SIERRA DE LAS NIEVES

A short journey of 15 km inland from the busy beaches and constant consumerism of Marbella on the Costa del Sol takes you to another world and the southern edges of the Parque Natural Sierra de las Nieves, a UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve of nearly 100,000 hectares.

We made 2 hiking trips to explore the park between lockdowns after finding a long distance route, the GR 243, traverses the area from Istan in the south to Ronda in the north, over 6 sections and 122 km with a couple of variants.

We discovered we could do a 3 day triangle at the southern end and avoid transport complications.

Leaving our car near the Cerezal recreation area outside of Ojen we headed off on the GR variant and PR-A 167 route to Istan.

Ojen is one of the half dozen or so tranquil whitewashed villages and towns surrounding the park that were Moorish strongholds and still retain the crumbling fortresses of the reconquest era. With a wealth of minerals to exploit in the Sierra’s rocky interior the area was at the forefront of the industrial revolution in the 19th century. Hard to imagine nowadays when the decreasing population is drawn to employment down on the coast. Ojen’s main export now is a anise like spirit that bizarrely is particularly popular in New Orleans during Mardi Gras.

First few Kms were a rocky scramble up a dry stream bed and on a lovely path through a forest of pine with distinctive peaks rising above us. As the sun climbed and the heat rose so did the strong scents of pine needles and oil and I recalled the studies of the positive effects on the mental and physical health of “forest bathing” and the phytoncides, the chemicals emitted by the trees.

Emerging onto a forestry track on a high level plain planted with a variety of conifers and eucalyptus we passed a number of weekend walkers and a few parties of mushroom gatherers- all of whom had dogs that made us wonder if they used them to sniff out the fungi. They seemed to have been successful anyway and had baskets brimming with a mushroom similar to chanterelles that we were told bled red juice when cut with a knife.

Climbing a narrow rocky path up and over the ridge we found ourselves in wild untamed country with a vista of peaks disappearing into the cloud. The extent of the park became apparent. When originally designated in 1989 the Natural Park was 78sq miles and this was increased to cover 362 sq miles on achieving World Biosphere Reserve status in 1995.

We had passed signs warning us that our route demanded physical fitness, good mountain orienteering skills and experience and we began to see why when we started to clamber down the descent towards Istan on a, luckily dry, stream bed, the Canada de Juan Ingles gorge. Tricky going but rewarded by the magnificent views and flora, particularly the dwarf or fan palms and the masses of aromatic rosemary, thyme and lavender.

Istan is a place of water boasting numerous springs, fountains, pools, the rivers Verde and Molinos and a network of ancient irrigation channels built by the Moors. Once a place of great wealth with a thriving silk industry and forests of white mulberry, walnuts and oak, hillsides of vineyards producing wine and raisins that bought ships from France and England, all changed when after the rebellion and defeat of the Moricos ( Muslim converts to Christianity) in the mid 16th century the area was practically uninhabited until Christian settlers from other areas in Spain took over the old Moorish properties.

The next leg was a longer but easier 20km trek on mostly good tracks to Monda, over the Canada del Infierno and the high point of Puerto de Moratan at 600m.

Leaving town on a road passed the Nacimiento ( the birth or spring) of the Rio Molinos we headed into the wild hinterland with remote houses dotted here and there in the folds of the hills.

A tiny tree had been dressed for Christmas on the track that took us eventually up to the pass and a helipad- maybe for forest fires or mountain rescue. The landscape seemed to hold more moisture with lush grasses accompanying the palms.

From the Puerto it was a long descent alongside a massive fenced and gated estate of forest, orchard and arable strips between rosemary covered scrubland.

Crossing a river bed on the outskirts of Monda we climbed an ancient cobbled track before arriving into town to find our bed by the loofah plants.

The final leg of the triangle back to Ojen was a 16 km combination of GR243 and GR249, my old trekking companion the Gran Senda de Malaga. Starting off on the trail we had arrived into town on, we soon diverted under the road and into a forested area, eventually turning off onto a steep overgrown track that climbed up and over the mountains separating the two towns.

The views all the way down to the coast awaiting at the top made up for the scratching and effort involved in getting there and the difficulty in scrambling down the steep path back down to the Cerezal recreation area and eventually , with relief, the hire car, still safely where we left it.

The Sierra is very shortly to become designated a National Park, the 1st in Malaga province- 3rd in Andalucia and 16th in Spain, an upgrading to the premier league of protected environments that will mean an increase in investment in infrastructure to develop responsible tourism such as visitor and nature education centres, lookout points and outdoor leisure facilities. The dozen or so towns in the area are hoping this will help stem the flow of outward emigration and bring increased employment possibilities.

The logistics of returning from a multi day linear walk put us off returning to the GR 243 so our next trip to the area was centered in a couple of spots from which we rambled on a number of routes deep into the Parks interior.

Staying at a mountain hotel high above the town of Tolox for a night enabled us to tackle a couple of great trails, the first of which, the PR-A 282 route to Las Cascades, took us in a 11km loop around the steep slopes, deep valleys, gullies, ravines and precipices typical of the landscape with the added attraction of some mighty waterfalls in full flow after some days of rain and snow.

Starting off from the Puerto del Monte we climbed a zig zag track way marked with yellow and white dashes up through the red peridotite rocks this area is renown for. The lower altitudes of the Sierra are made up of the worlds largest massif of this rare rockform. The impervious nature of the rock holds the water that nurtures the lush vegetation and creates the dramatic cascades.

Somewhat alarmed at the signs warning of “fording rivers, landslides and falling into voids” we carried on around the deep creases and folds to a series of cascades where the more adventurous enjoy canyoning and we were satisfied with sitting and picnicking.

Beautiful, and if it had been a bit hotter I might have managed a cold power shower. Instead we descended to the valley floor and tried to stay dry footed while crossing backward and forward over the river before climbing again to our starting point.

In the morning, stepping out of the Hotel Cerro de Hijar, we were off on the SL-A 229 Rio de los Horcajos, supposedly only 9 or 10 km but , as usual, working out a fair bit more. Another loop, this one took us up and over a pass to a steep sided valley that we descended into to follow the river down into Tolox and up again to the hotel.

Climbing over the pass we could see the snowy peaks of some of the parks higher mountains including La Torrecilla at 1920 m ( 6300ft) Malaga’s highest. On its limestone slope, at 1670m, is the entrance to the 3rd deepest cave shaft in the world, dropping vertically over 1000m. Known as GESM it is one of a great many caves and shafts in the limestone mountains and a great draw for potholers and cavers.

The steep valley slopes were covered with ancient, much pollarded chestnuts which along with holm, cork, gall and Portuguese oaks and pine carpeted the Sierra up to the snow line.

We followed a beautiful old stone track down through the shrub to the Rio Horcajos. The whole area is covered with a network of trails, as is much of rural Spain. These paths between villages have been used for hundreds of years by shepherds, goatherds, muleteers, charcoal makers, herders and travellers of all kinds forming a web of communication and information.

It wasn’t long before we came to a recreation area at the hermitage of the Virgin of the Snows where natural springs emerged from the ground to join the river that we followed into Tolox on a verdant path between rampant crops.

The river had once supplied the power for many mills in Tolox , for grain and olive oil, but nowadays the local sulfur rich waters of the Balneario o Fuente Amargosa emerge at a constant 21* and supply Spain’s only medicinal spa. Famous for the treatment of kidney and urinary problems by drinking and respiratory disease by inhaling the mildly radioactive vapours you need a doctors prescription for a 2 week treatment. The building was our last stop before a final leg aching climb back up to the hotel and car. Time to move on.

We were moving on to Finca las Morenas, an off grid farmhouse with accommodation run by a couple of Mediterranean garden designers who moved here after decades of working in London. In an isolated setting adjoining the Natural Park outside of Yunquera the converted sheds next to the 300 yr old farmhouse had been tastefully and thoughtfully renovated and featured many environmentally friendly features designed to save water and power. Situated at above 700 m it was a perfect spot from which to explore the upper reaches of the Sierra.

