Day 3 - From Lepushe
8.13 miles / Total Ascent 1037m / Total Descent 967m
As was to become customary, we woke early to breakfast and be on our way by 7.30am to combat the expected midday heat.
|Heading out of Lepushe
We had an extra local guide today in the form of our host's sister, and our route began with a steady climb out of the village, ascending through woodland to gain the higher ground below the Berizdhol ridge. The village itself is situated at around 1200m altitude, so it was nice and cool as we gained height.
|Albanian football team elite high-altitude training facility
After a while, we exited the woods and began crossing the grassy hillside. Unexpectedly, we came across a makeshift football pitch on an area of flat-ish ground beside some tumbledown buildings - a legacy, I think, of the Hoxha regime. We took a short break, and made jokes about the relative merits of these facilities and those of the multi-million pound England football failures.
|World cup? What world cup? Penalty spot, goal, keeper and cameraman.
From here we ascended the grassy slopes behind the goal to reach the ridge and an excellent viewpoint at around 1900m. Several paths fanned out from here, including at least one leading to the higher summits.
|Looking wistfully at the higher summits beyond
Heading for the higher ground was tempting, but our route lay in a different direction - following a line around the base of the mountain amphitheatre.
|The Kelmend Valley, with Lepushe in the middle ground
From here, we dropped down through a wooded section, dappled with sunlight through the trees, to reach one of the numerous small farmsteads that dot the hillside in these parts. Called stane, they are mostly occupied only during the summer months, when the animals are driven to these higher levels to graze on the excellent pasture, and families make cheese, shear wool, collect mushrooms and pick fruit for preservation to last through the winter months.
|Stane near Lepushe
Despite the remote nature of this area, it was around here we happened to bump into a group of scouts from Tirana. We had just sat down to talk to the shy children from the farm, when a whole herd of be-woggled girls and boys appeared from over the hill. We said our hellos - in fact had quite a chat - then went our separate ways, which I think was a relief for both parties, and the children.
Moving on, we followed a narrow balcony path that threaded an intricate route between trees and rocks, eventually coming out to more open ground near another stane, where we stopped for lunch. There had been the odd spot of rain as we walked through the trees, but as we reached the meadows the sun was strong, so we ate our picnic quickly and moved on to a shadier spot beside a cool stream for a rest.
|Downtown Lepushe: bar on left, school straight ahead
The remainder of the walk was a steady descent on paths and tracks through woodland to eventually reach downtown Lepushe. We stopped at the bar for beers, and bumped into a couple of New Zealanders who were on a warm-up walk prior to do the Peaks of the Balkans hike.
|Heading back to our guesthouse
Then it was a short trundle down the road back to the guesthouse, where we had plenty of time before dinner for a rest, showers and a read.