The narrow path ahead was cut into the rock face, with a sheer drop on one side. I’m nervous of heights and precipices, and stopped to take a deep breath and send up a prayer at the little shrine alongside the path. Did it mark the spot where some unfortunate had fallen over? Then I concentrated on my feet, not allowing myself to drift off into thoughts of flowers or fungi or supper. It took all my will power not to look down at the river, hundreds of metres below. I didn’t want to stop, not even to take a photo. At times, the cliff hung right over the path in a half tunnel. It used to be over a metre wide, but now it was overgrown and had fallen away in places.
Meanwhile, Alan, the seasoned climber, was way ahead. What was I worrying about? The owner of the guesthouse at Epiniana was equally unconcerned, when I asked him later about accidents on the path. It had been built in the 1950s, hewn out of the cliff by men with ropes and harnesses. He told us how he used to take a mule along it at the age of twelve. Nobody had ever fallen off. Before then, the only way out of Asprorema was to walk down the river bed, which was difficult in summer and impossible in winter. The path was used for forty years until the road finally came to Asprorema in the 1990s. At last we emerged onto a more level path through woodland, with leaf mould soft underfoot. It had been a breathtaking experience, but not one I want to repeat!
We’d left Asprorema that morning, meeting Vassily, the owner of the pigs we’d seen the day before, as we walked up from our camp by the stream. He had a large box of maize cobs for the pigs on the back of his motorbike. They were being fattened for Christmas, with customers already lined up to buy them. He also had four hundred sheep. During the summer, his wife and children joined him in the village, but now only his mother remained. At the end of September, they too would pack up and go to their house down in the plains. He laughed when we told him we’d heard only wolves lived in Asprorema now, and invited us to stop for a coffee. The house had been built in the early fifties, with a roughly paved floor and kitchen table and benches hewn out of tree trunks. Plastic bags of their belongings hung from the walls, there were large tins of cheese on the floor, and a pile of dried beans waited to be shelled. Outside, five hunting dogs were chained up. As we left, they pressed a picnic lunch of home-made bread and cheese on us.
Vassily set us on the right path down the valley to the lovely Asprorema stream. The mossy banks were overhung with plane trees, bent into strange shapes by the river. We followed the bank for a while, then decided to walk on down the stream rather than veering uphill and inland. It was fast flowing, with steep crags on either side. The water came no higher than our knees but in some places we had to clamber over slippery rocks along the edge. We emptied our pockets of valuables and stashed them in our packs, just in case. I love these stream descents: the cool water and dappled shade of the trees. And then, fortified by our bread and cheese lunch, we were ready to tackle the cliff walk.
It was grey and drizzling a little, when we finally reached the Panorama guest house in
Epiniana. It was another warm, friendly place, with good food. A copy of Alasdair Sawday’s guide to Greece was displayed: they were included in it! Iota took our filthy clothes off to put in the washing machine, then ironed them dry and even patched a tear in Alan’s trousers. The breakfast was outstanding, including cheese pies and trachanas, a wheat based porridge. We stayed two nights, with a rest day watching torrential rain and thunderstorms across the mountains. We were lucky to have made it over the Delidhimi saddle. A day later it would have been impossible.
The route: The map shows three ways down to the main path along the valley. The one to take leaves from just below Vassily’s house. We spent ages hunting unsuccessfully for the most northerly one, further up. The path had recently been cleared, with cairns along the route and occasional waymarks, including innovative ones made out of jam jar lids. The stream descent is a scramble, but fine if the water is not too high. Otherwise, there is an alternative away from the banks. There has been some minimal maintenance on the cliff path, and you can’t get lost. The final stretch is on clear wooded paths. Water from the stream. Kilometres: 12. Ascent: 484m Descent: 436m. Map: Anavasi: Northern Agrafa 4.1, Mountains of Evritania 2.4.
Facilities: None until you reach Epiniana. The Hotel Panorama (website in Greek only) also has a taverna. There was no other guesthouse, cafe or shop open when we visited, but there may be in high season.