Monday, 12 February 2018


The last time I walked the trail to Sant'Elia was back in 2010! Although very panoramic, it was never one of my favourites, mainly due to the fact that it was there and back, since the one and only gateway making a loop possible was    always  locked and completely impossible to climb around, over or under. In addition the path had on all accounts become very overgrown and difficult to negotiate, probably through lack of use.
So when I saw that it was reappearing on the programmes of  other weekend hiking groups, I asked around and discovered that not only had volunteers from the Italian Alpine Club (CAI) cleared  it, but that it was now possible (be it with the maximum caution) to get around the side of the gate and therefore walk it as a circuit.
We set off from the village of Torca, walking down from the square along Via Botteghe di Sotto, turning into Via Monticello and then going steeply down Via Rivolo before passing through some olive groves and down an even steeper cement road which led us to the start of the actual trail to the left of some metal fencing.
We were already enjoying the stunning views of the coastline, the 3 peaks of Marina del Cantone peeping out to our right from behind the hillside, the Vetara and I Galli Islands straight ahead. 
Having negotiated the first uneven, rocky steps and subsequent fairly sheer descent along a narrow dirt path, we started enjoying the sight of the typical Mediterranean vegetation showing the first signs of spring: bright yellow gorse, pink asphodels, delicate purple anemones, scented rosemary, a clump of fragrant flowering stock and a pink cistus or two. We continued along our way hugging the coastline high above the sea. It is definitely not a path for anyone with vertigo, but it was completely clear and pretty easy to navigate, sometimes uphill, sometimes down and at times even nice and flat. 
We passed the pinnacle, worn by the rain and the wind, but still standing. The views got better and better as we proceeded along the hillside, the Amalfi coast now in sight,  Vettica di Praiano sparkling in the sun which had at last decided to grace us with its presence. 
After about an hour's walking, we came to the ancient farmhouse, no longer inhabited and falling to bits, but now with  padlocks on its doors (in 2010 the doors were hanging off their hinges and you could go inside).   The millstone in the little forecourt was still there, as was the water tank and a few fruit trees (the oranges, alas, small and unripe). Taking the path downhill to the right we soon reached the watchtower just above the sea. This has been restored but is locked, as is the ancient chapel, dedicated to Sant'Elia, hidden in the vegetation along the track to the right. It is a good place to stop and take a break.
Having walked back up to the house, we went to the right, eventually coming to the infamous gate. You have to be really careful getting around it since  not only is there a bit of a drop but also some rather nasty barbed wire. It is not an ideal passing point, (and who knows how long it will be before it gets blocked off), but until the owners of the land and the house are convinced to grant right of passage, it is the only way to proceed without turning back.
From there it is about another 2 kilometres  to the Colli Fontanelle, the path meandering round the hillside  in an extremely pleasant fashion (be it very steeply uphill at times, something I had conveniently forgotten..), dipping in and out of woods and along sunny and open terraces, at one point taking you under a picturesque stone archway. We came to a quaint wooden bench, one of its legs  a rock, in front of what seemed to be another pinnacle concealed behind the trees. This was in fact the western pillar of the Arch of Sant'Elia, or the "Queen's Arch", which spanned the gorge a couple of centuries ago before it collapsed. 
Once we reached the village of Colli Fontanelle, we decided to walk back to Torca via the pinewood of Le Tore rather than take the more panoramic Sirenuse Trail. Either route is perfect for completing this highly satisfying loop.It is a hike well worth the effort, however if you decide to go, please be aware that you may find the gap by the gate blocked and have to return the way you came. Even then, I am sure you will enjoy it.

