The Local Community of Orehek – Jesenica: on the sunny side of the Kojca hill

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The local community is comprised of the villages of Orehek and Jesenica, which with houses, scattered at the base of the Kojca and Ritovščica hills, cover the entire valley on the sunny side of the Kojca hill. The local community starts somewhere “in the middle of Križ” on the slope of low hills, at the exit of the main road, on which you can drive from Cerkno to the villages of Jesenica and Orehek through the village of Zakriž.

On the Vrh Križa hill, the most beautiful view of the valley opens up overlooking both villages and the Kojca hill with the mountains of Črna Prst in the background. On the other side, the local community ends with the last houses in the village of Orehek, which the locals call “Na Nemcih”, right before the village of Bukovo starts. On a nice lookout point on the Vrh Križa hill you can see the Church of St. Ubald and lower down the path to the first houses in the small village of Orehovška Grapa. The latter extends along the valley of the Jesenica stream and through it winds the shortest road connection, which joins the main regional road towards Tolmin at the Reka village.

The villagers of Orehovška Grapa co-financed the paving of the road that leads from Reka to their houses with self-imposed contributions. In the 1980s the villagers allocated 9% of their personal incomes to self-imposed contributions for a whole period of five years. Part of the road, which connects Orehovška Grapa and Orehek, remained unpaved and barely passable for years and years afterwards. In 2007 it was almost destroyed by a flood. The villagers made the road passable again with volunteer work and aid from the Cerkno municipality and Karitas. In 2013, a three-kilometer-long section of the road finally received asphalt with help from the Cerkno municipality. Precisely this road proved to be a very important link to the valley when the ice glaze hit the area in February 2014.

One of the first teachers was France Bevk

In the 66 houses that stand in the local community only 72 residents live in Orehek nowadays and 86 in Jesenica. That many people have their permanent residence here, but not all of them live in these villages anymore, since they earn their living in larger towns during the week or are staying in nearby retirement homes. Most residents of working age from both villages drive to work daily to Cerkno, Spodnja Idrija, and Idrija. Unfortunately the number of residents has been cut in half in the last twenty years. Old people have died and young people, after leaving for school in Ljubljana, Kranj, or Nova Gorica also found jobs there or moved closer to bigger towns, where it is easier to run all the daily errands.

During the best years between 1970 and 1990 both villages had a joint affiliate shop and an elementary school, to which a bus drove children from the villages of Zakojca, Bukovo, Kojca, Žabže, and Laharn as well up until 1991. The school with classes for the first four grades was built through volunteer work by villagers from both villages. France Bevk was one of the first teachers at the school and the last were Milka Šalgaj and Stanislav Jug.

The school also has rooms for youth programs and a hall for theatre performances, where the Vidaunk youth club is now centered, which takes care of maintaining the building and provides entertainment and cultural activities in the valley. The society also renovated the decrepit toilet facilities, took care of urgent maintenance work, and covered the roof on the building with the help of local community and the Cerkno municipality in 2013. Red Cross and the company Erplast Eržen contributed financial means after the flood to repair the flooring in the classroom and buy the equipment for the small kitchen.

Locals know how to join forces

The Local Community of Orehek – Jesenica is one of the smallest in the municipality, but almost the most demanding in terms of infrastructure. The residents of both villages are aware that they must mostly rely on themselves to survive and stay in these steep villages. This led to people organizing themselves to work on a volunteer basis back in the 1950s. The locals themselves dug the path that is now the main path to the Vrh Križa hill, built the village waterworks, and set up the route for the first phone line, which used to be located only at the “Pri Jušku” farm for both villages. The telephone exchange in Orehek was upgraded by residents in the 1990s with co-financing and volunteer work into one of the most modern in the Severna Primorska region at the time. In 2008 an optic connection was laid to the exchange. Currently it is being renovated after the ice glaze damage.

