Nisyros:  back to the fun!

September and perfect weather for trekking in the mountains on Nisyros.  Cloudless sky.  Refreshing breezes.  Hunters with their dogs and guns not yet descended on the island. Nisyros has some of the most dramatic landscapes and treks in Greece – if you like walking around the inside of a volcano.

Circumstances meant that I was only back on the island for a week but in that time I covered a lot of ground.  The intention is to post a blog on a number of the treks over the next few weeks.  I tracked the routes using ‘Endomondo’ and a link to the videos created using ‘Relive’ will be given at the end.  This isn’t a description of how to find the routes but a sample of interesting things to see on the way.  Description of the routes is on the ‘Greek Island Walks’ page of this blog which is now a little old but the routes have changed very little:  https://barrysramblings.com/greek-island-walks/

The first is a walk from Nikia, one of the two spectacular caldera-rim villages, now once more accessible thanks to the re-instatement of the island local bus, not operating when I was here in May.  Description of how to find this route is at:
https://barryh2.files.wordpress.com/2015/03/nisyros-walk-6.pdf

The short walk uphill from the square where the bus terminates to the main square of the village is as much as most on the trip-buses do. Enclosed by picturesque blue and white buildings, paved with black-and-white pebble mosaic ‘hochlakos’ patterning, enjoying a cold drink in the shade at one of the two kafenions looking up at the church tower is a great beginning to this route. Though the square is small with the church rising high above, it is somehow very pleasingly proportioned.  I love the place and have to remind myself that it’s an 8-mile walk back to Mandraki or I would just sit there rotting.

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Looking up from the hochlakos mosaic to the church tower.

Around the corner from the square is one of the viewpoints down to the Stephanos, Polyvotis and Alexandros craters over a thousand feet below, backed by Oros Diavatis, the highest mountain on the island.  It’s a reminder that Nikia is perched on the rim of the caldera.

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Looking from the highest viewpoint in Nikia down to the craters in the caldera

Drop down from the viewpoint to the edge of the village, turn right onto an old paved kalderimi and a number of deserted dwellngs are soon in evidence, some on their own, some clustered together, probably an extended family grouping.  One of the larger groupings has a threshing circle on the roof of a house, a couple of sternas (traditional underground water storage tanks) and stone-walled enclosures with basins carved out of volcanic rock.

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Threshing circle on the roof of a house, enclosure with covered sterna and rock basins.

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Another, larger, sterna, entrance to another enclosure and remains of a windmill tower on the mountain top beyond

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Inside this enclosure a larger house presumably the principle residence, utilising huge rocks and with the luxury of a stone porch.

 The path from here, foot-width narrow at first, is on the inside of the caldera looking straight down to the craters.

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Looking back along the path to Nikia perched at a high point on the caldera rim

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The branch of a dead tree follows the line of the mountain tops of Nikia and beyond

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Looking down to the craters and the taverna ‘oasis’ where the trip buses stop

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A pleasing composition

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Zooming in on the floor of the Stephanos crater with the stark outline of volcanic rocks

Having contoured around the caldera rim the narrow path suddenly becomes a well-paved kalderimi, dropping steeply down to a low col.  Though well-paved, in places it is made rough-going by fallen stones from the hillside above.

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The stone-strewn paved kalderimi passed between volcanic pillars

 At the low point in the caldera rim a steel pipe crosses from the crater to Agia Irini, a tiny harbour dating back to the early years of the 20th Century.  Built by an Italian entrepreneur, for a few years the pipe was used to pump sulphur for export to the vineyards of the Mediterranean to combat disease afflicting crops, an industrial enterprise which failed.  From the col, a bulldozed track offers another perspective on the craters along the 3-kilometre length of the caldera.

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Looking north-eastward along the length of the caldera with the craters in the foreground and Emborios, the other caldera-rim village, in the distance.

From the col the track, partly just bulldozed, partly concreted over, climbs steadily up to the monastery of Stavros, at one time a Crusader stronghold though now showing little evidence of that.  One of the buildings, only open at festival time as far as I know, has portraits of the heroes of the Greek War of Independence, including the Maniot Mavro Mihalis (Black Michael) around its walls.  This is the last point on the trek that looks down into the caldera.

