Stap is my favourite shelter so far. It’s beautiful and has great character, it’s loved and tidy, and I never want to leave. But today is an auspicious day, so walk on we must! Auspicious because it’s our twentieth day of walking, which is the longest either of us has ever hiked continuously.
Before attempting the Via Dinarica, we first did the Pennine Way as a means of training, and also because it looked beautiful. The Pennine Way is a 430 km hike running down the middle of England (and a tiny bit of Scotland) from Kirk Yetholm to Edale, cited as the UK’s “toughest national trail.” We spent twenty days hiking through the boggy, muddy, rushy, grassy English moorlands and countryside. I loved it.
And so, after today, we’ll have completed one Pennine-Way’s-worth of the Via Dinarica! It comes to a grand total of 485.12 km.
Instead of relaxing in a quaint English pub and congratulating ourselves on our achievement however, tonight we’ll be preparing for the next 40+ days, and the next 1000 km… Another two Pennine-Ways at least!
So it’s a reflective start to the day as we leave Stap. We’re heading back to the seaside today, to a holiday town called Starigrad-Paklenica. It mightn’t be the end of our trek, but we do get another rest and resupply day there tomorrow.
We start early. This morning’s walk has a special excursion to a place called Kamena galerija, or the Stone Gallery. It’s a little rock-scrambling loop track that takes you through a series of limestone rock features, before returning you to the main path. We hike the 3 kilometres to the start of the loop, dump our bags, and leap through the rocks like happy mountain goats. Aahh, the joy of walking unimpeded by giant packs!
After the gallery, we continue on through the forests. Soon, we duck down into a beautiful section of tall, dense trees, beside a meadow. The faint sound of cowbells fills the air, all around us. As we descend further, it becomes louder and louder. A few pale cows move quickly across the path, but it seems there must be hundreds hidden in the forest, jingling and jangling. With the humming insects and heat, it reminds me of Picnic at Hanging Rock. The place has a hazy eeriness, but it’s too beautiful and calm for me to mind.
The flowers and butterflies switch colours as we make good progress through the warm meadows; chalky blue butterflies and glowing white flowers slowly shift to rich blue and purple flowers, the butterflies white with thin black spokes on their wings like window panes.
Lunch is a bit miserable today. Two wraps with one sixth of a carrot and some yoghurt dressing, followed by some surprisingly and slightly unpleasantly spicy two-minute noodles we picked up from Zdrilo sklonište. Hmm. A large, happy family picnics next to us with smorgasbord of chips, drinks, fresh fruit and bread. Some of them nap in the shade. The kids run around squealing about things. It looks like the perfect day out, and distracts me from my mouth, which is on fire from the chilli seasoning on the noodles. Should’ve had the yoghurt dressing second…
From the church, we head more or less directly for the seaside town of Starigrad-Paklenica. As with Senj, the official Via Dinarica route doesn’t actually pass through the town, but we need to restock food. We could walk to a bus stop, head to town and then get the bus back… But, perhaps over-ambitiously, perhaps even to the detriment of our trip, we’ve decided to try walk the whole thing. Literally. As in no buses, or cars, or anything. We like a challenge. So we’ve planned a nice route down towards the coast, and will return to the track a different way after our rest.
It’s a rocky track to start with, but pleasant. We wander up and down through hamlets and view points, past bikes and cars and fields of flowers. It’s a Sunday afternoon, so all is fairly peaceful. We link up little dotted hiking tracks with some road sections, and make it to town in the late afternoon. It’s been a really nice walk, and I’m really pleased with our alternate route. My feet ache quite painfully though. It’s been a very hot, rocky day.
We have grand plans to visit the supermarket on our way home (we’ve run out of tea and chocolate), but it’s Sunday (why is it always Sunday?) so they’re all shut. We wander slowly along next to the sea, heading for our cheap apartment with the cool breeze stirring our hair. I steer us firmly towards an ice cream shop. Callum gets lemon and I get chocolate chip.
And with that, our twentieth day is complete.
I feel good. My body is getting stronger, my callouses thickening. My face and hands are tanned (a bit!), and my hair is knotting from the roots (dreadlocks anyone?). I’ve always hiked – I have my wonderful family to thank for that. But it’s really getting under my skin here. I have a special, rare opportunity to really feel my way into long-term, not just long-distance, hiking.
Approximate distance: 26 km