Bulgarian beach bums.


    My perception of beauty is different to yours.

    In fact, my idea of what’s beautiful will be different today than what it was yesterday.

    In Vama Veche, the Romanian hippie resort, there was little that caused an adoring intake of breath as you stared across the cacophony. But it was fun.

    In Kamen Bryag, only 40 kms south in Bulgaria, there are so few people, they could join us for tea in the van.

    And it is utterly beautiful.

    High limestone cliffs drop straight to the sea.

    The clear, sparkling sea.

    The scrub looks barren at a glance, but close inspection brings so many interesting plants into focus.

    Crabby swim.

    The 50m descent to the water is challenging everywhere that I’ve tried. One route favoured by the local kids is a simple rope ladder that drops frighteningly over the edge. 

    The way I took was hard, and getting into the water was harder, but it was worth it. As I slipped into the sea I came face to face with more crabs than I have ever seen. I’m talking thousands of crabs. All black. Most were palm sized, but a few were much bigger, probably 20cms across.

    A fair drop to our swimming spot.

    Aerial view.

    I have a grumpy old man approach to drone photography.

    I resent the annoying buzzing and the intrusion, but enjoy the results. 

    Right now I’d love to take some aerial shots of the van sitting on our cliff top.

    I need to get used to drones, I’m sure there’ll be more everywhere before we finish our travels. 

    Eternal flame?

    We’re parked near a cairn that surrounds a burning rock.

    Online research hasn’t pulled up anything useful to suggest where the gas comes from that’s burning here.


    It’s a fitting spot for the many memorial stones to young people. The stones ask why they died. Did they jump? Did their cliff dive go wrong?

    One of many cliff edge memorials.


    The evening air has a thick sweet scent from the figs growing in the cliffs, balanced by a salty tang.

    The sleep was a beautiful thing despite the crickets’ symphony and sea’s backing track, which, if it were industrial, would be considered a racket. 

    Kavarna cliffs.


    The maritime city of Varna is the country’s third largest, and apparently an interesting place, but the heat had been bearing down for a good while and I needed rest not culture.

    After weaving through the busy city with the gauge nudging 36 degrees (it hit its all time high of 39.5 earlier in the drive) we crossed the high bridge over Varna’s port and dropped to the town beach. 

    It’s an utter contrast to last night’s tranquillity.

    Several miles of good sand is lined with umbrellas and sunbeds with masses of free parking and cars dumped everywhere.

    Late evening, Varna town beach.

    The unreliable nature of memory

    Writing this now my memory of the stop is good. After a swim and lots of time in the shade we gradually cooled down, we had a beer, life was good again. 

    Had I dared open the laptop soon after we pulled up I’d have told a very different story, laden by heat, dragged down by lethargy and frustrated by the seeming chaos of a traffic system I don’t understand. 

    Fortunately memory focuses on the end point of an experience, taking mere snapshots along the way. Were it not so would people ever push themselves? Think of the gruelling mountain hike that ends in a cosy pub where the first pint hits the spot like no pint has ever done before.

    Think of something as simple as a winter sea swim. Frankly it’s hell, but the adrenalin rush after makes it close to addictive.

    Showing your wealth.

    Here’s a thing. In the photo below the area to the right is the VIP section.

    The VIP section has the same sun beds, the same umbrellas, the same sand and the same sea. But it’s twice the price.

    The area on the right is packed compared to the left.

    Because I can… Balchik.


    Minty just asked if I’d like garlic with my breakfast scrambled eggs. Silly question. I’d like garlic with everything.


    The 200 or so miles of the Bulgarian coast is so varied.

    At Byala we’re parked over a bay that’s perhaps a mile and a half long. The otherwise placid Black Sea crashes relentlessly into the golden sandy beach. The backdrop of scrub is thick with berries. 

    There’s a soft sweet smell from the dry meadow grass.

    Evening light, Byala.

    Cultivated areas are all given to vines. The grapes are now swelling, but far from sweet, bite one and the sour taste sucks the moisture from your mouth. 

    Nut brown sinewy old men work their way through the vines, pruning, loading the cuttings onto horse drawn wagons. The temperature rises. They start at dawn and finish around mid day by which time it’s in the mid thirties.

    Rocky road.

    Getting here was one of the more challenging ArchieVan adventures.

    The sandy track winds for a few miles after a nothing village. The van frequently leans at uncomfortable angles. Traction isn’t a problem, yet, it’s all downhill. Meeting anything coming the other way doesn’t bear thinking about. Nor does rain.

    I drove further in first gear than I’ve done before, but we made it and the reward was instant.

    Byala is a particular place attracting particular people.

