Let Dunajec raftsmen ferry you centuries back.
All the photos from the gorgeous Dunajec Gorge show raftsmen taking tourists in wooden punts down the river running into white limestone rocks. And this is what we cordially invite you to try: a rafting adventure without excess of white waters, in the tranquillity of the whispering waves and tree branches.
What the photos cannot show though, are the centuries of tradition. Luckily, it will come to you from the mouths of their highlander guides.
For they are sons, grandsons, and in some cases even five times great-grandsons of the local raftsmen. The trade is passed from one generation to another, and only people from the local villages are allowed to spin their tales guiding the swift vessels down the Dunajec.
You may learn that in the olden days the lofty trees growing here were coveted by the great navies for their ships’ masts. It took courage, strength, and skill to manoeuvre the huge trunks tied together down the rivers to the Baltic shore 1000 kilometres away. The tale mentions all the times the young navigators had shove the rafts off the shallows wading in chilly water, the days when the cords broke, and the nights of highwayman attacks.
Those who completed the journey returned on foot, careful not to spend everything they earned rafting wood. That is why highlander caps are decorated with just one line of small seashells – a proof you’ve been to the shore and returned safely and a reason for the wearer’s pride.
This is just one of the tales that grace the trip, others speak of the origins of the curiously shaped group of rock heads –
But perhaps it’s better to listen to those stories being rafted down the Dunajec. More information and the details about the trip taking you far back into history and into the heart of pristine national park can be found here.
The raftsmen are quite likely responsible for the word “spruce” making way into English. When the British merchants came to Gdańsk, they asked what the powerful trees they needed for the masts of the king’s navy were. Not suspecting that some folks may recognise a smrek when they see one, they guessed they were asked where they come from. Z Prus, panocku, z Prus was the answer. And this is how the spruce got its English name.
When Józef Szalay, owner of Szczawnica, the spa at the end of today’s rafting trip, took the first visitors down the Dunajec Gorge 150 years ago, the rafts were accompanied by cannons announcing their passage, and with bands playing music.