I have always been interested in medieval defensive fortifications such as castles, towers, and fortresses. These places, apart from a dose of history, also hide a lot of secrets and keep the imagination going. Which in turn is a great inspiration for creating and painting models or playing Warhammer Fantasy Battles.
In order to recharge myself with positive energy and a desire to be active in the hobby, I decided to go to a beautiful and picturesque region of Poland known as the Polish Jura. This area stretches across the Krakow-Częstochowa Upland, rich in limestone rocks, numerous caves, and the very heart of my trip - castles. Interestingly, the aforementioned buildings are located in fairly close proximity to each other. This has its basis in the history of these lands. They determined the border between the Kingdom of Poland and Silesia. It was a disputed land with the Kingdom of Bohemia in the 14th century during the reign of Polish King Ladislaus the Short and his son Casimir III the Great. For defensive reasons, they decided to reinforce the border with the aforementioned castles or fortresses, which would warn of enemy invasions. The limestone rocks and upland areas naturally helped to accomplish this task. Interestingly, there is a saying concerning King Casimir III the Great: "He found Poland wooden and left it brick". I will not write here about his various contributions to the kingdom; for there are indeed many. I would like to focus on reform of the armed forces, and more specifically on defence construction. In his time, many castles, fortresses and town defensive fortifications were built of stone, mainly limestone, which provided a much better defence than palisades or walls made of wood. Most of these castles can be found on the Eagles' Nests Trail. Unfortunately, I did not manage to visit all the places, but I do not regret it. I can always go to these areas again and discover them anew. It is worth mentioning that the trail itself is possible to cover in several ways: on foot, by bicycle, by car, and even on horseback. In other words, there is something for everyone.
On my map, the first place I visited was the ruins of the Olsztyn Royal Castle (14th century). Unfortunately, as a result of various wars and military conflicts, the walls of the residential part, the cylindrical (bergfried) and square (Starościańska) towers, fragments of the walls of outbuildings, partly the cellars and the foundations of the forge and traces of smoky furnaces, discovered during archaeological research, have survived to this day. Although the castle is far past its prime, it still impresses with its size. You can see its ruins from afar, and in the area in front of the castle you can lie down on the grass and relax. If you want to see the town of Olsztyn and its surroundings, it is worth climbing the tower, which is available for visiting. In addition, the castle panorama itself can be admired from an observation point in the Sokole Góry (Falcon Mountains) nature reserve near the town. The reserve itself is rich in limestone rocks and is a great place for climbing and walking. On the way to my overnight stop, I also visited the Raczynski Palace in the village of Zloty Potok. It is not a medieval building, as the structure itself was built in the 19th century, but it is associated with the Polish poet, playwright, and prose writer - Zygmunt Krasiński. It now houses a regional museum associated with him.
The second day started with a visit to the Pieskowa Skała castle in the Prądnik valley. On the way there, we could admire more Jurassic formations in the form of limestone outliers. The most noteworthy was the Hercules Mace measuring over 25 meters in height. Its shape is supposed to resemble the mythical weapon of the aforementioned hero, and this is where it got its nickname. It is one of the best known rocks in the Jura Krakowsko-Częstochowska region, and over the years, it has often changed its name, and each of them has been associated with a legend. One of them concerns a warlock named Twardowski, who was said to have given his soul to the devil, giving rise to the name of the Devil's Rock. Another legend concerned Prince Krak, who used this mace to slay a dragon, and the rock itself was named after the prince. As I mentioned earlier, the next point for the day was the castle at Pieskowa Skala. Its origins date back to the 14th century, and the building was said to have been commissioned by none other than King Casimir III the Great. The history of the castle itself is turbulent. After all, it was transformed into a Renaissance residence in the 16th century; then it was destroyed during the Swedish Deluge and later consumed by fire. This happened twice. The second time, the fire destroyed its older part. Fortunately, the castle was rebuilt, but it had already lost its medieval character. Today, it is a branch of the Wawel Royal Castle. During a visit to Pieskowa Skała Castle, you can see several exhibitions, such as History of Pieskowa Skała, the Gallery of British Painting and European Art from the Middle Ages to the Interwar Period. You can see some of the art exhibits in the video. In addition, the building was the shooting location for many Polish films. The courtyard of the castle is also noteworthy, surrounded by cloisters with a protruding loggia. I really liked the mascarons, which gave the castle a fantastic and somewhat fairytale atmosphere. In addition, you can climb to the observation deck on one of the bastions, which offers a beautiful view of the Prądnik valley.
