In Russian legends, swamps are always a place of horror, where evil spirits tempt travelers into a deadly trap. In fact, the unique, beautiful, and dangerous world of swamps can give an incredible experience. On your way to the Nikola-Lenivets Art-Park in the Kaluga region (Kaluzhskaya oblast), take time to visit the Galkinsky Swamp and one of the many educational trails in the Ugra National Park, called the "Mysteries of the Deep Swamp". This is a short but impressive trail. If you don't have your rubber boots, consider walking barefoot in the Galkinsky Swamp.
The surface of the swamp is covered with a soft carpet, composed mainly of peat moss, but also other mosses and plants. This carpet floats on the water. When you step on it, it starts to go up and down. It's like walking on a soft trampoline. However, don't jump, because this floating mat is 30 to 40 cm thick (or even thinner) and can be torn. A white petal or a red berry of water arum gives you a signal that the carpet is too thin on that spot because this plant grows in the water. The safest place is near the trees.
A firm strip of soil at the edge of the old peat quarry divides the swamp into two parts. Follow this path, and you will see many interesting things around.
What you will see in the swamp depends on the season when you visit it. In June and July, you can see many birds and flowers. Enjoy the purple stars of comarum or the white "clouds" of labrador tea. However, be careful. Some flowers can be poisonous like water arum. Others, like labrador tea, have a strong toxic smell that can cause a headache. In the past, people called those flowers "toxin-grass" or "sleeping-grass". In August and September, taste blueberries or purple cranberries scattered over golden moss.
You absolutely must find snow-white water lilies resting on the black waters of the swamp. Also, you should see sundews, carnivorous plants with red 'eyelashes' and sticky 'tears' to catch insects.
The educational trail starts in the village of Galkino. Signs on the road indicate the path to the swamp. In Galkino, walk along Nikolskaya Street and enter the forest. The educational trail includes a map and information boards about the history, flora and fauna of the Galkinsky Swamp. This trail is also equipped with two observation platforms. A path will take you through the forest to those observation platforms where you can start and end your visit with a panoramic view of the swamp.
A swamp is a spotless place, so walking barefoot is more than safe. Peat moss (Sphagnum) is a natural antiseptic. Plants and microorganisms create a kind of filter that makes water almost distilled. The air is fresh because peat moss absorbs toxins, binds carbon, and charges the air with oxygen. Swamps are therefore called "lungs of the planet". They accumulate sweet water and are a source of many rivers and springs. The Galkinsky Swamp, a small part of this beautiful world, can still give you a unique experience, but be attentive and careful. And if this is your first time in the Ugra National Park, consider taking a guide.
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