SiguldaAugust 4 in Latvia
Another great night enjoying the long summer evening was followed by an early morning start as I headed out of town to Sigulda for some mountain air. Sigulda is a small town overlooking the picturesque Gautama river in a national park, a heavily forested valley dotted with medieval castles, amazing views and the only bobsled track in the world open to the public, which was the clincher for the early morning effort. The train out to Sigulda went through endless forest, until I was finally deposited in Sigulda where I immediately hired a mountain bike and set off to explore the valley knowing that the bobsled track wasn’t open until after midday. Taking tracks through the forest I made my way down the valley sides until I reached the river and then followed the river upstream until I came across Gutmanis Cave, the largest cave in the Baltic’s and also the oldest tourist attraction in Latvia, evidenced by the huge number of carved inscriptions at its mouth, some dating back to the 17th century. To this day, local legend has it that the waters running out of the cave have healing properties, which explained the huge number of locals filling up water bottles while I was there.
Ascending the opposite side of the valley, I stopped a a few view points highlighting my final destination, Turaida Castle. Turaida Castle is one of four in the immediate vascinity, but the best preserved and dominates a bluff looking out over the valley. It is also part of the larger Museum Reserve, which included a number of museums and beautiful grounds with various view points. Back on the bike it was time to head back down hill, where I got into a bit of bother following a path, which turned into a series of steep stairs, but I eventually found my way back to town, via a couple of castle ruins and lunch while waiting for the cable car, which I was hoping would allow me to avoid the climb back up the other side of the valley. That hope proved to be dashed as my bike was refused entry and so it was one last hard slog back to town where I immediately headed to the aforementioned bobsled track.
Being summer there obviously wasn’t any ice, but you can still be taken down in a training sleigh (with wheels). Winter would have also had the added benefit of being able to ride in surplus sleds from the Sarajevo Olympics bobsled track, an abandoned track I had explored four years previously. Sigulda’s bobsled track was built in 1986 and was the only bobsled track in the Soviet Union. It is 1420 metres long, has 6 curves and has a maximum speed of 130km/h. I had heard about it the day before, and while I was sceptical that it was going to be more sedate than it sounded, I couldn’t not live out my Cool Runnings fantasy’s. It definitely wasn’t sedate! The only added safety feature was a loose lap sash and the fact you didn’t have top run and jump into the moving sleigh, but otherwise it’s just 3 tourists and a professional upfront steering. The briefing consisted of a simple command to ‘keep your neck and back strong’ and off we went. Approximately a minute later I was exhilarated, having been thrown about like a rag doll and feeling the sleigh sliding about while we were going round curves on the horizontal. It was awesome!Read more