Meteora: on the rocks

Monday dawned, and continued, very grey.  There are a number of weather forecasts for this part of the world and they are usually different.  None can be relied on.  The one thing that forecasts and locals are agreed on at the moment is that the weather will be ‘mixed’.  So I decided to do a series of short walks and stay fairly close to Kastraki rather than wander over the main block of mountains to the range of pinnacles beyond as I had done the last two days.

The first walk was to be up to a massive finger of rock sticking up in a col and then go up a path which the walking guide repeatedly describes as ‘EXTREMELY DANGEROUS’ and “suitable only for experienced climbers”. Sounded like my kind of walk.  Having gone wrong getting out of the village yet again I concluded that the walking guide is well out of date but with inbuilt direction finding I got onto and followed the path I was looking for.  No pinnacle-top monasteries, just very dramatic rocks.  From the pinnacle I made for the huge chunk of the rock I intended to climb ……  and then had an attack of common sense.

The bit which is considered dangerous looks pretty straightforward to me from the photographs but to get to it involves walking up a long sloping slab at about 30o.  Usually no problem whatsoever but after the recent very wet weather it was oozing all over and very slippery.  Those who know the mountains will know that it is always easier underfoot going up than coming down.  I could pick out a way heading up into the narrow gulley but coming down would be unacceptably risky given that an uncontrolled slide could be as much as 1000 feet, some of it vertically  … and I was on my own.  Hence the attack of common sense.  Having sussed out the route I would save it for when the rock has dried out.  Maybe another time.  Sorry guys, you can put the insurance policies away.

The pinnacle in the centre of the col was my initial target

I was heading up to the gully on the left when I had the attack of common sense

Another digression here. I have come to the conclusion that I am a vrachophile (from the Greek βράχος – a cliff-sized rock and φίλος – friend of) Sounds better than ‘petrophile’ and less open to misunderstanding.  I can’t help myself.  I like to photograph rock.  I like to touch it and hug it.  Maybe I’m weird.  Rocks are so much bigger, more permanent and artistically pleasing than anything man-made and incredibly captivating and hypnotic.

There are a limited number of pinnacle-top monasteries in Meteora, for which the area is very rightly famous, but there are scores of rock pinnacles which individually and especially collectively are worthy of fame and acclaim in their own right.  I take loads of photos just of rocks.  The monasteries atop them are only the icing on the cake.  What is great about them is that they complement the rocks.  They are man in harmony with nature not sticking his finger up in boastful superiority, claiming to overcome nature.  The rocks themselves are the thing.  The myriad coach trips ‘do’ nothing but monasteries, plus  tavernas and restaurants where the drivers and guides get a good deal.

Some rocks are much pock-marked by shallow caves

Some is much smoother

Some is incredibly fissured

But it’s definitely the backdrop to everything in Kastraki

As you climb higher the more of the rocks you see

Arranged in mysterious and seried ranks

All shapes and sizes but always there

From the rock pinnacle I dropped back down to the edge of the village and headed for an area with some very different examples of man taking advantage of nature.  This time building into and out from natural hollows / ‘caves’ in rock faces. In places wooden platforms still just out from natural shallow caves high up in the rock face.   They are know as ‘sketes’ and were originally reached by retractable wooden ladders so they could be pulled up in sections when danger threatened.  You can’t get much closer to the rock than those guys.

Some of the ‘sketes’ still surviving, testimony to the courage and effort of the early monks and to the enduring nature of wood.

Reached by retractable ladders in sections so you could pull them up behind you

Then there are more sophisticated structures, on a far grander scale than the ‘maison troglodyte’ in the Loire Valley

I spotted this bird on the remains of one of the sketes. I guess it’s a female ….

…. because a male spotted her as well …..

… and there followed a tender moment

As with this whole place you can’t appreciate the awe-inspiring scale of it without seeing it in the flesh.  The eye communicates with the brain in a way which no camera shot ever can.  The difference between the average amateur like me and your top landscape photographers is that they manage to get closer to expressing what the rest of us see.

After that I set out to suss the start of a path to an area I haven’t yet visited.  But not before buying my coach ticket for when I move on on Thursday and having an espresso in Kalabaka.  Which is where I was grateful to be when I had to shelter for half an hour from yet another violent thunderstorm and torrential rain.  The friend I made in the shop where I bought the walking guide assured me this afternoon as the rain started yet again that this weather is unheard of in May.  When the rain eased off and I emerged from my hidey hole underneath an awning outside a taverna, I soon found the path I was looking for, having been directed to it by my friend in the shop, and followed it.

I have the mentality that a walk cannot be finished until ‘somewhere’ is reached, a natural finish.  The top of a mountain.   A good viewpoint.  A good pub.  A proper full stop of some kind.  It’s very unsettling to just turn round in the middle of nowhere and go back.  I knew time was running out on me at the end of the afternoon but I couldn’t bring myself to turn back until I reached an identifiable finish.  I was just about the do the unthinkable and turn back mid-walk when …

…. I nearly trod on it.  There in the middle of the slab I was just about to step onto was the most dramatic lizard I have seen outside of a zoo.  Once again a ‘Wow!’ in Meteora.

On the path

With no sun it was too cold and sluggish to move quickly

Given limited conditions it was another really good day.

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3 Responses to Meteora: on the rocks

  1. Chris Dawson says:

    Fantastic photos Barry. I was fascinated by the lizard. As you have probably worked out, it is a σαλαμάνδρα της φωτιάς or Fire Salamander (Salamandra Salamandra). Very spectacular. Your blog has certainly reinforced our desire to visit Meteora sometime.

  2. dai hankey says:

    Epic lizard dad! The kids loved it!!

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