stop play.

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We’d walked past several shepherd’s huts on the ascent, and as we neared the turn off for the tractor track I noted the outline of yet another hut, about twenty metres off the track. I also spotted a dog. For a few seconds I thought that it was going to ignore us and let as pass by without incident, as there weren’t any sheep on the hill. But then he started to bark and run towards us at speed, closely followed by four of his friends who’d just appeared from the back of the hut. I ordered Rich to stand right behind me and started waving my walking sticks in the air whilst yelling for the shepherd, hoping to goodness that he was in the hut. Fortunately he comes running out yelling back “it’s ok, it’s ok!” whilst calling the dogs off. We’d read horror stories about walkers being violently attacked by sheep dogs, and didn’t fancy ending up as their (early) lunch today.

The dogs had surrounded us but fortunately they’d stopped barking, were wagging their tails and a few tried to nuzzle our legs so that we reciprocated with strokes. The shepherd had reached us and on seeing that we were a tad shaken introduced us to each of the dogs in turn. One stuck out. His name was Bruno. Bruno was a wolf. He’d been found as a babby and bought up by the shepherd. But still wore a big bugger of a metal chain round his neck. When Bruno started licking my hands and wanting cuddles, I almost cried with joy. I leant down and looked into his eyes, an experience I will never forget, before we said our goodbyes. Not getting a photo of Bruno and his family is my only regret of the trip. They all watched us walk away until we were out of sight, and both of us stayed very quiet, knowing full well that that the memory would stay with us for a long, long time.

Tractors would have to be very nifty, very small, or have wheels like those on a tank to get up and down the so called tractor track. It was extremely rough, full of deep ruts from rain and snow melt, and littered with twigs and branches. The mist had turned to quite heavy rain by now and the path had become a fast flowing stream in places, so we decided against visiting the old church at Schitul Sibiel, not least because our shorts and boots were sodden, and instead walked the 3km back to the village along the gravel road, passing  a few guesthouses and hotels close to the park entrance.

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After a well earned nap back at Casa Nicu, the sun reappeared and we sat outside for a few leisurely hours playing with next door’s cats. The thunder and lightning returned at 6.30pm but as there wasn’t any wind we left the doors and windows open so that we could smell the rain. The cats took this as an open invitation, but I love cats and enjoy pooty snuggles. Nicu delivered the tuica (Romanian schnapps basically), mountain honey and sheep’s cheese we’d ordered but as the tuica made me gasp for air we decided that maybe we ought to keep it as Rich’s tipple, and that I should just stick to my usual mini glass of wine.

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The walking here really is so peaceful. Why go to the Austrian, Swiss or French Alps, when you can come here for a fraction of the price and have pristine hills to yourself (apart from bears, wolves and sheepdogs)? I’m not dissing central Europe. But Romania is a gem.

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