The path to Pekel (Hell) and back

What’s in a name? Why would a place be called ‘hell’? I am curious. What is/has happened there for this name to be given?

The road ends, morphing into a parking area squeezed between very steep hillsides. I hear water. Rushing water. Crashing water. I see green, shades of green, in every direction. Spots of yellow. Leaves turning and falling. The only respite from greenness is the Gostilna, a charming building of brown timbers and snow-white walls, adorned with an extravaganza of window-boxed flowers in every colour imaginable. I smell the aromas of forest floor, damp and dank, of air sweet with the scents of tangled flora. Not really hell, I would have thought!

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Then I see the sign. DANGER. Treacherous path. Closed between waterfalls 3 and 5 due to summer rains. Five waterfalls. I look up. All I can see are trees stretching endlessly and determinedly upwards. At this point the path seems innocent enough. The path hugs the tumbling, frothing stream. Protruding rocks remind me that great care is needed with footwork. Gently I touch the tree trunks, the mosses and lichens, brushing my fingers across their textured surfaces, feeling their fragility and their strength. This is their place, they know no other. They coexist in harmony. The path becomes steeper. Narrow wooden bridges crisscross the stream, as do fallen trees – debris from the freak winter ice “storm” that devastated a large part of Notranjska. Progress is slow. I can see the first waterfall. And I know my limitations! I have no intention of being a rescue statistic. Further on, I am told, the only way up is to claw and climb. An average of one rescue a week takes place during the summer months. Pekel. Hell. I think I’m getting the picture. The irony is – it’s pretty difficult to get there!!

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It could be folklore, or there could be a grain of truth in it: in the days when smuggling, eg salt, from the Adriatic to Ljubljana and beyond was a lucrative if not daring and dangerous business, this gorge presented one hell of a challenge – five vertical waterfalls and fingernail -clinging climbing. It is said that Martin Krpan (a hero of Slovenian literature) himself passed through here. Easily, I presume, given his physical strength and lightness of heart!

Pekel is on the southern side of Ljubljansko Barje (Ljubljana marshes) some 25km SW of Ljubljana. Nearby are Bistra, Mocilnik and Vhrnika. Bistra is home to the Technical Museum of Slovenia. Housed in a beautifully restored, former 13th Century Carthusian monastery it showcases forestry, woodworking, hunting, fishing, electrical engineering, textile, printing, traffic, and agricultural departments.

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Mocilnik is one of two sources of the Ljubljanica River, where water literally flows forth from rock. In three places that I could see. Unbelievable. The volume and the pressure. This whole area is on the opposite side of the range to Lake Cerknica.

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Vhrnika, a large town, is now home to a reasonably new brewery on the Slovenian scene, The Human Fish, established by an Australian/Slovenian duo producing a small range of draft only beers.

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