Monday, 6 November 2017


Last night it started raining, not that pleasant gentle drizzle that we are good at in England, but the heavy stuff, bucketing out of the sky in solid sheets of water.
You didn't need  to be a genius or have a crystal ball to predict what would happen with rain like that. We had already had a foretaste some weeks ago. 
This time it was much worse. It hit harder, for longer and was more widespread.
Positano was one of places  worst affected, the road down to the centre turning into a fast flowing river carrying sludge, stones and debris right down to the  beach. The mayor sensibly decided to close the schools for the day.
The village of Nocelle was once again isolated, the road having to be bulldozed clear not once but twice during the course of the day.
On the Sorrento side of the coast, Faito was completely cut off and still is, thanks to  mud and rock slides invading the main road. Tomorrow they are going to reactivate the cable car, which had just stopped for the winter, to allow some access to residents and visitors stuck up there.
And so I could go on. Tramonti, Ravello, Amalfi, there have been problems all over.
This morning the local news was full of dramatic headlines. "Positano News" in particular is pretty good at those and its : "รจ terrore!"  did not disappoint
However, in all honesty, the photos circulating, (thank you Fabio Fusco  for allowing me to borrow some of them!), do not paint a reassuring picture at all.
(this photo from Positano News)
We are used to the occasional rock falling onto the roads despite the metal netting designed to hold them back. Now however, thanks to this summer's fires, there is little or nothing that anyone can do to prevent a repetition of today. The slopes are too high and too steep and there is nothing left to hold it all back
I very much fear that this is just the beginning of what is going to be a long and difficult winter, and all thanks to the criminals or demented minds who caused this to happen in the first place.

Monday, 30 October 2017


On Sunday we changed our planned itinerary (having found it impossible to  park anywhere near Positano) and made our way slightly higher up to Monte Pertuso. We left the car and took the CAI trail 331 which meanders very pleasantly, high above the road, leading to Valle Pozzo and beyond to the Tese and Capodacqua. 
Wrapped round a pole towards the start of the trail was a very small and insignificant bilingual notice from the local authorities advising you against hiking due to the instability of the path following  the summer's fires. Take note.. it wasn't an outright ban, rather a friendly piece of advice. So we ignored it and set off , be it not particularly convinced  that we would get very far. 
As we progressed, we came across the bright orange dots and arrows of a recent  trail race. This gave us cheer, since if trail runners had passed, then there was hope for us too.
In fact, although the fire damage along the initial stretches leading to Valle Pozzo  was more than evident, the path was clear and well maintained. We easily climbed over one fallen tree trunk and circumvented another (the detour clearly marked by orange arrows). 
Having heard bad things about Valle Pozzo even before the fires, we ignored its turning and carried on along the 331b linking to Le Tese. We already knew that Le Tese were unscathed, so took this route, making good time up to Santa Maria del Castello where we stopped for a short break.
Not wanting to return the way we came, we asked a local whether the CAI 300 Forestale path was viable, since we knew that it had  been particularly badly affected by the fires. We were told that people had been seen walking along it, so we decided to make our way to the Caserma del Forestale and then walk back down to Monte Pertuso via the CAI 329, thus creating a perfect loop. It was a good decision since the path, provided you watch your feet on the loose stones, is more than possible and not much worse than it was before.
However it is not a pretty sight. The devastation to the landscape is total. Whilst the lower vegetation is gradually re-emerging here and there, the overall impression is that of a scarred and barren wilderness, littered with the charred skeletons of a thousand fallen trees. It is quite shocking to see. Gone are the pines, gone are most of the cypresses. It is a landscape dominated by grey and black with occasional splashes of colour from the rusty brown of burnt leaves.
Yes, the views have opened up, but there is no longer anything between you and the sheer stony slopes. Anyone  suffering from vertigo is going to be in difficulty.  And I would definitely not recommend walking these trails after heavy rain or in high winds.  There are an awful  lot of tree trunks perched perilously  on the slopes ready to come tumbling down.  It is only too easy to see what could happen now that there is nothing left to hold back the loose stones. We already had a foretaste of this with the first rain in September when the road to Nocelle was blocked with mud and detritus that had come tumbling down the hillside.
What is however impressive is the general state of the paths which have been virtually cleared and are no more difficult than before. I really was not expecting that. 
I am generally pretty quick at criticizing. However I am equally willing to give praise, when praise is due. And here it definitely was. Hats off to whoever is responsible!

Thursday, 19 October 2017


I have just returned from a week's holiday in Crete and whilst there we walked the famous Samaria Gorge, at 13 kms considered the longest gorge in Europe.

