Shafts of golden light steal their way through branches of pine, spilling out across a pristine meadow surrounded by legions of ancient trees standing sentinel over the clearing. Purple dragonflies dance to a cacophony of chirrups and melodic tweets as brilliant white butterflies float effortlessly on the cool early morning breeze.
At the far end of the meadow great swathes of wild grass bow under the weight of fat orbs of water hanging from their tips, each holding a perfect reflection of the majestic scene before us. Sat by our motorhome, hands wrapped around fresh mugs of steaming coffee, it’s as if, somehow, we have been transported into a fairytale, half expecting to see little pixies fluttering past at any moment.
It’s not the first time on our travels that we’ve had this sense of being in an imagined world, but maybe it’s been the least expected. With temperatures on the coast of northern Turkey reaching the high thirties our plan was simple; find somewhere at higher elevation where it would be significantly cooler. What we hadn’t bargained for was the place that we found, Beşpınarlar Natural Park, would be so beautiful.
The woods surrounding our little campsite were carpeted with verdant green moss and an array of wild flowers, pockets of yellow and indigo adding vibrant bursts of colour to an already enchanting scene. Harrison’s discovery of wild strawberry plants brought much excitement, and soon, along with his sister, Dorothy, they were lost to the woods, gone foraging, free and full of happiness.
There’s a word in Japanese, shinrin-yoku, which translates to forest bathing, or taking in the forest atmosphere, where it’s been proven that time spent amongst the trees has great health benefits. Our daily forest wanders become medicine for the soul, each of us feeling calmer for the time spent together here, the sounds, sights and smells seeping into us with every step taken.
The unexpected beauty we had discovered extended well beyond the confines of our camp. Over the course of several days a series of hikes and bike rides deepened our appreciation for the area. Vast lakes and babbling mountain rivers were discovered almost by chance, as to an almost endless array of potential wild camping sports for those preferring to stay off grid.
Little hamlets of patchwork houses sprung up sporadically, our arrival always met at first with surprise but quickly replaced with joy as smiles from ladies tending to busy vegetable gardens beamed back at us. Farmers with weathered faces tended to their flocks while children chased chickens along dusty footpaths, the only sign of modernity coming from the occasional satellite dish haphazardly attached to the side of a house.
Through travel we have continually reminded ourselves that we don’t need much in life to be happy. In a world where so many seem to be chasing an unattainable ideal sold to us by marketing and feeding off the human desire to always have more, to not be left behind, we have found ourselves moving in the other direction, returning to a way of life that is more in tune with nature and focusing on experience and connection over attainment and division.
Perhaps this is why, as we ambled through the woods and the various little hamlets, we felt a deep sense of belonging, an affinity with the people we met and a longing to stay here for some time. It would be somewhat fallacious to say we are the same as the families for whom this region is home, given that they live a simple life out of necessity, whereas we have the luxury of choosing to live in such a way.
Yet travel, and understanding how little we need in life, has brought us closer to their way of life than that of the material driven western world we set off from on our journey. Quite where that journey will lead us over the coming months remains to be seen, with our only real plan being to reach Georgia and, all being well, Armenia. One thing is for certain though, Beşpınarlar Natural Park and its forest magic will remain in our hearts for a long time.
Where in the World: Beşpınarlar Natural Park is situated in Northern Turkey, sits at fourteen hundred metres altitude and is the perfect place to escape the world and head off grid.
How to Get There: Head east from Istanbul on the O-7 until you reach Bolu (around three hours drive). From Bolu follow signs for Seben, which will take you up a long mountain road. As you begin to descend on the other side you will see a signpost for ‘Mountrain’, turn left here and you are on your way to a truly magical corner of the world.
Where to Stay: There are two main options. Either the idyllic campsite that is part of Mountrain Outdoor Club, which is where we stayed, or any one of a number of wild camping options in the surrounding area. We paid the equivalent of €20 a night for a fully serviced grass pitch, with use of hot showers, toilets and black waste.