Ohrid daytrip

You know me, I love a UNESCO world heritage site and I often research which of the protected sites I fancy seeing when I’m planning a trip abroad, and build my trip around those. There is only one UNESCO in North Macedonia and it was over on the west side of the country on the border with Albania and as I’d seen buses and guides in Albania offer trips to this lake and town of Ohrid when I was there, I knew it must be worth a visit.

Buses leave Skopje main station every hour, starting at 7.30AM with a company called Galeb. and costs just over £10 return. With the journey taking close to 3 1/2hours, it may seem a lot for a day trip, but I knew the likelyhood of me returning to either N Macedonia or Albania any time soon was unlikely, so I knew this could be my only chance to visit, so with music and podcasts loaded on my phone and semi working headphones, I got on board the bus.

It was a pretty uneventful trip across the country with beautiful landscapes and snowcapped mountains in the distance and just as my limbs were starting to seize up, we pulled into the bus station at the town of Ohrid.

It was a short walk straight down to the lakeside, which also forms the border between N Macedonia and Albania, a fact that becomes all the more apparent when my phone suddenly sent me a text message welcoming me to Albania.

The lake itself is glorious, sparkling, clean and vast and has been a thriving lake and ecosystem for 2 – 3 millions years, with over 200 species of plants and animals unique to the lake. Many locals come here just to experience the beauty of the lake itself, and you would think that would be enough, but there is so much more here to discover among the tiny streets of the old town and on the walk up the side of the cliff along the coast, all of which comes under the protective banner of the world heritage site.

After taking in the views from the lake and enjoying the welcome relief of cool, fresh air, as opposed to the stale air con of the bus, I bypassed the lakeside cafes and restaurants and followed the signs towards the old town.

It turns out this ‘old town’ of Ohrid, is actually the site of one of the oldest settlements in Europe, with a number of archeological sites dotted around, and evidence spreading back as far as the Bronze Age.  The majority of buildings and relics of interest are mainly from around the 7th – 19th centuries, and it was from here that Slavic culture first spread across Europe, but with this being one of the last of the Slavic countries in the region I had left to visit, it was pretty cool to see all the heritage, history and culture at its starting point.

My plan was to expore the old town, then along the lakeside boardwalk, up the side of the cliff to visit the church and then continue onward and upward to the Church, Monastery and settlement. Luckily it wasn’t busy, the sun was out and the views were stunning.

The old town has lots of little streets with quaint small houses, shops and cobblestone streets, a really fascinating place, and you can really imagine what it must have been like all those centuries ago. One of the most interesting places I came across here was the Sveta Sofija Cathedral an 11th century church with incredible fresco’s and stone columns, making it a great place to get some shade.

I then turned left and headed back towards the lake. Once I had located the boardwalk, I started gingerly at first, heading along the lake edge, and then upwards along the side of the cliff, ignoring the long drop to one side, and focused on the shimmering blue lake in the distance instead.

It’s absolutely worth it too, the stunning Saint John at Kaneo church awaits you, a church built possibly as early as the 13th century. Overlooking the lake, with its Armenian inspired roof, colourful fresco’s and incredible views, make sure you stop and rest a while here, conserving energy before heading higher up.

It was getting rather warm as I headed up through a woodland path that lead higher up the cliffside and was glad I had packed water and snacks. At the top I was greated by the most magnificant stone church and archeological site, known as the Plaosnik settlement and Saint Clement Church.

Originally the stone building started life as a Byzantine church, dedicated to St Clement of Ohrid, but when he arrived he thought it was too small, so he had another one built in its place and assigned it to Saint Panteleimon instead, charming! Once the Ottoman Turks arrived, they converted it into a Mosque, but later on allowed all old monasteries and churches to be restored, and so once again, it returned to being a church. By the end of the 16th century it was once again converted into a mosque, until the year 2000, when the whole area started to undergo massive excavations and it returned once again to being a church . .  for now.

As well as the church itself, there is a large excavation area to explore, tombs, mosaic floors, and over 2000 Venetian coins have been found, showing evidence of a relationship between this lakeside town and the famous Italian city.

As I headed back down towards the old town, to my surprise, I came across an ancient theatre. A quick check in my guidebook put it at being built in 200BC and from the Hellenistic period, meaning between the time of the death of Alexander the Great and the beginning of the Roman Empire and I’m pleased to report its still in use today, hosting concerts, plays and dance performances.

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I also came across a sweet little church, which google later informed me was the Esglesia de Pando, its close by to the ancient theatre and well worth a visit.

I finished my day in Ohrid with an early dinner back by the lakeside, sat out in the sun, tired from all the walking and the fresh air. As I walked back to the bus station, I made plans to take a nap on the long bus back to Skopje, feeling contented that I had made the trek across the country to visit this charming place.

 

Skopje – city of honey, statues and Mother Teresa.

