Glorious blue skies, mountains all round, soft springy turf underfoot: it was another perfect day. It reminded me of the Ridgeway back home, but much, much grander. It was cold, though. As we climbed up above 1500 metres, I was wearing my fleece and thermal shirt. Alan sported a new woolly hat. The path was faint, but in the clear weather we could see our route for miles ahead.
As usual, it was the dogs that shattered the peace. There were flocks of sheep grazing all along the path, and the first warning of our approach would be given by a look-out dog, perched high on a promontory. His barks would alert the rest of the posse of six or seven more, who’d race towards us all barking ferociously. Usually, this would attract the shepherd, who’d call them off and come over for a chat. We were also getting good at a commanding “Go back!”
Just after midday, we were faced with a choice: the high route over the Saradena peak to the refuge, or the dirt track through the beech forest lower down. Our minds were made up by one of the shepherds. After the usual family chit-chat, he warned us that bad weather was on its way. Snow was forecast for Olympos and the highest peaks, and at lower levels, the mist could roll in quickly. It would be dangerous for people who didn’t know the area. He himself was planning to move his flocks down in the next day or two. We headed down towards the beech woods, planning to stop at the little church of the Transfiguration for a late lunch.
And then we got a nasty shock! Rounding a bend, our quiet woodland track suddenly turned into a dirt super-highway. This was the main road to Grameni Oxia, which zigzagged interminably on up to the saddle. We could hear the sound of bulldozers, graders and gravel lorries ahead.
It was nearly six o’clock when we reached the saddle, and struck off along the track to the refuge. I’d suggested camping at the little church lower down, where we’d stopped to make soup. I’d been a little cold the night before, and thought it might be warmer and more sheltered. “No,” said Alan. “We wouldn’t get the views.” He was right.
We cooked supper on the steps of the refuge, watching as the jagged peaks of Vardhousia drifted in and out of the clouds. Then, as the sun set, the mist came down, the peaks disappeared and we could hardly see twenty metres. That night I wore all my clothes, including my hat, and snuggled up with my back against Alan for warmth.
The route: Faint path along the ridge, with occasional large stone cairns, then shepherd’s tracks. Easy to follow in good weather. There are some misleading waymarks from the picnic site above Kokkalia, which do not lead onto the ridge. We took the lower track (pleasant walking through beechwoods) at the fork before Saradena. This meets the main road to Grameni Oxia, almost certainly now fully
tarred, shortly before the church of Metamorfosi Sotiros. The main road leads up to the saddle, where a right turn along a track leads to the refuge. Water at sheep pens, at the Arvaniti spring below the church, and at the refuge. Kilometres: 18.5. Ascent: 927m Descent: 629m. Map: 2.5. Anavasi Mountains of Evritania.
Facilities: The refuge is impenetrably closed, with no shelter, but with a spring. The church is more sheltered with picnic tables, a spring and grassy area.