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The church and its bell looking down to the craters

The next mile is an uphill slog along a bulldozed track.  It irritates me every time I walk it, knowing that it destroyed much of an old well-paved kalderimi in order to provide access for an abortive geothermal energy project.  In places, winter rains wash away the superficial gravel to reveal the old paved surface beneath, nurturing a hope that more rains will clear it completely in subsequent years.  A forlorn hope.  In the weeks coming up to 14 September, the name day of Stavros, the main celebration on the island, a small bulldozer digs out more rubble to spread over the track.

The views from the track are not without interest, passing small churches, one built into the rock alongside a recently collapsed cave-dwelling, then looking across the broad expanse leading down the long, very tiring trek to what I dubbed ‘Dragon Coast’:
https://barrysramblings.com/2013/09/09/nisyros-dragon-coast/

The track reaches a high point in the col from were a path leads to the ancient monastery of Siones: (https://barryh2.files.wordpress.com/2015/03/nisyros-walk-option-3.pdf )

From the col the relatively boring track drops another mile or so, though there are diversions to add some interest.

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A tiny, well-maintained church tucked into the shoulder of the mountain shortly after the col offering welcome shade and places to sit and eat a banana.

Thankfully, after a just over a mile, at the first hairpin on the track, a remnant of the kalderimi cuts off the bend and then, crossing the track, a longer section meanders down to rejoin the track near the Paleocastro.  This section of the route is not as spectacular as that around the caldera rim but is very pleasant, much to be preferred to the bulldozed track.

Sadly, this year bulldozing of ‘repairs’ to the track before the Stavros festival meant that access to the main part of the old route has been badly damaged by rubble pushed over the edge.  Just grit your teeth, pick a stable line and slither down the loose bank for a few yards onto the stone-paved kalderimi.

Apart from the paved kalderimi there are other reminders that this is an ancient landscape, not only long abandoned barrel-arch houses but also the occasional ‘erratic’, large stones re-used.

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Ancient olive press re-used in stone wall of a terraced field

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Marble base of a column brought to the island from elsewhere, now helping to prop up an earth bank alongside the kalderimi  

 

Fly over the route:
https://www.relive.cc/view/e1188183860

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From Symi to my back garden

I’ve been experimenting with the technology to record some of the treks I’ve been doing on Symi, using a combination of apps to record routes and then create a 3D ‘fly-over’ incorporating photos taken along the way.  It’s not entirely satisfactory yet as the grid is a bit too coarse to always allocate the photos to the point at which they were taken.  But it’s a work in progress.  Below are a few examples, just click on the links.

To the mountain-top monastery of Stavros Polemou
https://www.relive.cc/view/e1158393737

To the mountain-top monastery of Kokkimedes
https://www.relive.cc/view/e1132968293

A ridge-top loop around Nimborios
https://www.relive.cc/view/e1120344558

Let me know what you think of the results

 

I’ve been back home for a couple of weeks to check that family and friends are behaving themselves  ….. and to try to rescue the vegetable garden, ravaged by drought (!!!! in the UK ????), caterpillars, aphids and a rabbit.  The gardening produced a few colourful and interesting photo opportunities.  Goes to show that if you keep your eyes open there is interest even in your back garden.

The long summer heatwave and drought in the UK came to an end with a weekend of heavy rain and falling temperatures.  As so often happens, as the rain clouds disappeared south-eastwards, looking across the valley from the balcony I was treated to a colourful rainbow display, a double bow.  This is always especially poignant for me, my late wife’s name, Enfys, being Welsh for rainbow.

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The extent of the bow

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The fainter double outside it

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Zooming in on one end shows the brilliance of the colours

Cutting out this year’s raspberry canes, for the first time ever unproductive because of the drought, and tying in the new growth, I disturbed a dramatic 75mm-long caterpillar of an Eyed Hawk-moth which had been munching through the leaves.  I had been squishing caterpillars of cabbage white butterflies which had reduced my brassicas to lace but this was a rare beauty so I carefully relocated it – after taking the obligatory photos.

