Chasing Paleochora Waterfalls

It’s debatable whether summer or winter is the best time to see waterfalls. In summer, if there’s a shady pool below a fall, it’s invigorating and revitalising to swim up under the cascade, then float back downstream. Winter, especially after heavy rain, makes falls more impressive, although the water, often augmented by snow-melt, will be icy cold.

Four rivers (‘potami’) reach the sea close to Paleochora ; the Pelakaniotikos to the west at Koundoura, and another three – Kakodikianos, Azoghirianos and Dhichalomata – east of our town. All contain waterfalls, although after May several are non-existent as the rivers dry up.

The Dhichalomata has two tributaries, one source under Platanes, the other below Prodromi, which meet below Anidri, then it heads south through the Anidri Gorge to the sea at Ianniscari.

Anidri waterfall

Only in winter, and then after heavy rain, is there any possibility of water in the gorge. There are three falls, including the famous “water-slide”, which in January 2015, when I walked up the gorge after several days of torrential rain, and when these photos were taken, was in spate, and impassable. Climbing above to the right, and passing two more falls rarely seen with water, I managed to reach Anidri with feet only slightly wet.

Anidi waterslide

 

The Pelakaniotikos is the longest river in our area, from which derived the region’s name of Pelakanos (after re-organisation in 2011 this became Kantanos/Selinou.) Its source is high on the slopes of Ag. Dikaios, 1181m, above Moustakos, then water joins from the Baouli gorge, below Archondiko. Water flows year-round, certainly until Voutas and through the narrow ravine below the village, at the end of which is a series of small pools and cascades, perfect for passing an hour or two on a summer’s afternoon.

Most of Paleochora’s water supply comes from the Kakodikianos river, with a huge catchment area in the hills above Kandanos. One branch originates below Spina, the other beyond Aligi, meeting near Plemeniana and from there flowing 12 km to the sea. I’ve described the section between Mahia and Kalamos before (see ‘Explore’ – August 2012 & August 2013) when we reached the waterfall below Vlithias. The pool below the 3m fall is deep even in mid-summer, and to swim directly under the force is exhilarating. With no path to the waterfall, an expedition is necessary either downstream (or upstream, better) from tracks below Vlithias.

On the Pelakaniotikos

That’s what my family did last August, my grandsons Isaac and Theo forging a way between bamboo and oleanders, often waist-deep in water, to reach the fall, and a picnic lunch.

Pelakaniotikos

An hour later we returned the same way, pausing at an even deeper pool en route. Son Christian, well over six feet tall, leapt in ….. and completely disappeared, much to the consternation of his two boys, and much relief when he re-surfaced moments later.

Where’s Daddy gone ..?

The most visited local waterfall is that close to the road above Azogires, a lovely sylvan spot maintained by Eftichis (‘Lucky’) from the Alfa cafe.

Azogires falls

 

The fall, rear of the pool, is only a metre or so high, but it’s a lovely setting, and has a legend. Come here after midnight, and there are ‘nereids’ or water-nymphs bathing, but beware – look at them and they will take your sight, talk to them and they will take your voice, stay with them and they will take your soul …..

Waterfall nymph

 

Walk down a path to the old Venetian-style stone bridge, to view several other small cascades and pools.

Azogires bridge

 

On the same Azoghirianos river, far higher up the valley, is the most spectacular waterfall in our area, possibly in SW Crete. It’s well over 6m high, plunging into a dark abyss surrounded by rocks and holly-oak trees ; in spate, this is a splendid sight – “the wild cataract leaps in glory.”

Strati Waterfall

 

But ….. I’m keeping its location a secret ; suffice to say that it’s in a deep ravine below Stratoi village, is very rarely visited, and probably dries out in the summer. As a clue, there are ruins of an old watermill nearby.

Strati Waterfall

 

Although not on the same scale as Niagara, Victoria and Angel Falls, Paleochora’s waterfalls have their own charm and appeal – both in winter and in summer – go and enjoy them.

Sad Footnote

The Old Stone bridge – Now gone

 

The beautiful old stone bridge over the River Kakodikianos below Mahia collapsed in mid-January, after storms and possibly a minor earthquake, and seems beyond repair. ‘Explore !’ in May 2017 – “A Short Walk from Kakodiki” – crossed the bridge, which is also decribed in “Ten Walks from Paleohora” and in the “Explore !” collection of walks. A real tragedy.

