31st March 2019
The road up from the small village of Paleopanagia just to the south of Sparti, leaves the olive groves that cover the plain and winds up through impenetrable scrub oak and maquis past the turn to the village of Toriza to a shaded car park at Manganiari Spring, with a fast flowing stream beneath lichen-encrusted plane trees. From here there are tracks leading two ways: either up through the pine forest to the Mountain Refuge at Katafigio or heading north contouring round the mountain. The latter keeps in the open with a view of the snow-capped mountains. The fierce north wind blows snow from the peaks in swirls of white cloud.
The flowers by the trackside are not very prominent yet, but there is some colour in the scrub before the pine forest begins. The track runs up and around a headland and then into the forest rising steadily along the edge of a steep valley to a ridge.
This is a long and quiet walk to the snowline; near an open glade I think I hear the grunt of a wild boar. in the forest there are blue Anemone blanda that are still to unfurl, bright yellow Gagea reticulata and, near watercourses, bunches of primroses Primula vulgaris.
There are not many birds either, but firecrests sing from the firs as does a bunting that may be an ortolan, a well as blackbirds, subalpine warblers and stonechats. In the pine forest, coal tits are king and resolutely sing from the tops of the trees as does a single siskin. Jays scold and scurry away. There are no large raptors in the sky but a small falcon flies fast south into the strong northerly wind.
At the head of the valley just beneath the crest a small house built from steel sheets sits surrounded by planted fruit trees; these need water in the summer so plastic pipes are run from a tank above. Like all places out of season in the mountains or by the beach, there is an air of dilapidation and expectancy in equal measure. Another house, perhaps an old, abandoned one, has collapsed into a heap in the winter storms.
On the way down, there is a small assortment of summer houses all with outside barbecues; there is also a huge and rather worn charabanc parked permanently in the forest, presumably as a ready made summer escape, and a newly completed small church. Suddenly, there is a strange noise, like the squeak of an old pump, from behind a large water tank. Then a band of some ten wild boarlets charges away down the track squeaking some more. I look for the parents with some apprehension but there are none escorting this merry band; they cross the road and head down the steep slope to the sanctuary of the thick forest in the depths of the valley.
The butterflies are few but a festoon and ubiquitous painted lady are present and a female orange tip fends off a male while almost glued to a flowerhead as it is tossed about in the strong wind. The road runs down to the stream but there is no sight nor sound of the identified bunting.
The road north from Paleopanagia runs through endless olive groves and small villages. Before Parori there is one very old and very beautiful grove. Here a Balkan green lizard has made a home in the hollow trunk and pops out when the coast is clear to soak up the warmth of the day.
The village of Parori is just before Mystras and here there is a path into the narrowest and deepest gorge with a narrow path that leads up into the hills; there are plants by the track including Ophrys mammosa and the beautiful white Cymbalaria microcalyx that looks very much like Bugs Bunny.
Mystras is a starkly beautiful as ever and draws the eye but the place closes at 4pm so it is another drive round before heading home via the towering Langarda gorge.