“You shouldn’t walk through this area,” warned Sotiris, a genial Vlach shepherd with a comfortable paunch, as he passed us in his pick-up. “The dogs are very fierce, and the shepherds further on are Romanians, who don’t control them properly. Somebody got attacked and bitten just the other day. You certainly shouldn’t camp. Look, I’ll give you a lift past the worst of them when I come back.”
We were high above the treeline, walking through magnificently desolate country. There was a faint skim of green over the bare rocks, but the flowers of spring were long gone, leaving only thistles in their place. Down below we could see the occasional shepherd’s encampment. Overhead two ravens swooped and dived in aerial combat. We’d considered taking the high route along the ridge between the peaks, all over 2000 metres high, but by midday the clouds were gathering again. Instead, we headed down among the sheepfolds.
As we came to the first of the flocks, the young Romanian shepherd appeared, tall, dark and good-looking, smoking a small cigar. He assured us that his dogs stayed close to the sheep at night, but then we’d heard that before…. We were getting used to facing down half a dozen dogs, growling and barking, following us in a terrifying pack until we were out of their territory. Usually the shepherd was nearby, and would come and call them off. But at night they could wander off, and lying motionless with fright as a dog prowled round the tent, barking to his mates to join him, was not an experience I wanted to repeat. There was an unused sheep shelter where we might camp, but could we make it dog-proof?
At that point Sotiris reappeared and we accepted his offer of a lift a few kilometres further on, where he assured us it would be safer. He dropped us off at the next rise, by yet another sheepfold with equally daunting dogs. It didn’t look any better than where we’d come from, but Sotiris obviously felt he’d done his duty in getting us safely through his patch of the mountains. We set off further along the track, leading down to another sheepfold far below.
Kostas came to the rescue. It was his sheepfold we could see. “You can camp at my shelter,” he offered. “Go on ahead and I’ll catch you up with the sheep.” But as we approached the sheepfold, three dogs appeared, the lead fighter marked out by his spiked collar. Although it was starting to rain, we didn’t dare stop. The dogs followed us, and we didn’t feel safe until we were out of sight round a fold in the mountain. We quickly pitched our tent on a small patch of green, which didn’t seem quite as stony as elsewhere. By then the first drops of rain had turned into a downpour, and a stream started to gush right under our tent. So that’s why it was so green and free of stones.
Ten minutes later, there was a cacophony of barks. Help, the dogs had discovered our campsite and were attacking en masse! Alan grasped a hiking pole and peered out. To our relief, Kostas was there with his dogs. “It’s going to rain hard tonight,” he said. “Would you like to stay in the shelter with me?” We took no persuading.
We slept among the milk churns in the dairy, our wet things spread out to dry. Outside we could hear the dogs padding round the building all night.
The route: Occasional E6 waymarks to start with until the E6 veers off West. Some stretches of footpath initially, hard to find when crossing over the pass, though in such open country, it’s easy to pick out the right direction. Once over the pass, we followed dirt shepherds’ tracks. Water at sheep pens. Kilometres: 20 (plus about 3 in the pick-up). Ascent: 1198m. Descent: 529m. Map: Anavasi South Pindus 3.2/4.2.
Facilities: Nothing between Metsovo and Kalarites.