Tuesday, 12 January 2016

A Spring (or Seven) in One's Step

Well, it seemed like a good idea. A couple of years ago when my sister and hubby were here. they brought with them a rather useful and interesting book called "Walk and Eat Rhodes". I like the cut of its jib, because it's a series of walks that always include a watering hole or eating establishment to make it just that bit more interesting. Good eh?

When they set off home again they left it with us and it's languished on a shelf in my "office" ever since. So, on a gloriously sunny day a couple of weeks ago (on Boxing Day in fact) we decided that it was high time we tried one of the walks for ourselves. Walk number 4 is Arhangelos to Seven Springs (Epta Piges) through olive groves and forest, not using mettled roads anywhere apart from the first hundred metres or so.

In fact, leaving the car just a few metres down the lane from the main road just north of the huge soft furnishing store there, we set off past this olive grove on the lane that leads (if you follow it all the way) to the cemetery, although you branch off of it on to a dirt track before you get that far...

There's a Jay there somewhere, honest!

Now be honest, if you were a dog, the doghouse could be a lot worse.
According to the book, this walk is a circuit of about 12 km, or 7.7 miles, easily within our capabilities and also the timescale we had before darkness was due to fall. The book says the walk takes 3.5 hours, but both of us have long legs and we reckoned we'd do it in less time than that. The book also says that the gradients are easy to moderate and that most of the route follows tracks of one kind or another. Can't go wrong really, eh?

You're soon striking out along a broad single-track lane which is quite level and passes numerous citrus groves and yet more olive groves, occasionally granting one views like these...

This is gonna be a doddle we told each other. A walk in the park. Well, in the picturesque Rhodean countryside anyway. We got into our stride and the terrain soon began to open up a little...

I'm standing at a junction where the book tells you to take a right. The route seemed to be working out OK
All the while for the first hour or so it's uphill, but only gradually, along a gently meandering track, with no really steep sections, making it a leisurely walk in hot sunshine. Since it was December 26th, we didn't expect to see a soul on this predominantly rural walk. But by the time we'd reached the junction in this photo, which is also the one below, but a bit closer, we'd already been passed by two pick-ups, a young couple on a scooter and several other walkers. Seemed like the usual scenario we used to remember in the UK. After a whole day at home falling out with other family members, a lot of people are desperate to get out of the house on boxing day.

Reaching the first real test of the accuracy of the instructions in the book (there is a map too, which is OK but not brilliant), which was a right turn down a steeply descending track, we were quite confident that this was going to be easy. Easy peasy in fact. Maybe even easy peasy lemon squeezy. Well, OK, maybe not that last one. But as we descended we were mega-impressed by the scenery. It is breathtaking. Steeply wooded hills hid secret groves of fruit or olive trees with birds of prey circling above. All in all up until now we were dead pleased with ourselves. We'd left the car at around 12 noon, fully expecting to picnic at Seven Springs before continuing around the rest of the route to get back to the car for around four-ish. At that time of year the sun sets at around 5.20pm, with darkness following quite soon afterward.

Looking at the map in the book, as we approached Seven Springs we decided that we'd probably complete the route in something like two and a half hours, deciding that the book must be designed for the extremely leisurely walker if it estimates three and a half. Arriving at a deserted Seven Springs, where there was actually a small car parked on the terrace that's normally covered in tables and chairs during the tourist season, we were instructed to cross the bridge below the restaurant area and then strike left up through the majesty pine forest, following the steeply sided valley in which the seven springs actually rise.

Yup, even here the Russians are coming!

If you're familiar with this place in summer, you'll find this quite a contrast.

Once you get a couple of hundred metres up along the valley on the other side of the bridge, that's when you start to wonder if this was such a good idea. The instructions are a little vague and you find yourself scrambling up a very steep hillside, occasionally stepping over boughs, scrambling around boulders and reaching forks in the tiny, steep path every few minutes, at not one of which does the correct route seem to be obvious to you. After we'd all but decided to turn back, we arrived, after quite a strenuous and occasionally alarming climb, at a small plateau sprinkled with olive trees which seemed to match the description given in the book. 

"Yup," we congratulated ourselves, "We must still be on the right track." We still hadn't stopped for lunch, which was jiggling around in the rucksack on my back all the while, since it was only around 1.30pm and we though we'd get a little further before seeking out a nice place to park our bums whilst hopefully enjoying a spectacular view.

After the small plateau containing the olive grove we rose a further few metres up a rocky  slope and all of a sudden we were confronted by a wide plain of olive groves, stretching off in all directions. There were fenced-in areas here and there, but whichever way you looked the land stretched into the distance until falling away, obscured by literally thousands of olive trees.

The instructions in the book tell you to follow a low stone way for about a hundred metres and then it says, and I quote, "Strike off diagonally right across the olive grove."

Now, seriously, 'diagonally' if you're standing where we were, could have meant any one of ten directions, the landscape all looked the same at this point. So there was nothing for it but to pick a direction and set off. After ten minutes of nothing looking right, we re-traced our steps.

