Welcome to Martin Knight's Website!
 
             In the Table of Contents listed on the left you will see that the first three web pages are devoted to pictures and news of the family; these are followed by observations and reflections on our place in the world, then samples of ongoing research interests of mine in South London, North Kent, and South Wales. 
             As well as having been a keen geographer and teacher all my working life, I am a committed Christian (Anglican by tradition and inclination but ecumenical in outlook), and a family man who enjoys gardening, travelling, and hill walking.  In my retirement I continue to have a keen practical interest in landscape and photography, local history and archaeology, and geology and ecology. I research and lead local Guided Walks (and am increasingly consulted as Dulwich's 'Effra man'!) while Margaret manages our family properties and her shares and investment portfolio, and researches our holidays on the Web. All of the above interests are reflected in the content of this website.


Greetings from leafy Dulwich! 

Our family is still growing - in every sense of the word! The grandchildren are growing fast (five now, ranging from 13 years to 18 months), horizons (and waistlines?) are expanding, and Margaret and I are growing ... er, beginning to feel our age!

     
     Margaret & I still enjoy exploring South Wales - nowadays with the younger family members
 
           Bel is starting in Y10 at Sydenham High School, Katie is happy at Eliot Bank Primary School, while Abi is pleased to be following her there; they both adore their little sister, HollyBen's electrical business has taken off, and he plays his full part in helping Lizzy juggle her Home Office career with being home-maker and mum.  Andy is happy and successful in his work with OfQual in Coventry, while retaining close contact with family and friends in London; he and his girlfriend (another Sarah!) are looking to buy a house with a garden (and a dog!) in a village within close proximity to Andy's work and Sarah's family in Birmingham.  Mary (-Ann) continues in her nursery post in Lewisham, while Sarah continues to combine a successful career in accountancy with being a mum, and supporting Margaret and the rest of the family. Sarah, Mary, Bel and Eddy lived with us at Tollgate Drive for a couple of months up to last Christmas while their much-needed loft and kitchen conversion and landscaping at Lapsewood Walk were completed.  While this inevitably involved some turmoil and frustration for them, it was also delightful for us to be able to share in this important stage of Eddy's young life. It is rewarding to us that all our grandchildren so enjoy playing together, and that Eddy's Dad Gerald and half sister Grace have increasingly become an integral part of the family too: Gerald and Grace were introduced to the Talybont experience this summer, and loved it.

Margaret and I are still very actively involved with
St Stephen's Church, South Dulwich, and continue to sing week by week in term time with our St Stephens Church Choir. We are always particularly busy during Passion and Holy Weeks and in the Advent and Christmas seasons, and our repertoire and commitment continues to expand under Rupert Perkins, our current Director of Music.
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              We are half way through 2016, and we have already enjoyed memorable Trips to the Holy Land (see the 'Pilgrimages' page), Crete (see below), and Talybont-on Usk with the family. We are now looking forward to Crete again (Elounda this time) in September with friends and North Cyprus with Sarah, Eddy, Bel, and Mary at October Half Term.

 Crete:
 Just after we came home from the Holy Land in February Margaret had a nasty fall at home and broke both her wrists, which was very painful, and inhibited her considerably, as you can imagine. By Easter she was recovering well, and we were looking forward to a relaxing June holiday in Crete. However, the holiday, though memorable and enjoyable, did not go quite according to plan, and was certainly not as relaxing as we had anticipated!
            We have enjoyed holidays in central and eastern Crete on several occasions in the past (always via the busy main airport at Heraklion), and had already arranged to join our friends Enid and David for their Golden Wedding Celebration in Elounda later this year (more of that anon). However, we had never explored the western half of the island, which was accessed via the older and quieter town of Charnia. The guidebooks and Margaret's web researches made much of recent Minoan archeological excavations in the town, the quieter ambience of the coastal resorts and countryside nearby, and a spectacular 15 kilometre walk down a deep gorge in the Samaria National Park to the almost empty south coast (the longest gorge in Europe they claimed), all of which attracted us. When Margaret found a 7 night half board tourist deal in the quiet north coast village of Kolymbari (20 kms west of Charnia) we decided to indulge, and enjoy some early summer sunshine into the bargain.
 