Our first trek from the finca took us into the pines on a foresters track that took us slowly up another 500 m to the Cueva del Aqua, the cave of water, and into the snow. Obviously the Sierra de las Nieves, the “Mountains of the Snows” have a reputation for getting a fair bit of the white stuff and there had been some heavy falls before we came.

This walk would also bring us for the first time into stands of the tree the park is famous for, the Abies Pinsapo, the Spanish Fir endemic to this region. “Discovered “in 1837 it is a botanical relic of the pre glacial period that by the 60’s was in danger of extinction due to felling but under protection they now cover an area of 5000 hectares. Some are National Monuments and hundreds of years old and are the emblem or symbol of the Natural Park but unfortunately a more subtle and pernicious effect of mankind’s damage to the environment could still be their downfall. An invisible fungus has been attacking and killing the trees whose natural resistance is thought to have been weakened by climate change and ecologists are calling for a seed bank to be created to ensure survival of the species.

We reached the cave after about 6 km and carried on up to a picnic spot with a view before returning to explore it on our way back down to the finca. Deep enough to provide plenty of shelter for goatherds and their flocks the walls bore the smoke stains of countless fires.

Next day we set off to drive up to the Mirador Puerto Saucillo above Yunquera to do a hike up to Penon Enamorados ( Lovers Crag/Rock) the second highest peak in the Sierra at 1760m. Unfortunately the road up had been blocked half way up by local police adding another 6 km and 300 m ascent to our days walk.

After a chocolate break on reaching the mirador at 1240m we set off on a yellow and white marked route the PR-A 351 and were immediately immersed into the snowy landscape that had long been a source of industry with the building of snow pits and the subsequent transportation ,by mule ,of snow and ice all over the province.

Chilly enough in the shade but climbing up out of the forest and onto more open rocky ground we were able to bask in the sun and take in the far ranging vistas.

The crisp clear air, bright sun and dazzling white snow made the views over the surrounding Sierras to the distant coast even more dramatic and awe inspiring as we climbed across an icy slope studded with occasional lonely Pinsapos and recently planted galloaks towards the “wedding cake” pile of Enamorados.

We were truly blessed with the conditions as we reached our goal at 1745m, happy to picnic at the bottom of the pile of rocks below the summit and take in the view of Torrecilla, another 200 m higher. Another time.

Our return leg to the mirador was on a smaller track across a coll, and along a ridge and then down to the bottom of the valley, at times a slippery slide down snowy slopes. The trail, invisible beneath its white blanket was thankfully marked by many stone cairns, leading us back into the Pinsapo forest past tracks in the snow, the nearest we got to seeing any of the deer, boar, goat or muflon that are among the rich variety of fauna living in this wilderness.

We had discovered yet another area of Spain worthy of more exploration and will have to return. So many wonders. So little time.

Connemara: The Southside

December 2020: Emerging from another Covid lockdown I finally get around to a post on a short exploration we enjoyed just prior to shutting ourselves away again within our 5km cocoon.

Heading west into Connemara we usually favour the mountainous areas to the north, the mighty lumps of quartzite and marble that make up the Twelves Bens and the Maumturk ranges. From the peaks of some we have gazed south, across the low lying bogland scattered with shining pearls of light reflected from a myriad of lakes and pools, to the sea beyond. The coastline there is so wildly indented, so convoluted, with peninsulas bulging out in all directions, surrounded by a flotilla of islands and islets, that it takes effort and time to explore some of the further flung pieces of this mesmerising landscape.

So although we have, over the years, been many times to the (relatively) more accessible beauty spots, we wanted to delve deeper and started with a walk on An Cheathru Rua, anglicised as Carraroe, a low lying peninsular of about 4×1 miles jutting south from Casla.

Home to nearly 2500 people, over 80% of whom are native Irish speakers, this is the heartland of the Connemara gaeltacht and the Irish language media ,being the base of the Foinse newspaper, with RTE Raidio National Gaeltachta and TG4 television station both nearby.

We started our walk on the beach that featured in the first Irish language film “Poitin” directed by Bob Quinn whose home and production company are/ were based in Carraroe.

Tra an Doilin, Strand of the Creek, is nowadays better known as Coral Strand and is made up of a rare biogenic gravel, a coralline algae known as Maerl. An Cheathru Rua translates as the Red or Ruddy Quarter in reference to the poor land of rock, heath, grass and rush possibly through the browning or bronzing of dead vegetation. In the past the Maerl would have been used as a soil conditioner to sweeten the acidic soil.

Heading north along the coastline past grazing horses in rocky fields we soon reached Doilin Quay.

There are very many piers, quays and landing/ mooring places all over the South Connemara area, a reflection of the vital importance the sea had for the generations of people gaining sustenance from these waters for over 4000 years. Roads have only come relatively recently and the sea was the main route from place to place until modern times. Another name for this place is Ceibh na Mine, Meal Quay, because cornmeal used to be landed here.

From here we left the “official” loop and continued on a narrow path along the coast, climbing over and through a wonderful variety of stiles fashioned from the granite to hand.

Soon enough we reached ‘Tadhg’s landing place’, Caladh Thaidhg a once busy port built in 1840 by Tadhg O’Cathain, a prominent local busnessman running a fleet of boats from here to the Aran islands and Galway city.

The hookers and other boats of old were busy transporting primarily turf to the Aran islands, a trade that continued into the 60’s when “cosey gas” as Kosangas was known had started to arrive on the islands. Connemara turf is still important fuel in these parts though and we passed many neatly piled stacks on our ramblings. None of these sods originated in the local area though as the profitable turf trade to Galway city and the Aran islands had ensured that the granite hereabouts had been stripped bare to earn money, at one time leaving only the unsellable top layer of heather roots or “scraw” to be burnt at home.

From the pier we turned up the road toward Loch na Tamhnai Moire , lake of the big field, anglicised as Natawnymore and turned off into a charming little grass covered boreen that led us up, down, around and back to the road from the village to Coral Strand, from where we looked across Greatman’s Bay, Cuan an Fhir Mhoir , to our next walk on Garumna island.

Although only a km away by water we had to drive about 20 km by tarmac ,up to Casla and then on a lovely road that spanned 3 bridges between the islands of Eanach Mheain , Leitrim Moir and Garmna. A beautiful landscape but as in WB Yeats’s words, ” a terrible beauty”, as this area suffered terribly in the famine and post famine years.

Carraroe in particular became famous for the evictions of the cottagers and especially for a rebellious battle against them. In 1880 the western half of the peninsular was owned by the Kirwan estate whose men with 60 police were serving eviction notices and closing houses when a melee broke out that warranted an extra 200 police to be sent down to Galway and on to Carraroe where they charged and bayoneted a group of women defending the homes, wounding several severely and one mortally.

The New York Herald reported that when attempts were made to serve eviction notice at another home the women ripped it to shreds and a did of blazing turf was snatched up from the fire and smashed into the inspectors neck. With 2000 or more protesters now gathered to defend the cottages the situation was deemed too dangerous and the notice server, a Mr Fenton, refused to carry on and all the police were withdrawn.

However evictions did eventually continue over the coming years and the Land Leaguers Davitt and Parnell visited and used its example in America to raise funds for famine relief and political change.

Hardships unimaginable to us as we embarked upon the 8km loop in the sunshine with full belly’s and a cosy camper van to return to.

Garumna is the largest of dozens of islands in the archipelago of Ceantar na hOilean, the mosaic of water, rock, bog and land that are the heart of the south Connemara Gaeltacht. Small lumpy fields of dips and hollows bordered by a writhing mass of stone walls are made up of a variety of habitats and flora. Pools and marsh, granite slab and boulder, rush and grasses, bracken, gorse and heather. The low lying acidic land rises bare metres above the Atlantic whose westerly winds beat down any trees attempting a life here.

