Symi: high points

Having been identified as the Third Man and knowing he was pursued by Joseph Cotton, Orson Wells took to the labyrinthine sewers with a multiplicity of escape options and made the most memorable Sewer Speech ever.  Unfortunately most Hollywood villains when being chased are far less intelligent and feel an irresistible compulsion to go up something.  Church towers, grain silos, petrochemical rigs, multi-storey office blocks …. anything vertical is fair game.  Doomed and crass. Reach the top and no way out.  Only three plot-line options:  get cornered and captured; be thrown off following a less than convincing fight ending with a fading “aaaaaaaagh!”; or jump, looking smug.

A real-life exception is the tower-house vernacular architecture in the Mani peninsula, the southernmost tip of mainland Greece.  Built in pursuance of medieval blood feuds between neighbouring families rather than defence against invasion, when the conflict was formally declared according to set ritual procedures, the combatants would retreat to their respective towers, often only a few metres away.  They would spend the next decade or more trying to shoot the males of the Other Side through narrow slit windows, force a ritualistic surrender, or smash the marble roof of the opponents tower.  To achieve the latter, opposing families would smuggle in cannons to augment rifle-power and dynamite while at the same time building the tower higher from the inside to try to put the precious marble out of range and gain height advantage.  The tower becomes higher and higher and the feud drags on even longer.  So they never actually reach the top unlike Hollywood movies, but it does take a lot of time to put into practice.

I have a similar inner urge to climb things, go to the top of mountains or high viewpoints, not because I’m being chased but maybe to get away from the clutter and crap, to clear my head.  The more windswept the mountain the better, especially in the heat of Greek islands in summer.  Once up there, it’s generally a real wrench to go back down.

I have been doing that on Symi all the time I have been coming.  And there are plenty of mountains and high places to head for, many of them rugged limestone crags, some more dramatic than others.

Oros Vigla, ‘The Lookout’ is the highest mountain on the island but, with a road up the back, the sense of achievement is in getting there the hard way.  Sitting on the top between a defunct wind turbine on one side and an array of telecom masts on the other is not very impressive.  But it has to be climbed …. because it’s there.   Especially at the Summer Solstice: highest mountain, longest day, shortest me …….. view).

However, there are more impressive high spots on Symi.  Here are a few, most of them unfamiliar names based on information from the not very reliable maps.

Kokkinochoma Crags
Set in the top of the limestone crags above Kokkinochoma Bay northeast of Nimborio is an ancient fortification.  Reachable only by a Grade 3 rock scramble /’Moderate’ climb to the top, the location is very dramatic with a near vertical drop of more than 100 metres to the sea below.

Fortification built into the top of the limestone crag

Fortification built into the top of the limestone crag

The platform on top

The platform on top

What looks like a small cromlech on the adjoining crag

What looks like a small cromlech on the adjoining crag

Kourkoumas
At the southwest end of the same ridge is a very distinctive peak with a trig point built on top of a large overhanging rock.  To the west it looks across Toli Bay to the island monastery of Agios Emilianos and east across the ‘Hidden Valley’ to the high ridges of Turkey beyond.  It can be reached either from the dirt track to Toli or from a small col part way along the ridge above Nimborio but both involve going seriously off-piste, very rocky routes.

The rocky approach to the peak from the col

The rocky approach to the peak from the col

 ... getting closer

… getting closer

The peak

The peak

At this altitude and even with a stiff breeze butterflies flit around erratically at high speed, settling only fleetingly

At this altitude and even with a stiff breeze butterflies flit around erratically at high speed, settling only fleetingly

Katana Castle
It’s not marked on any map but I’ve called it that because on one map the area is marked as ‘Katana’ and the construction is similar to castle construction elsewhere on Symi and other Islands in the Dodecanese.  Located on the rim of the Hidden Valley it looks down to Toli and the ‘Classical Period Ruins’ which I explored last year (view) and which also has walls built out of massive dressed stones.  There are the vestiges of an ancient path reached by climbing up the earth bank from the track bulldozed down to Toli but it is very steep and rough.  I suspect it is now an alternative but less used route taken by migrating goats.

The castle first comes into view

The castle first comes into view

Many large dressed stones lie scattered around, some showing the grooves which help lock them together when in situ

Many large dressed stones lie scattered around, some showing the grooves which help lock them together when in situ

The large, intact corner

The large, intact corner

Standing on the corner looking towards the ‘Classical Period Ruins’ close to the sea

Standing on the corner looking towards the ‘Classical Period Ruins’ close to the sea

The ‘Classical Period Ruins’ from the track to Toli 

Zooming in on the ‘Classical Period Ruins’ from the track to Toli

Pyrgalia
Above the deserted village of Gria, itself hidden behind limestone crags above Pedi and the Agios Nikolaos beach, is a long ridge terminating in Vigla at its western end.  At its eastern end, a steep walk from Gria over intermittently rocky and loose shaley ground with no hint of a path, are the remains of two substantial stone buildings and the remains of an obelisk built out of loose stones on the narrow ridge-top at 430 metres ASL.  They can be seen from Horio prominent on the skyline.  From the top the most dramatic views are north over Pedi Bay and towards Turkey, the height emphasised on the way down by a small stone structure on a shoulder of the mountain and the derelict buildings of Gria.