    Byala, it’s a way of life.

    It’s wild. 

    There is nothing but the beach and the sea.

    No signal. No electricty.

    There are camps on and near the beach that look like people have been living there for months. Apart from the many tents there has been serious thought given to comfort. My favourite structure was a suspended bed, its sturdy frame draped with linens and the sleeping platform hanging by four ropes. I didn’t take a photo for fear of giving its naked inhabitant the wrong idea.

    On a Polly walk I came across a Mad Max hamlet on the cliff edge, complete with an aerial chair swinging out over the drop to the sea luck some medieval ducking stool. Dwellings built from whatever they could find. Walls were fabric as often as anything more solid. Solar and wind power. The only vehicle looked like it hadn’t moved in years. Clothes had long been abandoned. The track was trampled, but not driven.

    Vines and scrub, the road to Byala.

    Listening to the Today Programme (when there’s signal) is enough to make such a lifestyle rather attractive. Tuning in from afar Britain sounds like it’s on a downward spiral, with an empty promise generating algorithm put in the place where a leader should sit. I hope I’m wrong. I love home, I look forward to being back in St Just. I even look forward to the weather (but I know that won’t last).

    Extreme wobble box driving.

    Further along the beach there are caravans. It would be easy to simply walk past, but my mind is rarely satisfied that easily. I look for a while, then ask, how did they get a wobble box there? There’s an immediate obvious answer, after all, there’s a track right behind them. But the track’s on at least a 1 in 3 angle, it’s rough, and it’s only sand. No sane person would try to drive it full stop, and only a stunt man should try in a Land Rover. These people have no fear.

    Wobble box beach house.

    As I contemplate all this, a fellow passes, compliments the beard, gives me a beer, carries on his way. True.

    Three books.

    Reading in the van is a sporadic thing.

    Reading is one of the joys of spending a few days in one place where there’s nothing but sea, sky and sand.

    This week I’ve read two special books, and I’m about to slip deep into another that I already feel confident of. The two fit beautifully by being so utterly opposite.

    Long unused warmth, and brain food.

    Sky Burial. Xin Ran.

    My sister passed this on. She suggested that I save it until I had time to immerse myself.

    It’s travel. It’s biography. It’s about a lost time, yet within living memory. It’s beyond anything most of us can understand. Read it and take part in the nomadic life of a Tibetan tribe, seen through the eyes of a Chinese woman seeking her lost husband. 

    Homo Deus. Yuval Noah Harari.

    Subtitled A History of Tomorrow, this is the most impressive book I’ve read, perhaps ever. It’s a terrifying rollercoaster that whisks you through the history of disease, God, war, politics, money, humanism and into a near AI future where your job as an archaeologist could be a lot safer than that of a doctor, lawyer or pharmacist. The utter genius of the book is that it’s not only a good read, but at times it’s hilariously funny. It may teach you to understand yourself better. Although scarily it demonstrates how your Kindle, or Facebook, may already know you better than you do.

    Lethal White. Robert Galbraith.

    When I stop typing I’ll open the cover of JK Rowling’s latest and get lost in the new adventures of Cormoran Strike. I resisted these books for so long. Now I have to hold back from jumping in as soon as the next lands. After the mind expanding Homo Deus this should be at least as exciting, though any fear it generates will be of a very different nature. Not only does she write a gripping crime drama intertwined with a love that can never be, if you can bear to slow down and pay attention to the words, they’re bloody well written too.

    Fickle butterfly mind? Probably. I like to think of it as open to experience.

    Mountain water, a slow trickle.


    Nesebar looks like St Ives on Google’s satellite view and it’s just as busy. The pretty island, linked by a causeway, once held 40 churches. Now it has a hundred tat shops, yet it’s still charming.

    I bought an ice cream by weight for the first time.

    Our spot is a couple of km away, and despite being in walking distance of Bulgaria’s main resort, Sunny Beach, we still had a feel of the wild.

    Old town Nesebar.

    This is where rich Bulgarians come to show off their money. There are some very flash cars, smooth roads, and flashy apartments. It’s also the only place we’ve heard English as it’s becoming a package destination too.

    Still wild, just a km from the crowds.

    Sozopol rejected.

    We were keen to visit the most southerly town on the coast, formerly Greek Apollinia, now the Turkish named Sozopol for its old town and pretty beach.

    The heat intervened.

    I’ve hurt my right ear while being turned inside out by the spin cycle waves at Byala. It’ll take a while to heal and I need to drive with the window up most of the time to protect it.

