Village of the Blackbirds

February is generally acknowledged as being the worst month of our winter in Paleochora, with the heaviest rainfall, temperatures often dropping below 10c, and sometimes cold northerly winds. Such combinations, together with limited daylight, require adapting walks to the conditions whenever the opportunity arises, often at short notice.

This circular walk from Kakopetros meets most of the above criteria, a short but enjoyable route in an area new to many, and which can be curtailed should the weather deteriorate. Kakopetros village is 35 km north from Paleochora, roughly the same distance from Chania, and on the main bus route.

P2041442Its name translates as “bad stones”, but actually originates from the fact that in times long ago there was a difficult river crossing here (through boulders), on the ‘road’ between Kandanos and the north coast, across the gorge which runs down to Zymbragou. There is ample parking by the memorial, a reminder that Kakopetros has a troubled history. PC040260From the village ‘platea’ walk back 400m to the turning left, signed to Kotsifiana. The road winds steadily uphill, views improving with height gained. On reaching the small village, home to some 20 inhabitants, continue ahead, the road now becoming a rough track, and still climbing. ‘Kotsifi’ is the Greek name for ‘blackbird’, one of the most common European birds, and usually seen or heard in the woodland and scrub around the village.

PC040250Soon a diversion left leads to the church of Profitis Ilias, an option well worth taking. Churches so named are usually on hill summits, this an exception.

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Return to the track, the gradient finally easing on reaching the masts, at 800m above sea level. Well away from any “madding crowds”, even those familiar with SW Crete will enjoy views from a different perspective.

PC040251Now the track heads south, beginning to circle around and above the deep valley, with Kotsifiana far below. Avoid a track right, and soon swing eastwards, losing height. Views extend to the White Mountains, snow-covered often until May or early June. The profusion of shrubs trackside are Arbutus unedo or wild strawberry tree, the colourful small fruits both edible (but seedy) and used to make a type of ‘raki’.

Wild strawberries

Along the ridge, another turn right is ignored, as the track heads north, and drops down to aY-junction. A choice here, maybe depending on the weather. The left fork, an (extremely) rough track, descends to a goat/sheep enclosure, then through a gate and down to meet the surfaced road (to Palea Roumata), where you turn left for 500m back to Kakopetros.

Alternatively, fork right (easier walking) on a level track around the hillside, soon with views to distant Palea Roumata and some of the thirteen hamlets in this area. Go through two gates, and begin a winding descent to the valley, avoiding all side tracks to right and left, and keeping to the main “road” downhill. At a distinctive Y-fork, keep left on the concreted track, and very soon meet a wider road on the outskirts of Kechres. Left here, to join the main road at Pananiana, and left again for a short walk over to Kakopetros.

Sad memorialTwo points of interest en route – the first a memorial to a Cretan partisan killed fighting the Germans in 1944, and close to Kakopetros are two deep caves (roadside), origins unknown, maybe used for cold storage?

In summer this walk fits in with the ‘bus timetables, and has often been, for me, a welcome and relaxing antidote to a stressful day in Chania.

 

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There are many villages in western Crete located amongst impressive landscapes, but very few as dramatically situated as Roka.  It’s 41km from Paleochora, an hour’s scenic drive through Sassalos (either via Kandanos and Floria, or more easily though Aligi and Milones), then on through Malarithos and Sfakopighadi.   Leaving Sassalos, stop and look down into the deep Porofarago or Halasses Gorge, the most impressive and difficult gorge in the area ; more of this later in the year.

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With snow and low temperatures on the mountains, and water flowing down many of the gorges, early in the year is a good time to visit Roka, and maybe climb the ‘mountain’ – Trouli  – which rises dramatically above it.   We first went there on a blisteringly hot day one August, with no more intentions than to look around.  There is no taverna or cafenion in the village, but two Greek ladies who confirmed this invited us to sit in their shady garden, and made us coffee, so perhaps there is.

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On our next visit, finding nothing written about the ascent, we took climbing equipment just in case. “Is the climb difficult?” we asked a group of young men at a house by the ‘platea’.  “Not difficult, but not easy ….,” they advised us, “keep to the right, then go left.”  And so we set off.  The way is obvious enough, through some occupied and many ruined houses, rising to ‘Ancient Roka’, and what must have been a huge settlement during  the Byzantine era (330AD – 1204AD), possibly even earlier.  The area must have housed a considerable population, and the ‘fortress’ above provided safety and security.  The site is fascinating, but why no history available for such an important heritage?

Ancient Roka

Ancient Roka

We chose a route through the rocks above, which became alarmingly steep over sharp limestone blocks, with even more alarming views into the Rokas Gorge way below our feet.  With much relief we emerged onto the rounded summit, scrambled over more rocks to the highest point, 267m, and relaxed to enjoy the views, possibly the finest in NW Crete.

The view to the north

The view to the north

The two peninsulas of Gramvousa and Rodopou stretched away to the north, Chania and Akrotiri distant, the White Mountains hazy, with areas to the south more familiar to us.  Just 50m almost vertically below us, but seemingly far more, was Roka village and our car.

The view to the south

The view to the south

Whilst I was taking photographs, and contemplating (and not relishing the thought of) how we would get down again, for our route up had been more than a little scary, Laura found the correct way.  Marked intermittently with red paint dots, the direction slants left from Ancient Roka ; we had climbed far too high before beginning to ascend.  As we’d been advised, it’s still not easy, care is needed with hand and footholds, and some might like the security of a rope, especially near the top.

The correct way down

The correct way down

Back below Ancient Roka, we followed the signs and path, and spent the afternoon exploring the Rokas Gorge, which leads up to the larger village of Deliana.  More about that too, in this year’s “Explore” series  –  what a lot you have to look forward to !

The winner of the 2013 Christmas Puzzle was Eeva Koskela, from Finland, but now resident in Paleochora.  Commiserations to those unlucky in the draw, and to those with the incorrect answer (the remaining gorge was ‘Kritsa’.)

 

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