As we set off westwards towards loch Hoirbeaird we had to disagree with the anthropologist Dr Charles Browne who came here in 1898 to study ” probably the poorest and most primitive population in Ireland” when he said of the area that ” a more utterly barren, dreary looking region could hardly be imagined”, although I had to admit that some of the holiday accommodation had seen better days.

We turned off down a small winding backroad that became a track which took us , after losing our way, down to a tiny quay lost among the seaweed covered rocks.

Gathering seaweed has a long history in the area as a food source and fertiliser and the days of burning kelp for soapmaking, dyeing, paper and glassmaking and producing iodine were succeeded by collecting vast amounts of ascophyllum nodosum or egg wrack for the extraction of alginic acid, used in so many foods, cosmetics, biotechnology as well as animal food and fertiliser. Some 20,000 t are now harvested annually by hand in the region and transported by road to factories across the water in Cill Chiarain where the Canadian owned company Arramara Teo are about to upgrade their factories to food grade and take in bladderwrack seaweed as well, a move which they say will have ” far reaching economic benefits within the local community and west coast of Ireland”

We had our lunch gazing at all the riches clinging to the rocks and reminiscing about the times, 40 years ago, when we earned our living gathering seaweed in West Cork.

Turning back up the track aways we found our turnoff, a grassy track leading us deeply into the island towards a line of smoke in the sky. Someone was clearing heather or gorse in the hope of fresh grass but we passed some areas where this method of burning had resulted in mosses alone.

We reached the coast again at the medieval church and graveyard at An Tra Bhain, the white beach, from where pilgrims would gather for the journey out to the monasteries of the Aran islands.

An enchanting path now led us northwards along the shoreline of Greatman’s Bay, looking back over towards the Coral beach, and on reaching yet another little jetty we turned west again to return to the camper along a quiet backroad.

Looking for a quiet park up for the night we drove back over the causeways to Leitir Moir and Eanach Mheain and followed our noses to a graveyard on the north coast overlooking the Bens and Maumturks way in the distance.

The very tranquil spot was shared by the buried with golfers who got to play in what surely must be the most dramatic setting on the Wild Atlantic Way, although a risky spot for amateurs, being surrounded by water.

The following day we headed further into the depths of the Connemara Gaeltacht by driving around the large peninsular of Iorras Aithneach to Mhairois where another loop awaited.

Another beautiful 5km walk on beach and boreen started at the ancient seaside church ruins and headed southwest along the immense strand where the ghost of a friars massive hound was said to be seen running races from end to end.

At the far end at a headland we turned south along a rock shoreline of wonderfully hued slabs and boulders of granite and tropical looking crystal clear waters, as calm and flat as a mill pond.

The views across Cuan na Beirtri Bui, Bertraghboy Bay were stunning, a palette of blues and greens and pale turquoise from which swellings of land emerged, rocks, islets, islands and mountains. The microcosm was as appealing as the wider picture with miniature seas held in rock pools and the abstract artworks of gigantic stone sculpture under our feet.

There was the work of man here too. Ruins of stone cottages that must have caught the spray of storms sat squatly atop the rock, a testament to the resilience of man and his work. Calm and tranquil in the weather we were enjoying, the usual conditions must have made for a harsh life on the Atlantic’s edge.

I fruitlessly searched around for a Holywell marked on the map below the high tide line, the third of these seashore relics we’d passed on our rambles unspotted. Further along, on the grassland above the beach of An Tra Mhoir, we discovered another of the Eire navigation and neutrality markers from the days of “the emergency”we had spotted in many places around the coast. This was number 52 of 83 and had been recently restored by locals.

Next up was an inlet that was fed by a stream we crossed on a new looking recycled plastic bridge. A good use for the silage wrap that so often gets left to decorate the hedgerows, block drainage and ends up in the bellys or around the necks of wildlife.

On reaching the road we took the detour to the right to check out the Atmospheric Research Station in Mace Head. It is uniquely situated, far from shipping lanes, cities and other pollutant sources to look for aerosol and trace gas elements within the clean air mass coming from the North Atlantic. Part of a large number of international research networks into global warming it also produces data for the weather forecast. In 1994 it was recognised by the World Meteorological Organisation as one of the most important stations in the northern hemisphere.

*Not my photo

Then up to the top of the broad summit of An Mas , translation buttock, where the Coastal Watch Look-Out Post number 82 still kept a watch out for friendly and foreign goings on.

Having our sarnies we had a magnificent view northward to the mountains and southwards over the rough and rocky fields littered with long abandoned cottages and beyond to the sea and islands, the nearest being St Macdara’s, home to an early Christian monastery.

Then back down the winding boreen, passed signs of the low intensity of the agricultural practises in the area. A couple spending a long long time driving some cattle into a ruined cottage and a tractor in retirement.

Finally we did get drawn towards the distant peaks , to the ancient woodland of the Nature Reserve on the shores of Derryclare lake in the Inagh valley north of Recess. This 19 hectare old oak woodland is a remnant of what used to be and an indication of what could be again if the ravages of a “sheep wrecked” environment could be resisted.

Access is down a forestry track off the R344. Parking the camper we crossed the river between locks Inagh and Derryclare above a salmon hatchery, and followed the track around the end of the lake and on until we eventually found an unmarked and slight trail that seemed to be going in the right direction and were soon enveloped in a mysterious green stillness of another world.

The aboriginal oaks, hangovers whose ancestors arrived here after the last ice age, are smothered with thick coats of mosses and host colonies of polypody ferns. Although in theory protected, the sheep continue to find their way in and these elderly trees do not have a lot of youngsters to take their place having been nibbled at birth. The National Parks and Wildlife service have been ringing the non native conifers and have translocated 19 red squirrels from Portumna Forest Park to Derryclare. They have been doing well according to study’s and hair tubes and traps and wildlife cameras keep a close eye on their movements.

The edges of the Oakwood are home to a range of other species, alder and willow on the marshy boggy bits and birch and ash on the dryer sedge covered ground.

Here and there are yew, chestnut and sycamore but the species that the visiting botanist really get excited about are the lichens. The clean air and humid climate have allowed over 100 species to flourish here, some unknown elsewhere in Europe or the northern hemisphere. or extremely rare.

The macrocosm of the mountain ranges, the lakes, the bogs and the vast fractal coastline complimented again here by the microcosm of forests of mosses and lichens and fungi. A beautiful interconnected web reaching out from within the earth up to the highest peaks and passing through the hearts of some who journey here.

THE LYCIAN WAY 6 : POSTSCRIPT.

3 weeks since arriving in Turkey we are back at Dalaman airport after a pretty smooth run yesterday from Cirali. It had proved impossible to get info on the net about buses either via Antalya or back over the coastal route we had hiked. Local knowledge also left us similarly confused with varied, conflicting or non existent opinions on the way to do it. In the end we kind of left it to the gods and they served us well. A small minibus dolmus up to the main road met a bigger one that took us to Kalkan that met another one that took us to Feithye that met another that took us to Dalaman where we waited 5 mins for a cab to the airport hotel. Literally walked from one bus to the next. It still took us 7 hours though. Mind you not bad considering it had taken 3 weeks to hike.

When planning the trip I definitely overestimated the ground we would be covering a day. Not realising the difficulty of the terrain I had estimated 25 days hiking at 22 km a day to complete the 540 km that I believed was the length. Wrong on many fronts. The actual length ( without variations) seemed to be 440km. And we could only average 16km a day. And we only walked 18 days.

So we covered about 290km. If we had continued for the planned extra 10 days at that average we could have made it but the route is supposed to get tougher for the end stages.

We ended in the most beautiful of places. Olympus and Cirali are set in , literally, awesome surroundings and maybe because of the Olympus National Park are pretty low key resorts with no high rise hotels or even buildings over 2 story that i can think of.

