Map of Tour

19 May
Set off from home, just N. of Athens. Have been planning this tour for years; almost started it a couple of times, in fact, but something always came up at the last minute to make me call it off. This time I'm trying to take it by surprise by doing it in the reverse direction from what I planned originally, and also earlier in the year, when weather should be cooler. However, my departure seems to have coincided with heat wave: temperature is about 90 degrees F.

Start by climbing very familiar pass of Ayios Mercurios (500 m) - so familiar, in fact, that I take wrong turning through inattention and find myself entering military area; this dangerous, was once arrested as spy in similar circumstances, so retrace steps hurriedly. Back on right road, exchange greetings with presumably Greek cycle tourist - only one ever encountered in many Greek tours.

Am bound for Thebes; easy first day, about 60 miles. To avoid cycling on National Road (probably illegal, certainly unpleasant) am looking for road along coast, which may or may not exist. Find it after much questioning of locals: good surface, road not marked on map. Ride along coast for some miles, then turn inland on long boring straight road across plain and into wind. Reach Thebes at 2.30 pm., feeling hot; sit down at kafeneion and ask for iced coffee. When it arrives, find it has been paid for by member of group of men sitting at another table. Later am stood beer as well and then offered salad. Decline gratefully and depart to find hotel. After unpacking, washing, and changing clothes, go for walk in town and see elaborate funeral cortege, with corpse - elderly man with distinguished profile - reclining in glass-walled hearse, strewn with flowers and wearing best suit.

20 May
Long ride across plain to Livadia; then into mountains. Climb to Arakhova (950 m), then descend to Delphi. Visit Delphic site, experiencing pleasant sense of smugness and virtuous superiority over hordes of tourists in air-conditioned coaches.

21 May
My birthday. Make special trip to fill waterbottles from Castalian Spring before departing. On leaving Delphi, meet Dutch cyclist aged about 70 who has been riding round Gulf of Corinth. Just outside Delphi, while following slow lorry, waiting for a chance to overtake, fall into sharp-edged pothole: puncture.

Two passes today: Drossokhori (850 m) and Brallos (590 m), which Blue Guide says is steepest and most tortuous in Greece. Can't understand this; though admittedly rather twisty, pass is comparatively easy and moreover very quiet, because it is bypassed by new road further east.

Arrive in Makrakomi at 4.30 pm. after 78 miles. Hotel v. poor, without shower. In evening, Prime Minister Papandreou holds deafening political rally in main square. Feeling rather worried because pain has arisen in left knee and persisted all day; walking now quite painful, and tomorrow likely to be hardest day of tour: 100 miles, with 4 passes. Carry out self-acupuncture, which seems to help.

22 May
Leave Makrakomi at 6.30 am., soon after dawn. At outskirts of town am pursued by hostile dog; we race neck and neck for 100 yards, after which dog gives up. Sprinting like this undesirable for knee, which now becomes rather painful again.

Tackle first and highest of passes in this section (about 1500 m according to Blue Guide). Am now crossing Pindos range: magnificent mountain scenery and good roads. V. quiet - ideal cycling country. By halfway up first climb, knee no longer painful; hope it lasts. Reach main town of area (Karpenisi), buy food, and eat early roadside lunch before pressing on. Much climbing and descending but never really steep. Rain in afternoon, but warm and really quite welcome after heat of sun.

Arrive in Agrinion at 6.00 pm., after exactly 100 miles. V. hungry but food in restaurant is dreadful. Apart from dogs, food is main drawback to cycling in Greece; as one French guide book has it, la cuisine Grecque n'existe pas.

While strolling through town in evening, meet young German cyclist called Uwe who is looking for hotel. Take him to mine. We agree to ride to Arta together next day. Although he has been riding for several weeks, Uwe complains of feeling exhausted at the end of each day; this seems odd. Suggest taking minor roads marked on map instead of main highway as Uwe had intended; assure him, disingenuously, that there will not be much climbing. Not sure he believes me.

23 May
We set off after breakfast. Surprised to find that Uwe sets a cracking pace - about 18 mph.

Me (after a couple of miles): "Do you always ride this fast?"
Uwe (sounding amused): "Yes, always."

We pass turning for minor road to Arta. Point it out to Uwe, who doesn't seem to hear. Main road v. busy. Remark on this to Uwe; we agree to go back and take minor road. This is delightfully quiet and scenic. At first Uwe twiddles uphill at tremendous speed. Can't compete with this. We surmount lowish ridge, freewheel down other side. Uwe slows, drops far behind. We continue along fairly level road on valley side; fine views of river and snow-streaked Pindos mountains. Later, come to unnamed pass at about 500 m. As usual, Uwe starts to climb fast but soon slows; I overtake him. Near summit, stop to drink from stream and wait for Uwe, now half-mile behind. Uwe arrives, looking over-heated; stops under small waterfall to take cold shower. I continue to summit and wait for him in shade. He arrives, complaining of fatigue.

Me: "No wonder you're tired, if you always ride as fast as that."
Uwe: "I don't think so. I think none of my friends agree with you."
Me: "Mine would."

We start downhill. A few patches of loose stones on the way, but nothing remarkable. Pass large snake, which slithers away into undergrowth. Climb another slope and wait for Uwe, now out of sight.

Uwe: "Do you always go so fast downhill?"
Me: "Yes, always."
Uwe: "I think you are kamikaze. I think to find you crashed beside road."

Later, inspect Uwe's bike. Brakes so far out of adjustment that levers easily reach handlebars when brakes applied. Adjust brakes; Uwe pleasantly surprised by resulting increase in braking efficiency but his opinion of my foolhardiness on descents remains unaffected.

