River Būka – River Žeimena
The winding Buka flows exclusively through forested areas all the way to Lake Balchaus. On its left bank is the Ažvinčiai Forest, on the right – the Vyžiai Forest. The surrounding forests and woods feed the river with their waters, making the Būka one of the cleanest rivers in Lithuania. The Buka used to serve as a route for transporting souls. In the river, you’ll see the remains of wooden dams, which were designed to raise the water level to allow the souls to pass freely.
You will start the route at the Ineiga campsite. It is a convenient place to prepare for a hike and to launch kayaks into the shallow riverbank.
The Buka is a bit narrower than the usual big rivers, with fewer bends, so you never know what’s around the bend. As the river flows through wet forests, there is a greater variety of riparian vegetation and fewer convenient stopping places.
Soon you will be greeted by the lindens of the Vaišnoriškės village inhabitants, with their old folk-style buildings. The village is divided by the old Tauragnai-Braslavas road, which was an important part of the Vilnius-Riga trade route. Where the road crosses the Buka River, an old tavern, mentioned as early as 1765, used to stand on the right bank. The first manor house in the village was established in 1830, and later four more manors were established. The most mysterious building here was said to be the granary, where the sounds of the little houseboys living there are said to be heard.
From the village of Vaišnoriškės, the river’s course becomes more meandering and the water flow stronger. Deeper potholes occur in the meanders. As you sail along, you will come across some spectacular tree collapses, the result of old trees falling from steep sandy cliffs into the river. In a few places, the kayaks may have to be moved over tree gates or towed ashore. Remember that when lifting a kayak over a tree fence, both team members must work in unison! Otherwise, unplanned bathing in the river waters may occur. It is, of course, an extreme adventure with good emotions. In some places, the river’s course forks in two. One of them is a false trail, ending in dead ends and cemeteries. When you arrive at such a fork, use the movement of the aquatic plants to determine which branch of the river the water flows freely. Swim there.
After admiring the views of Buka and overcoming all its obstacles, you will enter Lake Balchous. It offers a stunning landscape: the lake is home to 7 islands and a shoreline covered with pine forests. As you enter Balchusa, you will find Adomragi on your right. It’s a nice place to stay and have a meal. If you’re not sailing alone, you can wait here until your whole team is gathered. In Adomragi you will also find a great place for swimming. The atabrades are particularly clear at the very tip of the horn.
We strongly urge everyone – please do not leave rubbish behind. They can be disposed of at the overnight stay or at the finish line.
Continue southeastwards on Lake Balchous until you reach a concrete bridge connecting Lakes Balchous and Balchusykštys. It will be about 1.5 km or 15-20 minutes’ swim. You need to aim for the opposite shore of the lake. To the left should remain Linden Island, to the right the promontory known as the Biržāragis. From the Beržāragis headland you will see a concrete bridge – you will have to swim under it.
A 150 m long stream flows out of Lake Baluošas. Its strong current will take your kayak to the small lake Baluošykštis. After leaving the villages of Simoniškis on your left and Vaidžiuškių on your right, follow the lake to the other end of the lake. There, on the left, you will see the source of the Skriogžlje stream among the spruce trees. The length of the Skriogžle is about 0.9 km. Its initially shallow channel gradually narrows and deepens. The stream has several sharp bends framed by steep, old tree-covered slopes. You may encounter a tree barrier, which can be overcome by “jumping” over it in a kayak propelled at high speed.
A few more bends and you will enter Lake Srovinaitis. In Lake Srovinaitis, follow the right shoreline until you reach a promontory-shaped island, which you will pass on your left to reach the famous Ginučiai Watermill (declared a state-protected 19th century technical monument). It has a museum where you can see authentic old-style mill equipment that not only milled grain for a long time, but even generated electricity. After landing on the right side of the watermill dam, take the kayaks over the dam (across the paved road to the other side, along the stream). Don’t miss the perfect opportunity to take a dip under the water jet coming out of the dam’s trough!