"Right, then," We told ourselves, "It has to be this way then." Off we set once again. And, once again, after half a mile or so of similar terrain, nothing seemed to match the description in the book. After skirting a "low hill" on the left we were supposed to pass a [quote] "fountain dated 1996."  Frankly the only man-made things around for miles were chainlink fences and a few old stone ruins of cottages long since abandoned. 

I'll not beat about the bush. After another half an hour wandering around and fearing that we'd end up going much too far in the wrong direction, we did begin to worry a little. The location we were at was probably the furthest point on the whole walk from the start-finish point. Nothing in the landscape was making any sense and the sun was fast descending toward the West and the shadows were lengthening. We were both starving and thirsty but there wasn't even anywhere to sit down, just endless meandering tracks amidst thousands of olive trees.

Now, if you're used to walking in Greece you'll know that goats usually give you a very wide berth. It can be quite frustrating in winter time, because all the herds have really cute 'ickle' babies running around keeping close to their mothers and you just want to molly-coddle one or two. You can't usually, however, get to within fifty metres of the blighters before they all run off into the undergrowth, or to the nearest knoll where they then stop and turn around and glare at you with that, "Huh! Try getting up HERE why don't you, eh?" smugness on their faces.

Up where we were at this moment though, the goats that we were encountering would wait until you were within an arm's length before sauntering off just a little further. No panic, no running and bleating. You know what this means though, right? These particular caprines (impressive, eh? Isn't Google wonderful?) don't get an awful lot of human contact. They don't see anthropoids that often it seems. This reaction on their part only served to further raise our alarm level. I began to seriously think that we'd end up still wandering the hills as darkness fell and then we'd be in deep poo, literally as well as figuratively as it happens.

Of course, the very fact that I'm typing this tale takes all the suspense out of it, because we obviously did survive to tell it. But when we were safely back home and heaving huge sighs of relief and taking comfort in a medicinal gin and tonic or two, I decided to Google Earth the area which, had I known how things would turn out, I ought to have done before we undertook the expedition. I'm not kidding, but it's a near impossibility to make out the route even scanning the satellite images. All the way from Arhangelos to Seven Springs one could trace the route we took. As for seeing the route from then on for a good 5k or so, may as well been looking for a snow drop in summer on Rhodes.

Starving and thirsty, we nevertheless finally decided that, if we were to make it back to car before dark, there was nothing for it but to double back and find our way down through the pine forest to Seven Springs, where, assuming we made it, we knew we'd at least have a wall to sit on to eat our egg and tomato rolls before heading back the way we'd come.

Even finding our way back to that small olive grove on the plateau just below the high plain where we'd been wandering about in a daze, proved to be difficult. Why is it that if you turn around and head back in featureless landscape, nothing looks quite the same? Frankly, more by luck than judgement we chanced upon the landmark in question and once again were soon scrambling down slippery, damp steep, pine-needle-covered slopes to the bridge at Seven Springs (what did the book say again? Oh yes... "easy-to-moderate" Yes, well, if you're a mountaineer that would be about right). All the while when we'd been up on that high plain we'd seen no signs of human life at all. If we'd wanted to ask the way, the  best we could have done was to hope to speak goat.

Once back at the restaurant area of Seven Springs we ate a much needed lunch under that cathedral of pines and listened to the peacocks calling.

Hobbit country I'll be bound!

Phew, almost back to the Seven Springs restaurant terrace.

"Oh, you and that ruddy camera!" She said, affectionately.
Tracing our way back the way we'd come we were once again reminded of the steepness of some of the route. Boy did our hamstrings ache the following day...

It's a darned sight steeper than it looks, trust me.
Well, I suppose it all ended OK. We got back to the car before anyone called a search party and it was still in daylight. Next time we plan to try the route from the opposite direction.  After all, there are a few goats up there whom we promised to look up next time we're passing.


  1. I so empathise with this. One of the best lines in a Cretan walking book was, turn right at the burnt out bus. To be a landmark it had probably been there for years. Our walk was after local people realised the value of scrap metal! Another memorable one was, take the track left after the young olive tree! X

    1. I know exactly where you're coming from (Over there, near the vegetable van!)

  2. Great post and photos John - you can almost feel the relief. Happy New Year too!
    Steve W (Hull)

  3. Great post and photos John - you can almost feel the relief. Happy New Year too!
    Steve W (Hull)

  4. A compass would have helped, Epta Piges is directly north from Archangelos.

    1. With due respect, anon, that's pretty obvious. I can also read the position of the sun. But there are more factors at work when the path you need isn't specified or clearly marked. I wasn't getting lost between Arhangelos and Epta Piges anyway, it was after Epta Piges as I say in the post above, during a circuitous part of the route, before it was supposed to turn south again for the return leg. Give me SOME credit, eh? I was a boy scout once!

  5. One of my greatest fears is getting lost on a ramble! Glad you got back safely to tell another tale. We once followed a 'guide' book and were told to 'keep to the path on the left of the big flat rock'. In Greece?!

    1. We were just getting a little worried about you Vicki. You've been off the radar a while!!

    2. I've emailed you !