11th September 2015
Tour leader Spike has just returned from leading our Walking in Albania: In the Footsteps of Lord Byron group tour. Below Spike talks about visiting Gjirokastër, walking in Këlcyrë Gorge and camping on the mountainside.
On the first day of the trip we headed down from the capital to Gjirokastër. Along the way we stopped at the ancient port of Durrës and the beautiful ruins of Apollonia, a city where Octavius Augustus was educated before he became the first Roman Emperor.
In Gjirokastër itself we were staying in a hotel which has just opened this summer, after the very old guesthouse was refurbished. In the morning we walked up to the 12th century citadel at the top of the hill. Our guide Kala gave us a great tour around it telling us about the ramparts, the artillery and the American spy plane that sat there.
After exploring the fortress we headed on to our trek starting point, where the mules were loaded up whilst we lunched and then we set off, snaking along the mighty Këlcyrë Gorge before climbing up to a village and traversing along the hillside. We reached camp just as night was falling.
Today we trekked down the river, which we crossed on a splendid Ottoman bridge. Then we clambered up the big mountainside. It was hot and the trail was rough, but we made it to the village of Limar by 11.30. There we were welcomed into the first house where they gave us mountain herbal tea, figs and raki. For lunch we stopped beneath a big mulberry tree at the top of the village. We picked as much of the fruit as we could, staining our fingers and our clothes. We also found plenty of cranberries and blackberries along the route. Natalie said she was ODing on wild fruit!
We're now camped high on the mountainside, looking out across the Zagoria Valley where the British Special Operations Executive were active during WWII. Bill Tilman was based here for some time and wrote 'When Men and Mountains Meet' about his exploits here. There used to be many villages, but now there are just a few still populated. Those villages with a track have a car come to them once a week, carrying supplies in and taking produce out to market.
It is Michael's birthday today so we had cake, balloons and wine around the campfire. Tomorrow is the last day of the trek – we'll be walking up over the high ridge and then down towards Këlcyrë and its ancient castle.