From the mill, continue along the River Srovė until the streams fork – you will need to turn left. Next, one of the most interesting parts of the journey is the village of Ginučiai. You’ll see beautifully landscaped farmhouses, lindens and pass under two bridges. After the village of Ginučiai, you will reach Lake Asėkas by following a stream. Keep to the right side of the lake until you reach the Asėka stream. It will feel like a jungle, and if you stop for a moment, even though the current will be very calm, you will hear many wonderful bird sounds. After crossing the Asėka River, you will enter Lake Linkmen, on the western shore of which you will see the famous Ladakalnis, a hill rising 176 metres above sea level. From its summit, the views are magnificent: vast expanses of forests and lakes drowning in forests. After enjoying the beautiful views created by nature, turn left and keep to the left side of the shore and after about half a kilometre you will reach the Unksties Strait, connecting the lakes Linkmen and Asalnykscis.
Once in the Unksties Strait, you will sail through it for just over 1 kilometre, passing through a wooden piling bridge halfway along the strait. This bridge connects the peninsula of the Islands, visible on your right, with the centuries-old Linkmen Forest on your left.
The peninsula of the islands is special because it is home to two villages, Salos I and Salos II. Both are located on a peninsula of sorts, washed by the lakes Asalnykščiai, Linkmen, Alksnas and Alksnaitis. The only way for the inhabitants of the peninsula’s villages to travel overland is from the village of Antalksne. The island villages have a unique architecture and layout, which is why they have been designated an island cultural reserve. Unfortunately, since the 19th century. only the shop and the barn remain. The other buildings date from the 20th century. at the beginning.
The peninsula we are talking about is to the right of where you are sailing. On the left is also a very interesting historical site – the Puziniškis Mound, covered with pine and birch trees and supported by the above-mentioned wooden bridge. The steep slopes of the mound, up to 20 metres high, are surrounded by the remains of a defensive rampart on the west side. Perhaps you would like to visit here too?
Before you decide whether to swim further or climb the mound, take a look at the water lapping against the shores of the strait: you’ll see greenish organisms like coral clinging to various places. These are freshwater sponges – Lake Damselfish (Latin: Spongilla Lacustris). Lake daggers and corals are related animals that belong to the group of simple invertebrates.
The strait is only one kilometre long, but it is full of natural wonders and ethnographic sites. After crossing the Unksties Strait, you will enter Lake Asalnykščiai.
When you enter Asalnykščiai, don’t get lost – keep to the left shoreline and as you sail in the right direction Gimžiškės Island will be on your right. As you swim in the distance, you will see a narrowing, which leads to Lake Asalnai. On the left hand side of the narrowing you will see the village of Puziniškis. The village of Puziniškis is situated on a hill overlooking the beautiful Asalnai Landscape Reserve.
In Lake Asalnai, keep straight on, keeping to the right shoreline. As you sail in this direction, you will notice that this part of the lake starts to narrow. When you get to the narrow part of the lake (like a sleeve), you will see the Dringykšća River (also known as the Meira) on your left. The river comes from Lake Dringykštis, and just across the river the sun is warming the rooftops of the farming village of Meironiai, which will accompany you until you enter Lake Lūšių.
There is an interesting tradition in the village of Meironiai: on Pentecost, farmers decorate their cows with flower wreaths and float them to the shore of the opposite promontory, which the locals call Pabiris. There, the cows are set free to graze until autumn and transported through Mykolines. Milkmaids take a boat out every morning and evening to milk the cows and take the warm milk home.
Thus, after passing the village of Meironiai on the left and the Pabiris Horn on the right, you will reach Lake Lūšių.
If you want to visit the village of Palūšė, swim ~1.5 km from this place, following the left shoreline. to the eastern shore of Lake Lūšiai, towards the village of Palūšė.
While sailing, you will see the Palūšė church with its bell tower, which is the village’s biggest historical landmark – a wooden church with a bell tower, built in 1750! Once you climb the cobbled staircase, you’ll see that the church has been well restored and is cosy. The church is situated on a hill with a panoramic view of Lake Lūšių. It is the oldest wooden church in Lithuania, which once adorned 1 litas banknotes.
If you don’t go to the village of Palūšė, just after entering Lake Lūšiai, head to the opposite shore, turning slightly left. The crossing of the Lusiai River is about 0.8 km. When you reach the opposite shore of Lake Lūšių, at the end of the lake you will see a fork heading off to the right. Keep following the shoreline and swim through the gorge until you reach Lake Šakarvi.