I was back in the Balkans for another birthday trip, this time in 2019. It was a two country trip, flying into the capital of North Macedonia for a few days, before catching the bus up to Kosovo and flying home from there.

To make the trip, I had to first travel down to Luton, where I flew with Wizz Air direct to Skopje, the capital of the newly named country of ‘North’ Macedonia. As opposed to its previous name of plain old Macedonia, which was changed due to an argument with Greece, who wanted to ensure it was seperate from its own Macedonia region in the south.

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From the airport, its dead easy to get yourself to the city centre of Skopje, with shuttle buses leaving pretty regularly from outside the terminal. A single ticket costs around £2.60 and drops you off right at the international bus station in the centre. From there, at least for me anyway, it was a short walk to my hotel.

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I had an early morning flight, so I still had pretty much the entire day left once I arrived and was lucky enough that I was able to dump my bag in my room, despite being far too early for check-in. So fueled on a 20p pastry from a nearby stall,  I headed out and up to the fortress, as I felt it would give me a great view of the city as well as being a great introduction to the history of the place.

 

The highest point of the city, its a great place to get your bearings, from here you can see the impressive River Vardar below with its many ornate bridges, of which I was to explore later on, as well as the main square, which is the biggest in the country. The fortress dates back as early at the 6th century AD, and then modified and extended in the many years afterwards, until an earthquake partly destroyed it in 1963.

Back down below, I meandered through parts of the old bazaar, which I would window shop and lose myself in again and again during my stay and crossed over the famous Stone Bridge to explore the main square. Stretching across the entire area was a local honey market, where you could buy all manner of honey related products, not just jars of the sweet stuff, but body lotions, creams, teas, jewellery and the popular health supplement bee pollen. Overloaded with ideas for presents to take back, I made a mental note of stalls I wanted to return too and headed further into the centre.

Although, I’m not the least bit religious, I love a good visit to a religious building, regardless of the god it is dedicated too. Here in N Macedonia, the majority of the population are Eastern Orthodox Christian, with Islam second, so there are a great selection of churches and mosques to add to any itinerary. The main one I wanted to visit in the capital was Cathedral Church St Clement of Ohrid an amazingly shaped church full of domes and arches. I got there during a service, so with a little time to kill, before I could go and explore, I grabbed a coffee across the street at the aptley named Coffee Time while keeping a keen eye on the front doors for the service to end.

It was well worth the wait, the sun was pouring in through the windows around the large dome in the centre and lit up the golden frescoes of which I have become such a fan of from my travels around the Balkan region. The smell of the musky incense and candles from the newly finished service really added to the atmosphere. Despite being fueled from coffee, it was nice to just sit, pause and reflect on my busy day so far, oblivious to the busy streets just outside the front door.

Next up, it was time to visit the memorial house of Skoje’s most famous daughter, and roman Catholic nun, Mother Teresa. Originally known as Anjezë Gonxhe Bojaxhiu, this Nobel Peace Prize winning Saint, spent her first 18 years in Skopje, before moving to Ireland and then onward to India, where she took her religious vows. I confess, I didnt know much about this famous little lady, other than remembering iconic photos of her walking the streets in her blue and white robes and meeting influencial figures such as Princess Diana and Ronald Reagan, so I was keen to visit the house set up as a reminder of her life and learn a little more. Although unsurprisingly the tourist attraction steers clear away from the more controversial aspects of Teresa’s life, its a lovely little museum, in an unsually shaped house with a small chapel, lots of photos of young and older Teresa as she made her way around the globe spreading her message, as well as one of her unmistakable white and blue sari’s on display.

The rest of the day I just wandered, stopping for more coffee and maybe another pastry, I mean at around 20p each, it would be a shame not to take advantage, and I had easily passed 10,000 steps by lunch time already. There is so much to explore around the bizaare that its best just to put your guidebook in your back pocket and lose yourself in the smells, sights and general balkan bustle that you would associate yourself with any large market place.

One wonderful little place I did come across was the Church of the Ascention of Jesus, this small mid 16th century church is pretty hidden close to the fortress and has some amazing icons and wall paintings inside. If I can remember correctly, there was no photos allowed inside in order to preserve the artwork, and as I had the place to myself, it felt like I had discovered a little local secret.

Other highlights of the city were the Art Bridge, featuring statues of noteworthy and famous Macedonians, I took a serene walk along the river, whilst dodging the impressive number of weekend joggers, and explore the area arund the grand Theatre building.

For dinner, I wanted something hearty, warm and traditional, so I went to the well recommended Old City House Restaurant for a bean casserole, lots of bread and a local beer, before I hit the sheets as the full days events caught up with me. For the next day, I was off on a day trip to the breathtaking Lake Ohrid on the border with Albania.