Standing next to the remains of the obelisk.  A few years ago it was the same height as me.

Standing next to the remains of the obelisk.  A few years ago it was the same height as me.

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The small, simple structure on a shoulder of the mountain.

The small, simple structure on a shoulder of the mountain.

Looking down on Gria, hidden from Pedi behind the limestone crags

Looking down on Gria, hidden from Pedi behind the limestone crags

Hames threshing circle
An old kalderimi zig-zags up the northern face of the Pyrgalia ridge from the top end of Horio to old and now derelict buildings before becoming a footpath climbing up rock outcrops to reach the top.  It reaches the ridge-top mid-way along its length at a stone threshing circle behind the monastery of Panagia Hamon.   From here the view north is straight down into the harbour 430 metres below and south to the mountain top monastery of the Archangel Mihail Kokkimidis.

The ridge-top threshing circle with a cypress bush looking like an alien being

The ridge-top threshing circle with a cypress bush looking like an alien being has mistaken it for a landing site

Zooming in on the harbour 430 metres below

Zooming in on the harbour 430 metres below

Looking across the rocky ridge-top to the Archangel Mihail Kokkimidis monastery

Looking across the rocky ridge-top to the Archangel Mihail Kokkimidis monastery

Lappatoniou Castle
More accessible, with a marked though in places difficult path, is the ridge-top Lappationou Castle.  The castle itself is not very impressive but the location is.  Skoumisa Bay and Agios Emilianos lie to the north, a precipitous 400 metre drop to Agios Vasilios Bay to the south.  The slabs of rock at the west end of the castle are a great place for a break.

Taking it easy on the rock slabs below the castle looking down to Agios Vasilios Bay

Taking it easy on the rock slabs below the castle looking down to Agios Vasilios Bay

Zooming in on Agios Elianos and Skoumisa Bay

Zooming in on Agios Elianos and Skoumisa Bay

On the way up I spotted, settled on the thyme, one of the largest Scarce Swallowtails I’ve ever seen,

On the way up I spotted, settled on the thyme, one of the largest Scarce Swallowtails I’ve ever seen,

Tsagrias Castle
On a small knoll at the side of the track to the mountain top Archangel Mihail Kokkimidis monastery are the remains of a small castle.  Both the main building and the defensive perimeter are built partly with massive dressed stones slotted tightly together, like Katana a more impressive structure than Lappationou. Though not dramatic from the approach, it towers above the Nanou Gorge to the south.

Approaching the castle on its small knoll

Approaching the castle on its small knoll

Getting closer and the size of the dressed stone blocks becomes evident

Getting closer and the size of the dressed stone blocks becomes evident

I found this tortoise trapped inside a 45-gallon oil drum close to the castle.  It must have climbed up the fence and dropped in for some reason.

I found this tortoise trapped inside a 45-gallon oil drum close to the castle.  It must have climbed up the fence and dropped in for some reason.

A pair of Turtle Doves were flying around the nearby crag.  I managed to focus on one with maximum zoom

A pair of Turtle Doves were flying around the nearby crag. I managed to focus on one with maximum zoom

The Viewpoint
By far the most accessible high point is on the kalderimi heading out of Horio towards the chapel of Agia Paraskevi (Walk 1 on the Greek Island Walks page of this blog).  As well as being the start point of a number of longer treks it’s a great place to stroll to early morning or evening to catch it with good light.  Though by no means close to the top of the ridge the views are dramatic, very good reward for little effort or with little time.

An evening stroll to The Viewpoint was rewarded with dramatic light instead of the usual blue sky as heavy cloud came briefly across but thankfully no rain

An evening stroll to The Viewpoint was rewarded with dramatic light instead of the usual blue sky as heavy cloud came briefly across but thankfully no rain

The strange light across Horio and the Pedi Valley

The strange light across Horio and the Pedi Valley

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3 Responses to Symi: high points

  1. Helle Christoffersen says:

    Hello Barry, hope that you are very well, sharing time walking and with friends at “Kafenion” 🙂
    I still wonder if you found your shirt again? 😉 It was a very exiting walk I think. I enjoyed the reading and the photoes of course.
    On your blog today I was surprised and almost bubbled over when I recognized and was able to identify the clouds, the sky and the very special light on the motives on your photoes from The Viewpoint. Of course it had a special reason, because we (Aksel and I) was there with you. We thank you once again for your kindnes and company and for showing us this place (and the special effects on the sky that evening.) We had a couple of wery nice photoes too.
    We miss Symi a lot, because the weather in denmark acts like autumn when it is worst, very windy, cold and rainfull :-(((
    Greetings from Helle.

    • BarryH says:

      Hi Helle. Yes, I found the shirt when I repeated the walk the next day. It was a pleasure to spend time with you both on Symi and I hope we can meet up again. I’m back in Wales for a short time now and the weather here is like Autumn as well. Looking forward to a stay Nisyros in a few weeks time. Best wishes to you and Aksel

  2. Helle Christoffersen says:

    Hi Barry. Thank you so much 🙂 Yes! I am sure that we will meet again. The big question is where…You have been talking a lot about Nisyros, we both know Tilos and Symi, so let´s see.
    Enjoy your time in Wales too. Hugs from Aksel and Helle

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