Last week I went to Latvia. I spent most of the time in Rīga but I spent a day in the countryside at Sigulda. You’ll hear about that later. This story takes place during my day in Sigulda.
Thirty or so miles east of Rīga lies the Gauja National Park. Sigulda is a small town on the edge of it. Literally. I have seen valleys. I have seen gorges and canyons and glacier-carved Alpine valleys. I have never seen anything like the Gauja valley. The countryside is flat and covered in pine & birch trees, for miles. Then you get to Sigulda – and at the north end of town, this vast flat ground just drops away, into a valley fifty metres deep and a full kilometre wide with a wide and fast-flowing river in the bottom. You can walk down the steep road that winds down a cleft from Sigulda, cross the bridge and walk up one of the many paths but the easiest and prettiest way to traverse it is by the cable car.
So I did.
At the other side is Krimulda, which the guidebook sold as home of an interesting castle. Well, yes. It’s in ruins which doesn’t preclude it being interesting. What’s intact – and I use the word loosely – are the buildings that make up the former estate of Krimulda Manor.
It’s all crumbling and mouldering, it’s an abandoned, empty, sitting in the woods above a primeval valley and it’s terrifying. I know some people in some corners of the internet have an interest in deserted places that borders of fetishistic. These people have never been to a deserted village in the Latvian forest.
There’s a large wooden former boarding house called the Swiss Cottage. You know and I know that this is a murder house. There was a lady in the cable car with me who prowled its grounds, tried the side door, found it open and went inside. I know my job is to go after her and save her life from whatever’s lurking within. Internet, I fled.
I passed the rusted remains of greenhouse frames and went to the Manor itself. This, according to the info boards, is in the process of being transformed into a rehabilitation centre, with the aim of bringing leisure & tourism to Krimulda. Well, I can only assume this project is long-abandoned. The house is peeling and crumbling, the sunbathing garden and its 101 changing cabins (I assume that’s what they once were) are worse. This isn’t just scary now, this is Scooby Doo cartoon-scary. Which doesn’t make it less scary – it means all bets are now off in terms of logic, real life likelihood, laws of physics etc.
At the other end of the manor gardens, I stuck my head out into the village – well, it’s not a village, it’s just the rest of the estate. There’s a steward’s house, a granary, stables, a smithy and the servants’ houses. But I wasn’t going out there. I glanced at it, at ghostly cars sitting around with their lights on and decided I was running back to the safety of the cable car station. Not that it’s really a station. It’s a tower with stairs and balconies around the higher floors accessed by ground-level doors that are kept locked and the business end is just a jetty with a chain across it.
If you go on accommodation booking sites, you can stay at Krimulda Manor and it’s full of positive reviews. Personally, if I’d booked it and turned up at that door, I’d flee – probably beyond Krimulda, beyond Sigulda, beyond Rīga probably, back home and would never return to Latvia again. I wouldn’t be knocking, I wouldn’t be going inside. I said the other day that I’m a bit chicken and while my mum says I have an overactive imagination, I think she’d be even more scared than I was.