So it was lovely to spend a day on the vast stretch of beach, relaxing. Gazing at the majestic mountains and floating in the cooling sea. Lovely to enjoy the sun rather than try to hide from it. Lovely to walk around without breaking a sweat from the load on our backs. Chilling.

That’s not to say that the hike was not enjoyable. It definitely was. But a little too demanding at times to be classified as fun.

But of course effort brings rewards and the views from the high points justified the struggle in getting there and the relief of submersion in those beguiling turquoise waters made the sweaty clambering beforehand well worthwhile.

The Turkish people were invariably really friendly and hospitable and we only came upon a couple who seemed keen to grasp every lira the Likya Yolu could provide. The food was good and nourishing although it could be hard to find much of a lunch or dinner in the village stores. We had a wide range of accommodation, mostly wild camping, which you can do virtually anywhere, but also camping in yards and gardens and campsites, a few pensions and a hotel at beginning , middle and end. Oh and the room in Dorothy and Ramazan’s villa with a pool. All of it was good value. The falling value of the Turkish Lira was good for us but I felt for the many who relied on the income of the vanished European tourists, who stayed at home due to Covid concerns.

There were precious few fellow thru hikers on the trail, we met mostly people out for the day or a short section. It was early in the season though so perhaps more will come. It would have been better to hike when the weather had cooled but we were constrained by the last Ryanair flight home. Apparently it’s been the hottest Sept/Oct for nearly 40 years.

The route is varied and although we didn’t make it up into the high high mountains we enjoyed a lot of different landscapes. But if your someone who likes to stride out uninterrupted , “smashing it” as they say, and clocking up the km this is not the route to take. 2km an hour was not unusual and some clambering, scrambling sections were painfully slow.

The archeological remnants of millennia old civilisations were astonishing to witness, scattered liberally along our entire journey, and gave us pause for thoughts about the rise and fall of empires. Where were we on the pendulum at the moment, and would our structures last so long after our demise?

On our last evening we got a spin up to the phenomena of Chimeria. The natural gas seeping through the rocks from the bowels of the earth has been alight and flickering since before the days of the Lycians. From the car park it was a km of steep rocky steps up towards the ridge above the town. Our final hike.

A strange scene- like a stage set or a ritual celebration or the mass awaiting of something unknowable to occur.

Some people cooked marshmallows.

We bumped into Igor again, one of the first hikers we had met, sharing a camp weeks before and crossing paths again days later. Bonded by the Way.

The darkness fell and the atmosphere rose, as more people arrived and the rituals continued we made our way back to our lift.

Final dawn and I had to greet the sun from within the sea. All calm and peaceful, with a first light turning Olympus mountain pink and groups of yoga folk decorating the beach.

After a day on the buses a last swim in the airport hotel, under a deep blue sky and the planes that have bought us home.

So now, when and where next?

THE LYCIAN WAY 5

4 days of hiking since our sojourn in lovely Ucagiz and the surrounding turquoise waters holding the ghosts of a once mighty civilisation.

It’s been 4 days of up and down. In terms of geography, terrain, health, emotion and decision making.

First up Ivor gets a work call that makes him anxious to get home and organises a flight for the 11th- ten days early. So we need to plan where we can be to get him a bus back etc.

We had already decided to leave out the upcoming 3 day (3 long days climbing to 1800m) section over the mountains as there are no food, water or accommodation options and the amount of water we’ve been drinking made it too much to carry. Way to much. So we were going to do the popular choice of getting a bus from Demre to Kumluca and a quick spin in a Dolmus to Mavikent to start the trail again. Taking out that chunk made it much easier for me to finish the Lycian Way in time.

But first we had to get to Demre.

Setting off as usual in the gloaming, down a concrete block road that seemed to radiate immense heat, past the boatyards, a cemetery ( a reliable source of water, like the mosques, as the Muslim faith seems to be keen on clean), and a stretch of plastic greenhouses and goat pens.

The track alternated between smooth red soil cleared of stones to the more usual jumble of ankle twisting rocks.

We knew there was supposed to be an isolated cafe/ bar/ camping at an inlet along the coast and we were hoping for breakfast but it was still early when we got there and the only person around was still sleeping it off.

A funny set up the place seemed to be closed but this kayaker was staying in a tent and making himself at home at the inn. He talked about a customer who was camping and made us a cup of tea. I saw my first kingfisher.

The indented coastline and offshore islands made for very sheltered anchorages and we past some with many yachts floating between blue and blue.

Turning inland we crossed a stretch of thankfully level ground before climbing up to the tops of the cliffs and past more greenhouses around the hamlet of Kapakli.

It’s been shocking to witness the amount of plastic going into the environment here. So many plastic water bottles and the hanks of plastic cord that the greenhouse crops grow up are all dumped- to slowly slowly become part of worm, earth, plant,fish et all. All but the rocks I guess.

Descending again to the coast on more rocky ground we stopped for a swim at beautiful Cakil and continued on a sometimes tricky scramble to eventually get to a footbridge across the river Sura and the big wide beach at Andriake where I couldn’t resist another cool down and we organised a cab to the bus station in town.

Arriving at Mavikent around 5 we only had time to walk down the seafront strip alongside the beach to where the rag taggle collection of homes on stilts ran out and we could find somewhere to pitch our tents.

We had a few km of road walking in the morning to get us to Karaöz from where we would do a big loop down the peninsular to Gelidonya lighthouse on a long, strenuous and exposed route. The scenery was spectacular. Towering mountains and tree covered cliffs above a tranquil transparent sea. We stopped, or were stopped, on arriving at Karaöz by an insistent proprietor of a cafe where we had breakfast.

Out past more greenhouses and fully loaded with water we headed off, past Pirate Bay, long a hang out of the bad men , and on past numerous campsites, some more inviting than others. I had to stop at a beautiful fruit/ flower garden for some freshly squeezed before the long hot climb up and up to the lighthouse.

By this time I was over hot and dizzy again so had some electrolytes and cooled myself in water from the wasp and hornet surrounded cistern. We rested up in the shade but were too harassed by insects to camp there as planned. One of them got lost in my belly rolls and stung me! Talking to a hiker who’d arrived from the other way and looking at his app there seemed to be camping options further on so we saddled up again and carried on. After a while a group came down towards us led by a lively and boisterous fella we’d met on the trail a couple of weeks ago. Turned out he was a guide and he gave us the heads up on a spot at the high point pass to camp. Some of his group, those struggling at the back, were suffering visibly while he loudly and happily sweated on his way. Speaking of sweat I produce a drop from the end of my nose every couple of seconds and my shorts look suspiciously like I have embarrassed myself after a very short time of exertion in the heat.

Next day was another tough hot one when I had to stop once or twice feeling a bit faint. Something was up and I wasn’t sure if it was heatstroke. But we made it up and over another mountain, past more ruins to the cooling and reviving sea at Adrasan, where the gulet day cruise boats anchored up on the beach and parascenders swooped in to land. We bobbed about in the ocean, found a camp and frequented the stall of the lady selling frozen organic fruit juices.

So after discussions with my medical support team it seemed a possibility that my blood pressure meds were too strong for my current exercising, undereating body causing whitey like symptoms, and to try a day without them. Much much better.

But in the meantime I had wondered if it was a good idea for me to continue solo – not in great shape. It’s wild out there and if you fall ill on your own……

Anyway the next days hike, which was another pretty tough sea level to 800m and back through scree, rock , scrub and thick and fallen forest felt ok. No dizzy fits.

We left Adrasan along the beach and then the river, where pensions and restaurants had their tables placed over the water like the river at Seti Fatma in Morocco’s High Atlas where I hiked last year.

As we climbed we past a goatherd and his jumping bucking bell tinkling herd. Also a squashed scorpion. I’ve been disappointed not to have seen a live one, or a snake, or a tortoise. Actually I did see a little tortoise in the first few minutes of our trek- but it was similarly squashed.

