Rock formations ​and the impregnable fortress

Rock formations ​and the impregnable fortress

This post was updated on January 20th, 2020

Off the beaten track – Belogradchik Rocks

Today we are going to explore Belogradchik Rocks. Rock formations that come with legends and photo opportunities. Not only are we going to cycle through parts of Belogradchik Rocks, but we are going to visit the fortress.

Belogradchik Rocks, Thursday, June 14, 2018

Missed chances and delicious Bulgarian food

There was no wake-up knock on my door early this morning. Only my alarm going off to reach breakfast at 8a.m. We all had a look through the window around 5a.m., but the weather wasn’t going to play along. More sleep for us tonight. And maybe more luck for us tomorrow as we are going to stay for another night. 

Our hosts are serving us a delicious breakfast with Banitza (Bulgarian: Баница). This is a sort of croissant filled with white cheese, and delicious Bulgarian vegetables. Just for the taste of it I would love to be able to eat more of it…but you shouldn’t overeat before a bike ride. And our mountain bike guide is expecting us to be ready just after breakfast. 

Strange ratios and rental bikes

Yes, this means there are now four guides on the tour and one participant. The guest/guide ratio is getting weirder and weirder, but so far it has been nothing but fun. After some small adjustments to the rental mountain bikes, we are ready to go.

Didn’t I state lately I’d never use a rental bike in my life again? Well, this rental bike is top maintained. Smooth gearing and working brakes – no rust on the chain. There is no need to bring my own next time (not that I would own a mountain bike).

Cycling in Bulgaria…or crashing bikes

The plan is to cycle to and through the famous limestone formations called Belogradchik Rocks (Bulgarian: Белоградчишки скали). After a short climb (I can hear someone telling me it was not short…) we are out of the town center and in the woods, the first downhills inclusive.

Belogradchik and Belogradchik Rocks in the background

There is no gravel road or pavement to cycle on here. This is proper mountain bike track cycling, and I will soon pay the price for not having trained mountain biking. After only two minor downhills when the first longer one takes me over the steering wheel. I hit the ground a little faster than I would have liked.

Noticing that the weight of my upper backpack compartment was shifting I tried counteracting on it. But there was no chance, as I realized soon. So instead I prepared for the flight. Not that one can really prepare for it, but at least it did not come as a huge surprise. Not like that time during the Scandinavian Adventure on the Lofoten.

Before I can jump back on my bike, I am ordered to stay down. This so they can access my wounds and check if my feet are still attached to my legs. But it’s just a few scratches and a few bruises, not the last ones for today either.

Adapting to skills or the lack of those

Reevaluating the mountain bike skills of our group, the mountain bike guide changes the plan. Our new route continues on what is supposedly a more comfortable ride. Not that that would be able to stop me from collecting more scratches from the bushes and leaves. Soon we are reaching our break spot with a beautiful view over the rock formations. Each of these formations has its own tale attached. Unfortunately, we don’t know the tales to the rocks that we can see.

Belogradchik Rocks
Belogradchik Rocks – do I want to know the almost centered formation’s name?

Short breaks come with surprises

While passing around some sweets, Karin discovers that all my scratches are swollen up a bit. She mentions that they look like an allergic rash. Well, until a second ago I believed everybody’s scratches would look like this…apparently not.  I have had this so often before, I really don’t care about it anymore. 

Soon after we are back on our bikes. Even on the easier route some of the downhills look terrifying. Well, those who love their bikes push them anyway. Not that the pushing of bikes would stop Phil or me from falling over. If nothing else by the end of this bike ride I will have collected a nice amount of bruises. Still, I would do it all over again – maybe with a different backpack or more training, but even without it’s been a fun tour, I wouldn’t want to miss out on it.

Did I mention I am slightly afraid of heights? Climbing Belogradchik Rocks

Before we head out for lunch, Phil asks me if I would like to explore a narrow hiking path with him. Of course, I cannot say no to that. The trail ends at a rock formation which Phil suggests we climb. Well, I do have some fear of heights, but I will try anyway. That’s what I promised to do and what I set out to do. With some guidance, I make it all the way to the top and am enjoying the view. Getting down later again has its „what the heck did I get myself into“ moments. But I make it without mountain rescue or further accidents.

Belogradchik Rocks - why not climb them if they are there...
Why not climb them, if they are there?

Afternoon breaks

After a short lunch break at the “Restaurant with the view,” we make our way back to the guesthouse for an afternoon break. Just after we close the door behind us, it starts pouring down outside. 

Refreshed by a shower Phil and I meet up in the dining area. Here we discuss how we do our HDR processing. While he, so far, has done it all manually with luminance masks in Photoshop, I have been using Photomatix. It doesn’t take long to understand that my approach is not only slightly easier but also a little faster. However, results are about the same.

Our little session is soon interrupted by Evo, noticing that the weather has improved a lot. Instead of waiting for the weather to take another turn we pack up and make our way to the Fortress of Belogradchik.

Kaleto Belogradchik
Kaleto Belogradchik

A first visit to the fortress

Kaleto Belogradchik (Bulgarian: Белоградчишка Калето or Белоградчишка крепост), was initially constructed during the time of the Roman Empire. The rock formations serve as natural protection. So only the Northwest and Southeast side needed to be enhanced by fortified walls. The fortress, however, only serves as a last resort in case of an attack. There is no housing area inside it. Evo mentions that it is impenetrable, but we soon agree that the Hornburg was called the same until Wormtunge’s betrayal – yea, we cannot not refer to J. R. R. Tolkien’s world. Kaleto, opposed to the Hornburg, was eventually conquered by the Ottoman forces in 1396. After its conquisition the Ottoman rulers extended and reorganized the fortress during their 500year long yoke. 

Fortress of Belogradchik
The fortress of Belogradchik

We spend a lovely afternoon climbing the fortress walls and rocks. Only too soon it is time for dinner at the Serbian restaurant we went to last night as well. 

Once again the weather is not in our favor for sunset photography. At least it is only raining while we are inside anyway. 

Tomorrow we’ll see what we can do. If the weather is in our favor we will be going to a Mountain Hut. If it is not, we’ll find something else.

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