Monday, 9 February 2015

Fairy Reserve

I stumbled across the fairy reserve near my home last Autumn. I wanted a short walk and decided I would go into the hills above Horice Na Sumave. Originally it was my intention to just walk up to the open-air theatre which is home to the annual Horice Passion Play, but I saw signs to the fairy reserve and my interest was piqued. My other motivation was that the signs were pointing towards a wooded hill, and in Autumn Czech woods mean mushrooms.

At the edge of the wood was a red and white toll both, closed now, but the price list was still visible. Underneath was some graffiti in English: “I want to believe...” There were other signs in various parts of the wood. One read that it was forbidden to go under the mushrooms. A signpost's two arrows pointed “This way” and “There”. This was all that remained of a time in the summer holidays when the reserve had been full of children entertained by actors playing fairytale characters. Now I was alone to imagine their fun, or maybe the fairies just weren't showing themselves.

I wandered around the hill following in places a pilgrimage trail with its stations of the cross up to a ruined chapel and the top of a ski-slope. The chapel walls were destroyed by explosives in the 1960s. Grass grew between the stone paving stones and the winding head of the ski-lift stood rusty against the blue sky. Again here was a place that once thronged with people processing up from the small town, but now was empty.

Turning back, I started to notice strange formations of small rocks and twigs among the trees. Leaving the path, I looked closer and found that they were miniature settlements, made by the children for the fairies. I looked up and saw horn of plenty mushrooms pushing through the leaf litter. I thanked the fairies and filled my basket, before walking home.

A week or so later two of my customers, a husband and wife from Texas, were doing the South Bohemia Self-guided Walking Holiday. As I was free I offered to give them a guided walk. I took them to the fairy reserve and the ruined chapel. I explained to them the very Czech love of fairy tales, of how television dramatizations of fairy tales made in the sixties and seventies are part of every family's Christmas TV viewing, of how adults would talk with a straight face about fairies and other spirits, and I told the story of the builder who put milk out to appease the threshold fairies. When I told them that I was thinking of writing an insider's guide to the Czech Republic, they urged me to do so, saying that you would never find anything about fairies or their reserves in a normal guide book.

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