We decided to do it by ourselves and not take an organised tour or hire a guide, confident that having done our homework and being pretty experienced hikers, we were not taking any major risks.
Logistically it was tricky, since apart from the fact that the start point was a 2 hour drive from our hotel, the trail (precisely because it is a gorge) starts in one place and ends up in another. This is further complicated by the fact that there is no road at its end, so you then have to take a ferry (1 hour) to another village further along the coast and then of course you have to get back to your car at the top. We booked a taxi for this part which proved a wise move since, provided you closed your eyes and ignored the fact that the driver was going incredibly fast round a terribly bendy and precipitous road, occasionally talking on his mobile phone,  we got back to our car in 45 minutes. The public bus would have taken much longer and left us with a final 2 km walk back to the in the dark.  
Well, back to the Gorge. Tickets costing 5 euros are purchased at a ticket office about 200 metres from the entrance. There are also  clean public toilets (free)  and a small shop selling water, sandwiches, fruit, maps, guides etc. When you get to the actual entrance to the gorge, the tickets are checked and one half is kept by them, the other you keep with you to hand in at the end of the trail (where there is another booth). This way they know exactly how many people are in the gorge at one time, and most importantly can check that everyone is out of it by the time it closes. 
The gorge not only has specific opening and closing times but also a cut off time for entering the gorge if you want to walk it all. After a certain hour you are only allowed to walk  a short stretch there and back. When it is raining or there is a serious threat of rain, the gorge is off limits (it is completely closed over the winter) due to the risk of flash flooding and rock falls.
We went fairly late in the morning (setting off at 11.30) since we had been warned that coach loads of large tourist groups take the place by assault from 8 a.m. until mid morning. Since the trail  is often narrow, this makes it difficult to pass slower walkers (just like the Path of the Gods..) and in any case ruins the whole experience. As we walked, we did meet other hikers, but it was never crowded, never noisy. I find it very difficult to imagine it heaving with the masses!          
We set off, making our way steeply down the first part of the trail.  We had read that the first couple of kilometres were to be taken slowly thanks to the loose stones making it pretty treacherous underfoot. They were not exaggerating, but the sturdy wooden rails certainly helped (as did my pole). The vast majority of the track was very stony and uneven and you always had to watch your feet. I would definitely not consider it an easy walk.
I will now summarize what impressed me (apart from the amazing landscape):
- there are "stopping places" evenly spread out along the way. Here you will find water (natural spring water), which means that you do not need to carry litres and litres of water with you,  toilets (pretty nasty and very basic, but better than nothing), wooden benches and sometimes tables. There is a designated smoking zone at a couple of these for those who really can't do without. There are also litter bins which are emptied. In fact we met the mules coming up the gorge with the litter collection. There is absolutely no litter along the trail. The stopping places do not intrude on the landscape at all, since everything is perfectly rustic and merges in with the surroundings.
- there is a fire-prevention system along the entire length of the trail. Not only are there warning signs, but there are also clearly indicated "escape routes", leading to assembly and evacuation points. There are also fire hoses, extinguishers and rubber water tubes (the latter to the side of the path, like irrigation tubes).
- the areas most at risk of rock fall are caged over. Along other exposed stretches there are signs telling you to walk quickly and not to shout.
- there are wardens, not many, not intrusive, but present, with their forestry uniforms and walky talky radios. As we were nearing the end (by then it was nearly 4 p.m.), we met one of them walking up the gorge checking on the progress of the later walkers. We were told that we were fit and would make it! That was a relief  seeing that there is only one late afternoon ferry which leaves at 17.30...
- there are km markers (although we missed a few of these) and also what I would call "progress" maps, so that you can track your progress.
The trail was extremely rocky and there were some pretty tricky parts.  It is not for the casual Sunday walker unless you limit yourself to a short walk there and back, and even then you definitely need proper footwear (we didn't see one person in flip flops). Although it is mainly downhill, there are several steeper uphill stretches and you have to cross the river to and fro. Sometimes there are stepping stones, sometimes  little bridges or planks. Being a dry October, there was very little water in the river, so this was not a problem, but I would imagine that it could be quite slippery and trickier in the spring. 
However all in all, you felt completely safe. 
So what is my point? 
Whenever there is an accident on the Path of the Gods, the local press, and not only, goes to town and declares it unsafe. A lot of talk then follows about its maintenance (or rather the lack of it), the desirability or not of more and better fencing, the fact that it is overcrowded and full of unsuitable walkers  often guided by equally unsuitable guides (true) and so on and so forth..
However to be quite honest what is completely lacking is any kind of control. 
Maybe it is time to install ticket booths at the 2 main access points  at either end of the path (Bomerano and Nocelle) and introduce a small entrance fee. This way, not only would there be some much needed income coming in for the path's maintenance, but there would also be a better idea of who is on the path at any one time. Obviously, since it is not a gorge and has other access points (for example from Praiano), this would not be fool-proof, but  it would certainly help.
And what about having  a trained warden or two stationed along the path, whose jobs would be to monitor and provide assistance in an emergency? 
I am quite sure that the Path could pay its way...

