Český ráj, Czech Republic

The Castle of the Dark Knight

Forrest Mallard

You would think that if I am heading to the mountains to do some hiking that my posts would be rather brief and along the lines of: “Today was beautiful. I climbed a mountain. I’m tired now. I’m drinking beer.” But no. There is always so much more of the story to tell.

Location

Directions

Bohemian Paradise
aka Český ráj

Rock City Bohemian Paradise Český ráj Czech Republic

I felt like I rushed through my last post, there was so much more information I could have put in there, and I fear that this post will be the same. You see I’m in Prague now, and I am not letting myself go out and enjoy one of the most beautiful cities on the planet Earth until I catch up on my writing and my photo editing. So if you are reading this post, it means that I am out having a beer in Old Town, central Prague.

I left Bohemian Switzerland and transferred over to Bohemian Paradise.

Wikipedia summarizes this place simply as:

“Bohemian Paradise (Czech: Český ráj) is a Protected Area. It was declared in 1955 as the first nature reserve in the Czech Republic. It is almost 182 sqkm. This area is in the north of Bohemia and north-eastward from the capital city Prague. This piece of land is popular thanks to a beautiful and varied countryside. There are a lot of places which should be seen. People can go for a walk and admire many natural beauties; they can drive to many castles, chateaus, ruins, museums, and other sights.”

map of Rock City Bohemian Paradise Český ráj Czech Republic
Map of Český ráj Czech Republic

I had just experienced some ‘rock cities‘ (massive groupings of towering monolithic rocks) during my last stop, but Bohemian Paradise was supposed to be even better. The nature reserve there is so unique that it has UNESCO status as well. This was going to be amazing, but the daily walking requirements for me to get to everything I wanted to see in two days, was going to be massive.

Post Office Turnov Bohemian Paradise Český ráj Czech Republic
Turnov Post Office

I arrived in Turnov. A quaint little town, right in the heart of all of these adventure opportunities. The cheapest places to stay in town are small apartments. The only problem that I have though is, I have now been traveling for three weeks, and ever since I left Venice, not a single village has had laundry services available anywhere. So now I sort through my dirty clothes to pick the least vile garments to wear over the next three days until I get to Prague. (Maybe the odor will scare away the bears.)

My plan is to take the train out each day to the edge of Bohemian Paradise and hike back through the mountains, back to Turnov.

DAY 1

Best View of Frydstejn Castle Bohemian Paradise Český ráj Czech Republic
Frydstejn Castle

I took the train out to the village of Malá Skála. From there I had to hike an hour further out to get to the fabulous ruins of Frýdštejn Castle. Then I had to double back along a ridge to get to the romantic Valdštejn castle, perched on a cliff overlooking the town. Both of these castles are popular sites for local Czech tourists to visit. There was an admission of 50 Krowns ($2) to enter each site, and there had been a bit of investment in order to make these old buildings safe for visitors.

closer look at Valdstejn Castle Bohemian Paradise Český ráj Czech Republic
Valdstejn Castle

But my next location was going to be very different.

what it originally looked like castle zbirohy Bohemian Paradise Český ráj Czech Republic

I had found a mention of a ‘Castle Zbirohy‘ nearby, and I put the location into my GPS and started walking. It would take me 2 hours to arrive at the location, and along the way, I became lost and disorientated several times in the winding mountain paths. A few times, my GPS lead me to trails that were completely overgrown and I had to walk, bare-legged, through fields of stinging nettles before the path became visible again. After a bit of time, my legs were completely on fire, and the sensation was as if I had opened up arteries on both of my legs and I would soon be dead. In reality, my legs were just slightly pink and you could see that they were only a bit irritated. For those of you unfamiliar with stinging nettles, one little brush with one of their leaves will inject thousands of microscopic needles into your skin. So at this point, I must have had about 5 billion needles in my legs. I imagined myself as Prince Philip in Sleeping Beauty, having to conquer the wall of thorns in order to reach the castle.

the result of billions of needles from stinging nettles rubbing your legs Bohemian Paradise Český ráj Czech Republic

I arrive at the location on the GPS and I am in the middle of a small rock city. I walk in and around the boulders, through natural tunnels and climb up small hillsides, but I don’t see any signs of any castle. I begin to imagine that this is one of those castle ruin sites that time and nature has obliterated.

this is the guard tower that scared the crap out of me Bohemian Paradise Český ráj Czech Republic
The guard tower that scared the crap out of me.

Then, I happened to look up and there was a small, stone, guard tower perched on the top of a large rock just above me. It actually startled me. It had been sitting there like a ninja on the hill, but I hadn’t seen it. I thought that maybe that was the whole thing. Kind of disappointing, but kind of cool.

Castle Zbirohy Ruins Bohemian Paradise Český ráj Czech Republic
Castle Zbirohy Ruins

I walk a few steps further and I see a crumbling wall up on a hillside through the trees. I climbed the hill, squeezed through a hole in the wall, and suddenly I was in the heart of this amazing, eerie castle, all by myself. I was determined to explore every inch of this place and I found tunnels and basements that were still part of the structure. Just like discovering the abandoned mill a few days before, being alone in a place like this was incredibly thrilling. The slightest taste of being Indiana Jones and discovering something rare and special. Seeing the dwellings of the people that lived in these places centuries ago. How they carved out niches in the rocks to keep livestock and store water. This was once a thriving fortress.

In the basements of Castle Zbirohy Ruins Bohemian Paradise Český ráj Czech Republic
Castle Zbirohy Ruins – Basement

I stayed a long time. It was just this castle and me for over an hour. Nobody came by and interrupted us. This place isn’t on the tourist information for the area, yet it was actually my favorite experience in this entire region.

Information about these ruins doesn’t exist online, but after asking around in a local pub, I did learn some amazing stories about this great location. Zbirohy is perhaps a combination of the words “zbily = beaten up, killed // “roh” = rock, horn. Dates back to the 1300s. The walls still stand to about 10 meters high, there is a basement area you can walk through, and there used to be a moat around the main building. What I found the most fascinating was the legend that the locals associated with the castle.

THE LEGEND OF THE DARK KNIGHT: According to this legend, the Dark Knight was a nobleman, but also the leader of a gang of highwaymen or bandits. This gang occupied the castle and they were known for being brave and cunning, but also very cruel. He got the name ‘Dark Knight’ because of the color of his armor. After the bandits raided a group of travelers who had connections to nearby nobility, the powerful neighbors banded together to put a stop to the Dark Knight’s shenanigans, and they laid siege to the castle and killed all of its defenders. The last one to be killed, The Dark Knight, tried to escape by jumping off one of the tower walls, but he was captured and beheaded. To this day, The Dark Knight does not rest in peace and it is said that he roams the castle ruins as a dark cloud.

I am very glad I learned of this legend AFTER I roamed through the pitch black castle basements and tunnels, all by myself.

DAY 2

I was supposed to take the train all the way out to Castle Kost and from there it would be an incredible 9-hour walk back to town through the heart of the rock town at Prachovské Skály.

Long story short. I got off at the wrong stop. I waited almost 2-hours for my train transfer, which obviously didn’t come because I was at the wrong stop. By this point it was way too late to get to Kost Castle, so I take the train back to an area I can walk through the rock town, and then make it home by dark.

Ready for Prague!

It was awesome. Lots of rocks. Overwhelmingly beautiful, but at the same time, I was so ready for Prague.

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