Day 24 – Into the Iron Gates Gorge

The wonderfully Tolkienesque named Iron Gates Gorge, sparked my imagination when first I checked to see what delights the Danube had to offer. Wild, relatively untamed landscape at a large scale, at least by European standards. A narrowing of the Danube river where a huge volume of water is channelled into a steep gorge between the Carpathian mountains to the north, and the Balkan mountains to the south. The river narrows to just 150m at one point, you can shout to someone across the river in Romania, and is about 80m deep; for a river, that is exceptionally deep. Limestone cliffs towering to 500m above the river in places.

For centuries this was the most difficult navigational section of the Danube, and is a region steeped in history. It is easy to understand how with the waxing and waning of empires and the ebb and flow of different colonisations this gorge was a tumultuous place, caught in the crosshairs for its strategic importance.

The construction of a dam downstream in the 1960s has risen the water level, and tamed the flow somewhat. It also resulted in the disappearance of homes of 17,000 people, and the flooding of an island that was home to a community of ethnic Turks. It also permanently disrupted the spawing of several species of Sturgeon, including the Beluga Sturgeon. A monster 500kg specimen was caught here once, but such wonders are now a thing of the past.

Speed boats and pleasure craft now ply the waters taking tourists up through the gorge. I saw the gorge from a different perspective, from a road that snakes around the southern side, passing through tunnels then rising to a vantage point with a wonderful view. Cycling, I think, is a good way to see it, for the vistas unfold slowly, with a slighty different perspective at each turn, and the rise and fall of the road are felt in your legs.

At one vantage points, I noticed there were lizards basking on a sunny bank. I tried sneaking up on a couple, to get close to them, but had no success. They beat me at this game. At one place, where there was a cluster of thistles growing along the road, butterflies were attracted to the blooms. I spotted a good few Cardinal butterflies, which I think is Europe’s largest fritillary, and the spectacularly vivid orange, Scarce Copper, both magnificent butterflies. There was also a very dark skipper which was camouflaged really well on the dark earth. It might have been a Dingy Skipper, but much darker than the ones we get at home.

A couple of geologists with hammers tapped away at a rock face at one place. I read that a key focus of the National Park here is on geology, as it displays many interesting aspects of the areas geological past. Although I am a geographer I never managed to get a solid foundation in geology, so it holds little interests for me.

From the last vantage point, it was downhill and out of the gorge with Romania off to the left in a wide arc. It was there I was heading, crossing the border along the dam. I was a bit perplexed when the Serbian Border Officer took out a magnifying glass and scrutinised my passport; I was hoping the quality of work of the lads in the Irish Passport Office was up to scratch! It was, apparently, and I escaped to freedom.