lynneInevitably, after five years and approaching seventy articles, “Explore” will move further away from, but always within easy reach of Paleochora. The walk through the Sirikari Gorge to Polyrrinia is a case in point, with a scenic drive of 45km through Dris and Strovles to Topolia, then branching left through Aikirgiannis and Kalathenes to park 1 km beyond Sirikari at the prominent church of Ag. Konstantinos, well worth the hour or so it takes to reach there.

The way-marked path from here to Polyrrinia is one of the easiest gorge walks in Crete, contouring above the valley, reaching the end in c. 1.5 hours, with a further half hour into the village. Then there is, if you’ve driven there, the problem of how to get back. Lynne and I solved this by driving to Kastelli, and once taking a taxi to Sirikari, another time reaching the village by bus. Tavernas in Polyrrinia will arrange a taxi to Kastelli, another couple of hours away on foot. You could always walk back the same way, or alternatively return by the Koliana Gorge (see below.) Best of all is for a kind friend to drive you there, and meet you later in Polyrrinia.

Start at Ag. Konstantinos

Start at Ag. Konstantinos

Having sorted all this out, let’s set off, through the gate opposite the church, then following green waymarking, steeply at first, on a path down through mixed woodland to another gate and a wider track. (Note this point if you return the same way.) Then turn right, passing a farmhouse, beyond which the path leads gently down the valley. Below, and across the valley, is Sineniana, picturesque but isolated.

Billy Goat 'Gruff'

Billy Goat ‘Gruff’

The path meets the stream at a well-sited picnic table, rises to pass a wooden memorial plaque (another wartime atrocity took place here), then drops to a narrow stone bridge, reminiscent of British “pack-horse” bridges, and a smaller version of the one at Mahia.

The old stone bridge

The old stone bridge

The Koliana Gorge enters from the right here, a useful (and enjoyable, but longer and more arduous) route back to the start. It will take two hours, keeping mainly to the streambed, waymarked with red dots, intermittent at first but clearer towards the end. As a bonus, it finishes at “H Kactania”, where you can rest, before a 10-minute walk back to your car. See ‘footnote’.

Heading north ...

Heading north …

 

and looking back south

and looking back south

From the stone bridge, a track becomes a road and leads to Polyrrinia, where you can easily spend a whole afternoon exploring the village and antiquities, as well as climbing to the Acropolis, at 420m, for a magnificent view over Kissamos Bay.

View from Polyrenia 'summit'

View from Polyrenia ‘summit’

Dating back to Minoan and Mycenaean eras, Polyrrinia became an important city under Dorian rule, and similarly later during the Roman occupation. The fortification walls were repaired during the Byzantine period, and later during the Venetian rule. It’s a fascinating place to wander around, with signs indicating Roman aqueducts still in use today, beautiful Venetian archways, and the more recent (1894) Church of the Holy Fathers.

Visit you must !

Visit you must !

There are several tavernas for refreshments, and if open, the “Old Kafenion” is recommended for English-style afternoon tea & cakes, as well as being an Information Point for the village.

Footnote
Before reaching Ag. Konstantinos, or on your return, be sure to call in at “H Kactania” (meaning ‘chestnuts’) in Sirikari village. Stelios and Argyro will make you most welcome, and tell you more about this delightful area whilst you relax with coffee at the start, or sample their own ‘raki’ at the end of your walk.

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“Oh, it was a fine and a pleasant day,
Out of Kolimbari we were faring ….”

With apologies to Ewan MacColl, Laura and I were kayaking north to Menies Bay, and not out of Yarmouth harbour, following the shoals of herring. Rodopos is the easterly peninsula of the two “rabbit’s ears” in NW Crete, and Kolimbari is tucked away in its SE corner, some 20 km from Chania and about an hours drive from Paleochora.. Menies Bay is 13km north of here, in a direct line, but further if keeping to the coastline, and it was a long-time ambition of mine to kayak there.

Kolimbari harbour We studied the sea forecast carefully, and liaised with friends in Chania who took advice from local fishermen. Two days of calm seas, they told us to expect, then winds arriving, bringing slight swells. Midday in mid-October saw us packed and away, paddling out of Kolimbari’s colourful harbour, across to and below the monastery at Moni Gonias and passing the tiny beach below Afrata an hour later.

Tall cliffs, small boat

Tall cliffs, small boat

In placid seas, our kayaks were dwarfed by immense cliffs, one headland reminiscent of a turtle’s head, another a smaller version of Paleochora’s ‘crocodile’.

Crocodile ahead?

Crocodile ahead?

Our only difficulty was finding a place to land and stretch our legs, the shoreline rocky and inaccessible, until, after three hours, we managed a brief landfall at a pebbly cove south of Cape Chironisi. And then across a wide bay to round the cape ……

I’ll admit to being more frightened of the sea than mountains, where, if conditions deteriorate, I can add extra clothing, retreat, shelter, and if necessary camp or bivouac for the night. At sea, especially in a kayak, sudden weather changes can be serious. And off Cape Chironisi they changed, with a rising headwind and consequent waves slowing progress. And after nearly four hours paddling, we were both tiring, and running low on energy. We came together, re-fuelled on nuts, dried fruit and chocolate, and determined to push hard to regain the lee of the coastal cliffs to our west. Which we did, won through, and perversely derived enjoyment and satisfaction from the experience, a demanding half hour though it was. Long-distance kayaker Chris Duff (in “On Celtic Tides”, an account of his circum-navigation of Ireland) explains these feelings rather well – “It isn’t the danger of the sea that I worry about, it’s the fear of growing old and someday saying ‘I wish I’d done this or that’.”

Arrival at Menies Bay

Arrival at Menies Bay

Relieved and energised, we kayaked easily into Menies Bay, 4.5 hrs after leaving Kolimbari. Whilst Laura changed into dry clothes and looked for the best overnight site, I collected driftwood and set about lighting a fire.

Chestnuts roasting ...

Chestnuts roasting …

... on an open fire

… on an open fire

Then a welcome and nourishing meal – hot tea, soup, and vegetable & bean stew followed by “chestnuts roasting on an open fire …” Darkness fell, stars appeared, and the lights of Chania twinkled across the bay, 30km to our south-west, with an occasional fishing boat passing by, just idyllic …

Sunrise, sunrise ...

Sunrise, sunrise …

Early next morning the sun rose over a mirrored sea, and we were afloat and away by 9am. Sadly we had insufficient time to fully explore the bay, the Dyktina Sanctuary, where in Hellenistic and Roman times, visitors came in thousands to worship the goddess Vritomartis (Artemis).

Time for reflections ....

Time for reflections ….

This time we turned Cape Chironisi easily, and although we had made this journey only a day previously, the whole coastline looked different in reverse, with both the cliffs, and our kayaks, reflected in the glass-like sea.

Nor breath nor motion ...

Nor breath nor motion …

This time we stopped at Afrata beach for a second breakfast, before returning to Kolimbari harbour and enjoying a late lunch, aptly, at the ‘Dyktina’ taverna, then back to Paleochora.

Next day our friends in Chania reported strong winds and a choppy sea ; we had timed our voyage to perfection.

Footnote

Menies Bay can be reached by a long and rough road north from Rodopou village, four-wheel drive vehicle recommended, and occasionally in season on day-trip boats from Chania and Platanias.

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