Hotel Chryssana was newly refurbished, right by Kolymbari Beach, less than 500m from the village; the sea view from our balcony
 
We arrived at the hotel after a night-time flight at 7.30 am on Sunday June 6th, and were delighted immediately with the beautiful setting of the small, low-rise, beach-side hotel, and the warmth of the welcome we received. We had to wait until midday for our room to be ready, but we took the opportunity to have a leisurely breakfast, to look around the hotel and the beach, and relax by the pool. In the afternoon, having admired the views from both front and back of our 1st floor room, we walked 1/2 a mile along the shingly Kolymbari Beach to the village, past the harbour, and on to the Gonas Monastery overlooking the Bay of Charnia, whose beautiful Greek Orthodox Church and interesting little Museum were just opening.  After a short continuation along the almost empty coast road to view the steep rocky cliffs of the peninsula to the north we returned to the hotel to enjoy some interesting Cretan cuisine, before admiring the candlelit evening view from our balcony and reflecting on an idyllic start to our holiday.


Geese by Kolymbari harbour      Nearby Gonas 17thC  Orthodox Monastery; lavish Church interior;  13th - 15th C icons in the Museum

            On Monday (day 2) we decided to go for a walk inland to see one of the oldest living olive trees in the world growing near the village of Vouves.  This involved an uphill walk of about 7 or 8 kms southwards along country roads through well-maintained farmland and orange groves, which we thought would provide us with none too demanding practice for the Samaria Gorge Walk later in the week.


Me inside the ancient tree;   Greek Attic ware showing a Dionysian olive celebration;   a group of wayside shrines near Vouves

            The big old Olive Tree, dated by dendrochronology to between 1000 and 1200 BC (1000 yrs older than those in the Garden of Gethsemene we saw earlier this year) would have been venerated during Minoan times, and celebrated later by the Myceneans, Greeks, Romans and Cretans right up to the present day, and was certainly worth seeing. There was a taverna and small museum there, and we were very grateful for the refreshment after the hot 3 hour uphill walk.  We thought the walk back to Kolymbari in the afternoon would be quicker and easier, but we decided to take a different road down and ended up walking an extra couple of kilometres, so that we were pretty tired by the time we got back to the hotel at about 5pm.  As Margaret had been slowed up by an  arthritic knee during the day, and our feet were decidedly sore by the end, and in view of my heart problems of last year, I began to wonder if the Samaria Gorge Walk planned for later that week was going to be on.

            However, Samaria was intended to be the high point of our holiday, something we both wanted to do, and we felt that with a local day or two to relax and recover both before and after, and the cooler weather forecast for midweek, we could go ahead and book the whole day excursion for Wednesday June 8th.


           The day started with a 4.30 am wake up call so that we could meet the excursion bus which was to take us to the start of the Walk on the Ourmalous Plateau 40 kms to the south. It went via several other pickup points to Charnia, where our Guide, Marco, joined us and explained how the long day would work.
           We would be dropped off (in heavy cloud that day) at the northern entrance to the Samaria National Park (1230 metres above sea level) at about 8.15 am, and would walk initially down the well-marked but very steep zig-zag path to the bottom of the forested valley. From there we would roughly follow the bouldery bed of the river (mainly dry to start with), through deep gorges all the way down to the sea at Agia Roumelis. This was more or less as we anticipated, and did not sound too different from valley walks we had done before, including those in the Brecon Beacons. However, the scale was breathtaking, far in excess of anything we had done before, and there were constant warning signs about falling rocks and landslips: some boulders were ten metres or so across. There were three long stretches lower down where the 3 metre wide, fast-moving but shallow river occupied the whole valley bottom, with vertical valley sides rising up to several hundred metres, including the famous ‘Iron Gorge’ section. The whole walk was 17 kms long, and would take a reasonably fit person 5½ hours on average. It was stony underfoot and all downhill, with three Rest Stations on the way manned by radio-equipped and mounted Park Rangers (there was one helipad, but no vehicle access), and Marco would be following us all the way. It was challenging, but at least it had been made clear that visitor safety was at the top of the agenda.