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The only coin I had to hand to show the size was a euro.  Note the blue tail-spur which differentiates it from other hawk-moths

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Zooming in on the head showing the yellow shield-shaped marking

Having tied in the raspberry canes I started to clear the dead leaves from a clump of yucca, a painful job because even when dead they are needle-sharp and unyielding.  Deep inside I uncovered an abandoned goldfinch nest. My guess is that the parents had been intimidated by next-door’s new cat, the nest being a bit too close to ground level.  On a positive note, the cat also seems to have chased off the rabbit.

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Dense dead leaves covering the trunk and the nest

 

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… which emerged in a small fork when they had been cleared

  

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Close up of the nest, still with three eggs in it.

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Greece, Symi:  …… and now for something a little different

I don’t often go on the ‘Round-the-island’ boat trip but occasionally I do when I have visitors staying. Like recently.  There are a number of excellent reasons for doing it:

1  It’s a good way to see the island

2  It’s relaxing for tired muscles after trailing around the mountains for a week

3  It’s a very good way to keep cool, not only because of the breeze on the boat but because it stops  at five points for a swim

4  There is a very good barbeque on the beach at the tiny Sesklia Island to the south

The reason I don’t do it more often is that I prefer to be walking through the world rather than watching it pass by me with limited opportunity to side-track to look at things.  I prefer more activity, more interaction with my environment. Sitting on a boat watching the shoreline pass by is a bit like watching TV.

The best compromise is to choose the day when the boat’s first stop is at the island monastery of Agios Emilianos.  Described on the ‘Greek Island Walks’ page of this blog it’s a walk of between 2 and 3 hours across the island to the west coast (see).  Having checked the evening before and arranged with the captain to be picked up at Emilianos, we knew we needed to be there by 11.30 when it left for the second swimming stop.  We allowed 3 hours and took 2½.

With the prospect of an hour to kill on the beach at Sesklia while the barbeque was being prepared, I decided to use it to walk into the interior and visit the castle there.

‘The Interior’ sounds very grand for such a small island but it is surprising how different it is from what you see sailing around the coast.   I last went to Sesklia more than 10 years ago and had no idea how much it had changed.  The short stretch of concrete road from the jetty to St Paul’s church had been extended.  What I remembered as a dirt track running westwards from there is now good quality concrete.

At the point where it turned sharply north to go around the back of the hill up to the large farm buildings on the top, I turned off and walked up through old stone terraces to the castle.  The walk along the road was quick and easy but once onto the terraces it was a matter of following sheep tracks winding through aggressive vegetation, much of it long-dead from drought.

There is more left of the walls of the castle than most of the others on Symi, with one corner nearly 3 metres high.  There seemed to be few large ‘ashlar’ blocks lying around so either they have been cannibalised and used in the construction of the nearby farm buildings or, like in other old castles, large blocks were used for the base of the fortification topped by smaller stones.

Only half a mile from the jetty in the bay, it’s an interesting alternative to sitting under the tamarisks at the top of the beach.  A comfortable stroll back in time to join the queue for the barbeque.

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Looking up to the vestiges of the castle walls

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Getting closer and the size of dressed stones as an outer defence become clear.

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This style of construction, with smaller stones and terracotta levelling out large blocks, is more common elsewhere than on Symi

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As in other ancient constructions on Symi, there seems to be one large, carefully cut block with a channel in it

 

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Looking along the wall facing the farm building below.

  

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The central plain on Sesklia island probably has more flat, carefully farmed land than the whole of Symi

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Greece, Symi:  The smell of herbs and The Flood

OK, so I’m posting a lot fewer blogs these days.  Cynics are probably sniggering that old-age is catching up on me and I’m spending the days ‘reminiscing’ in tavernas.  Nowhere near the mark.

