The lack of human interference in these mountains is a charming quality. Wild animals make tracks us humans can use to explore the undisturbed scenery. The flora and fauna is rich in this biodiverse area, with many wild flowers, butterflies, birds, mushrooms, reptiles and animals.
Before the car age, these mountains were inhabited by lots of humans and the tracks were used frequently by man and beast and thus kept open. Retaining walls were built to prevent landslides, in the seemingly most inaccessible places on these steep mountainsides, and many natural spring watering holes built and maintained. Melanya is close by the old trade route used for thousands of years and there are black and white photos of town traders arriving on camels from the other side of the Mediterranean. A time forgotten but not that long ago.
The current road to our village was made in the 1950’s and only tarmac’d in 2014. Up until then the old trade route was very busy. Modern times and and machinery have led to an ‘easier’ life but there is a good feeling about living a step closer to nature. Surrounded by trees we will never be short of firewood but getting it from the forest to our woodburner takes a lot of effort. As residents we are allowed to take dead wood from these mountainsides but for the quality burn we can buy living oak trees. Lee is selective in his choosing to lightly thin a patch, instead of clear felling. As we’re only harvesting for firewood, opting for misshapen or poorly developed trees enables pristine trees to fully develop into quality timber in years to come. There are lots of self seeders but we also collect split acorns to nurture and plant on, to both replace the trees we cut down and prevent soil erosion.
Having worked in forestry and being an expert with a chainsaw, Lee has earned lots of respect here. In fact his abilities meant that when a forest fire was caused by a precarious fallen tree on the electricity cable, the onlookers (including the mayor, the police, the fire service, the head forester and the electricity company) all gave Lee the ‘honour’ of cutting down the dangerous tree. Of course the fire had already been contained and the power shut off!
Though nature is beautiful it also is ever-changing. The paths that were clear in early spring, when all the branches were bare and the ferns had shrivelled up and dried, are soon only useable by 4 legged animals with thick skins. Traversing these mountains becomes more extreme because of the evil thorns. So instead of wearing a suit of armour, I always go walking with my secateurs and regularly cut back the relentless bramble runners and rose hip tendrils.
The other benefit is we are free to manage the tracks and mark these routes, without red tape and politics, arguing over where we can or can’t put signs or stipulating what colour and format they should be. We have always been conscious of aesthetics and keeping harmony while making more accessible for visitors. Resident villagers and the mayor have been very welcoming of the idea and are keen to help promote the area. They have all lived here for so long they do not need them but when they use the routes they also help to keep them open. The villagers joke, saying now it’s ‘Melly’s mountains’ but all in good humour.
Fallen trees and landslides also keep me on my toes, plus every year I open up and mark a new route and I don’t just hack my way through like Indiana Jones! Branches are cut cleanly to lessen the impact on the tree or bush and stop diseases having easy access. There are so many tracks snaking about our village but the marked ones are human friendly so tourists can follow them or use the signs and maps as reference guides. Once you have got your bearings, a mountain that looks a great distance away can be reached in a few hours. The biggest plus-side for me is you can go wherever you like without being blocked by fences and ‘no entry’ signs. Nowhere is out of bounds in the Eastern Rodopes 🙂