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Saturday, 12 May 2018

PUNTA CAMPANELLA - THINGS I DIDN'T KNOW!

Over the past few weeks, Giovanni Visetti has published a series of blogs regarding Punta Campanella and although I have been living in this area for decades and have walked  there on many an occasion, I can sincerely say that I had never heard  of either of the events described.
Let's start in 1998 when during one of his walks  Giovanni found workmen erecting a 2 metre high metal fence, topped with barbed wire, as well as a heavy metal gate ready to bar all access to the final part of the promontory. The person seemingly in charge said that it was private property and that from now on nobody would be allowed to pass. Giovanni ignored him and marched on.
Thanks to his research into the local pathways for the project Tolomeo (where he marked and mapped over 100km of footpaths in the Sorrento peninsula), Giovanni knew for a fact that apart from  two areas to the side of the path which belonged to the Maritime authorities, the actual path was  municipal, and therefore public. 
On return from his walk, Giovanni immediately snapped into action, spreading the word about what he had seen, but even more importantly delivering  a letter to the local authorities the very next day denouncing the situation. Luckily it was taken seriously and the work was stopped.
This marked the beginning of a lengthy and very public legal battle  between the local authorities of Massa Lubrense and the Ministry of Defence and the Naval authorities who had intended auctioning off an area of 11,000 square metres with related buildings including the tower of Minerva. The scandal hit the press, not only local but also national and as the days passed, new associations joined the plethora of opponents as did personalities from the political and artistic world. Even when the Regional Administrative Court (TAR) ruled in favour of the local authorities at the end of 1998, it took another 5 years  for them to be able to assert their right of first refusal on the sale and buy the entire disputed area. Three more years passed  until  finally, in 2006, the contested area at long last became  part of the municipal heritage of Massa Lubrense and the spectre of a private cement ridden resort receded.

The second interesting fact dates further back and regards the lighthouse. Anyone who has walked as far as the tip of Punta Campanella will have seen that nowadays there is a metal pylon by the side of the tower with a light on top.
It was not always like this. As you can see from the photos, there was once a two storey building in front of the tower with the light on its roof. According to information supplied by the splendidly named "Command Zone of Lighthouses and Maritime Signalling of Naples", this light was first installed on the roof of an existing building during the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies in 1848. Even more interesting is the fact that the whole structure was destroyed by an explosion probably on the morning of Wednesday 6th August 1969. I say "probably" because this is the date given by the Maritime authorities. However when Giovanni spoke to some of the older villagers there was some confusion as to the exact date and even year.    Likewise, nobody seems to know exactly how it happened. The official and probably more reliable version says that there was a fire which then caused the explosion,  others say  that it was hit by lightning or even that it was caused deliberately by the lighthouse keeper. 
For the years immediately following the destruction of the original structure, a temporary light was attached to  the tower. This was then replaced in 1972 by the pylon that we see today.
All interesting facts, some well documented and certain, others less so..

Links to Giovanni's Blogs "Mercoled√¨ 6 agosto" and "Spesso accade che la memoria inganna"
Black and white photos of the lighthouse from http://www.massalubrense.it/fotodepoca.htm or Ludovico Mosca's Ludo Blog 

Thursday, 19 April 2018

The Path of the Gods - Open or Closed?

