Heading down to the river and taking a right on Naberezhne Shose we head out of town. Once out of the city the road first of all takes us through forest peppered with the houses of the rich and famous, and after a short while we’re out in the country proper. The road is marked on the map as the M 04, but we may be on the wrong road as this one is no motorway, but a two-lane highway. It is also on the map as a straight road with no turns, so we’re a little surprised when we come across a junction where we have to decide whether to go left or right. Right is signposted to Smila, and as that’s marked on the map as being in our direction, we make a right and keep going.
Initially, the land we’re passing through is flat and mostly made up of wheat and potato fields lined with trees. It is a beautiful summer’s day, so when we look out across the fields of yellow wheat to the blue sky above, it’s easy to see where the idea for the Ukrainian flag came from.
We’re thankful when we enter the town of Kaharlyk, because we then know we’re on the right road, even though we come across another junction requiring a left or right decision. We decide to continue following signs for Smila, but before we do so we come to the conclusion that Kaharlyk is a pretty little town that’s worth at least half-an-hour’s exploring. Parking the car, we walk down the main street, which is a mix of shops, cafes and restaurants. Further down the hill we come across a lake with an island in the middle that has sunshades on it. We can see people sunbathing there and swimming in the lake, Kitten suggests it is a good and handy alternative to the often-overcrowded beaches in Kyiv. But we’ve set our minds on getting to Cherkassy, so we head back to the car and get on our way.
Once out of Kaharlyk the land changes from flat to gently undulating, and I have to say, it is something special. There are more tree-lined wheat fields, lots of lovely little villages, and lakes surrounded by pretty little Ukrainian-style cottages. Much of the road is lined with trees and with the gently rolling land one could easily be in the Loire or Dordogne regions of France. When dropping down into some of the gullies bordering the fields, throw in a cart, a shire horse and a ragamuffin and you’d have yourself a Constable.
While not being a motorway, the road is pretty good most of the way, and we cruise along sedately, stopping every now and then to admire the view and take photos. We pass through many villages and small towns, many of which have a policeman waiting sneakily round a bend trying to catch the unsuspecting motorist who hasn’t noticed the speed limit has dropped to virtually zero. Luckily, however, Ukrainian drivers are very good at warning you about such underhand tactics by flashing their lights at you as you approach. If you’re ever driving in Ukraine, and a passing car does this, stand on your breaks immediately and crawl along at a snails pace until you’re passed the offending man in blue.
The villages we pass through are lined with people peddling locally produce. As it’s the season, the most common offerings are strawberries and honey, but there’s also eggs, new potatoes, cauliflower, fruit and much more besides, all of which is being sold at prices well below that which you’d pay in a Kyiv supermarket. In fact, there is so much honey on offer, in very large jars, that I can’t help wondering where they keep all the bees. Of course, we have to stop off and buy some honey and strawberries.
A little further on we come to a big stone monolith which announces our arrival in the town of Korsun Shevchenkivsky where there’s a sign telling us to turn right for Cherkassy. We had planned on heading down to Smila and turning right there, but on a day like this, things shouldn’t be so regimented and plans should remain flexible so we take the turn.
There’s an option to bypass the town, but as this is all a little of an exploration trip for us we choose to go and have a look. This proves not to be the best decision as there’s not much to see, and trying to find the way back to the bypass isn’t easy. By pure guesswork we find our way onto it and are soon out of the town and on a beautiful meandering road running through more wheat fields. The road is pretty bad here – narrow and potholed – so it’s good that we’re in a big 4X4 that deals with it all well, and the scenery and idyllic villages we pass through (where the only traffic is babushkas on bicycles) makes it all worthwhile.
After sometime we enter a forest where the branches of the trees meet above the road not far above our heads, and I can easily imagine that driving this road at night one might expect to come across Ichabod Crane getting chased by the headless horseman. Here there is a forest park with trails for walking and a picnic area, making it another good location for a day out, but times getting on, so on this occasion we pass it by.
Arriving at the Kaniv-Cherkassy road, we take a right and soon find ourselves entering Cherkassy just in time for lunch. The main boulevard through the town is named Shevchenko, for which it gets no point for originality, but it gets full marks for aesthetics because it is lovely tree lined street with a central walkway with grass and more trees. There’s plenty of shopping, restaurants and cafes, and there’s a really positive atmosphere about the place. When we stop and ask for directions we’re given full and helpful answers from smiling people who don’t seem to mind at all. We park again and wander for a while simply savouring the feel of the place, and then, on a back street somewhere near the river we come across a shashlick restaurant with a shaded terrace where we decide to have lunch.
Once fed and watered we climb back in the car and head off in search for what we’d really come to experience – the famous Cherkassy beaches. The Dnipro is dammed here which has resulted in a massive manmade lake, the banks of which are lined with broad beaches of beautiful white sand. So large is the lake that the far side is only just visible, and to the south the vast expanse of water runs to the horizon.
Taking our towels we head down onto the sand for some sunbathing and fun. The section of beach we’ve come across is long and wide, so while there are plenty of people making use of it, there’s enough room so it doesn’t feel overcrowded. There’s kids splashing around in the water, a crowd of lads playing volleyball, young ladies sunbathing and families having picnics, all of which contributes to a real feeling of community here.
The feel of the town and the clean and communal atmosphere on the beach makes Katusha comment that she wishes we’d come down on Saturday and stayed the night, and I can’t help but agree. From what we’ve seen the town has a lot of accommodation options on offer, and I know that while Kyiv’s infamous 111 club has been defunct for sometime, it has resurrected itself in Cherkassy, and that would always be worth a visit.
But what ifs don’t linger long in our mind: it’s been a long hard week and we’re grateful of the change to relax, so we lie out on the beach and I promptly fall asleep. Two hours later Kitten gives me a nudge, saying she thinks we may have been in the sun a bit too long, and judging by my lobster-coloured flesh she may well be right. We return to the car and, as we’ve decided this should be a round trip and we shouldn’t return on the road we came, we go to find the bridge over the water and the short road home.
This, however, proves to be far easier said than done. Stopping to ask another very friendly and helpful couple, they tell us to head out of town on Shevchenko and take a right, which will lead us down onto the bridge. They say it should be signposted. Sure enough, once we’re a little way out of town on the same road on which we entered, the road splits and the right fork is marked for Kyiv. We take it but it leads to a dead end. We get back onto the main road and after a little while realise we’re passing over the road we want to be on. Finding a place to turn we head back in the direction from which we’d come, and this time we there’s a turn-off on the left leading down to where we want to go.
The bridge out over the water is long and appears to sit on top of the dam itself, which I can’t work out because it sits at the north end of the manmade link, and the river flows south, but I’m sure it all makes sense somehow. The view from the bridge over the lake, which is peppered with little islands, is something special, so while the traffic is pretty slow moving, that’s ok with us.
It has to be said that while the drive home is far quicker on this road, it’s not nearly as scenic and far busier than the one on which we’d come, proving the point that the journey is every bit as important as the getting there. The land is flat as far as the eye can see, and the fields are pretty much all potatoes, which just isn’t as nice to look at as wheat: it was a good decision not to base the Ukrainian flag on potatoes and blue sky.
Arriving back in Kyiv at 7.30pm, both of us feel relaxed and happy, and safe in the knowledge that this Sunday was a day well spent. Cherkassy certainly makes a good destination for a day trip, and it has more than enough going on to keep you there for a weekend or even longer, but if you go, take the car (hire one if you don’t have one) and make sure you enjoy getting there as much as being there.