Jeremy and I drove (well, Jeremy drove) from Bled on day two of the Winter Swimming World Championships to Bohinj, just under an hour away, to swim in what I was informed was the most beautiful lake in Slovenia. Yes, more beautiful than Lake Bled. This was difficult to imagine, so it was important to see. Up and up the road went, following one tributary of the Sava River most of the way there, watching the water go from wild to wild and calm to wild again, and feeling the temperature drop as we went into the Julian Alps. Lake Bohinj was not just beautiful and glacial, with the mountains in the distance dusted in snow, it was quiet and almost deserted, a great contrast to the excitement of the swimming event in Bled. This is where the New Zealand Olympic Rowing Team trains when in Europe, and there was a plaque of gratitude at the rowing platforms on the lake, now empty, but the buzz of rowers training in Springtime was easy to imagine. My mind went to swimming in the Thames, where rowing eights are not always the most welcome sight. Swimming in the company of rowing eights, I imagine my head being lopped off by an oar and being tossed into the distance. Not the way I would like to die. Today it is easy, with nothing in sight on the water. Jeremy and I walk to look at the statue of Golden horn, a legendary deer which lived high on Mount Triglav, in the distance behind the statue. The legend is pan-Slovenian-Austrian-Italian (Friuli-Venezia Giulia). A crazy story, I thought, should be made into a ballet. To paraphrase (and adapt from) the guide-book, “Golden horn’s golden horns were the way to a fortune covered up in the mountains around Triglav. A fearless and young hunter from the Trenta Valley experienced passionate feelings for a lovely young lady and worked out how to win her heart by bringing her beautiful flowers. One day a rich trader from Venice dropped by (as they do) and won her over with trinkets and brilliant adornments and dancing. The hunter approached her, but won over by Venetian trader-guy, she mocked him. He was left distraught and desperate, and teamed up with another hunter (the Green hunter) to seek their fortunes by finding Gold horn. To their shame, they shot Golden horn, who dragged himself away up onto Mount Triglav, where it ate the flowers which brought colossal life power. It ran towards the hunter, who was blinded by its brilliant glistening horns, lost his balance and tumbled from the mountain and died. Moral – don’t mess with Golden horn, not even when you have been traded for a Venetian merchant. It may never happen to you, but you are prepared should you find yourself in an Alpine love-trance-dance-hunting thing at some stage in the future.
The statue of Golden horn was certainly in the right place, and it attracted the few people there were walking by the lake. There being no evidence of dead hunters in Lake Bohinj, Jeremy and I scouted the best place to swim, which was about half way between the rowing platforms and Golden horn, the statue. Winter had so far been disappointingly warm; in the Summer I imagined them cutting the ice on Lake Bled for the Winter Swimming Championships. Today and yesterday, the water was a five degrees Celsius, which while cold, not quite in the zone hoped for. Lake Bohinj was glacially cold, at around three degrees Celsius, I guessed from the sharp cut of the cold on my hands as I entered the water. Then the magic happened – the snow, from dropping a few suggestive evocative grains from the sky as we changed turned to a flurry-fall from dark grey cloud as we swam. This was dangerous – I was enchanted and didn’t want to get out. Golden horn came to mind – perhaps there is a golden eel that enchants and kills in Lake Bohinj? I am not a hunter but a swimmer, but I looked for slivers of shining gold in the water – none to be seen, but perhaps like gold-rush diggers in nineteenth century Australia or California, the belief in the gold is more persuasive than finding gold. This is all not true and total total invention on my part, but maybe this is how myths get started. If on a future visit to Lake Bohinj (it is really worth the visit) you hear of the story of Golden eel of Lake Bohinj, of the fabled drowned swimmer, perhaps pay homage to the statue of Golden eel, please remember you read it here first.