Discover woods, lakes and a beautiful monastery hidden in industrial suburbia Start: Bus terminus on Lesnaya Ulitsa, Dzerzhinsky End: Nikolo-Ugreshsky Monastery Distance: about 7km
The warrior-saint Dmitry Donskoy was born 660 years ago this week, on the 12th October 1350. Thirty years later, on his way to the famous battle of Kulikovo, where he defeated the Tartars, he camped near what is now the town of Dzerzhinsky, just a few kilometers outside modern Moscow. A vision of St Nicholas made Dmitry cry out that his heart was on fire (“ugresha”) and he founded the Nikolo-Ugreshsky monastery on the spot. While the monastery and the Moscow River adorn the south side of the town, the industrial activity to the north has left another kind of treasure behind. Old quarries filled by underground springs have become a series of beautiful lakes with sandy beaches. If you can ignore the (sometimes horrific) amount of rubbish on the banks, they make a great place for a stroll.
Several buses run regularly to Dzerzhinsky from the bus station at Kuzminki metro (near Macdonalds). The 595 and 940 both go to Lesnaya Ulitsa while the 470 goes straight to the monastery. The journey costs 44 roubles each way. Starting from Lesnaya Ulitsa, head towards the trees and turn left along a fence, following a broad sandy track. Continue to follow this track as it winds through the autumnal woods, ignoring the smaller paths that turn off it, until finally it swings sharp right forming a T-junction near the edge of a lake (1). At this point, you can choose to follow it right and walk round the edge of this lake, with its rocky peninsulas, picking up the path at the point where you climb the sandy path to the pinewood on the cliff (2). Alternatively, turn left along the top of the steep bank, a favourite spot for local artists, and then descend to the water’s edge and follow this edge of the lake round, doubling back along the dusty lorry track for a short way before taking the path that leads left and up the steep sandy cliff.
Both routes have their dodgy moments. The “path” along the shore on the far side of the lake, near the dachas, is narrow, soggy and choked with rubbish, but the circuit nonetheless affords some idyllic moments, especially along the eastern shore, with its white sand, golden trees and turquoise water. Once you have negotiated the climb up to the pine-fringed cliff above the second lake, keep well away from the edge, which is perilously overhanging in places. Scramble down the well-used path, once you have passed a small third lake, into an industrial landscape of sand dunes near the town beach.
Cross the road and continue along the road on the far side, heading away from the water, soon reaching the red brick arches of the town rynok (market) on your left. The tower block on the right has a reasonable café (“Ya i Ty”, 5174753) on the first floor where you can get coffee and sandwiches, overlooking the gold domes of the new church (3).
Turn left through the heaped pumpkins and watermelons in the friendly market to reach Dmitry Donskoy Square. A statue (4) of the warlike prince stands with his back to the tower blocks. Cross the road towards a small garden of modern sculptures. Cross again and walk left downhill past a sports field, following the road right at the end and then left along the fence of a school in a pleasant leafy area. Walk diagonally right through the Victory Park (5), full of memorials, to reach a pond with a ‘love seat’.
The wall of the monastery is visible across the road. This whitewashed wall, with its elegant turrets, was part of Abbot Pimen’s 19th century expansion and is supposed to look like the wall of Jerusalem in an icon. The entrance is to the left and the eclectic ensemble is framed in the archway. There is a kiosk selling tea and excellent pies and, usually, a bakery stall with bags of windfall apples. These facilities set the tone for a monastery, which is refreshingly laid-back in its approach to visitors. Although women should cover their heads in the churches, there is no need to do so while wandering through the grounds, used by local people as a park. The area round the pond, home to black swans, Muscovy ducks and cheeky, orange-billed geese, is particularly popular with small children. You can even see a coypu, eating the grass on the banks, and a cow grazing in front of the cathedral.
Walking anti-clockwise around the pond, along the ‘palestine wall’, you reach the pretty, blue Peter and Paul Hermitage (6), whose restored gold dome is reflected in the water with the autumnal oaks. Continuing along the wall, you pass a small chapel and a smart new church in the corner. Turn left towards the huge Transfiguration cathedral (7), built in the 1880s by Alexander Kaminsky, in the monumental, neo-byzantine style popularised by Moscow’s Christ the Saviour. The golden interior is fabulously overblown; murals at the far end show Saint Sergius of Radonezh blessing Dmitry Donskoy (left) and the founding vision of St Nicholas (right). Dmitry Donskoy’s troops stand in front of their rather fetching pastel tents.
The smaller St Nicholas cathedral next door is a 2005 replica of the 16th century original that stood here. If you can get inside, there is some lovely silverwork round the pillars. The colourful, blue-domed chapel behind the cathedrals marks the site of the famous vision. The bell tower is 18th century and the oldest building is the baroque red and white palace next to it, built for Tsar Alexei who liked to make pilgrimages here. In the 1920s, Felix Dzerxhinsky, the murderous head of the secret police who gave the town its name, turned the monastery into a labour camp for homeless children.
When you have admired the monastery, you can catch a bus directly back to Moscow from outside the gates. You might like to make a small detour first right and right along the road leading behind the monastery to see the broad Moscow River with a modest, grassy ‘Relaxation Zone’ (8), accessible left through a barrier.
Landmark of the week – Statue of Dmitry Donskoy (4), Dzerzhinsky A modern statue of the legendary hero stands in front of the town market, with his sword and shield at the ready. Four red, granite boxes nearby contain earth from four famous battlefields.