No roses, just quite a lot of thorns

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Before we arrived in Greece we borrowed a walking guide for the Southern Peloponnese. It's published by Sunflower Landscapes, in case you are interested, and it’s a great book, with awesome walks and (mostly) easy-to-follow descriptions. We've had some wonderful days over the last month or so.

 Walking around Ancient Messene and (below) on the track to the end of Greece.

Walking around Ancient Messene and (below) on the track to the end of Greece.

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But... the main problem is that our edition was published in 2003. We discovered the hard way that’s a long time ago in terms of Greek walking trails.

Actually author Michael Cullen knew that too - in a note at the beginning which we didn’t read until far too late, he says “conditions can change fairly rapidly in the Peloponnese”. He talks about newly-bulldozed tracks misleading you about which path to take, and “natural causes”, by which I assume he means floods washing out the track etc. Although natural causes probably also encompasses the main hazard we found from having a 13-years-out-of-date walking book - THORNS.

 A fine prickly bush on the track to Momenvasia and (below) thorns just waiting to take over an Ottoman mule track.

A fine prickly bush on the track to Momenvasia and (below) thorns just waiting to take over an Ottoman mule track.

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In gentler countries, when you hear about paths being overgrown, you might think about grass or trees, maybe a few brambles. In the Peloponnese every plant that might overgrow a path is a spiky bastard. The most innocuous yellow, grass-looking thing has leaves that will rip holes in your leg, there are pretty flowery-looking plants that are actually just made of thorns. There is hawthorn, gorse, brambles - and more I don’t know the names of. I do know they exist, however - we’ve battled through them.

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There are so many thorns in Greece they have got into the mythology. Acantha (which translates as “thorny”) was a nymph loved by the god Apollo. When she rebuffed his advances he tried to rape her, and she scratched his face. Apollo wasn’t impressed and turned her into the spiny-leaved Acanthus plant.

Meanwhile the Romans, whose eastern empire included Greece for 800 years, had a god of thorns, Spiniensis, whose job was to keep thorn bushes out of people’s fields. If only we’d known, we would have sacrificed a few virgins.

The trouble is, that once you’ve hacked your way a few hundred metres down a path that’s obviously not (or is no longer) a path, you have to make the decision whether to walk back - through all the thorns you’ve tackled already - or hope that it gets better. Geoff and I fall into the optimistic camp, which is mostly the wrong choice.

 A track - in 2003

A track - in 2003

On one particular Mani walk (in fact, the one in the picture at the top of this blog, just later on) we found ourselves battling up the side of a gorge through (and I’m not exaggerating) hawthorn, brambles and other spikey things over our heads. The only solution was to put our bags over our faces, bend low and push through. We did make it to the dirt track we were heading for, but with clothes, bag and skin shredded. After that one I had to take my walking shirt in by 5cms on each side to cover up the rips. My money pouch lost its decorative button somewhere, my hat its ties, our legs were scratched for days.

 A good day - no blood. (Photo taken on a different walk!)

A good day - no blood. (Photo taken on a different walk!)

Often you’ll set off down some track you could get a 4WD down, and then suddenly for no reason it disappears into gorse and stones. We learned (but only after trying the alternative far too many times) to turn back when that happens. (Maps.me, a GPS-based app which doesn’t need an internet connection, is quite useful too...)

 Where the hell are we going?

Where the hell are we going?

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Another danger not mentioned in the walking book, was hunters. One day we found ourselves in the middle of what sounded like an in-the-desert-stakeout-movie set. Guns were firing off all around, the echoes ricocheting off the mountainsides - though we couldn’t see any heads popping up from behind the rocky outcrops. We assumed from all the empty shotgun cartridges lying around that it was a few locals coming out for their regular Sunday afternoon hunting trip in the mountains, but it was still a bit scary. We walked along SINGING and TALKING VERY LOUDLY to each other.

 Sheer bliss. No thorns, no hunters, just quite a few rocks

Sheer bliss. No thorns, no hunters, just quite a few rocks