Day 11 – Cerem to Doberdol
11.20 miles / Total Ascent 1131m / Total Descent 501m
After an easy day yesterday, it was back to a full day’s walking today: a day of ascent accumulation starting with an initial climb, followed by and undulating path that dipped into Montenegro for a short way before the final rise to Doberdol.
For the first hour or so we followed the car road, gradually zig-zagging higher before contouring eastwards around the hillside. Just as we were leaving the village, we met up again with an English couple (first encountered in Plav) who were doing the Peaks of the Balkans independently, but seemed to be doing quite a lot of it by 4 x 4.
It was an odd morning, weather-wise: overcast, but with higher cloud and occasional blue patches; cool, but clammy as well, and for some reason, I couldn’t seem to find the right combination of clothes to get my temperature right. At least we had a view of the gorge we had walked through yesterday, and a better appreciation of the scenery that had been obscured by the low cloud.
|View to the gorge we walked through in the rain yesterday
Things began to improve as we left the car road and picked up a path through woodlands, crossing the border into Montenegro once more. It seems strange that in the space of one step we had switched countries, especially as there was nothing in evidence to mark the event: just an invisible line on a fairly non-descript hillside – and a warning not to stray from the path!
|Return to Albania, derelict observation post just visible on hill top
Shortly we reached an area of open ground that marked our return to Albanian territory, and reached the car road again. Off to our left, a derelict observation post crowned a nearby hill top, whilst Doberdol lay directly ahead. However, there was plenty of walking yet to do before we arrived.
|Doberdol in the distance
As if to mark a change in fortunes, the sun made an attempt to break through: a real boon, as the path we were following, which threaded between meadow and woodland in a more-or-less direct line towards our goal, was delightful. The middle of the day provided some of the best weather, so we took advantage of the conditions to stop for lunch, and spent a lazy half hour or so soaking up the sunshine and the views.
|View from our lunch stop
We were now crossing a landscape of sharp, wooded ridges and plunging valleys. In the main, though, our route avoided too much in the way of height gain and loss, although that encountered was often steep.
|Descending the slopes near Balqin
|Wooded ridges and plunging valleys
We passed through Balqin – a summer settlement comprising a handful of houses, and the only village en route – where the horses seemed more inquisitive about us than did the people. Which was odd, really, since the arrival of strangers or friends in these parts is usually an excuse to stop work and have a chat, however brief.
|Summer village of Balqin
|Horses at Balqin
The dogs were quite interested in us, too: attention I’d be happier without, as they are not really pets but there to dissuade wolves and bears from attacking the livestock. So we moved on swiftly, waiting until we were in the shelter of the trees before taking another short break.
|Woodland path in dappled sunshine
|Rest stop in the trees
A short, sharp climb brought us to the rim of the hanging valley that is Doberdol, a small collection of farmsteads used by shepherds to pasture animals in the summer months. By any measure, it is a community on the edge: even by the standards of the area it is remote, and at 1800m above sea level must be one of the highest settlements in the region.
Our digs for the night were another half-hour further on, and achieved with relatively few mishaps: a simple camping barn of low drystone walls surmounted by a corrugated metal roof, and a tiny solar panel providing just enough electricity to power some meagre lighting. The loo was a long drop affair, and the furniture rough-hewn timber, both inside and out.
|Bunkhouse at Doberdol
Despite the simplicity we were all soon settled in, and took the opportunity to make up our beds while there was still some daylight available. We went for a short stroll behind the hut, and sat on the rocks absorbing the quiet and watching the cattle and sheep streaming across the hillsides at the end of the day.
Dinner was served at 7.00pm, the now-familiar fare of bread, soup, salads and grilled peppers, pasta and yoghurt. At this sort of altitude nights can be cold, and this one was no exception. So we made a fire and sat round it drinking beers, chatting and – in Matt’s case – drying underwear.
|Barbeque pants, anyone? Drying underwear, with
bespoke hanging rack fashioned from raw timber
by axe for easy self-assembly (patent pending)
|Keeping the chill at bay
With little light and cool temperatures, we were all in bed pretty early. In truth, it was not the most comfortable of nights: with no heating and a chill wind blowing through the gaps in the drystone walls, we all felt the cold and slept poorly. Despite a little discomfort, though, none of us would have swapped it for the privilege of spending a night in such a wonderful, wild place.