After a quick rest, I set off for Ojców National Park - the smallest park in Poland. However, its size does not matter. What matters is the variety of flora and fauna that can be found here and the multitude of limestone rocks. The area itself abounds in numerous caves, which are loved by bats. Interestingly, as many as 11 species of these mammals live here. Among them, I found a favourite of mine with a very funny name: the greater mouse-eared bat. Hmm... I think I'll really start playing the Vampire Counts army. I'm already thinking about a swarm of bats. Speaking of which, I couldn't resist a trip to the Kings Łokietek's cave, which has a legend attached to it. The future king of Poland, Ladislaus the Short (Władysław Łokietek), is said to have hidden there. He took refuge there from the army of Wenceslas II, King of Bohemia. An important role in the legend was played by the cobweb at the entrance to the cave, which was supposed to mislead pursuit and prove that no one was inside, while Łokietek and his knights got inside through an opening in the upper part of the cave. The tour is only possible with a guide, and the cave itself is open for tourists. I am a person who dislikes spiders and avoids them like fire. When I heard that the cave is home to the meta menardi, considered to be the most venomous spider in Poland, I began to wonder if I really wanted to enter. Fortunately, the guide lady enlightened us that the spider is only found at the exits and entrances, not in the middle of the caves, and the bite itself is similar in its effects to a hornet sting.
In the park itself are the ruins of Ojców Castle (14th century). Its condition is supervised by the management of the Ojcow park, thanks to which it has been possible to preserve the remains of this magnificent structure, and to carry out a number of repair and revalorisation works. You can visit the gate tower, the castle square, and the defence tower. In the bastion there is a multimedia exhibition (also in English), where you can listen to the history of the castle. In the park itself, there are quite a few dining places, where I recommend trying the rainbow trout from the farm ponds located in this area.
I am a person who enjoys being surrounded by trees and forests. I like nature and enjoy going for longer walks, so the third day was filled with hiking in the Kobylanska and Bedkowska valleys. Both are well known to rock climbing fans due to the large number of outliers that are ideal for this. If you are in the Będkowska Valley, there is much to explore and admire. In addition to the rocks themselves, such as the largest Sokolica or the Devil's Gate, you can rest there on the banks of the Szum waterfall or in the many glades located around the rocks.
The last day on the Eagles' Nests Trail was dedicated to further exploring the castles and returning home. Along the way, I managed to visit four castles. The first was the ruins of the Rabsztyn Castle (14th century). Its Gothic character was later changed by subsequent owners, and it acquired the late Renaissance appearance of a palace. Inside, you can see a model with a reconstruction of the castle in its glory days. Its remains are protected and knightly tournaments and shows are now held there.
The next fortress visited that day was the ruins of the famous castle in Ogrodzieniec in Podzamcze. Why famous, you may ask? Well, it was here that the Battle of Sodden from the Witcher series was filmed. The castle itself dates back to the 14th-15th century. Its remains are protected and partly reconstructed. In the inner yard there is a Knights' Inn and several souvenir stalls. There is an entrance fee, but it is really worth it as there are quite a few rooms to explore. In each of them there are plaques indicating what used to be there. A great dose of history and inspiration for making models. In addition, various events are often held in front of the castle, knightly tournaments, battle demonstrations, festivals, and even weddings. I even had the opportunity to practice archery. For the first time in my life, I might add. I'm far from an excellent shooter, but I learned a lot and I have to admit that it's not as easy as it seems.
Not far from the castle is a reconstructed, medieval-style settlement (gord) on Mount Birów, where tourists can see thematic displays and artefacts found during archaeological work.
The next stop on the Eagles' Nests Trail was the ruins of the Mirów Castle (14th century), which is currently undergoing reconstruction. It is not open to the public, but you can see it from the outside and take a walk along the designated path to the second castle in Bobolice, just a few kilometres away from the Mirów fortress. The Bobolice Royal Castle is in private hands. It originally dates back to the 14th century, but was rebuilt and opened to tourists in 2011. Inside there are several chambers with the private collections of the owners. From its walls there is a beautiful view of the surrounding area. This was the last castle on my tour. Tired but satisfied and with a head full of ideas and history, I returned home. I did not manage to visit all the attractions on the Trail of the Eagles' Nests, but thanks to this I am already drawing up another plan for a trip next year.