Saturday, 23 September 2017

PUNTA CAMPANELLA - the good and the bad

Taking advantage of the beautiful weather (after a period of storms which brought us some
much needed and long-awaited rain), I decided to take a day off work and go for a walk. My chosen destination was Punta Campanella, followed by the climb up the ridge towards Monte San Costanzo.
As anyone who follows my blog will know, the path down to the Punta was re-opened following renovations just over a year ago, having consumed an indecent amount of the European Community's funds and with the official aim (or dare I say it, excuse) of making the path suitable for the less mobile.
As soon as the work was completed (and to say "completed" is being  generous,  since it isn't), eyebrows were raised,since even then, newly re-opened, there was absolutely no way that a person in a wheelchair or with impaired walking abilities was going to make it to the tip or in fact  get much further down the path than before. As far as I know, the only less mobile that have ever made it right down, are one or two people (no more) who have literally been wheeled and carried down by volunteers in adapted trolleys (see photo).
Since the local Authorities had not thought that the "new" path would attract foot-shy day-trippers on their mopeds and even in their cars and that therefore a barrier might have been a good idea to stop them attempting to drive down, parts of the path fast degenerated. The rain over the winter did the rest.
Following protests, a barrier at long last appeared, but the damage had been done, and in any case for a long period it had no lock, so was pretty pointless. When a padlock finally appeared, it lasted days. Today for example the barrier was wide open. However being a Friday in September, I only came across 2 mopeds that had ventured down as far as they possibly could (far enough, but not to the very end, thanks to the state of the path!).
Enough of the negatives. Now for the good points.A lot of the path, whether you like it or not,  is in a good condition and has mellowed from its spanking new status.  The path is clean. I saw no litter at all. The information plaques are  still there, all intact apart from one which has broken/cracked plastic. Hopefully this will be repaired sooner rather than later. The views are as they always are: fantastic. It really is a delightful walk for anyone fairly fit (and mobile).
I set off fairly early, so apart from meeting an elderly gentleman with is dog walking in the opposite direction, the path was all my own. However as I started climbing the ridge, I looked back and there were 2 fairly large hiking groups approaching the tip, pausing to look at the plaques on their way. Behind them were a few more individual hikers and I met another couple descending as I went up. 
I have to say that this gladdened my heart. Our area has so much to offer the hiker and it is good to see that the path is being used. The fact that some stretches are in a pretty poor state and returning  to how they used to be may well actually be a mercy in disguise! 

Saturday, 22 July 2017


The fires have continued  relentlessly all week, although fortunately the latest  have been smaller and more rapidly dominated. The Amalfi Coast road has re-opened following its closure due to the risk of falling rocks. From the photos of the rocks that were dislodged, it was a very good job that it was closed. Hopefully when the first rain arrives, this will limit the risk of any more coming down.
Meantime Giovanni Visetti went up to Santa Maria del Castello to investigate the state of the trails around there and in particular the Forestale. The news is not good. This is what he says:
"The situation, bad enough as it is,  is even worse from a hiker's point of view . In fact, many of the trees, still standing but already weakened and burnt by fires from previous years, have now fallen across the path making it virtually impassable. Certainly the more agile and enterprising will manage to climb over or around them, but  not without getting scratched and covered in soot".
Giovanni himself, who is lithe and athletic but not so keen on getting dirty, managed to walk just a few hundred metres to the Forestale and roughly the same distance to Erbatenera. The eastern slopes of Valle Pozzo beneath Santa Maria del Castello have burnt, whilst higher up it is the western slopes that have gone up in smoke. Further on, the fire has spared nothing, right up to Conocchia and Sant'Angelo a Tre Pizzi (Molare, Canino & Catiello). 
The morning of Giovanni's reconnaissance there was just one small fire to the west of the cross of Vagnulo and towards midday the helicopter arrived. He had a bit of a surprise when he came across  a removable swimming pool beside the short path connecting the road to the belvedere at Santa Maria. It was not there for the locals to have a refreshing dip but to enable the helicopters to load up more quickly with the water  to put out the fires.
In all this bleakness there is however some good news  - the fire did not extend to the west of Positano (Monte Comune and Capodacqua) and here all is intact. Let's hope that it remains that way!