The misty start at 8.15: we'd been up for 4 hrs already!  The steep zigzag path down;      Warning Signs:  walk quickly here!
 
   
Maragaret at Rest Station 1  with a Park Ranger's Mule;    10am: the bouldery river bed at last;     There were few other walkers by midday .

           But the end of the Walk was not the end of the whole excursion. Agia Roumelis was a tiny village accessible only by boat; it had limited amenities, including emergency overnight accommodation, but no proper road: Gorge Walkers would need to catch the 4.30 pm ferry for the 30 minute trip to the next village where the buses would be waiting to take everyone back to Charnia and Kolymbari, just in time for a late evening meal.  That was the plan; but our experience on the day was rather different.

 
The cloud beginning to lift downvalley;    Rock propped to warn of earth movement;    Margaret resting in a bouldery section

          We quickly discovered that constant steep downhill walking, particularly on the rough uneven ground, was going to be a problem for Margaret’s dodgy knees. Although she insisted they were not actually painful, they were obviously weak, and within a kilometre or so they could hardly support her. This affected her balance, which made the problem worse, and we were having to go slowly and stop more and more frequently.          Marco our guide was obviously concerned, but said that as there would be no transport back to our hotel from the top entrance where we had started, there was no option but to carry on the 15 kms or so to the bottom at our own pace. Six to seven hours should be plenty of time to get down to Roumelis to catch the ferry; he would still be shadowing us, and was in constant radio touch with other guides and the Park Rangers.
            We soldiered on and made the best of a difficult situation. Our bus group had been one of the earliest of about five to start the Walk, but by mid-morning all of our former companions were obviously way ahead of us, and we had not even reached the more spectacular parts of the Gorge. People from other groups offered help, including walking poles and other means of support, but Margaret’s wrists were also weak from her fall earlier this year, and she couldn’t put pressure on them either. Small steps in the path that most people barely noticed Margaret was increasingly having to negotiate backwards. Marco encouraged us to keep going, and I tried my best to keep Margaret from stopping too frequently and for too long, but it was obvious that we might not make it to the ferry in time. Our first objective was to get to the main Samaria Rest Station, which was about one third of the whole distance, and should have been reached by late morning: we did not reach it until 2pm, and Margaret did not even want to have a break and look around. She wanted me to go on without her, but there was no way I was going to do that. I increasingly went short distances ahead to suss out the easiest path (which was getting less obvious now), and there were fewer and fewer other people we could follow.

  
             Signs of earlier settlement, including abandoned houses at the Samaria Rest Station, and a tiny medieval Church

            Meanwhile, by mid-afternoon Marco had reluctantly told us that, as his responsibility was for the whole of our Group, not just us, he had to leave us and go on more quickly to make sure everyone else got on to the ferry and back to the buses. He confirmed we were not going to make the ferry by 4.30, but he had already warned the Rangers and the Ruisos Taberna at Agia Roumelis that we would require accommodation for an overnight stay; and promised he would meet us again in 24 hours with tickets for Thursday’s Ferry and the buses home!