Amazing views from the top of the pass as we looked out at some big mountains including Tahtali Davi/ Mount Olympos the 2366m giant I was hoping to cross the back of. So , what goes up must come down, though why sometimes they can’t go round alludes me. It was a long descent clambering over and under many fallen trees but the surrounding scenery got more and more spectacular. At a pass there was a building and a grain threshing floor. Extraordinary to think of growing grain right up there.

And then we were looking down at Olympos. The site of the ruins and the modern village of glam ping, camping, boutique hotels, eco resorts and restaurants. A very steep path slid us down to a badly needed Fanta and a decision was formed. Health and safety considered it was not wise to continue solo. I could rest on a sunny beach and bob about in the cooling waters for a week. I could check in to a nice hotel and hang by the pool sipping cold beer. But why would I when I could return to an Ireland entering winter and self isolate in a tiny wooden cabin for two weeks quarantine.

And having lost one of the Three Amigos before we started, better that the remaining two return together.

So we ambled through the ancient ruins of Olympos and swam in the sea again before moving on a little to Cirali where we eat and I wrestled with the Ryanair “change your flight” section before giving up in despair and moving to the “buy another flight sucker” section.

So a final day of sea and sun awaits and also a trip to the ” burning rocks” of Chimaera this evening. Tomorrow we’ll have to get to main road bus route and start the long return.

I’ll post a report of the flaming rocks and overall Lycian Way thoughts in a couple of days.

THE LYCIAN WAY 4

So 2 weeks of Lycian Way hiking under our boots and the packs should feel like an extension of ourselves – a humpback your completely accustomed to – they don’t.

2 weeks in our bodies should be ” track fit”. Lean, mean walking machines – agile and balanced – striding strongly up or down without thought or effort – they’re not.

Well mine anyway, I won’t speak for Ivor. I think the main problem is the pack weight. And the rough, rocky and steep terrain. And the heat.

In fact the heat did for me a couple of days ago and I suffered a bit of the wobblies. I’d been feeling it coming on for a day or so and knew the signs of heat stroke/ exhaustion so been soaking my head in cold water and drinking lots of water and dioralytes and trying to stay out of it- but not easy when you’re hiking the Likya Yolu in September apparently. So my medical support team advised a day off. And today we had a good one. And yesterday was also pretty chilled. And the day before started with a boat ride.

Kate Clow the pioneer designer of the trail says in her seminal guide book of the route from Kas ” You could walk to Liman Agazi, the sheltered bay opposite Kas, or you could take the boat” Then she writes about the route scrambling down cliff faces and advises not to hike it with large packs. We didn’t need advising twice. So down to the colourful harbour where we secured our places in a little boat for a couple of euro.

The day before the bay had been very choppy after a few days of winds but now luckily it was pretty calm. The isolated beach the little ferry was taking us to was on a roadless peninsular and beyond the few comfortable restaurants and boutique hotels was a world of wild.

As soon as we reached the first opportunity for a cooling swim we were in- so hard to leave.

But leave we must- because there was promise of a cafe at Fakdere beach another hour or so along the trail. Fakdere was the site of the excavation of a nearly complete Bronze Age shipwreck which contained amphorae filled with resin, ingots of copper and tin, blue glass, ostrich eggs, ivory, Ebony, bronze cups, amber and glass beads and a lot of gold jewellery. All lost at sea 1400 BC. The buildings used by the excavators had been converted to cafe and accommodation.

Except it was all closed down. After more full body immersion cold water treatment we continued on , first up a steep gravel tractor track the back down through the rock , rubble and prickly scrub. After another enforced shade break where an illegal development had been bulldozed we managed to make it to a flat sandy area at the end of a road below Sisla Mevki. It always seems strange and somehow insulting to struggle to a place that others casually motor to. We were welcomed by some motor bikers who supplied cold water and a comfy chair while I gathered my remaining wits. That was it for the day.

The young ones had a bit of a party, the full moon shone unshielded through my flysheet free tent and I lay, like a rabbit in the headlights, feeling cold and shivery in my clothes in my down sleeping bag.

Up at daybreak to gain km in the cool, we set off for Bogazcik an agricultural village that also housed Ali’s Pansiyon where we stopped for a late breakfast , served by the cheerful matriarch as she wound her tomato strings and met up with a young hiker we’d seen at Fakdere. As we were heading off a German girl arrived who was covering serious ground. A hardcore hiker she had started the Lycian Way direct from the Kungsleden (?) the Swedish long distance trial I’d discovered when in Abisko in the far north. A serious trek. She’d had to give up after about 400km cos of two weeks strong wind. Carrying a 20 kilo pack!Made my inner moaning about the 12kg on my back seem a bit whingey. Better toughen up.

Off into the wilderness again fortified by a fine breakfast, bottles of cold water and talk of heroic hikes, we went up past but not too the ruins of Apollonia way up top of a hill too high.

Then on over the red earth through a strange limestone landscape past more ruins of tombs and buildings and twisting and turning down down again to the magical inlet at Aperlae where there are are many remains from 500 bc underwater. There were a couple of major earthquakes in this region that caused an inundation and evacuation.

And we found our rest place for the rest of the day evening and night at The Purple House, rumoured you be closed but thankfully never so. An old house owned by Riza, converted in the honourable bodging, upcycling, recycling , reducing and reusing tradition. Originally his great grandads 220 years ago, long abandoned with the ancient city alongside it was rediscovered by Riza after 8 years as barman in a techno club in Antalya. Talk about a change of seen! Totally out there – way off grid.

With the still huge moon hanging in a night sky miles from any light pollution and a group of women singers serenading is from an offshore yacht it was a special place to stay. Riza organised his friend to pick us up from the other end of the narrow isthmus early next morning and boat us to Ucagiz, saving us a lot of rock scrambling. He even transported our packs by the only transport out there.

A magical ride over calm waters in the early morning light past yachts at anchor in the island sheltered sea. One was a super mega yacht owed by a Canadian multi billionaire. Nearly 100 m long- $200,000,000 worth. I liked our vessel as much.

Ucagiz was a flower filled harbour town doing a lot of business with boat trips and cruises of all kinds and the Pension that Riza had sent us to, where we camped in the garden, got the brother to take us on a trip around the antiquities.

Amazing sights, amazing beauty, sunken cities. We stopped for a swim at the end of Kekova island and swam ashore to see more ruins. Riches in the debris of time.

Back in town we continued the day off with a stroll to tombs and a swim. And now to dinner. Hopefully fit for another long trek tomorrow.

THE LYCIAN WAY 3

Olsen treated us well at his coming together camp/ A frame site outside of Kalkan. Our conversation relied completely on google translate which meant it was not smooth flowing or wide ranging but we did discover he was a professional footballer for Galasataray for many years.

Unfortunately the mosquitoes in the A frames did not treat us well and the little sleep was frequently interrupted by high pitched buzzing followed by frantic hunting and slapping- and repeat.

So it was kind of a relief when the Iman started his 5.50 call to prayer- our cue to get up and get hiking. Up across rocky olive groves and scrub and the stoniest fields I’ve seen. There are a lot of very stony fields here.

Up to a main road where a platform resting place ( kosk) was next to an old water cistern and ruins. And strangely a scattering of graves beside the road.

Next up, literally, a long climb. First up tarmac road of new villas, then bulldozed track awaiting new villas, then old roman road- now still used as animal migration route to get the goats to high pasture (yayla) for the summer months.

Already hot we stopped at a cistern that had a bucket and had a cold water wash and cool down.

The vegetation here can be merciless. A lot of the time long trousers and sleeves are needed but we are usually in shorts and quite often top less so the thorny scrub has taken its toll.

The rocky ground and fear of falling or twisted ankle means our eyes are on the ground a lot but every time we look up- a vista appears.

Coming into the next village, Bezirgan, up on the high plane between the mountain ranges (Ova), we passed through rows of the wooden grain stores (ambars).