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Dovestone Rocks, Oldham

So this hike, organised by the Bee Sober sunday walking group, was advertised as a full day, long walk, but I think that bit went over my head. I just saw the words Peak District Sunday Hike and cleared my diary (who am I kidding we are in the middle of a pandemic, in the worse hit area of the UK, I had no other plans) So slightly unprepared, I turned up to an already busy carpark, at 9.30am on Sunday morning, scrabbling for change for the carpark, which seemed to reject every other 20p I put into it.

I could see the majority of the people parked up were here for a stroll around the Reservoir. Located just to the edge of the Peak District meant on a clear day, the views are superb, but I was well aware, we were walking in a completely different direction, away from said reservoir.

After a slight back and forth, our hike leader (i.e the one who downloaded the route onto his phone) found the correct path, and we headed North up a rather steep hill, it was a bit of a sharp wake up call for still early on a Sunday morning, but I slowly acqlimatised and was able to appreciate the views soon enough, (once I got my breath back).

First spot for a group photo and quick break for snacks was the Pots and Pans war memorial atop Aldermans Hill.

Then, it was back onto the track, across to Dick Hill, full of rocks precariously looking out across the Peak District and down to the reservoir, not a place to hang around if someone has a fear of heights, and so we quickly retreated to lower ground when one of our group turned a rather pale shade of grey.

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Back on lower ground, some of us in the group (the tired ones) looked longingly at the reservoir and the carpark as it came back into view, but not for long, we headed East along the top of the reservoir, then back up a sharp incline, following the path alongside the rather magnificent Dovestones Cascade, that brings the water down. 490A98E2-CEB3-4DE3-804E-3F1695ED6AC3

At the top is Ashway Rocks, and it was here we stopped for lunch, and took in the misty and atmospheric views across the Peak District, which also distracted from my slightly undercooked pasta salad I had brought for lunch. Then, realising we still had a good 2 hours to go to get back to the carpark, we headed back on the trail. This portion of the walk was high up along the top, along Alphins Pike, with views of the reservoir below and Manchester up ahead and I’m sure I could spot my car down in the carpark!

I have to admit, the descent was painful, my underused muscles were not happy, but as soon as we landed back on the track heading for the car, my muscles relaxed again & all was happy.  Until the next morning of course, when I was rudely reminded of just how far we had walked the previous day. It was challenging in parts, but fun, with a great likeminded group of folk, all of us just making the most of the Covid restrictions and joining up to get out and connect with nature. Overall, another succesful hike.

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Sunday hike around Anglezarke

Anglezarke, White Coppice and Great Hill Circular

I’ve done parts of this walk all seperately, in this area of Lancashire close to Chorley. I’ve taken a nice stroll through White Coppice the little village that once was a busy industrial part of the county. I’ve done a windy dog walk up to Great Hill and back, starting over in Brinscall, and I’ve also parked up at the Anglezarke reservoir for a explore with mum, but this particular time, one of the Bee Sober hikers planned a 15km loop trail linking up all three.

It had been raining heavily the night before, so after a quick fumble with some borrowed gaiters, I finally managed to strap them to my walking boots, double check I had enough snacks & the 3 of us headed off. Having done shorter versions of this walk with my 70 year old mother, it didnt really twig at first that the estimated 2 hours to complete the hike was completely unrealistic, until after closer interrogation from one of the other walkers, our leader admitted he has miscalculated and had based the timings on a trail run and not a casual hike, involving photo stops, lunch and carefully negotiating patches of boggy moorland. Not that any of that mattered, we were all in for the hike regardless, but knowing it was going to take double the time, us ladies on the walk, just limited our water intake, in case we didnt find anywhere discrete enough to pee. (Which reminds me, I must order a shewee!)

The first stage of the hike involves as easy to follow paved road, a babbling brook, remains of a lead mine and a memorial to an air crash in 1943, and a stunning landscape of the lancashire moors beyond.

 

It was then that the borrowed gaiters came into thier own, after bravely following our designated leader across a field of cows, we headed off across the rather wet moorland. First heading for Round Loaf, said to possibly be a prehistoric burial site, its a great spot to stop and take stock of the journey so far. There are amazing views across to Winter Hill and the rest of the moors from atop the mound, and from here you’ll see other hikers on the many other trails that link up in the area, including the Lancashire Way.

 

Next it was across more boggy moorland to join up with the path to Great Hill, where we stopped for a quick lunch. Quick because it was quite windy and it can get quite cold sitting on the stone bench at the summit, but again the views were worth it.

Then it was a slow descent towards White Coppice, when the rainclouds opened, but it made for an atmospheric, misty walk along the quarry and the Dean Black Brook waterfalls.

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Then ignoring the one dead sheep along the side of the path, we headed back round towards Anglezarke, passing the reservoir and back to the carpark, just totalling over 4 hours in all, including our stop for lunch. It was then time to head home for a hot shower and straight into my PJ’s for what was left of  the afternoon, there is nothing like that tiredness that comes with being outdoors for the day, perfect!