Arrive at Arta after easy 75 mile ride. After dinner Uwe departs to look for wild campsite; we agree to meet on road next day, at village on route.

24 May
Make early start; extraordinarily scenic road, with quite hard climbing on valley sides: at least 10 per cent, unusually steep for Greece. Arrive at village where Uwe supposed to wait for me; no sign of him. Wait for half-hour, then continue alone through increasingly grand scenery. People seem exceptionally friendly everywhere; even dogs are not aggressive. Stop for water at spring at kafeneion under trees; people ask why I use this road instead of main highway and who do I think will win the election.

Cross 800 m pass and drop down into flat valley where I get meal of fried eggs, salad, beer, and ice cream at village called Kalendi. In heat of early afternoon climb further 800 m pass at far side of valley, after which long freewheel to Ioanna, arriving at 2.30 pm. Find hotel, have shower. At about 6.30 pm. walk to campsite at outskirts of town on lake shore and find Uwe just setting up his tent. Says he arrived at meeting place about 5 minutes after I left and slept for a couple of hours on the way. Is now tired and finds walking difficult.

We go into town for a meal and discuss plans. My route is back across Pindos via Katara pass, probably spending a night in Metsovo on way. Katara (1705 m) is highest road pass in Greece and should be dramatically scenic crossing. Uwe uncertain about his movements so we leave things open; he may meet me in Metsovo in evening.

25 May
Easy climb to Metsovo (36 miles). One unnamed pass on way (800 m). Quite busy road, main east-west highway, lots of lorries. Metsovo a large mountain village, rather touristy but still with a life of its own. V. fine wood carving everywhere, in houses, hotels, for sale in shops. Meet English couple; he was here in war with partisans and has come back to revisit old haunts and battlegrounds. No sign of Uwe. In evening, big thunderstorm; is weather about to change?

26 May
Katara pass supposed to be high point of tour, figuratively and literally, but it appears to be in cloud today. Start to climb. Just below cloud level find way blocked by three large and v. fierce dogs. This looks bad. Dogs aggressive: barking loudly and advancing slowly. Dismount and pick up stones; sometimes this gesture enough in itself to deter dogs, but not this time. Pack leader preparing frontal assault while two lieutenants begin outflanking manoeuvres. Throw stone near leader; never sure whether best to score direct hit, or would this provoke them even more? Are they rabid? Probably not, but if bitten, vaccination required in any case, as precaution. Throw another stone; no obvious effect. Pack still edging nearer, barking furiously. Place bike between self and pack leader; walk forward slowly, shouting loudly. Wish I had shotgun, game rifle, field artillery ... better still, wish not to be here at all.

Amazingly, have got past unscathed. Clanging of sheep bells ahead; this explains presence of dogs. About 100 sheep emerge from mist and cross road ahead, accompanied by shepherd wearing heavy felt cape. Try to think of Greek for "Why don't you control your bloody dogs?", but too much flustered; anyway, shepherd undoubtedly Vlach, speaking unknown language, so merely glare at him; he glares back. Dogs probably specially trained to attack cyclists; principal qualification for job.

Enter clouds. Wind rising; visibility falls to 10 yards as road continues to mount. Very cold; put on Goretex jacket, cycling bottoms, mittens. Thought I was mad to bring all this stuff with me when I started but very glad of it now. No views, of course, but at least cloud provides cover from dogs. Road goes level for a time, then starts to descend. Emerge from clouds to be greeted by more barking, but this time dogs about a mile away so relatively impotent. This journey beginning to feel like ride through safari park.

Arrive at Kalambaka at 1.00 pm. Find hotel in Kastraki (village at foot of Meteora): totally extraordinary place, with lots of monasteries perched on top of enormous black rocks hundreds of feet high. Spend afternoon cycling round area, visiting some of the monasteries (now mainly museums). On way down to main road encounter yet more dogs; some safely distant but at one point road blocked by three experienced campaigners making leisurely but unmistakable preparations to intercept. Wearily dismount and pick up stones. At this moment, timely arrival of tourist bus which stops opposite dogs, who slink off. Deus ex machina in form of guide gets down from bus and ushers me past. Could have hugged him.

27 May
In Plain of Thessaly again, heading for home. Long (92 miles) and boring ride to Lamia, relieved only by couple of climbs at end of day: Dhomokos (530 m) and Fourka (1200 m). Road busy, rather poor surface but at least no dogs. Many friendly greetings from onlookers and passing drivers. Knee pain, which I thought cured, begins to recur; sit down beside road and repeat acupuncture. Two hours later pain completely gone.

28 May
Easy day's ride from Lamia to Livadia (66 miles), including detour to visit ancient site at Orchomenos. Pass below Parnassos massif and look longingly upwards. Road exists across mountains, all right, but whole area covered in thick black clouds; will obviously have to return later [did so a year or two later]. Climb Brallos pass in reverse direction; still doesn't seem hard, pace Blue Guide. Detour to Orchomenos involves hard ride into teeth of strong hot wind, and find archaeological site closed; but am rewarded by best meal of tour at most unlikely-looking restaurant.

29 May
Last day of tour: 86 miles, retracing route covered on first day. Climbing last pass (Ayios Mercurios) am offered lift by friendly van driver who seems surprised by my refusal. Nearly home now; experience the usual mixture of satisfaction at completing the tour but regret that it's over. Also, the usual good resolution to come back - but must devise anti-dog weapon first.