Gorce glades – sheperding in the Carpathian Mountains

Recently we took part in the travel festival “Festiwal Podróżniczy Śladami Marzeń” in our city of Poznań (17-19.02.2017). We had a lecture there about the Beskidy Mountains “Beskidy – góry z Tatrami w tle” (Beskidy – at the Tatra Mountains background). The post under the same title appeared on our blog shortly after our summer trip to the Beskidy and Gorce Mountains. Organisers of the festival decided to create a new category of lectures: travels in Poland, what aims of course at promoting our country and its interesting places. Noone has to explain that to us, we love Polish mountain trails, rivers and forests and we know that a lot of people appreciate native landscapes 🙂

Preparing the lecture I really wanted to say that in the Beskidy and Gorce Mountains there are wonderful glades and grasslands. Right, but that wasn’t really much to say. That they are beautiful everyone can see and that I love them doesn’t have to be interesting for everyone. I didn’t have specific knowledge and lacked essential information. We did saw the grasslands but we haven’t seen a single sheep in there. I have asked myself the question then: How is that possible not to use these wonderful grassy areas by shepherds and their flocks of sheep? The answer was simple: This is just impossible. This is how I had started my research about sheep farming in the Karpaty Mountains area.

It turned out that at the beginning of 20th century Gorce Mountains were the most important centre of sheep farming (right behind the Tatra Mountains) in Polish Carpathian Mountains. After the Second World War the sheep farming came back to the mountains but has never got back to its previous shape and it almost disappeared in the 90’s as a result of political and economic changes.

At the beginning I was mostly interested in Hala Długa below Turbacz mountain. Right there we read about some kind of model farms, that were created in the interwar time. Their purpose was to work on optimal farming methods in the mountains. Unfortunately, most of the buildings were destroyed, set on fire during the Second World War to unable the guerillas hiding there. At Hala Długa, there is also temporary shepherd’s hut, used at the time of culture pasture. I have read in few sources that the pasture came back to Hala Długa in 2003 thanks to Gorce National Park. It is true that pasture in that area is cultivated. And as I learned from the workers of Gorce National Park, the effect of pastured glades counts, not only the presence of shepherd himself (called baca in Polish mountains). Obviously the flocks of sheep had already gone downhill or moved to different grass areas when we were there.

It is not the only place where sheep pasture comes back. A project Karpaty Łączą supports and promote that forgotten branch of mountain economy. Thanks to cooperation of the project with Gorce National Park, a wonderful mountain hut was built at Przysłop Górny. Also, people from project Karpaty Łączą sent us guide books “Śladami tradycyjnego wypasu owiec” (“Following the traditional sheep pasturage”) that were given to the participants of the Festival. I have learned from it that ‘oscypek’ (a kind of cheese) is actually something else than I had thought and that a shepherd might be a woman also! Sheep pasturage is really an interesting subject, it is connected to the history, is a strong traditional and cultural aspect; it brings together the nature and people of southern Polish regions.

Bacówka na Przysłopie Górnym. Gorce.

So, grassy glades in the Gorce and Beskidy Mountains, are not only natural and landscape, natural value but also a cultural one.

There are many superstitions and traditions connected with sheperding. A sheperd (baca) himself was the most important person in the village. He was thought to be a medicine-man and charlatan, the person who knows the secrets of nature best, as he lived close to it. The most famous shepherd in the Gorce Mountain was Tomasz Chlipała, to whom even people from Cracow or Warsaw travelled asking for remedies. Baca long before spring ‘redyk’ (the time when he set off with his sheep to the mountains) he was preparing for his practices, almost as to shaman rituals. At Christmas Eve, the day that also indicated the day of spring ‘redyk’ he put a chain under the table cloth; that was supposed to ensure the indissolubility of sheep flock. Baca also took with him the knife that was used for cutting bread at the Chrismas Eve. Then, he buried the knife in the shed entrance in order to cut the bad spell cast on the sheep. He also burnt some herbs in order to keep illnesses away from the sheep and keep them milky. Also the holy salt of St.Agata he put into water, so it would keep the bad magic away from the sheep.

Previously, writing about Beskid Grzybowy at our blog, we found a link to Santa Claus. Here again I can refer to it. Saint Nicolas is said to be a saint who takes care over the wolves. It was believed that on the 6th of December he meets wolves from the Gorce Mountain and points sheep and cattle that they would be allowed to devour. What is interesting is the character known so well from the commercial world and his new significance. Mentioned and other superstitions are the common part of sheperding, and what is even more important, that they are pracised unchanged also today. I have talked to a real baca, Jarek Buczek from Ochotnica Dolna in the Gorce Mountain, who confirmed that these traditions are alive all the time.

Many thanks to Barbara Dąbek, from Karpaty Łączą project for her help in contacting Jarek Buczek, sending the guidebooks and reliable information. I would like to say thank you to people working for Gorce National Park for their information regarding Hala Długa and pasturage there. Working on the above text I used “Gorce. Przewodnik dla prawdziwego turysty.”, Rewasz publishing house and information from http://www.pasterstwokarpat.pl/.
And thanks to Rita and Drzony for some pictures from the Festival.


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