When I first went to Magyarorszag – Hungary, just after the collapse of the Berlin Wall, I was taken aback by the impenetrable language, by the really ‘innocent’ charm of the people, and also the discovery of the beech clad hills of the northern borders remembers Bob Cranwell.


The Bukk and Zemplen mountains became a second home for me, I was ‘adopted’ by a wonderful family near Tokay, and I studied the trails and connections assiduously, as few locals trod those paths being within spitting distance of the Slovakian border.

One thing I had not really expected was the vastness of the Puszta, the plain which starts in Hungary, stretches through the Ukraine and southern Russia, skirting the Urals and continuing into the Steppes of Central Asia.

The space was spell-binding, and brought out an unaccustomed lyricism in my thoughts. Dehydration and a huge intake of Hungarian wine also contributed. And so I wrote this in a very ethereal state of mind . . . .

A fine dust lifts fitfully in spurts and curls, just clearing the tops of the grasses as we follow a faint path to a well, with a dipping beam and bucket. The air shivering, more distant from the shimmering heat bursting up from the landscape. Swallows soar around and among us, deftly hoovering up any and all insects disturbed by our passing. We walk steadily across the open plain, hardly seeming to make progress at all.

Seas move in sinuous lines, ever glinting, mingling with the air above, and with cold and fathomless depths, but this sea never moves, save to bristle against a stiffening wind, life only evident from the shuffling specks of sheep, aimless but for the shepherd’s staff.

In summer days, no bleary sun creeps and ekes its light out on this grassy plain. Rather, having sharply pierced a diaphanous dove-grey mist, will spread a dazzling power to beat the land, almost, to submission. A sweat-salted rime lies on my brow.

The hours move by, without a marker until waning heat subsides to a caressing warmth, the hard light of day dissolves to soft pastel hues, now lures your gaze to the ochre orb slipping between russet and lilac bands to seek its rest.

Night comes with its partner, the soothing, cooling breeze, coaxing life back into the brittle burned land. In scattered pockets of still air, moisture returns to the earth in spectral mists, erasing the unforgiving branding of the day.

By day swifts and swallows float and flit through quivering air, rising and colliding with cooler heights. A falcon hangs like a bolt of lightning, momentarily frozen over its land-bound prey. The suslik scans the horizon, across, bright black beads of eyes unblinking, for split seconds mean life or death, spots a feather shift, then dives out of harms way to another world beneath the salty soil.

No caravel or caravan now traverse these oceans of grass which stretch far beyond the sight of mortals. Puszta stands, enduring through summer’s aching heat and bone-wracking, tree cracking cold of winter. No vagaries of man or brute force of machine can make more than a brief imprint here. Except perhaps the horse-bound Magyar, with the merest flash of some khan’s hordes, hinting at a power shared only with the land.

A consciousness which spans millennia holds the horseman in his place, and safe in his place, through this eternity that aches for presence, but binds in solitude. Only those whose realm is in the air, or secret home beneath the earth, escape man’s dilemma of place, and of boundless freedom.


Horseman, in traditional dress, near Hortobagyi, Hungary.
Horseman, in traditional dress, near Hortobagyi, Hungary.

Catch yer later

Bob Cranwell, Amateur Emigrant


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