Friday, August 28, 2015

On the shores of the Baltic - the sandstone cliffs of Vidzeme

As I mentioned in my previous post, the section of Baltic Sea coast between Tūja and Vitrupe is known for a rocky seashore, with unusual boulder clusters, rocky headlands, cliffs, bluffs, small grottos, pillars and other natural formations. As fun and scenic as the Lauču rocks were, I was unprepared for the fascinating shoreline just 10 miles north. We cruised up the A1 (the Rīga/Talinn freeway) until Lapsiņas, where we turned west towards Rankuļrags and Mantiņi. Once again our destination was well-posted, and about 4 miles later we arrived at the Veczemju klintis (translates to “Oldworld Cliffs”).

Similar to Lauči, the area has been groomed into a camping/recreation site. As it is private property you do have to pay to park, but with the attendant on duty we felt safe leaving the car there for an extended period of time. A restaurant, snack & coffee shop and other facilities are available, and picnic tables are located throughout. Visitors can descend stairs to the beach, or continue along the road to reach the boardwalk that accesses the cliffs. The boys opted to walk the beach while I continued down the forest road, inhaling the scent of the rich deciduous and pine-spruce forest that is so typical of the Baltic seacoast.

The Veczemju klintis are the most impressive and imposing sandstone cliffs of the Vidzeme rocky seaside and part of the “Vidzeme stony beach” nature reserve, which comprises a 7.5 mile-long stretch of shore. The 20 foot-tall, magnificent red sandstone formations stretch two tenths of a mile, with caves, arches, and patterns of all colors. This is the only place in Latvia where 350-380 million year old sandstone outcrops can be seen, and the visible evidence of the last glacial period dates back 10-13 thousand years. Despite the centuries-old reputation of these cliffs, the appearance of this section of shore supposedly changes noticeably with each storm, the relentless waves carving out new sculptures in the soft sandstone for a unique landscape every year.

I could have spent days photographing the colors and patterns, watching the cliffs change hues over the course of the day as the sun passed overhead. We searched for driftwood and pieces of sea glass among the pebbles, giving the boys freedom to explore and play. When the sun got to be too much we retreated into the shade of the cliffs, the cool, salty breeze eventually urging us back into the sun.

When it came time to leave, instead of turning the car back around the way we came we decided to continue north – a fortuitous choice. For Americans, it was the difference between choosing Highway 1 over Interstate 101 when driving up the Pacific coast... What we lost in time driving on an unimproved, narrow and curvy road, we more than made up for with sheer beauty of our surroundings. With frequent glimpses of the ocean, the cliffs and the beach (so tempting to forget the evening’s plans and return to the water!), we wound our way through pine forest and meadow before intersecting the A1 near Meleki and the Lielurga river. And then we were once again traveling at a good clip, eyes peeled for a place to eat dinner as we approached Salacgrīva…

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