    When we started manoeuvring the van through the narrow streets of Sozopol town (think Mousehole in a 7 metre van) the sweat was pouring and my mood plummeting. Even Minty’s brilliant navigation was defeated by the new one-way system.

    We read each other well and decided to give up on the town.

    Busy at Sunny Beach.

    A few kilometres south and we’re back in paradise.

    (A quick aside as I think of it. Women here love orange hair. A car just pulled up and both women in it had flame coloured hair. It reminded me how many times I see it). If only I had some I’d give it a try…

    Instead of another tourist town (nothing is very busy here, other than Sunny Beach, even in mid-August) we’re at the head of a bay that could so easily be Gwithian.

    I can see for a mile or more, and I can only see about 15 people.

    There’s a cool breeze.

    There are even a few clouds for the first time in days.

    The nearest village is called Dyuni.

    And it’s utter bliss.

    I don’t know why most people flock to the resorts, but I’m so glad they do.

    This will be our last night of our Black Sea adventure. Tomorrow we head inland to explore the EU’s least prosperous country.

    Morning light. Dyuni from the van door.

    Bulgaria so far.

    We didn’t know what to expect, but we have both been delighted. Nothing has been too busy and it’s easy to escape everything. The language is a huge barrier compared to Romania, but we manage. Prices are low, especially fuel.

    We hope to meet and chat with some people over the coming week – that’s such a big part of the experience for me.

    While wild camping isn’t actually legal we have stopped in fairly empty places and have had no trouble, just friendly comments and waves.

    Bulgarian border – it was once a scary place.
    Inflatable everything. Balchik.
    We’d like two of those please.
    Why do you call me Marj?

    6 Replies to “Bulgarian beach bums.”

    1. *fingers crossed* please let the next blog be titled ‘orange beard’

      1. Kelvin Collins says: Reply

        Ha, like an Indian… I’m not it’ll be allowed.
        Good to hear from you Sir.
        Complete culture shock today as we headed in land. I knew this is the poorest EU country, but the state of the countryside is quite shocking.
        Yet the wine is often quite excellent.
        Love to you both.

    2. Graham Flower says: Reply

      Terrific as always, Brought back memory of skiing in Bulgaria during the communist era. Men walking down the wing of the Aeroflot plane dislodging ice with a pick. The extensive multi page menu reduced to choice of ‘pork’ stew or ‘pork’ stew on fire!
      Breakfast watery orange squash and cucumber. Cheers G

      1. Kelvin Collins says: Reply

        Good to hear from you G.

        Blimey, culture shock today. We’re inland now and it’s in a state of poverty that I can’t imagine Britain has ever been at.

        Houses that look like they were abandoned years ago but are actually still lived in.

        I spent a little time in communist Czech – it scared the hell out of me but gave the best stories.

        I hope all’s good with you two. Hopefully we’ll see you at some stage in the next year or so. We’re working on our next Cornish project that I reckon will start in 2020.

        Love to J.


    3. Bulgaria. Great, grand country. One of the very few axis countries to wind up with more territory post 1945 than before. Weird and wild history. Some fabulous ‘heritage’ villages that were essentially created as holiday retreats for German officers. Some truly terrific wines. At very accessible prices. Echoes of genuinely ancient proto-European history in a rolling, endless landscape that still seems to remembers all the various peoples that travelled by foot, wagon and tank.
      Like everywhere, everyone is different and generalisations are usually crass, useless or dangerous…but.. those young enough to have been able to travel and perhaps work or study with other Europeans seemed to relish encounters and conversations, but the middle-aged and older seemed quite cross, almost as if every promise made by every leader since the mid 1930s has been shown to be false, even the promises made during the final decade before Bulgaria was eventually able to join the EU, just as the western world bit into the Credit Crunch.
      Sculpture parks with glorious, epic heroes that commemorate achievements that now seem trivial when checked against the facts according to Google or Wikipedia rather than the Politburo.
      Playground to Russians, Czechs and the older EU members of the region.
      Fascinating, lovely and complex.

      1. Kelvin Collins says: Reply

        Most excellent to hear from you.
        The coast was a gentle introduction to a country on its knees.
        This is the Bulgaria I remember from a few days in the west of the country last year when I was travelling alone.
        While £200k cars race around the main resort of Sunny Beach, only a few kms inland folk live in hovels that have been derelict for decades.
        Most of the young have left. And the old are dying.
        I chatted with a fellow today, his daughter is at Lancaster Uni. When I asked if she’d come back after her course he replied with tears welling up that there’s no reason to come home, and called his own country a den of corruption and bandits.
        We only have a few days here this time, but I’m looking forward to them, although it does feel rather voyeuristic.
        I shall report more, from Bucharest, next week.

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