The Path of the Gods has been appearing in the local press rather frequently over the past few weeks, which is hardly surprising when you consider that the hiking season has now started in earnest and that  the most famous and popular route of this area is still  officially off limits. 
Yes, for anyone who has still no realised this,  the trail has been "closed" to the public since 17th November 2017, when the local authorities of Positano issued an  ordinance banning access to a part of the Path which had collapsed following  heavy rain. Since then, another small stretch disappeared over the edge elsewhere, but as far as I am aware, this one was never the object of any prohibition, although in my opinion just as risky, if not more so, than the first.
In spite of the "closure",  to start with there was very little clamor  and certainly not much publicity. People continued and continue to walk the trail, sometimes in considerable numbers and often accompanied by guides -  there is no control and little to warn people of the situation. 
It was only recently, as the start to the hiking season approached, that the first murmurings of discontent were heard. Various  foreign Tour Operators, warned by their conscientious local guides,  became aware of the situation and  began  cancelling or re-organising their walking tours. In fact, as any true professional guide knows, if there is an official ban on a path, then you  do not take groups along it. No discussion. Since should an accident happen, not only will the Insurance people laugh in your face, but you yourself and your Company will be  liable and likely to end up in a lot of very expensive legal trouble.
Unfortunately not everyone seems to realise this, or prefers to ignore it,  and the walk is still being promoted and guided by unscrupulous people with very little respect for the law or the safety of their customers. Moreover, the Path of the Gods is often still being  mis-sold which is something I have complained about before. I read a tragi-comic post today on Facebook where a lady who had been inquiring about this hike was astounded to hear that it wasn't the simple stroll she had been  led to believe: 
"But what do you mean...? They told me that the Path is for everyone, that it is open to everyone and anyone can do it, that I can even bring  children, that you do not need specific equipment and that I can do it with gym shoes or running shoes and that - if I want to - I can also bring the dog, and now you are telling me that precautions are needed ...?". 
It has to be said that the authorities have a lot of to answer for with regard to the present situation. In 6 months not only have they failed to make the necessary repairs, but they have also done absolutely nothing to make sure that the ordinance is respected. About a week ago, there was at long last an inspection carried out by  various members of the local authorities, civil engineers and Regional Parks people to start evaluating and planning the work needed. It is said that the Regional Government has promised the funding, so technically the money is there. The problem is that this is 6 months too late. As anyone who lives in Italy knows, bureaucracy is incredibly slow and there are multiple hoops to jump through before anything tangible gets done. Hopefully I will be proved wrong but I doubt it.
However all is not lost. Although the "cowboy" guides continue to take their blissfully unaware customers along the traditional and more usual Bomerano to Nocelle linear route,(probably because they know no other), there are other options which will still allow you to get more than a taste of the spectacular nature of this walk. You can set off from Bomerano and walk a circuit following the upper path from Colle Serra and returning via the lower one, or you can walk from Bomerano to Praiano (or vice versa) either via San Domenico or via the 327B, preferably using the services of one of our excellent and reliable local guides!
And here is the link to the recent Blog published by Giovanni Visetti on the same subject






Wednesday, 11 April 2018

PUNTA CAMPANELLA - TIME TO ACT

The footpath to Punta Campanella has been the subject of several of my blogs since it was restored 2 years ago, officially in order to make it accessible to all. 
From the very start I and others raised our concerns that the initial lack of any form of barrier was an open invitation to all forms of motorized traffic and it was not long before mopeds, motorbikes and small cars started making their appearance along the path, in spite of a sign forbidding this at its start.
In time, and after considerable pressure on the local authorities, a barrier appeared. The padlock lasted a few days and since then I have never, ever found it closed. 
More recently, during the winter, a new road sign appeared, slightly more visible than the previous one and in three languages. Such a pity that it is full of mistakes! When I pointed this out to the local authorities (the Comune), I was told that it was the remit of the local police and nothing to do with them. I find it extremely difficult to accept that nobody thought to check it first but once again it is not for us to wonder why!
Whatever, the total lack of respect and the total lack of any form of control, sporadic or not, has now turned the path into a freeway, especially at weekends. 
Giovanni Visetti in his latest blog: "Motocross along the Punta Campanella path, so much for the disabled!" paints a pretty dismal picture of the present situation, having himself found a group of motorcyclists right down at the tip of the trail last weekend. Not one to stay silent, he asks how come the many people who criticized, denounced and opposed the project at the time now remain silent in front of the havoc that is being wrought along the final stretch of the trail.
As you can see from the photos, it is in a pitiful state and, in just 2 years, virtually back to what it was before its restoration. Even worse, what was once a peaceful and relaxing stroll in the fresh air  is fast becoming polluted by the noise and smell of motorbikes ridden by their uncivilized owners who also expect the walker to get out of their way (and fast) to let them pass. 
The local Council has been talking a lot recently about the importance of our paths, having woken up to the fact that they are an excellent incentive for tourism in our area. There are even projects for Associations to adopt and maintain a path. All very laudable, but what about this one which is probably the most important due to its historic value alone?
Now that the tourist tax has been doubled for the coming season I can only hope that some of the money is used to take the necessary measures here: and that means instigating an efficient and effective way of ensuring that access is limited to those on foot. Start with finding a way to keep that barrier down. Put some cameras in. And if that is all too difficult, maybe send the traffic wardens down for a walk at key times to raise a few fines (extra money for the Council after all!). 

Monday, 12 February 2018

HIKES IN MASSA LUBRENSE - SANT'ELIA FROM TORCA


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

NO SURPRISES..

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 : "√® 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

WHEN PRAISE IS DUE


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

CRETE SAMARIA GORGE - AN EXAMPLE TO FOLLOW?


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! 


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