A scattered agricultural village with lots of grain fields and fruit trees, there were huge sacks of apples awaiting collection and juicy bunches of wild grapes hanging out over our route from the hedgerows. A narrow walled path led us out and up.

A different landscape again either side of Saribelen where we carried on past the stage end to wild camp and shorten the distance of the next days hike. We found a lovely spot amongst Burren like limestone formations and settled in for the night.

The moon nearly full on the light rocks and the wind blowing through the giant pines above us made for a interesting night but early morning we were off again to climb higher over a pass then down into another valley, past a charcoal burners circle and over an empty and austere but beautiful ova. The level going made for some rapid progress after much tortuous stumbling over stones ground.

On a wide tractor track we climbed up till we had views of the coast again and continued on this high ground before dropping down again into another ova.

This was the home of Huseyin and the red and white markets led us straight to the little house where his wife? Called us in for cay, tea, and pronounced as in the Indian Chai.

A fine hardworking lady, who showed me her arthritic hands and left me wondering about her life.

It was a magical place,with goat topiary, fantastic stone, wonderful woodland, flat fields for grazing and a huge empty landscape. I would love to see these ova’s in spring with fresh green grass and wild flowers.

And there were traces of former lives lived here. Old farmhouses and stone remains of buildings from a dim and distant past.

Coming into the next village and hoping to replenish our supplies at the ” market” (shop) was a slightly surreal affair.

A huge Turkish flag hung in the sky and as we approached a car drew to a halt asking if we wanted breakfast or pension. After telling the couple we only needed the shop, market – he turned the car around and drew to a stop outside Yesil’s Lodging and proceeded with the hard sell. Later we were to read he was notorious for being a somewhat aggressive salesmen. The irony was that unless you wanted a bed for the night or a cooked meal his “market” had little to offer.

That wasn’t just a fridge. That was the village shop.

The next strange event happened not long after we had escaped Yesil’s grasping hand when we came upon the younger brother of our friend Gerry Mulkerrins picking rose hips for the cay.

He gave us a big bunch of grapes and we carried on along a long valley into forest covered hills on a path that led us to a Wellcome resting shelter and water fountain.

Refreshed again we began another long and steep climb that had us climbing high over the valley through woodland path and forest track. I startled a family of wild boar at some abandoned shepherds huts and they took off at high speed.

And finally at about 940m we found our camp for the night. A resting platform built under an ancient and huge spreading plain tree next to a dribbling water source.

But even a dribble adds up pretty quick to enough drinking water even when you are getting though about 4 lt a day. It was just as well we were as fortified as we were as just as we were falling asleep, a clatter if hooves on stone announced the arrival of z as large group of horses, perhaps 10, come searching for water. They returned many times throughout the night, sometimes on mass, sometimes in twos or threes. And then the screech owl started.

In the morning we continued up and along a wild overgrown ridge to another extraordinary archeological site- Phellos. Perched high on the end of a precipitous ridge it was most probably a Roman garrison city and has been left to the encroaching scrub for a long time.

And then the long scrambling down through the stumble stones and pricking plants into Cukurbag where some kind person had positioned a free cold water machine on their garden wall.

At the far end of the village, just as we had given up finding breakfast we found Nirvana. Breakfast Nirvana anyway. A beautifully put together complex of garden, houses and rustic cabins that make up 3oda.

A craftman’s vision had gone into the creation of a special place full of quirky features.

And the finest breakfast of homegrown/ homemade fruit, veg, preserves etc etc you could hope for on a long hard hike. A lucky find. 3 Oda.

After a couple of days of bread , cucumber,cheese and tomato and little else, it was a foodie treat and we headed off on the final leg to Kas replete. Easy to start, crossing a wide, flat and dried and cracked area- difficult to finish with an incredibly steep and slippy descent down to Kas.

Thankfully down safely we rewarded ourselves for the hardships endured and to come with a room in a hotel with a pool and buffet breakfast. Tomorrow we go wild down the coast again. Starting with a boat ride.

THE LYCIAN WAY 2.

So 4 days trekking since last post and I’m hiding from the sun in a tiny wooden A frame at the foot of the 900m mountain we now have to climb. An emerging camp site being put together by a young guy from Macedonia. All off grid, a dozen or so little “bungalows” set in an olive grove that the Way winds through. It’s called the Olive Garden Camp if you’re ever over this way. It’s just after the busy, mostly British, resort town of Kalkan which we got through as quick as possible. Picked up a new cap for me as some bush grabbed the last from my pack this morning, and supplies and cash for Ivor, and got the hell out of Dodge. We’re hoping that a dawn start from here will have us up the mountain before the sun boils our blood.

We’ve seen a lot of outstanding ruins since Pydnai, the first of which were at the World Heritage site of Xanthos.

We’d taken a dolmus bus from Patara Green Park to avoid 5km of road through plastic greenhouses and wandered around the 2500yr old city after walking through the covered market below, which could have supplied some wonderful and cheap gardening tools. Too heavy to carry another 400km!

There were many signs illustrating the wonderful monuments that had been ” smuggled”, ” abducted” and ” removed to ” the British Museum by Charles Fellows who ” discovered”!! Xanthos in 1840. Ahh the arrogance of the robbing Empire.

More ancient wonders were literally on route later when we hiked on from Cavdir to Uzumlu and found ourselves walking an amazing aqueduct which, two millennia ago, carried water from the hills all the way to Xanthos.

Further on we discovered (that’s the Empire spirit talking!) a section that was still working, carrying a gushing flow of deliciously cool water down towards the sea of greenhouses past a delightfully chilled “kosk”or sitting platform.

From there we had to walk upstream through thick jungly vegetation passed a waterfall- not what we’d expected in this dry landscape.

Then on through shady forest but up and up through shady forest which meant by the time we literally staggered to the posh villa we’d lucked on for the night the cool pool was pure heaven.

Deborah and Ramazan treated us right royal and sent us off stuffed with a ” full turkish” in the morning to pass a wealth of fruit on route until we were past the villas and out in the scrub again.

At Amber we passed a jolly man squashing grapes and doing a fine impression of a drunken grape squasher. His wife gave us a drink of his foot juice. Lovely.

Next up Akbel provided us with a seamstress(?) for fixing Ivor’s chest strap on his pack. No money accepted.

We should have put money into the local organic veg suppliers but can’t take the weight.

Soon we were on a very inhospitable section. Not the people but the vegetation. Very sharp, very prickly, very dry, very overgrown.

We had been warned to wear long shirts/trousers but “it’s too darned hot”.

More antiquities in the middle of it all in the form of a 2000 year old Roman water engineering marvel of Delikkemer. The sealed siphonic pipes ran atop a 500m long wall, 1.6m wide and up to 12m high. Each of the 1000 pipe blocks weighs 800kg and the wall blocks are massive. The mind boggled.

On through the dried grasses of autumn to take shade and lunch at a water source we shared with a community of frogs and I think it’s where Ivor saw a tortoise in the bushes.

Whenever we are heading to a sea level stage end the route planners seem to delight in sending us up first. And so it was. On route to the village of Gelemiş we had to climb, getting temporally lost but finding more beehives.

A busy town with multiple sleeping options we chose to camp behind Medusa bar. A funky operation with showers and beer.

The red/ white markers led us astray first thing and we had to retrace our path back through the town. There is quite often a difference of opinion between map, markings and apps. Some markings have been painted by wily pension owners to lead you to their business. Allegedly.

But we made it down the road to the ancient city of Patara. Now inland from the 12km beach it used to be a harbour city and has seen a succession of people’s and cultures. And most importantly was the birthplace, in the 6th century, of one St Nicholas, AKA Father Christmas, although how he could handle the heat in that red outfit is beyond me.

