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Once Upon A Time in Greece

Walking or running off the roads in Greece (or indeed anywhere in the Mediterranean) is a bit of an adventure, but having seen a noticeboard with a map of guided routes around the northern end of Kefalonia, I ventured out on the 10km Battery Trail with a photo of the route on my phone. I set off for a run before 8am, but it was already hot on the road out of the picturesque port of Fiskardo. The route showed a path off to the right just before the road bends, so I followed a promising looking track, only to find myself at a private house. After backtracking, I took the next track, which quickly petered out in an area of rough open ground. I danced between rocks and spiky plants, hoping not to tread on the snakes I imagined to be hiding in the dry grass. With relief I reached another road, but it wasn’t a promising start to a supposedly waymarked trail. I soon joined a track towards the giant Hotel Emelisse, but the person I was following turned out to be a staff member and I had to pick my way around the tennis courts and apartments to join the main drive. After winding around the complex, a surfaced path led down through the dense brush that covers most of the Greek Islands, only to be confronted by a locked gate. I was definitely on the route here, so vaulted the gate and dropped down to the road at Emplysi Bay, the sand empty at this time of the morning and the small shack café closed up. A promising footpath sign directed through a gate and along the wooded shore, but by the time I reached the rocky headland, I realised I had somehow gone wrong again. More backtracking to an unsigned fainter path that veered off through the scrub just a few yards beyond the gate, more cursing.


The dense vegetation cover on this path was a blessing though, keeping me cool as I wound up and down, left and right. I started to notice for the first time the tiny blue and white paint flashes that were the waymarkers to keep me on the route. It dropped down to another sandy cove at Kimilia Bay, where I crossed the hot sand and resisted jumping in the sea. Further waymarkers appeared to lead on along the shore to a second cove, where the map showed the route heading inland. It didn’t look promising, but I followed a tiny path up through a series of olive groves and overgrown terraces. After reaching a couple of dead-ends, I picked up a better path by a ruined circular hut whose purpose was unclear. There were no waymarkers but it persisted through the spiky vegetation for some distance.

When I emerged on an open area of high ground near the shore beyond Cape Vliotis, I realised I was off the route again, but didn’t fancy retracing my steps so far with no promise of a better path. Instead I looked at the rocky shoreline ahead and thought Dafnoudi Bay didn’t look too far off. The Ionian Islands are largely composed of different types of limestone, but around sea level there is often a band of really jagged breccia, an incredibly hard and sharp stone. Apart from the odd sheet of limestone pavement, it didn’t make for easy running, especially around the narrow inlets. I barely ran, carefully picking my way up and down these bands of rock as the sun beat down incessantly. By the time I reached the sand of Dafnoudi, sweat was pouring off me and my ageing road running shoes were falling apart, finally torn asunder by the breccia.


A path mercifully led up the dramatic limestone gorge from the beach to the road and I sat on the wall for a moment’s breath as another English runner went past on the road. But I resisted turning back, determined to visit the battery that had given this trail its name. It came sooner than I expected as the ground opened out a little on the wild north-western tip of Kefalonia, but there was very little of it to see. Instead I scrambled up on to some rocks for a wonderful view south along the dramatic coastline towards Assos. The onward route led back inland, beneath the olive trees and thick cloak of dark green shrubs, picking its way intricately through the rocks that seemed to cover two-thirds of the island’s surface. As I went, I suddenly twigged that the waymarkers were not just random lines, but arrows directing you left, right or around features, and suddenly it made sense how I’d managed to go wrong back at Kimilia Bay. It still wasn’t perfect, but it became much easier to follow the trail as it picked its way between crumbling walls and enclosures full of beautiful goats, who were made for this rough landscape even more than a gnarly northern fellrunner. I joined the road through Frapata and Markantonata, sleepy hamlets with a beautiful fragrance in the morning heat. The sound of a bouzouki drifted through the trees, carrying clearly for several minutes as someone played out on their back porch.

The return route was simpler as I started to descend, hoping that I was on the right path while passing an angry dog at the edge of a property. But the path persisted to pass a large ruined mill at Psilithrias and join a broad track back down in to Fiskardo. Beyond more goats, I found myself running into the village past the striking orange house I had discovered last night. Then there were the fancy tavernas and elaborate yachts that had been superimposed on a very traditional landscape, which at every turn off the beaten path seems to be sending you back to the safe bubble from which you came, but that offers a brief taste of the real Greece beneath its veneer of modern tourism. I flung myself in the sea, finding it hard to believe I had only covered 10km in over an hour and a half.