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Cergowa, rising majestically over Dukla and the neighbouring villages, is the highest and the most beautiful mountain in the Beskid Dukielski. It has three peaks: to the east, at 681 metres, in the middle part, at 683 metres, and to the west at 716 metres, with an iron cross at the top. It is covered by a forest with interesting groups of plants. You can see here the protected yew trees (Cisy Nature Reserve on Cergowa, Cisy Nature Reserve in Nowa Wieś), and stands of the European bladdernut and wild garlic.

As you wander on the slopes of Cergowa, you can see numerous outcrops of Cergowa sandstone and caves. There are around ten caves on the southern slope, and they are popularly known as Badgers’ Lairs. The deepest one is 75 metres long and 14.5 metres deep. On the south-east slope in turn, there is a small barrier lake, about 20 metres wide and known as Morskie Oko (The Eye of the Sea).
When you are hiking on Cergowa, you must visit Złota Studzienka (Golden Well) on the north-west slope. According to historic documents, this is where St John started his life as a hermit. He spent there many long hours praying on his own, and this is where his first hermitage was.
Złota Studzienka is a spring secured by a well you can draw water from. There is also a wooden chapel with a statue of St John, benches for the tired pilgrims, and a modest open-air altar.

You can see Cergowa easily just after you leave Krosno. It is a good place for a day trip, i.e. a longer walk in the forest which will not be excessively tiring but which will give you a chance to enjoy the quiet, being close to nature, and breathing fresh air. There are two trails leading through this majestic and mysterious mountain – a red one from Nowa Wieś to Lubatowa, and a yellow educational trail from Dukla to Zawadka Rymanowska.

Those who claim there is nothing special about this place may be encouraged to visit it by the four legends that mention Cergowa.

The first one talks about the town that used to be situated on the mountain. Its dwellers were happy and did not want for money, but it was a pagan town, where morality had sunk even lower than in the biblical Sodom and Gomorrah. One day, two learned men came to the town. They were, as it later turned out, disciples of Ciril and Methodius, and brought the Bible with them. The missionaries were welcomed kindly by the townspeople, who liked listening to their stories about God and readings from the book they had brought. Soon, however, the townspeople decided they would like to own the book themselves, thinking that whoever owned it would become a very wise man. They took the book from the missionaries and banished them from the town. Right after this, the earth opened and engulfed the town and its people. When the missionaries looked back, they only saw the town gates lying in a forest glade, and on them their Bible. No one has ever seen the town or its people again.

Another legend talks about how the small lake on the south-east side of the mountain, Morskie Oko, was formed. It says that it was created a long, long time ago when people were giants, and where today you can see the lake, there was only a rock crevice. One day, two young men went there and decided to play marbles to pass the time. One of their golden marbles fell into the crevice and they could not get it out, no matter how hard they tried, so they decided to dig to widen the crevice and find their precious marble. After several hours of searching in vain, the hole they created started to fill with water. When the men decided to dive in to continue their search, suddenly, a huge fish appeared, holding the golden marble in its mouth. They got scared and ran away. When they came back after a few days, they saw that the hole filled with foamy salt water. They were certain they had dug deep enough to reach the sea, and so the lake was called Morskie Oko – The Eye of the Sea.

Another legend with Cergowa at its centre tells of an underground tunnel leading from one of the caves on the slopes of the mountain all the way to the castle in Odrzykoń. The story took its origin at the time when a Tatar troop went as far as the Beskid Niski. The people of Beskid, scared of the raids, hid in the forests and caves on Cergowa. Jasełka, a girl famous all over the neighbourhood because of her extraordinary beauty, hid in one of the caves. When the danger was gone, people came back to their villages, but Jasełka was nowhere to be seen. Her father was devastated and appealed to all the young men who had tried to win her hand to help in the search. In the end, Jasełka was found in the depths of one of the caves by a young man called Lasota. On their way back to the village, the couple met a knight and told him their story. The knight was then on a lookout for a good place to build a town and thought Cergowa a perfect place. In the end, it was not the town that was built but the castle in Odrzykoń, and the Kamieniecki family had a tunnel made from the castle to the cave, which was widened enough even for a horse to go through. The legend says that the existence of the tunnel was kept secret and only the most trusted men of Mikołaj Bibicki, the burgrave of Kamieniec, knew about it. On the entrance to the cave leading to the tunnel, on a rock, the Kamienieckis’ coat of arms Pilawy was placed. However, many years ago, the rocks fell and now neither the coat of arms nor the entrance to the tunnel can be found.

The last legend is the most probable one in the context of the history of the region. It claims the caves on Cergowa were used as hiding places and stores by the Carpathian bandits, who robbed the neighbouring presbyteries and manor houses, and even Catholic and Orthodox churches. The caves, situated deep in the forests, provided a safe place in case of pursuit. The bandits knew the land well and were impossible to catch in the Carpathian wilderness. If anyone did find an entrance to one of their caves, they were afraid to enter it not only because of the bandits, but also because of the devils. The local people believed that evil spirits lived in the caves, and those who entered the caves would also find entrance to the hell itself. The bandits stored their booty in the caves until they shared it. In later times, there were some brave people who set out to find treasures in the caves of Cergowa, and instead of treasures they sometimes found skeletons. Now there are neither treasures nor skeletons in the caves, but you can see bats there, including the rare lesser horseshoe bat.

fot.: arch. Arete sp. z o.o.