Day three with the horses and we’re getting the hang of things. With help from the gang - and the ever decreasing roll of gaffer tape - we were tacked up, mounted and on our way on schedule at 10am. A minor miracle if you ask me!
On top of a ridge overlooking the fertile valley with the rugged mountains behind, we rode through the ruins of the ancient city of Antigoneia. Situated on a major trading route between Illyria, in northern Greece, and the Adriatic coast, the town reached its zenith in the 3rd century before Christ, when it was the third largest metropolitan centre in the region. Sadly very little has been excavated, but there are enough exposed walls, pillars and pathways to imagine what the place must have been like in its heyday and made an interesting start to the day.
Leaving the site behind we happened upon an old shepherd, travelling up to the high pastures with his three donkeys, who directed us onto the right trail, directly across the hills. At first the path was clear, hugging the contours of the land, passing through meadows of long grass. But little by little the route narrowed and the grass grew higher until it was barely discernible at all. We stopped on a ridge and looked out across a canyon, a giant ravine, stretching away before us. Another dead end? On foot I scurried down the hill, where, much to my relief, I found a narrow track through which we could pass. Summoning the group forward, we all dismounted and lead our horses down towards a river at the bottom. It was a slippery route, with vegetation often hindering the way, but eventually we made it to the water and rode up the other side.
Here we reached a picturesque village of Qesorat. It was here that Byron and Hobhouse had lunch in a house they described well. We found the house, but sadly the last 200 years have taken their toll - the roof had caved in and one wall had collapsed - leaving it unsuitable to use today. Beside the dilapidated dwelling was an old school, now being used as a cow shed. Beside that we found a small shop which we cleared out of beers, had a rest before continuing on to another little village where, by the shady spring, we had a delicious lunch of peaches and cherries, cheese and tomatoes.
In the afternoon we rode on through meadows and vineyards, crossed small rivers, waved at shepherds, and eventually reached the village of Andon Poci. Here we left the horses and, sensing a shower and a comfortable night would go down well, jumped into a minibus and headed to the UNESCO World Heritage town of Gjirokastra where we checked into the town’s best hotel.
Well, it is supposed to be a holiday!