I’m driving through the Bükki National Park, 400 km² of mountains, caves and forests. The road winds up and round, up and round, hugging the contours of the hills. It’s late afternoon and I’m looking for a place to park up before it gets dark. Dark falls quickly up here, and I don’t want to be navigating these twists and turns in low light. Every kilometre or so, I happen upon a lay-by or picnic area. Not only are they a little too close to the main road, they are usually littered with rubbish and a magnet for nocturnal animals.
It cannot be denied: Hungary is flat. The Great Hungarian Plain, an area of 50,000 km² East of the Danube, forms over 50% of the country’s landmass. But don’t let this fool you. Here in the north of the country, the land rises to meet the Slovakian border where lay rolling hills and small mountains. The highest is Mt Kekes in the Matra hills. At 1015 metres, it’s about the size of Snowdon.
I spot a little track which takes me a hundred yards away from the road. It’s perfect and I set up the camera to prepare for sundown. Archie is in his element. He thinks we’re hunting game, and keeps running off, bringing back sticks or leaves, panting with joy. When it’s time to make photographs, he sits down patiently next to me, keeping watch. Noises that can only be described as primal howls (wild boar?) echo through the hillside. At dusk, with a slight chill on the breeze, and a little mist in the air, we make our way silently back to the car. It’s all a little eerie.
The morning brings thick mist and I capture photos of horses that are roaming freely on the hillside. A family arrive with all manner of hand-powered and electrical saws. Grandma, mum and dad, and kids troop deep into the forest. They don’t look twice at us parked on the hill in our seven metre long motorhome.
Time to move on. As we progress down into the valley, the mist clears and it’s an easy run to Hortobágy National Park, an 800 km² area in Eastern Hungary. It is a steppe, a grassy plain with cattle tended by herdsmen. The skies are incredible, huge swathes of brilliant blue filled with slowly moving cloud that form 2/3rds of your perspective. At sunset, when the air is more favourable and insects are abundant, thousands of birds soar above the grass, swooping and diving, chasing each other. Their exuberance and freedom fills me with joy.
It’s always hard to move on from something like this but I’m sure Romania has some equally fantastic sights. The Transylvanian hills are calling, with their crazy mountain roads and daunting hillside castles. Onwards.