I’m often asked about the E4 route between Sougia and Agia Roumeli – how far it is, how long will it take to walk, and especially its difficulty.
Answers : around 18km, taking 10-12 hours, which might be completed in a long day, but better to overnight on Domata beach, and it’s by far the most difficult walk locally, short of treks in the White Mountains.
The first part of the route, from Sougia to Profitis Ilias, is described in our guide “More Walks from Paleohora” * after which comes a steep 45-minute descent to Tripiti, from where, last October, we began the rather harder second part along the coast and over to Agia Roumeli. We took the “Samaria” ferry to Sougia, and later a pre-arranged water-taxi with Captain Yiannis (tel: 6973220472) to Tripiti, the rolling 45-minute journey on his small boat making me regret the cooked breakfast at ‘Omicron’ an hour earlier.
With no easy landing at the foot of Tripiti Gorge, we jumped ashore, and walked slightly inland to visit the memorial, unveiled in May 2013, to mark the 70th Anniversary of the final evacuation of Allied forces from Crete. On the night of May 7th _ 8th 1943 the Royal Navy ship ML355 came here from Egypt under cover of darkness, and took off some 60 British, Australian, New Zealand and Cypriot soldiers, along with several Special Operations Executive (S.O.E.) agents and Cretan refugees. Many of the Allied servicemen had been sheltered by Cretan families after the Battle of Crete in 1941, and the plaque reads : “To honour the people of Western Crete for the sacrifices they made … erected in gratitude by the families of the evacuees.” **
After a pause to reflect on events here all those years ago, we set off around the coastline (impassable in rough seas) to Sedoni, the beaches there tempting us to relax and swim, but with “miles to go before we sleep”, we pressed on.
The waymarking is good, but you need to be vigilant looking for E4 black/yellow painted rocks, and occasional (and gradually disappearing) poles. After an hour or so, the path drops almost, but not quite, to sea level, then crosses a steep, eroded and exposed section not for the nervous.
Then the path rises again to a point overlooking the Kladou Gorge, before a necessarily careful descent to beautiful Domata beach, which we reached after just two hours ; fifteen seconds later we were floating in the turquoise waters possibly unique to this part of the Libyan Sea.
Now comes the hard part ! “Does the road (path!) wind uphill all the way?” wrote Christina Rossetti. “Yes, to the very end …” Or at least to a high point of 520m, with very little respite en route, just frequent stops to gaze and admire the view below, and see the path disappearing “onwards and upwards”. Through a pine forest, around the head of a ravine, contouring around the mountain side, gradually losing height, and soon Agia Roumeli comes into view, far below.
The 300m drop down a steep-sided gully, often on loose stones, is difficult on tiring legs/knees, but probably worse in ascent (though I’ve never tried it.) Halfway down we watched the ‘Samaria’ depart (west) and the ‘Daskalogiannis’ (east), meaning that Agia Roumeli would be peaceful and almost empty that evening and the following morning (and if you’ve not experienced it, you should …)
Finally comes an airy traverse, again not for the faint-hearted, of only around 200m, but with the beach alarmingly 100m below, and much space below our feet.
Safe on ‘terra firma’ – and the greater the firmer, the lesser the terror, if you follow me, we made for the ‘Calypso Hotel’, and a warm welcome from my old friend Andreas Stavroudakis, with (what else?) a large, and much appreciated ‘raki’, well-deserved after our walk of 6.5 hours from Tripiti.
* ‘More Walks from Paleohora’ available from “To Delfini” bookshop in the village
** A similar memorial at Sklavopoula, see “Explore” – June 2015