 
Approaching the 'Iron Gorge';                  A recent landslide almost blocks the way;                The path is in the river here

          By late afternoon the spectacularly narrow sections of the ‘Iron Gorge’ loomed ahead. The narrow path crossed and recrossed the river several times, and we were warned to pass quickly through several sections of dangerous landslips and falling rocks, which compounded Margaret’s problems. Thankfully, I was still feeling relatively fit, but I suddenly realised that I had no medication with me and would have to do without it for at least another 24 hours; and I was now beginning to worry about the light. The Gorge was so deep and narrow lower down that the sun never reached the bottom anyway, but it was obviously now getting towards evening, and we still had another 2 hours to get to the Park Exit, and probably another hour to reach Agia Roumelis itself.
Margaret was almost out on her feet, and I was just beginning to feel I had had enough, when the Gorge finally opened out a little, we could see sunlight high above us, and we were met by a friendly local guide who had been sent up to help us. At 7pm, exhausted, we finally reached the Park Exit, where we were given much needed refreshment, and the offer of a lift in a battered old Toyota truck to the Rousios Taverna, which we gratefully accepted. Our scheduled 5½ hour walk had taken nearly 12 hours, but against all the odds we had done it: as the local tee-shirts proudly announced: ‘WE SURVIVED THE SAMARIA GORGE’!  All we could do now was hope that Marco had been able to organise our return to Kolymbari the next day.

  
Flower-bedecked Rousios Taverna in Ag Roumelis; The harbour and beach are quiet by day; Tarra Castle from our balcony

         It was getting dark when we arrived at the Rousios Taverna, but after a welcome Cretan meal and relaxing drink we were driven a short way to a small, clean apartment overlooking the village and the sea, which was to cost us a mere 30 euros for the night.

 
View up-valley to the Gorge mouth;  Roumelis from the Thursday Ferry;        6pm:docking at Sougia to catch the waiting buses

Thursday in Ag Roumelis was very much a recovery day: Margaret was still having problems with support and balance and spent much of the morning on the terrace of the Taverna and the balcony of our apartment.  Agia Roumelis proved to be a delight. Yes, it was small, isolated and limited in amenities, but it was welcoming, relaxing, and had an idyllic setting; it was a throwback back to Crete as it would have been 50 or 60 years ago, and was just what we needed for a day to reflect, and recharge our batteries. We did manage a morning walk around the village (which we had to ourselves, apart from just a few locals), and I ventured a bit further to take photographs. During the afternoon Thursday's Gorge Walking Groups began to appear, and then we were relieved to be greeted by Marco, who assured us that our journey back to Kolymbari by ferry and bus was all arranged. We finally got back safely to Hotel Chrissana at about 9 pm, had a meal and collapsed thankfully into bed!

Samaria, with its unscheduled Agia Roumelis extension, was certainly the high point of our Cretan trip, but the holiday wasn't quite all over yet. On the Friday we felt sufficiently restored and enthused to take a bus into the ancient port of Charnia and we enjoyed its ancient Minoan and Mycenean remains, its Classical Greek and Roman defences, its Byzantine and Orthodox churches, and its Venetian and Moorish architecture overlooking an extensive harbour, not forgetting an interesting Regional Museum.


Charnia's Venetian front and Mosque;             The Harbour Mole & Lighthouse;        Recent 1200BC Minoan excavations

On Saturday (our last day), Margaret relaxed by the pool, while I walked into Kolymbari for the last time. I then continued past the Monastery and 4 kms on up the quiet zigzag coast road to the hilltop village of Afrata, where there were fine views of Charnia Bay, the mountain spine of the empty peninsula stretching away to the north, and the tiny 'Afrata Paradise' Cove far below (somewhat ironically, the latter was accessed down a deep narrow gorge, which I decided not to attempt!).


Kolymbari Beach from the Afrata road;       Gorge leading down to Paradise Beach;      The mountainous north-western peninsula of Crete

Thus ended our western Crete venture: at times idyllic, sometimes challenging, and occasionally worrying, but always stimulating.  Somehow, Wales, which we were visiting next, wouldn't seem quite the same ...!
 
With thanks for your interest
-              
Martin and Margaret
 



*  Pictures of, and reflections on, our memorable Holy Land Tour  appear on the 'Pilgrimages' page of this Website.