Road infrastructure is and has always been the most important problem the residents devote much of their volunteer work to, from support in winter on the sections not covered by the municipal winter service to providing maintenance and urgent repairs. How many volunteer hours people are willing to invest in roads, since they know how much they depend on this link to the valley on a daily basis, could best be seen after the flood in 2007, when residents of both villages put in 1143 working hours and 512 tractor hours with their equipment, without even counting the additional hours contributed on a volunteer basis. This is how they made sure that important parts of the road were at least somewhat passable, so that they could transport animal feed and firewood for winter to their homes.

The local community believes that life must be looked at from a positive perspective, despite the ups and downs and the eternal lack of time and money. The new leadership of the local community thus strives for life on the sunny side of the Kojca hill to go on. Assisted by the Cerkno municipality it helps in improving mobile phone coverage in the local community and internet access in all houses, puts up informational signs and signposts to individual homes, establishes a learning path, mutually maintains local and municipal roads, builds a parking area in front of the rooms reserved for the local community, and encourages cultural activities.

They greet hikers hospitably

The Local Community of Orehek – Jesenica offers possibilities for nice recreational hikes. You can start your hike at the village of Reka and follow the sign there, which points in the direction of the village of Orehovška Grapa. Then follow the road past the homestead of Marjan Lapanja, a well-known beekeeper. The path will lead past other houses in the Orehovška Grapa village and it might happen that greeting one of the residents with “Dober dan” will get you a shot glass of something stronger, something to ward off the cold. At the “Pri Mlinarju” farm turn towards the Orehek village, where you can already see the bell tower of St. Ubald. After about 200 meters turn left at the sign that shows you the way towards the Podrodne farm. The path will take you further here, to the summit of Rodne. On Rodne the first partisan fight in the Cerkno region took place during WWII.

Descend down the slope from the summit and towards the Kojca hill, which you can see right in front of you, as well as the villages of Orehek and Jesenica. After a little less than an hour of more or less gentle walking you will reach the hunting lodge of the Otavnik hunting club. Nearby you will notice a monument commemorating the aforementioned battle. From here on follow the hiking markers/blazes, which will take you past the Pri Jelerinu farm to a site called “Stara Cerkev” (Eng. Old Church), where the first church of St. Ubald once stood. According to estimates of historians it was built there in 1780 by miners from Tirol, who worked in a lead mine here. The foundations of the church in the forest on top of a small hill can still be seen today.

From “Stara Cerkev” set a steady pace uphill to the “Na Ravni Njivi” farm. From there on you will really need to work hard and let a sweatdrop or two trickle off your forehead, so that you will reach the summit of Kojca in a little less than two hours across the former mountain meadows, which are now more or less overgrown with shrubs and trees. Since last year a wooden bivouac stands there, which was built by the members of the youth club and the hunting club aided by a helicopter of the Slovenian Army. Next to it there is a hay heap, which is placed there by the members of the youth club every summer – to remember how hay in Kojca used to be mown and raked and then transported into the valley in hemispheric heaps.

You can descend into the valley down the other side in the direction of the Vrh Ravni hill to the crossroads that leads either on to the Zakojca village, in the direction of Mt. Otavnik or Porezen, or down to the Jesenica village, where the monument to the battle of Mt. Porezen stands, which took place in March 1945. To commemorate it the mountaineering society in Cerkno organizes an annual winter hike to Porezen. The tomb of the partisans who were killed by the Germans on the fields between the villages of Jesenica and Orehek is at the Church of St. Ubald. The church was built in 1793 and is in the Register of Immovable Cultural Heritage because of its baroque altars. According to oral tradition the church is a scaled-down copy of the Church of St. Anne in Cerkno, since its plans were drafted by the same architect. Locals say that even the organ, which still serves its purpose on holidays, was brought from the Church of St. Anne. Next to the church is the chapel of rest, which was built through self-imposed contributions in the years 2006 and 2007. By refunding the locals’ contributions for telecommunications and with the help of the Cerkno municipality, a retaining wall at the cemetery by the church and an auxiliary facility for tools were built in 2011.

Only a descent back to the starting point awaits hikers here. And our wish for the end is:

»We hope to see you in Orehek or Jesenica soon!«