High Albania – Edith Durham

High Albania - Edith Durham
High Albania – Edith Durham

Edith Durham  (1863 – 1944) was an English artist, anthropologist/ethnologist and writer who travelled and worked in Albania between 1900 and 1914. One of those intrepid Victorian/Edwardian female explorers, High Albania is her account of her travels in Northern Albania in 1908, the time of the Young Turks and the end of the Ottoman Empire.

Lots of late nights, early mornings, conversations with Albanians and Franciscans, blood feuds, besa and firing of pistols.

A perfect read before, during and after our week walking in the Accursed Mountains.

Abebooks.co.uk: High Albania – Edith Durham

Goodreads review: High Albania – Edith Durham

Walking in Northern Albania: We’re back!

Well, we survived Northern Albania’s Accursed Mountains, although lingering – and unexpected for us – snow patches made life a little ‘exciting’ at times.

Snow ledge crossing on the approach to the Qafa e Valbonës / Valbona Pass, Albania (June 2018)
Snow ledge crossing on the approach to the Qafa e Valbonës / Valbona Pass, Albania (June 2018) … what you can’t see is the steep drop below the snow just went on, and on, and on.

We walked through wonderful wildflower meadows – buttercups and daisies, vetch and valerian, orchids and lilies, gentians and geraniums, campion and columbine and many, many more. Beautiful both to see, and to smell as we strolled through patches of sage and mint, chamomile and marjoram. Wild strawberries lined the path in places, and butterflies and moths fluttered by.

Undulating forests full of ancient beech and oak, lime and chestnut, rowan and pine, provided cover for us from the sun, and protection for giant snails and one spooked salamander.

Wildflower meadow, and the Accursed Mountains (Prokletije / Albanian Alps) above. En route to Qafa e Valbonës / Valbona Pass, Albania (June 2018)
Wildflower meadow, and the Accursed Mountains (Prokletije / Albanian Alps) above. En route to Qafa e Valbonës / Valbona Pass, Albania (June 2018)

Our days also featured crystal clear mountain streams, freezing cold turquoise pools, river crossings, waterfalls and gorges; and a three hour cruise up Lake Koman, a resvervoir in one of the Drin River’s many gorges, to reach the Albanian Highlands.

Cold water, shade and cool breezes were always welcome as it was hot and sticky most days, with a regular afternoon downpour around 2-3pm. Bledi, our excellent local guide, and Max, our Wild Frontiers group leader ensured early starts to avoid the rain, and the heat. They also took great care of us on those trickier sections of the trail, and numerous river crossings – most were plank bridges, but not all.

Walks ranged from a 7km stroll around the cultural sights, waterfalls and waterways of Thethi to the 1300 m ascent up to the Qafa e Thorës / Thore Pass.

Me, cooling off at Ujëvara e Grunasit / Grunas waterfall / Thethi waterfall, Albania (June 2018)
Me, cooling off at Ujëvara e Grunasit / Grunas waterfall / Thethi waterfall, Albania (June 2018)

Alpine chalet-style guesthouses in Valbonë and Thethi provided comfy beds and en suite bathrooms. Our last night’s accommodation at the aptly named Hotel Panorama in Krujë came with this super view of the old town, bazaar and castle.

Krujë old town, bazaar and castle, from the Hotel Panorama, Albania (June 2018)
Krujë old town, bazaar and castle, from the Hotel Panorama, Albania (June 2018)

Tomato, cucumber and feta cheese were staple foods for breakfast and lunch, together with boiled eggs, local bread and jams, and occasionally honey and tasty fried pancakes. To drink, gallons of water, thimblefuls of Turkish coffee and glasses of mountain tea during the day, beer and wine available with dinners which ranged from myriad mezzes to four course meals.

Best treat of the trip – afternoon tea at Bledi’s parent’s place, complete with jugs of mountain tea and scrumptious orange and walnut cake made by his aunt. Although cold beers and crisps on the balcony of our Hotel Panorama room in Krujë came a very close second.

All in all, a great way to spend a week (cheap too!), and I’ve added Albania to my list of places to return to (soon).

Katherine – Anya Seton

Katherine - Anya Seton
Katherine – Anya Seton

I devoured any and all of Anya Seton’s novels that I could lay my hands on in my later teenage years.

Returning to Katherine, her telling of the story of Katherine de Roet, later Lady Swynford, and John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, I found it less enthralling and more of a Mills & Boon mediaeval romance; a lengthier version of an Elizabeth Chadwick historical novel, with a slightly later, 14th century Plantagenets, setting.

Publisher page: Katherine – Anya Seton

The White Spider – Heinrich Harrer

The White Spider - Heinrich Harrer
The White Spider – Heinrich Harrer

A slow start – impenetrable style – but the going got easier as this account of attempts to climb the North Face of the Eiger progressed year by year.

Heinrich Harrer, of Seven Years In Tibet fame, was in the group of climbers who made the first successful ascent, in 1938.

Recalling my Urus ascent during 2015’s Cordillera Blanca Traverse, these words on page 83 resonated:

“Those hours between night and day are always a keen challenge to one’s courage. One’s body goes mechanically through the correct movements essential to gaining height; but the spirit is not yet awake nor full of the joy of climbing, the heart is shrouded in a cloak of doubt and diffidence….

They have to reconcile themselves with their own shortcomings and with constraining feelings; they have to subject themselves to the willpower already geared to the enterprise in hand. And so the first hour, the hour of the grey, shapeless, colourless dusk before dawn, is an hour of silence.”

First light, Urus ascent, Cordillera Blanca Traverse, Peru 2015
First light, Urus ascent, Cordillera Blanca Traverse, Peru 2015

Publisher page: The White Spider – Heinrich Harrer (translated by Hugh Merrick)