Trip duration: 3 days | Approx cost: £150 inc flights and accom| When: Sep
Doinit factor: When someone tells you to go to Hel you can reply “been there, done that”
Occasionally in life I’ve been told to go to Hell. I’m sure they all meant I should visit a small town of Hel which lies at the end of a 35km peninsular in the Baltic Sea. Taking their suggestion to heart, I’ve booked a cheap flight for Friday 13th with the intention of walking the entire length of the peninsula, to Hel; but will I make it back?
Our adventure sees us fly into Gdansk after work, late on Friday night. Importantly we’ve enough time for a wander through the old town and to grab a kebab and a pint before we turn in. I reluctantly set my alarm for 7am, but we’ve a train to catch, so an early start it is.
It’s a short walk to the station where we board the 8.18 to Władysławowo. This is where our walk begins; the start of our long walk to Hel. We jump out at the edge of town, with not much around apart from some warehouses and boats on dry dock. There is no station as such, just a platform by the town’s port. We head Eastwards beside the rail track before we see a path which crosses the rails and leads into the woods.
Above: Dropped of at the platform and our hike begins
With such a narrow stretch of land there’s not much room to get lost. As-long as the beach stays to our left, and the rail track to our right, we’ll be heading in the right direction for now; South-East straight to Hel. The trail is wide and occasional we’re passed by joggers and cyclist. It’s a windy day and the tall trees slowly sway high above and the constant sound of waves breaking from the nearby beach is enough to tempt us to climb a sand dune to take a look.
Along the peninsula there are a handful of small towns and campgrounds; this narrow bit of land is a popular holiday spot for many Poles. It’s around 90 minutes of walking before we reach the small town of Chalupy. We’ve covered almost 7km so it’s a good time and place to take a break and grab an early lunch. After a lovely bowl of Pierogi with sour cream we head back into the woods for another 90 minute stage of walking to the next small town, Kuzica. It’s a little over half way for today’s walk, so it’s a good location to stop off for another short refreshment break.
We head out of town, this time walk on the inner side of the peninsula, where most of the villages face. There is hard path for cyclists, but it lacks the charm of the forest trail. The wind is really strong here as it bellows against our bodies pushing us towards our route. There’s what seems like 100’s of kite and wind surfers in the waters which are clearly in their element, relishing every gust. However, for us on dry land, its less fun and we decided to cut back into the forest trail for some shelter.
Above: Nice variable scenery as we walk to Hel
With being so close to the beach, temptation finally overwhelms us as we make the ‘wrong’ decision that it would be nice to walk along the shore. Anyone who’s walked along sand in boots will tell you it’s not practically fun, or easy but we’re committed. Truth be told in some parts the sand was compacted enough as not to cause to much nuisance, but the occasional gust of wind would painfully coat our faces in fine grains and at least it’s not as windy as the other side.
The beauty of the beach is undeniable, we’re the only ones as far as the eye can see, white sand, rough seas, waves crashing and a green tree line swaying close bye, as we continue our walk. Of course eventually we’re convinced yet again its best to progress through the forest, sheltered from the wind and flying plumes of sand grains.
We reach Jastarnia by 5pm. With over 4,000 inhabitants it’s one of the larger towns on the peninsula and where we’ll be spending the night. It being mid September many of the tourists are gone and the streets look rather quiet, and by 10pm everything looks closed. This probably being a good thing as it will mean no late night drinking, and early morning hangovers!
Above: Stunning, windswept beaches with no souls other than us about
Our second day starts at a respectable 10am, and after a loaded pancake breakfast it’s time to continue our journey to Hel. There’s one other town between us and Hel, and with it only being about 45 minutes away it’s to soon to stop and have lunch so we’ve picked up a few supplies to keep us going. The walk is nice, over mounds of dunes, swaying trees and vegetation as the trail links the two towns.
The day continues with us mostly walking through the woods and along the rail track; occasionally coming across one of the many bunkers which have been built here over the first and second world wars. It’s lunchtime so we stop to take a break next to one of these large mounds of earth engulfed in vegetation. There is an overgrown entrance; basically a hole in the ground and we can’t help but attempt to explore one of these bunkers. It’s pitch black inside, but thanks to our torches we can see there’s not much inside, apart from a swarm of hungry midges. I can’t help but wonder how many unsuspecting tourists have unwittingly provided a meal for these pesky beasts. With not much keeping us down there, its a quick escape above ground and into the daylight.
Later in the day as we get closer to Hel we come across a disused narrow gage railway and continue via the rail tracks. It’s rather eerie as we pass discarded military scrap metal and what looks like piles of aircraft fuel tanks. Eventually we’re forced off the rail track by a barbed wire fence with intimidating signage indicating a military area.
Above: Exploring bunkers and abandoned rail tracks
Approaching Hel the trail gradually begins to merge with the road and it soon becomes clear we’re a almost reached our destination as we pass a sign welcoming us to Hel; a great photo opportunity! Hel is the largest town on the peninsula; with plenty of restaurants and, loads of little shops and stalls that you’d expect from a popular seaside resort town. In and around town are museums dedicated to the past military significance as well the towns’ fishing heritage. For us it’s a visit to Sealatrorium, a seal sanctuary and research center run by Gdansk University.
Above: We’ve made it to Hel and one of the first things we want to see are the seals
Hel is certainly a lovely little town, which as yet hasn’t taken advantage of the coincidental name sake it shares with the place of fire and brimstones. I did hope to find a tacky post card which noted us having ‘made it Hel(l)’ complete with little devils but none are to be found. However, I do completely understand; if I lived here I probably wouldn’t want to be constantly playing up to an immature joke only English speakers will get. So after having made it to Hel, it is time to get back out. We’ve got options, bus, train, walk? And while the last option is tempting – not, we head to the towns harbor to book passage on the ferry which sails to the mainland town of Gydina from where we’ll be able to get a train to the airport. Its been a great long weekend, and jokes aside about visiting Hel(l), the walk whilst long was incredibly rewarding and enjoyable.
Above: Hel is a nice pleasant place, no fire or brimstones