In the early morning mists, the flume from the power station had looked almost romantic, towering up from the great plateau of Megalopolis. It was an idyllic start to the walk, too – down to the old bridge below Karitena, then along the Alfeios river.
But the bridge wasn’t quite as picturesque as it seemed at first glance.
And nor were the power stations. The countryside changed abruptly, as the ground dropped away to reveal a vast man-made lake, where lignite or brown coal, had been mined. Coming closer still, we passed the mines and processing units. By this time, we were struggling to find the way.
When in doubt, stop for lunch! We were in luck. There was a cafe in Thoknia, the closest village to the mine, catering mostly for the workers. As we ordered, the owner pointed out the church opposite. “Go and have a look while you wait,” she said. “They’re renovating the frescoes.” Inside, two women were up on scaffolding, gently cleaning the blackened roof with what looked like cotton wool. The cleaned areas shone out bright and vivid from the gloom. It would take months of painstaking work to complete.
Route finding was now difficult. We were off the edge of the Anavasi hiking map, and making do with a road map. What made it even more complicated was that the Electricity Board owned all the area around the mines, including the ever-changing road system. And we kept changing our minds about where to head for. We’d planned to stay in Megalopolis, but couldn’t face much more walking among the mines. The next option was Isari, up in the mountains again. We phoned the two guest houses there, but there was no response and it was now definitely out of season. Would we even find a cafe open?
We stopped at the church below Isari village. Was it worth the steep climb up? We’d had a long walk along the tarred road, resisting the temptation to head off along the tracks that led through the oak forest on either side. If only we’d had a good map, we could have found an alternative route. We thought about camping at the church, but there was no water. There was a public spring, but we couldn’t find where to turn the water on. It was now cold and grey and starting to drizzle.
In the end, we decided to head for Chrani, a village on the old railway track, not far from the main Kalamata road. There was a single signpost to Aghia Paraskevi church, just above Chrani, and we assumed there would be a track down to the village. The forest on either side had been burnt in a devastating fire in 2007, and new growth was only just starting to hide the skeletal dead trunks. It was a gloomy walk, and we just hoped we wouldn’t land up at some dead-end forestry look-out.
We reached Chrani as it was getting dark. We pitched our tent by the abandoned railway station, and headed off to one of the two cafes, perched on the railway line. Eighty- two year old Kostas served us omelette and chips, while we listened to the locals complaining about the radiators being turned down to save money.
It was raining hard when we returned to the tent. Alan’s hand was still painful, and he fell heavily as he got into the tent, making it even worse. He didn’t sleep well either, complaining of a big stone under his sleeping mat.
Not the best of days! Even so, I was glad we’d decided to go where the route took us, picturesque or not. But then, I slept fine.
The route: Pleasant walk along farm tracks initially, from the lovely old bridge below Karitena. The area around the mines is confusing and best avoided. Tarred road from the mines toward Isari, then forest tracks to Chrani. No waymarks, except occasional signs to Aghia Paraskevi church on the Chrani section. Water in villlages. Kilometres: 28. Ascent 620m. Descent 612m. Map: Only road maps available. The best but most expensive option is probably the Anavasi road map of the Peloponnese (1:50,000). This is a heavy book for in the car, but you can photocopy pages.
Facilities: Friendly cafe in Thoknia. Two cafes in Chrani.