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Posts Tagged ‘The Pindos Way’

SAVE THE AGRAFA SKYLINE FROM A PALISADE OF WIND TURBINES.

The Agrafa mountains in central Greece are one of the country’s great beauty spots and one of the most pollution-free regions in Europe. They are threatened by a Greek government plan to erect up to 650 wind turbines.

Three quarters of Greece is mountains. Why choose to desecrate one of the most naturally beautiful and historically and culturally important bits?

The proposed turbines will line the further skyline.

Agrafa’s landscapes and role in modern Greek history are unique

Agrafa’s landscapes are unique: a chaos of peaks and ridges cut by deep gorges thickly wooded with Greek fir. Ancient pack-horse bridges arch over its streams, linking the network of footpaths that until the 1980s were the only roads between the villages and tiny hamlets scattered among the forest. Medieval monasteries perch on its crags. In summer its high pastures are home still to flocks of transhuming Sarakatsan sheep.

Greek governments regard mountains as akhrista, useless places, almost literally a waste of space. True to form, they want to plant the first batch of turbines in the beautiful meadows of Nialla

Niala

Nialla

above the village of Vrangiana, Agrafa’s highest. From here they will stretch north and south along the eastern watershed of the Agrafiotis river, silhouetted against the skyline, in an act of environmental vandalism, the equivalent of covering Snowdonia or the peaks of the Lake District in Britain with them or the mountains around Chamonix in France: acts that would provoke universal outrage.

It is not just that Agrafa is one of the great beauty spots of the Pindos range. It is culturally and historically at the heart of the Greeks’ survival as a nation during the long centuries of the Turkish conquest, from the 1400s to the twentieth century.

In Greek the name Agrafa means the “unwritten” or “unrecorded” places, because the Turkish overlords were never able to establish permanent control. And this inaccessibility allowed the region to function as a bastion of freedom and Greekness. Its highest village, Vrangiana, was home to a proto-university in the 17th and 18th centuries. The great brigand freedom-fighter, Katsandonis, had his hideouts here. In more recent times ELAS, the biggest Greek WWII Resistance movement, proclaimed it the capital of Free Greece.

The physical cost to the landscape will be enormous

This is quite simply not the place for such industrial intrusion. The damage will not be just in the eye of beholder, but physical too. The geology of Agrafa is fragile, its strata vulnerable to landslides. It is enough to break the surface bonds of grass and tree root to bring about endless mud and rock slides, as has happened with the attempts at road building. When you consider that every one of the proposed 650 turbines will require its own access route, the potential for irreparable scarring is mind-boggling.

This is not simply a Luddite response to technological innovation.

There are already plenty of wind farms scattered about Greece, on both mainland and islands. There are plenty of remaining suitable sites, in regions of far less environmental and cultural importance.

Remember the diversion of the Akhelöos river and its  colossal environmental and financial cost

And we have been here before. In the 1980s the Greek government embarked on a scheme to dam and divert the waters of Greece’s most beautiful mountain river, the Akhelöos (see my article in The Guardian for December 6th 2000), the idea being to generate electricity and irrigate the ecologically unsustainable thirst of the cotton crops grown on the plain of Thessaly. The project went ahead in defiance of rulings by Greece’s own supreme court and in contravention of several international accords including Natura 2000 and the Ramsar Convention which it had itself signed. For twenty years the work of blowing up the mountains continued until finally in the early 2000s the scheme was abandoned, leaving nothing but unsightly damage and a 130-metre-high dam which serves no purpose:  hundreds of millions of euros in effect burnt on a pyre.

The environmental cost of the abandoned Akhelöos scheme

Who would bet on the Agrafa wind farm scheme not coming to a similarly sticky end?

Yes, the whole region is depopulated and undeveloped. Villages are down to five or ten permanent inhabitants. But the solution is not wind farms which will not benefit anyone local. It is sustainable tourism: walking, climbing, canoeing, mountain-biking, birding, wild flower expeditions, children paddling in the streams, picnicking in the summer shade. Already The Pindos Wayhiking route crosses the region, soon to be joined by The Pindus Trail. These are the Greek Alps. Look at the Pyrenees and the French and Italian Alps, how much money sustainable summer tourism brings in. This is the way forward, not a disfiguring palisade of spikes all along the beautiful skylines.

Greek speakers might like to look at my article  Η ζειδωρη Πινδος in the Greek newspaper Kathimerini for August 12 2018. My book, The Unwritten Places (in English), is available from Lycabettus Press, (Athens 1995) and Blackbird Digital Books(2014).

Just like the disastrous Akhelöos scheme, this wind farm scheme also contravenes accords like Natura 2000 which Greece is signatory to. So, go online. Sign the Avaaz petition. Write to your MEP. Contact the Greek government Tourist Office and tell them how short-sighted and retrograde a step it is to  wreck such a beautiful natural landscape with enormous potential for sustainable eco-tourism: Greek National Tourism Organisation, 4 Great Portland Street, Portland House, London W1W 8QJ;tel. 020-7495-9300; email:info@gnto.co.uk. The directoris Mrs Christina Kalogera, tel. 020-7495-9303; the person in charge of Media and PR, Mr Alexandros Konstantinou, tel. 020-7495-9310.

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In 1988 I contributed a chapter called The Rocky Spine of Greece: the Pindos Traverse to John Cleare’s book Trekking: Great Walks of the World. John was described as “the outstanding British mountaineering photographer of the post-war era” in the Penguin Encyclopaedia of Mountaineering (1977). That was compiled by Walt Unsworth, founder of the English mountaineering publisher Cicerone Press. He it was who first published my walkers’ guide to the mountains of Greece in 1986. Walt is no longer with us, but his successor is about to bring out the fourth edition of the guide, written with my friend Michael Cullen.

This edition is to be called Trekking in Greece: The Peloponnese and Pindos Way. It is in essence a description of that original mountain route, the Pindos Traverse, with the addition of a route across the Peloponnese, so that we now have a route that follows the mountain backbone of the entire country from the Albanian frontier in the north to the southern shore of the Peloponnese, an undertaking of around six weeks if you were to do the whole thing. For a really enticing taster you can’t do better than read Jane and Alan Laurie’s account of their even longer walk from the Prespa lakes to the southern Peloponnese.

It is Greece’s first truly long-distance hiking trail. The Peloponnese section is fairly straightforward. A good part of it follows the trans-Europe E4 route which has been cleared and re-signed thanks to the initiative and hard work of Ralph Roost. It is do-able in fourteen day-long walking stages with somewhere to stay every night, so you don’t need to be burdened with a heavy rucksack. For more detailed information, take a look at Michael’s great website at thepeloponneseway.com.

The Pindos Way is a bit more of a work in progress. The terrain is tougher and more remote. There is less infrastructure. You will need to camp some of the time. The route is not consistently maintained or signposted, although you will find detailed route descriptions in our guide. But there are no technical difficulties; you just need to be reasonably fit and a bit more adventurous and self-reliant. And any difficulties are more than compensated for by the extraordinary friendliness and willingness to help of the local mountain people.

PW/Stage 11

The path from Anifóra to Epinianá

This is unspoiled wilderness walking at its best: most definitely one of the great walks of Europe and just waiting to be discovered.

Flowers 4

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