Photos courtesy of Giovanni's blog

Tuesday, 18 July 2017


Many of you will have heard about the terrible fires that are once again plaguing our area. There is little point in debating the reasons why. Suffice it to say that we have had no proper rain in months,  and that the terrain was more than fertile...
One of the areas most recently hit is in the hills above Positano and Montepertuso where there is a popular network of trails.
A keen walker and local guy, Andrea Milano, has reported on the state of the main paths beneath Sant'Angelo a Tre Pizzi and between Montepertuso and S. Maria del Castello.
"The following CAI trails have definitely been affected by the fire:
329, 329b, 331 (Valle Pozzo), 300 (the stretch Castagnole-S.Maria del Castello)
- from Valle Pozzo to S.Maria del Castello: to be avoided at all costs, especially the central part. Falling rocks.
- Canestrelli Trail (from Montepertuso to Castagnole): already tricky pre fire due to thick undergrowth , it is now to be avoided at all costs as per Valle Pozzo.
- Pinewood Montepertuso / Valle Pozzo: still a lot of smoke, all the bush has gone and some pine trees. Ok  from the Montepertuso car park to the  spring of Dragone  and to the junction with Le Tese for S.Maria del Castello. The western area of ​​the pine forest and the upper part of  Valle Pozzo are to be avoided due to falling rocks.
- Castagnole, Caserma Forestale, Conocchia and up to  S.Angelo a Tre Pizzi: all burnt and clean. Ok to walk but ATTENTION along the stretch from Colle dell'Ara to the  Caserma (Forestale building),due to falling rocks.
- Above Nocelle, Campo dei Galli: the undergrowth has burned, no evident danger. However pay attention to where the fence is.
- West side Monte Gambera: holm oak wood –similar situation to the Montepertuso pinewood.
- The hole of Monte Gambera (Montepertuso): to be avoided for the moment due to falling rocks

The “falling rocks” problem will be ongoing, until the first rain and frost.

If out walking, pay attention, especially to tree stumps; if you find one smoldering, try to put it out & call 1515. "

Original text in Italian at FB page Camminate

Friday, 14 July 2017


Many of you, being keen hikers, will already be acquainted with Giovanni Visetti's website, where you can find a wealth of maps covering most of the trails of the Sorrento Peninsula and the Amalfi Coast.
Well, I have some good news for you all. Giovanni has decided that it is time to move with the times, and has consequently started adapting his maps in order to make them more compatible with tablets and smartphones.
Freed from the constraints of having to fit everything onto a sheet of A4 paper, Giovanni has identified the 7 areas of main interest to hikers (see the picture below), three of which are connected to each other (maps 4, 5 and 6).

Capri is on its own, and the other 3 are the classic Campanella, San Costanzo, Santa Croce and Jeranto (map 2), the trails between Marina del Cantone and the hills of Fontanella (map 3), and the Valley of the Ferriere (map 7). The latter not only covers Scala and Amalfi but extends north to Cervigliano and Santa Maria ai Monti (including Scalandrone and the woods of Santa Maria) and west to San Lazzaro, including Acquolella, Cospita and Murillo.
Anyone even faintly familiar with the territory of the Monti Lattari will realise that the 3 remaining maps cover just about all  the hills between the road at Colli San Pietro (311m, linking Sorrento and Positano) and the tunnel of Agerola (701m, linking Castellammare and Amalfi), extending north to Faito and Sant'Angelo a Tre Pizzi (1.444m) and therefore include hundreds of kilometres of trails across the southern slopes. In order not to make maps 4 and 5 too big, Giovanni has divided them (but included an overlap) along the axis Santa Maria del Castello - Positano and therefore the two trails linking these localities (Tese and Valle Pozzo) figure in both of them.
Here is a preview of map 5 (from S.Maria del Castello to Bomerano) which in addition to  the previously mentioned links also includes Forestale - Conocchia, the rockfall (frana), M.Tre Calli, M.Catiello, Vagnulo and the Path of the Gods.

Apart from the maps of Capri and San Costanzo/Campanella that are on a larger scale, the GIF files of all the other maps have the same scale (1:15,000) and  the same dpi. Consequently, apart from a few minor tweeks, they are uniform and the 3 that overlap should be easily assembled.
Another novelty is that where possible the updated numbering of the CAI (Club Alpino Italiano) trails has been included.
Giovanni is also working on a new website that will be entirely and exclusively dedicated to hiking, so watch this space!