What impressed me the most was the harbour bath house, a huge edifies that once housed a gym, sauna , solarium etc etc with cool, warm and hot rooms and swimming pool and underfloor heating and massive hot water storage tanks. 2000 years ago. Hats off to the Romans.

Culturally sated we went to the beach where many turtles lay their eggs. I saw a multitude of little scuffling tracks and little holes so I guess it’s laying time, not hatching time.

From there we had to traverse the peninsular to the south and back around to Delikkemer and then a “dangerous” and scary keg on to Kalkan. We thought we’d best break the stage and leave the scary stuff for a day so after a hot hike up and over Eren T mountain/ hill we descended to a lush and isolated beach to cool in the now placid waters.

Onward down the track passed other tiny bays people had claimed as their chill zones we made it to the water fountains and popular picnic/ swimming spot for local Turks. Exhausted and needing to be near drinkable water we decided to stay.

In the morning the twinkling lights of Kalkan drew us on from the camp. Back to the aqueduct then down a pretty crazy path up and down jagged rocks with 100m falls to the sea if you made a tiny error. Slow going but eventually we emerged into the opulent villa land on outskirts of Kalkan. From there a sweaty slog into town and a dolmus a few km down the highway from where we clambered through the olive groves to our tiny A frames.

4 more days and we’ll be back at the sea. Until then I’m hoping for some cool mountain air.

Oh yeah, Ivor got mobbed by wild boar in his tent last night. Didn’t sleep a wink.

THE LYCIAN WAY 1.

(Thanks to grand daughter Sylvie for the illustration)

Rambling man is now attempting to hike the Lycian Way, a 20 year old route put together by Kate Clow from a wealth of ancient paths, tracks and drovers roads along the Turkish ” turquoise coast”. A 540 km trek from Fethiye southeast then northeast to near Antalya, it has 29 sections and takes 30 to 33 days. We have only 26 days available so will have to miss a bit.

I say “we” cos I’m joined by Ivor Bundle again. Sadly the planned trip by the Tres Amigos was scuppered when Mickey ( Man of the Mountain) Dawson buggered up his knee and was forced to stay home.

A wise decision as this trek is no place for dodgy knees being pretty rugged in hill walking terms. We’ve only been at it for 4 1/2 days so far and I believe the easier sections are supposed to be at the beginning but it’s been pretty hard going on steep and rocky paths with sections of loose stones and scree ,occasional landslides and rockfall interspersed with wider or flatter mule and tractor tracks. Nearly all off road and totally glorious. Still 30 degrees or more, with packs weighing 12-14kg loaded with food and water, we try to start early and hunt the shade for a breather when we can.

The days are about 12 hours long and full of de-camping, hiking, hiding from sun while lunching, hiking, camping, washing clothes, reading up route etc etc that little time or internet is left for blogging – so if you’re interested in more info on this wonderful route, check online- suffice to say it passes several holiday centres on the coast but mostly travels through small villages of farmers and goat herders and travels up and down between the high pastures and forests and the beaches and harbours of the med. A long long history of a succession of civilisations, cultures and peoples have all left their marks upon the landscape and the hiker will ramble through remains of the ages as they walk here.

We started the adventure at Kayakoy, and after our first Turkish coffee and Turkish delight headed up to explore the old Greek town of Levissi, abandoned after the massacre of Greeks in the Ottoman Emoire during Ww1. A subsequent treaty and population exchange ensured the towns inhabitants could not return.

From the top of the ruined town we had an 8 km walk, following our first red/ white trail markings through a tall forest of pines with occasional views of the Taurus mountains rising pale blue in the distance.

On the far side of the ridge we were a little confused at a junction of ways until a big and boisterous man and his companion showed us the way down to Ölüdeniz and Ovacık, where we had a room prebooked. Turned out he was a publican on the strip of gaudy bars , restaurants, shops and what have you in this most British of resorts. We had no idea that such a place existed here and it was an assault on the senses.

The kindly publican had us in for a drink and we set off to eventually find our hotel, which we sadly left at 7 next morning without time to indulge in the enticing facilities.

Before long we’d made it to the official start of a long journey, fingers and toes crossed.

Immediately we started to rise steeply with views of the beaches and harbour of Ölüdeniz and the capes and headlands beyond. We passed a number of fellow hikers rising from their tents as we climbed first on a wide track and then, a sign of things to come, a rough and stony path.

Access to water is pretty important on this route and I’d bought with me a little cup/ mini bucket and string with which to gather water from the old storage wells or cisterns that dotted the route so was interested to see if the first we passed contained the life juice. It did.

Blue skies, green trees and dried and yellowing scrub made for pretty landscape.

There was abandoned development here and there and lots and lots of bees hives. Later we discovered stalls selling pine honey- a new one to me.

Finally reaching a level section of high ground we took the opportunity to relax a moment and enjoy the one spring fountain we’d found that wasn’t busy with bees.

The first stage end is at Faralya,but after a tasty and hearty lunch at a pension run by a charming and friendly couple we had the strength to carry on to Kabak beach, passing our first Lycian tomb.

Ancient and twisted trees dotted our route that steeply returned to sea level where after a swim we found the Secret Garden campsite hidden away, maybe illegally , in the woods behind the beach. First day, two stages done.

First erection of Ivor’s tent successful and rested by an exhausted sleep we left early next morning to avail of the shade afforded by the towering mountains to the east of us we had now to scale.

Cyclamens and asphodels emerged everywhere from the forest floor as we reached the top and were rewarded with far reaching views.

Old grain terraces and olive groves mostly abandoned, the strong scents of herbs and pine needles in the heat and the deep red of the naked arbutus strawberry tree.

Here and there along the route are little stalls selling cay, (tea) and water, drinks etc. Sometimes manned sometimes with honesty box they usually have resting platforms and shade, lovely shade.

They have lovely little wood burners for heating the tea water and this one had a subterranean cooler.

At Alinca we were treated to more delicious food and Turkish hospitality at a pension / shop/ restaurant. Our hosts have always been very friendly and inquisitive, and the food wholesome, local and homegrown and made. Little gifts of fruit are often offered and the tea cup often refilled.

A grand design modern home sat below us with a view to die for. Location location.

We met a couple that we bumped into often over the next couple of days, the only walkers met on the trail since the first day. Maybe it’s still too hot!

Off again, at a junction we had to decide. One way to join our new friends at the ruins of Sidyma or another route south to the nearer village of Gey. We had run out of time- so headed for Gey. It takes a long time to cover any ground on this terrain and we’re afraid we’d run out of light.

So so hot we used the magnificent old water cistern to cool down. A big metal bucket on a rope thrown into the water and hoisted for a shower. The refreshment lasted moments.

A cross country slog and a final exhausted stretch up a section of road and we arrived in Gey to ask for food and shelter. Taken in by a household we couldn’t decide were in business or not, we pitched in their yard and they again did us proud with dinner , breakfast and shower. Only problem the overpopulation of cocks that crowed incessantly from 4am!

The lady of the house wove carpet and there were huge sacks of wild herbs dried in the shed. The neighbour drew water from the cistern in the morning as we headed away , making for a wild camping spot on the coast about 8 hours hike away.

Beautiful and ancient old olive and holm oak trees, many delicate stacks of stones to mark our way, and so many asphodels poking up from the dry ground from their huge bulbs.

Long abandoned threshing circles and constant vista down towards the coast.

Another village, Bel, another lovely couple and a chance to have tea, cake and shop for supplies. Loaded up with water ( 4 lt) and good we carried on into the heat with a lot of altitude to lose.

Passed the tiny and mostly abandoned village of Gavuragili we continued down towards the pebbly beach still being pounded by big waves, similar to our swim at Kabak beach. We found a nice place to pitch in the cliff top trees next to the campground where there had been a festival last year and still sported the signs and decor. We met our new friends Olga and Basil there and I spent the night star gazing without my fly sheet.