Šakarvai is one of the deepest lakes in Aukštaitija National Park, with a maximum depth of 40 metres. The average width of the lake is 0.35 km and its length is 2.5 km. Swim all the way to the end of Lake Šakarvas. You will see a carriageway bridge under which the Šakarva stream flows out, connecting the Šakarva and Žeiminis lakes.
Žeimenys is the longest lake in Aukštaitija National Park. It is more than 10 km long, ~0.5 km wide, and ~24 m deep. Žeimenys is ahead of other lakes in length but not in width, so when swimming in the bays of Žeimenys, you can feel the rush of the water into the river. The shores of the lake are more like cliffs (up to 20 m above sea level). These are covered with pine trees and sandy. Much of the shoreline is covered by reeds and rushes, which in turn hug the islands.
Many rivers and streams flow into Žeimenis: the Šakarva, the Jaurupė, the Laukupė, the Kretuona. Lake Žeimena, having accumulated water, continuously gives it to the Žeimena River, which carries it to the Neris, which in turn carries it to the Nemunas.
Lake Žeimena has as many as 14 islands and islets that are uninhabited. However, there are four settlements around the lake – Bajorai, Ožkiniai, Antanavas and the town of Kaltanėnai, which is where you are sailing towards.
As you follow the main channel of the lake for about 4 km, you will see a “T” shaped gangway on your left. Behind the footbridge you will see the Kretuona stream flowing out of Kretuona Lake. Lake Kretuona is the largest lake in Aukštaitija National Park and has been declared an ornithological reserve due to the great variety of protected birds. Scientists have discovered in Lake Kretuona a bird species dating back to the 9th millennium. Remains of settlements dating back to the 10th century BC have been found in Kre Kretaret.
If you walk 350 m. from the shore of Žeimeni, you will discover the old Pakretuone water mill, built next to the Kretuona stream. The mill boasts spectacular cascades, which are always fun to splash around in on a hot summer day! In fact, there is currently a recreation and wellness camp here, which belongs to the Lithuanian National Martynas Mažvydas Library. Tourists are allowed in for a nominal fee and can enjoy the water activities provided by the mill.
After about 4.5 km from the Pakretuona stream, you will see the town of Kaltanėnai mainly on the right side of Lake Žeimena. As you navigate the winding and narrow Lake Žeimenai and keep to the right shoreline, heading towards Kaltanėnai, you will find yourself in the Žeimenai River!
From the town of Kaltanėnai, you will pass under a bridge over the Žeimena River. The Žeimena River flows through the meadows where the lindens of Kaltanėnai Manor Park stand.
If you have time before the start, take a look around: In the panorama of Kaltanėnai, you will see the neo-Gothic single-towered St. The Church of Our Lady of the Angels, built of red clay bricks in 1909. The church took six years to build! If you have a few minutes, walk to the Kaltanėnai Manor barns. It is a two-storey, vernacular classical building built with wooden logs in 1838.
Swimming downstream on the Žeimena, near the village of Šakališkės, you will reach the first right tributary of the Žeimena – the Kiauna River.
After passing the tributary and going down ~1.7 km, you will pass another small village – Naujja brasta. In another ~3 km you will find the village of Lukna, where the second right tributary of the Žeimena – Luknelė – flows. This river, although short (~15 km), is very extreme: there are a lot of tree barriers and it is difficult to pass, so we do not make routes along this river. After ~5 km from the tributary of the Luknelė, you will see the village of Jusiai on your right. Near this village is the third right tributary of the Žeimena – the estuary of the meldew-covered Sirgėla River. This is a short river with a weak current flowing from the small lake Sirgelis.
At the mouth of the Sirgela River, the territory of Aukštaitija National Park ends and the Žeimena Ichthyological Reserve begins. It extends to the confluence of the Žeimena and Neris rivers. The purpose of the Ichthyological Reserve is to protect the spawning grounds of salmon, sea bream and trout.
After another 1 km from the mouth of the Sirgėla River, and after crossing two steep bends of the Žeimena River, you will find yourself at the confluence of the Žeimena River and the Telio Lake, the short Šventelė River. After another 5 km you will reach the town of Švenčionėliai. It has shops, cafés and pharmacies. After reaching Švenčionėliai, disembark before the first bridge, known locally as the Kirulis Bridge – this is your finish line. It has a comfortable sandy bathing area in front of it. We will be waiting for you there.