British woman Penny Turner has lived in Greece for
many years. She has helped countless Long Riders who were passing through
on their way to somewhere else.
Now at last she has made her own Long Ride - 1,000 miles through the wild and forgotten areas of her adopted homeland.
Greece has more than 120 bears, 300 wolves, chamois and lots of really wild animals. That is because most of the mainland is still extremely unspoilt. But it is spoiling REALLY fast.
I wanted to see it, and to see the parts that are the most inaccessible before they are destroyed. And I want to tell everyone what is there. Actually I am still naïve enough to hope that if enough alarm bells are rung about what is being lost, maybe it can still be saved.
By horse is the obvious way to do this. Before this 1000 mile trip I had made three lesser expeditions. All in the North of Greece where the real wild things are.
After my three smaller trips I felt I had made all the major mistakes, and was ready to attempt something bigger, hoping that I had left room only for minor mistakes… big mistake…I chose a really bad kind of footwear, was unable to reach a town that sold shoes for three weeks, and could hardly walk by then. Plus my feet were two sizes bigger.. they have more or less returned to their normal size now, five months later.
I decided to start near Kardamili in the South Pelopponese and go down the Mani to Teneros, which is the furthest South you can go in Europe... well except for a place in Spain that is 2 or three metres nearer Africa.
At Teneros there is the temple of Poseidon and the oracle of Death at the gates of Hell. Of course I had to visit it. And George too: after all Poseidon is in charge of horses; some legends say he brought them to Greece, and those white horses on the waves are his animals.
So I thought I would ask Poseidon to look after George for the remainder of our journey, which would include crossing at least 24 mountain ranges, many of which I had never heard of but I can testify to their bigness and wildness.. in some of them it snowed in May, and in almost all it rained with dreary regularity.
Poseidon did a really good job, the picture of George when we had completed 1000 miles shows that having a pagan deity on your side makes a BIG difference to the success of an outing.
The approach to the temple itself was very stony, so I decided to go there alone.
By this time it was quite late, so there was no one around except an old lady and her sheep. She seemed to be doing something furtive and hurried. I was of course fascinated and watched to see what she was up to. She took a tin box out of a hole in the ground near the temple, and then scuttled inside with it… was she keeping her milking equipment in the temple? I waited until she emerged and rejoined her flock.
At Teneros there is the temple of Poseidon and the oracle of Death at the
gates of Hell. Of course I had to visit it. And George too: after all
Poseidon is in charge of horses; some legends say he brought them to
Greece, and those white horses on the waves are his animals.
Click on photograph to enlarge.
Inside the temple I found something quite unexpected. On a ledge in the depths of the temple she had opened the tin box to reveal a Christian icon and had lit a candle in front of it. She obviously did this every day, as the rocks were blackened with candle soot.
This lady was keeping us all safe from paganism!
This experience coloured the rest of the trip, as I kept looking for traces of the old religions and trying to see why and how later civilizations had tried to repress or control them.
I haven’t quite worked out a theory about this, but there is certainly food for thought in the fact that in the Greek mountains, where the names of places reveal the existence of various animal cults, (for example the mountain Lykaeio was sacred to Zeus the wolf, and there lived the earliest known werewolves) these have been rigorously suppressed. And the suppression is linked with the extinction in those areas of the fierce wild animal once worshipped there….
What to say about travelling by horse in Greece?
First, there are no blacksmiths. So don’t even think of doing it if you can’t shoe the horse yourself.
Second, people in the mountains are very hospitable. In fact they are the kindest sweetest people that you could ever hope to meet. But they do not have anything extra. This means it is often hard to get fodder for the horse. The commonest food is maize which is fed to sheep and goats. Luckily that is George’s favourite grain anyway. And I think it may well be the best one for a number of reasons. It is fattening, and in Greece you need to keep the horse fat as the cold and wet on the mountains had a very bad effect on George on the trip where I started with him galloping fit and he had no blubber to keep out the cold. It also provides slow release energy, the equine equivalent of bananas.
It is also often difficult to get food for yourself.
Nobody lives in the mountains, and you can go for days without seeing anyone. In many areas mobile phones do not have a signal. This means it is much better not to have an accident. Luckily the three times George threw me off or flattened me I was quite near to houses, so if I HAD broken anything I’d have been alright. But once or twice, as we found ourselves right on the edge of a mountain precipice which we hadn’t seen because of the relentless fog and rain, it did occur to me that no one would find us for weeks, though of course we would have been dead, so we wouldn’t have cared too much..
The asphalt roads in Greece are grim. People often ask me if I am afraid, all alone in the mountains. I can truly say that the only times I was afraid was when I was forced to go on a big main road. Luckily George spent his childhood and teenage years in a city and is completely traffic proof.
But I would urge you never to take your horse on a main road anywhere in Greece.
This problem is compounded by the fact that accurate maps of wild areas do not exist, and accurate maps at all occur only by chance. So, without a smattering of Greek you are done for, because even the most sophisticated location equipment relies on a certain accuracy in the map.
However, if you have a reasonable sense of direction and you don’t mind wandering randomly along paths hoping you’ll end up SOMEWHERE, and even quite enjoy trying to guess where you’ve got to, then the Greek mountains are just fabulous. Flowers, wildlife, real wilderness. The most stupendous landscapes. And the feeling that every marvel you see you really EARNED.
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