 

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There are those who can study maps for hours on end, looking at paths and trails crossing ridges, reaching mountain summits and descending valleys, planning new adventures and reminiscing over past days – and I’m one of them. So, when the latest Anavasi hiking map to our area (Topo 25,Crete 11.13) indicated a “tower” – ‘Pirghos’ – on a summit above Kandanos, and enquiries locally suggested there was a ruined Byzantine fortress, we just had to go and explore further.

The inspiration for an expedition..

 

The unnamed summit is 1037m high, and we “climbed” 880m of it by car, driving from Kandanos through Anisaraki and Bambakados to the highest point on the road to Temenia, from close to where a track heads off north-east. January ; deep snow covered the White Mountains away to our right, and with the temperature barely above freezing, warm and windproof clothing, gloves and hats were essential – not the Cretan climate which tourists usually experience …..

Some map-reading and route-finding was required, along tracks with a couple of (open) gates which brought us to a broad plateau at around 920m, marked on the map as ‘Dzikounaria’. There are no official “rights of way” in Crete, as in UK and maybe other countries, so whether this is private land is dubious, although it’s probable. But we met no-one to ask us the usual questions
of “Where are you from?” and “Where are you going to?” – so what a friend calls “judicious trespass” was not necessary.

Kandanos

 

From the plateau we passed through another gate (a notice in Greek warns ‘Hunting Prohibited’) headed uphill, to the right of a wire fence, and reached the ruins of the reputedly Byzantine tower. Tony Fennymore wrote : “ In 330 AD, Crete found itself part of the Byzantine Empire, and remained so until 824 AD when it was seized by Arab pirates who used it as a base. After numerous attempts the Byzantines eventually won it back in 961 AD, and it remained in their hands until 1204 AD , when Crete came under Venetian rule.” *

Pirghos

 

Presumably erected as a watch-tower or beacon, rather than a defensive structure, the ‘fortress’ gave us commanding views in all directions, especially over the Kandanos valley now far below, SE towards Rodovani and Sougia, and NE toward Agios Zinas, 1331m, our “Blue Moon” summit (see ‘Explore’ August 2015.) Little remains – a collapsed tower some 2m high, with a surrounding wall which afforded grateful shelter out of the sharp wind and snow flurries. Some imagination is required, and if there was a small armed force here, as at the Dorian fortified towers at Vlithias and above Anidri (see ‘Explore’ – January 2017) it would have been an unpopular posting.

We had taken little more than an hour to reach the summit, marked by a concrete pillar, so rather than returning the same way, we opted to continue north along the ridge. There’s no path at all, and it’s not easy going over rocky terrain ; the fence continued to our left, and several more crossed the ridge, all easily negotiated.

Pirghos summit

 

A slight dip, then a rise to a second summit at 1023m – that’s no great altitude in Crete, but higher than England’s highest mountain, Scafell Pike at a mere 978m. Beyond here is an area marked on the map ‘Achladhia’ – meaning ‘pear trees’ – and there was a small copse, whether accidental or intentional, but incongruous at this height. In the lee of the ridge, out of the wind, we stopped for lunch of pastries from the excellent bakery in Kandanos.

Ag Zinas view

 

Soon afterwards, at Distrata (‘road junction’), we joined the track, and snow level, at the SW end of the long Ag. Zinas ridge. Inevitably a snowball fight, before, with clouds darkening and more snow imminent, we hastened down to Kandanos, the best part of two hours away.

Don’t you dare!

 

En route we paused at the isolated shepherd’s hut, housing a diverse and almost museum-type collection of tools, and above it the small church of St. John the Theologian, rarely visited except on its “name day.”

Shepherd’s tools

 

 

Agios Iannis

 

Below the track, bare plane trees gave an art exhibition of arboreal nature, but as Shelley observed … “ If Winter comes, can Spring be far behind ?”

 

Winter Art

 

Although the walk up to the “Pirghos” is a worthwhile expedition, I doubt if many will repeat this entire demanding route – if you do, let me know, I’ll be impressed. But we enjoyed a rewarding and satisfying January day in the hills, and to badly misquote the words of James Elroy Flecker (“Hassan”) – “ We are the explorers Barry, and we shall go …. always a little further.”

* From the Introduction to “Fenny’s Hania” – a guided walking tour of Hania old town.

A record number of entries for the Christmas Puzzle, from seven different countries. The winner was Hannah Kilduff from France, who wins the €10 voucher for “To Delfini” bookshop. Congratulations to Hannah, and thanks to everyone who entered. The correct answer was … of course … ANTONIOS

 

 

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