True, I have less energy and take longer to recover but in six weeks the least walking I have done in a day is 12 kms and that includes two days hopping between islands and waiting around for ferries.  The least height ascended in a day has been 450 feet on the days waiting for ferries.  A couple of days have been more than 25 kms and 2,500 feet.  This is seven days a week for six weeks. Mostly it has been in temperatures ranging between 30 and 35 degrees Celsius in the shade but towards the end of the period it was pushing 40.

So, not guilty of idling my time away.  Just not getting down to writing much.  I’ll be on Symi for much of the summer though with trips back home to see family and friends and sort my vegetable garden. There will also be another visit to Nisyros and hopefully to see friends on Kalymnos.

This is always, of course, God permitting.  The last decade and a half I have been more and more aware that, in the words of the book of Proverbs, “ A man’s mind plans hi s way but the Lord directs his steps”.  I make plans and then completely unexpectedly, left-field, something happens which takes me in another direction

What finally triggered me to post another blog was walking to the mountain-top monastery of Stavros Polemou on Symi (see Walk 1 and Walk 4) and the next day to Agios Vasilios, a monastery teetering on the top of cliffs above the sea, and to Lapathos, a secluded beach on the west side of the island (Walk 1 and Walk 2).   Great walks and great places.

What struck me both days was the strong, almost overpowering, smell of herbs.  On Symi whole mountainsides are covered in oregano or sage or thyme, often though not always only one of the three depending on geology/soil-type.  Most of the flowering plants in my last couple of blog posts are now dry and shrivelled up, crisped brown leaves.  Thistles are coming into their own but the dominant impact is the herbs.

My favourite herb, oregano has now finishing flowering, the massed heads of white flowers turned to seeds, the swarms of bees having done their job.  The plants are looking drab and tired rather than fresh-green but are beginning to show signs of new growth so will soon be ready to pick and dry again for flavouring my meals.

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Massed white flowers turned to seed heads

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…. with new growth sprouting on some plants

The bees have moved on to the thyme, lower-growing with vivid purple cushions.  Walking along the narrow paths through the plants is a bit nerve racking with bees constantly buzzing around your ankles which brush the flowers at every step.  Mostly they just get on with the job and only regard you as a threat if you get too close to the hives.  One day I did and was stung for my lack of attention.

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In places the thyme is dense and close-packed, crowding the path.  Too risky to stop in such places because of the zillions of bees.  Here they are further apart.

In contrast to the dark-green foliage of thyme, in the heat of day the silver/green leaves of sage are curled up tight to reduce the surface area presented to the scorching sun, showing the silvery underside, a typical way plants adapt to extreme heat and aridity.  Not yet in flower, sage is the dominant smell at the moment, perfect for picking and drying.  Because of the heat-stress, the flavour is much more intense than the sage I grow in my garden in the UK.

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Sage, curling leaves combat the heat and aridity and intensify the flavour.

The ever-present, almost overpowering, smell of herbs on Symi mountainsides has to be experienced to be appreciated.

 

If you are coming to Symi or Nisyros, don’t forget to check out the walking guides on the ‘Greek Island Walks’ page of this blog. I must admit to not having updated them as intended but even had I done so, the amendments could not have taken account of the dramatic changes which have happened on Symi.  The exceptionally severe storm of November 2017 led to the Greek Government declaring a state of emergency on the island.  The army was sent in to help sort out the devastation and the damage in the harbour area has now been largely cleared.  Most visitors will see no sign of what happened.

In the mountains it’s a different story.  Footpaths and kalderimia have been damaged, especially where they cross gullys.   However, don’t believe what some travel reps are telling clients – all the paths I have checked out have been passable.  More care is needed but none has been blocked.  Perhaps the one which will impact most is the paved kalderimi past Ag Paraskevi  ( Walk 2 and Walk 4 ).  The church courtyard is filled with mud (now dried), rubble and a broken-down digger sent to clear it.  The path for 100 metres after that is badly damaged.  But it’s perfectly passable.  I walk that way three or four times a week.

Don’t forget, especially if you are an ‘independent traveller’ to take a look at my book now in Amazon’s Kindle Store.  ‘Greece unpackaged: Travels in a foreign language’.

