At the Stemnitsa turning, below the Prodromou monastery, we stopped to argue. It’s trickier reaching a consensus on where to stay the night when there are three of you. Alan wanted to head for the hotels and tavernas of Stemnitsa, a steep couple of hours climb away: we’d have to return the same way the next morning. His injured hand was painful again, oozing a little and reddish. He didn’t feel up to pitching the tent or cooking. We’d called in at the health centre that morning, where an efficient young man in jeans prescribed more antibiotics. But Lani and I were adamant, completely without compassion. We’d carried our camping gear all the way, including the extra weight of a warmer sleeping bag I’d borrowed, and we wanted to use it. Besides, the ruins of Ancient Gortys sounded like an idyllic spot to camp.
The route that day had already taken us back to the nineteenth century struggle for independence, in which Dimitsana had played a crucial part. Its importance was due to plentiful water power – yet another example of how different energy sources have shaped history – and the fact that the villagers knew how to make gunpowder. The village became a vast munitions factory, supplying the revolution.
The walk had taken us through different periods of Greek history, though we hadn’t gone out of our way to look for historical sites. We’d seen the memorials and heard the stories of the German occupation and the violence of the civil war which followed. We’d visited medieval churches, and Byzantine monasteries in the most remote and beautiful spots. As we got further south, there were monuments to the heroes of the War of Independence. At times, we wondered how it was possible that so many places claimed Kolokotronis and his fellow fighters as their own.
However, Ancient Gortys was the first and only place dating from classical times that we passed. Taking a random cross-cut through the country, rather than working out a tourist itinerary from site to site, gave us a very different perspective, far removed from the usual picture of Greece as all ruined temples, marble statues and white columns.
We had Ancient Gortys to ourselves. There were no houses for miles, though there was a tiny church nearby and we could see the first faint lights of Stemnitsa high above. We pitched our tents near the Asclepeion, one of the only areas which had been fully excavated. Beyond lay more ruins, with the river running below.
As the moon rose, almost full in a clear sky, we sat around a small campfire. We were lower down than the previous two days, so it was cold but not freezing. The owls were hooting overhead as I dropped off to sleep. I was glad we weren’t in a Stemnitsa hotel.
The route: Popular tourist path, well waymarked and maintained: sometimes a simple footpath, sometimes a cobbled mule track and occasionally a new paved path, complete with handrails. Water at monasteries en route, and from the stream. Kilometres: 9. Ascent: 265m. Descent: 885m. Map: Anavasi 8.5. Menalon.
Facilities: The Waterpower Museum on the way out of Dimitsana is well worth a visit. Monasteries en route but no cafe or refreshments.