A short day today started at 6 before the burning orb rose into the clear sky with a wash etc at the village washing station before climbing a forest track up and over a ridge and down to views over the flat plain ahead. The 12 km beach of Patara backed by protected wetlands and behind that hundreds of plastic poly tunnels. We stopped for breakfast on the trail overlooking the ancient ruins of Pydnai before exploring the amazing stone work at ground level.

From there it was a short but tricky stretch down over rock and a landscape recently burnt to a very dodgy bridge over the river separating us from Patara Green Park camping, whose advertising signs have been regularly enticing us since we started.

A day to have a swim, do the washing , erect the tents etc and wrestle with the internet in an attempt to post a blog.

We also had to mask up when the governor came to call proceeds by a mass of police.

Dingle Ramblings

We had thought we might head down to the southwest and do the Sheeps Head, or Dingle Way long distance trails but having just survived Storm Ellen and with Storm Frances on the way thought it wiser to do day hikes from the camper as the weather permitted. And so it was that we arrived at Brandon Head under Ireland’s highest mountain outside of the MacGillycuddy Reeks with a plan.

This was staycation summer on the Dingle peninsular and we were concerned it could be crowded. But no, once you venture into the hills there is always wide open spaces for all. Even on the Wild Atlantic Way.

Our planned route of an out and back to the pass between Masatiopan and Piaras Mor north of Brandon Mountain changed when we saw the signs for a loop to Sauce Creek.

The Loop was 12km I think and we would add another 10 km by continuing west over the pass on the Dingle Way. It was a dramatic place to park up for the night with waves crashing onto the cliffs below us and views out over Tralee Bay to Kerry Head and the Slieve Mish Mountains.

Climbing the stile with the red walking man signs in the morning we climbed higher up the headland and away from the cliffs through a wild and open landscape of russet brown grasses and bracken and the purple and yellow splashes of sheep trimmed heather and gorse.

We passed one of the Second World War lookout posts that we’ve come across on numerous headlands around the coast of Ireland. Manned 24/7 by 2 men who watched for and logged and reported any military activity, the LOP’s were often accompanied with a giant EIRE laid out in white painted rocks on prominent sites to alert pilots they were over the coast of neutral Ireland. Historical remnants that often puzzle the coastal visitor there are still around 50 of the original 83 standing sentinel awaiting some other purpose.

Almost lost in the soft boggy ground and hidden in the long rushy grasses were the stone walls of animal shelters or human habitations from a time of hard and isolated living. We descended into a deep valley to ford a steam and then climb up and over the rounded summit of Cnoc Duileibhe (311m).

Heading due west towards the sounds of the sea we reached the flatish heathery area of Sliabh Glas and a view down into the jaws of An Sas. Translated as “trap with a noose” the horseshoe shaped Bay was reputed to hold fast any boat that ventured, or was swept, in. There used to be 3 families living at the bottom of the 750m long curve of cliff, scrapping a living from a few acres of land and the vastness of the sea, the last to leave in 1910 after a local midwife lost her life falling from the heights on her way down to deliver a baby.

Half of the Kerry coastline is defined as “soft” and liable to erosion and about 10 acres of these cliffs fell into the sea in 2014 so much of the remains of the early settlements are slowly being lost to the sea. As we turned our backs to the ocean and continued south the ground was riddled with deep bog holes and fenced off ravines and care was needed to avoid a twisted ankle or worse.

Rising over a knoll following the marker posts we had a vista of uninterrupted bogland and the silver glinting of Brandon Bay beyond. Reaching an ancient trackway we turned west again. We were now following the Dingle Way on its route over the shoulder of Mt Brandon and down towards Feohanagh and Smerwick Harbour.

At the far end of the track we stopped for lunch at a roofed building amongst what had been an extensive settlement. It had possibly once been a home and still had traces and relics of its past life but now looked like it was a shelter for people working on the track or tending the cattle that were now the only inhabitants of this lonely spot.

This was the hamlet of Arraglen and was once home to 13 families. A lot of effort was being put into creating a solid path from here up towards the coll high above with a mini digger creating ditches and drains. At its end we continued to clamber over the steep slope to the pass at 610m where somehow we missed the 1500 year old Ogham stone but reveled in the views down to the west.

Below us were the walls of Fothar na Manach, the Fields of the Monks, where a community of monks lived and farmed what must be one of the wildest and most inaccessible sites in Ireland next to Skellig Michael which would have been visible in clearer weather. We could see Brandon Creek, from where St Brendan and the lads headed off to America in the curragh, the sloping pointed peaks of the Three Sisters, and, fading into the murk of sea and sky, Slea Head and the Blaskets islands.

Returning to the camper via the Dingle Way along the old bog track we were rewarded with equally stunning views to the East which at times included Carrauntoohil, Ireland’s highest. But Mt Brandon continued to wear its hat of cloud. In the sheltered walls of the boreens in the valley below the colors of the fushia, montbretia and heather were a shock after the bare mountain above.

Moving on to the most westerly point in Ireland , on Dunmore Head , for the night, we were again grateful for an empty and dramatic seaside parkup without any ” no overnight parking/ camping ” signs.

We had planned to tackle Mount Eagle in the morning but the cloud was too low so we explored the short but sweet local loop around the head, where some of the last Star Wars movie was shot. We could imagine the location finder was well pleased with themselves on discovering the stunning otherworldly scenery of this western outpost with only the hauntingly atmospheric Blaskets Islands any more “Far Out”.

Atop the headland was another LOP, that’s Loop Out Point to those who haven’t been paying attention, this one with an Ogham stone for company, it’s 1500 year old script still plainly visible.

The sky was clearer to the north so we headed round the indented coastline on the Slea Head Drive wondering if pre-covid we would have encountered coach tours on the narrow winding road. Parked up overlooking the embracing shelter of Smerwick Harbour we walked a muddy farm track to gain access to the commonage around the Three Sisters.

An untamed and rugged landscape that had witnessed the savagery of man at Dun an Oir, the promontory fort we explored below the Sisters. It was here in the defensive Iron Age site that one of the bloodiest events in Irish history took place in 1580.

A force of 600 Spanish, Italian and Irish, sent by Pope Gregory in support of the Desmond Rebellion were forced to defend themselves there when their ships had been blockaded within the bay. The English forces, 4000 strong, massacred them all after they had surrendered following a 3 day siege. All but the commanders were beheaded and the bodies thrown into the sea, the heads lined up in an adjoining field, since called Gort na gCeann ( Field of the Heads).

With a wild, wet and windy night forecast as Storm Francis swept in we thought we’d better retreat inland to safety. Glanteenassig Forest Park in a sheltered valley nestled among the peaks of the Slieve Mish mountains sounded good. The 450 hectares of forest, mountain and peatland were billed by Coillte as ” an outdoor enthusiasts dreamland”. Seemed to fit the bill. Up a long single track lane towards the only farm at the valley end we turned in over the Drishoge river and drive on up the forestry track to the upper lake, Caum.

Amazingly the 2 km circular walk around the lake was all boardwalk. Some serious amount of effort and cash had been put into placing the 1000 or so slabs of 9×2. Wether this was to protect us from the environment or the environment from us I couldn’t be sure but certainly made for a dry footed walk over some seriously wet ground.

The deep lake, gauged out by a retreating glacier, was silent and tranquil as we awaited the wind and rain in a carefully selected parkup.

Our sheltered position protected us from much of the storm and it was only when I ventured away from the van in the morning that the amount of rain became evident. It was easy to understand the origin of the name Glanteenassig or Gleann Ti an Easaigh which translates as Valley of the Waterfalls. They were streaming down the mountainsides in silver ribbons and when we walked to Lough Slat the words of the Irish poet J J Callinan couldn’t have been truer,” a thousand wild fountains rush down to that lake from their home in the mountains”.

A roaring, foaming, rushing mass of white water raced down beside us as we ventured up the River Walk alongside the Owencashla and the views from the picnic spot high up on a glacial moraine were elemental.