 

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Greece:  Nisyros spring

As intended, after my earlier-than-planned visit to Symi I returned home to resume sorting out my vegetable and fruit garden ready to leave for the summer, a task helped by four days of unusually warm and sunny weather.  Having planted cabbages and sprouts, sown parsnips, pruned apple trees (an autumn task), tied in raspberry canes (another autumn task), and countless other garden-based activities, I headed back to Greece, glad to escape the return to the all-pervading grey and wet which had descended on the UK again.

I arrived on the volcano island that is Nisyros for late spring.

In the distant past it was one of the most fertile and productive agricultural centres in the Mediterranean/Aegean, with massive harvests of grain grown on highly fertile volcanic soil.  Narrow terraced fields climbing up steep mountainsides didn’t lend themselves to industrial scale farming.  Coupled with reduced rainfall consequent on climate change the population moved out leaving much of the land to become feral.

Early spring and fields are blazing white and yellow with crown daisies but now they are golden brown. Eye-catching crimson of poppies have mostly finished flowering.  Purple spathes of Dragon Arum are now confined to a few tiny specimens behind shady walls

By contrast late spring is characterised by a canvas of ripe wild-cereals, golden coloured and sweet smelling of hay, dotted with a huge variety of colours of smaller flowering plants.

Starting to make an appearance are the many thistles, the last of the plants to flower.

Soon all will be withered and dried up.  But at the moment it’s eye-catching.

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Greece:  Symi spring

Having made the most of the snow in the unusually prolonged winter (the last blog post) my intended trip to Greece and Spring was brought forward by a few weeks. The sudden and unexpected death of a very good friend on Symi meant that I returned to the island weeks earlier than planned in order to attend the funeral. The transition between winter and spring was therefore very rapid.  Snow drifts to spring flowers in a few days.

Sandwiched as it was between UK Easter and Greek Easter meant that in order to get to Symi in time I had no choice but to settle for air fares significantly higher than I usually pay.  The plus side was that I stayed until fares dropped again which gave a week of trekking in mountains unusually green and colourful compared to the parched deserts of high summer.

The colour was both at the micro and macro levels.  Flowers ranged from tiny clusters a few millimeters across to the deep, opulent purple spathes of Dragon Arums two feet long.  If you know where to look there are shy orchids hidden in the other vegetation.

Wildlife was also much in evidence with many lizards and tortoises taking advantage of the cooler temperatures of spring to be out and about during more than the early morning and late evening.

These are just a few images, a montage, of Spring on Symi.  If you only visit the island in the heat of summer, you miss all this.

 

I had to return home to resume sorting out my vegetable and fruit garden ready to leave for the summer, a task helped by four days of unusually warm and sunny weather.  But I’m heading back to Greece very soon and will be glad to escape the return to the all-pervading grey and wet which has descended on the UK again.

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Wales, Brecon Beacons National Park: spring into winter

I promised more images of winter before spring eventually arrives and I headed for Greece.  My intention had been to post more photos of snow in the Canadian Rockies but once again plans were changed by events.

The real effect of global warming is climate change and climate scientists confirm that what we will increasingly see is more frequent and more extreme ‘extreme weather events’.  In the northern latitudes we are also likely to see more grey skies and greater precipitation.

This is the context in which to view what has been happening in the UK recently. It seems bizarre that tabloid mentality has come to regard 1 March as the start of Spring.  Spring is a meteorological not a calendar concept.  The first month of this mistakenly notional ‘Spring’ saw more winter weather than during winter, certainly in my neck of the UK woods.

Following the heavy snowfall which I wrote about in my last-but-one blog post we had another significant snowfall in the middle of March when Easter bunnies and spring flowers were gracing supermarket shelves.

Once again, after clearing a path up the drive, on a couple of days I took my camera for a walk up the mountain.  This time I walked further up the ridge before dropping down to the Goose and Cuckoo, a log fire and warm welcome.  It seemed right to make the most of the snow before heading for Greece and Spring.

 

Talking of Greece don’t forget to take a look at my book now in Amazon’s Kindle Store.  ‘Greece unpackaged: Travels in a foreign language’, available for the world to read.  x

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