This past month we’ve been exploring some of the pathways that connect villagers to their fields. These are old routes criss-crossing the Stari Grad Plain, some wide enough for an ox cart, others narrow and winding for walking, perhaps donkey-width. They make perfect hiking trails, especially on autumn days when the sun is not too hot, and you can enjoy the changing colours.The paths have been in use for as long as there has been agriculture, and there is a network of trails connecting villages, churches and fields, marked by drystone walls. Any remaining stones from the fields are carefully piled up into gomile, to prevent them degenerating back into the soil (as they would naturally do). When neatly stacked, gomile can be hard to tell apart from the local field shelters, known as trims. The trails take us through vineyards, olive groves and forests, with the occasional scrubland where previously cultivated fields have run riot. It seems a shame, but is probably very helpful for the wildlife! As late summer turns into autumn, the leaves in the vineyard are turning yellow and red, the grapes long gone to make this year’s wine. I have to say the connections in the old pathways are not always easy to find, and we need to backtrack often and cast around for another way. And we’re learning that even if Google maps says it’s possible – it may only be with the help of a machete! Some paths start out very obvious from one direction, but get more and more overgrown and dishevelled the further you go. From the other direction, you’d never find it unless some kind person puts up a sign! One of the ways to recognise a meeting of the old traditional byways is where you find a chapel. These were constructed at junctions as it was believed that evil lurks at such places. You might take the wrong path and meet a sorry end! Some chapels can be quite small, but act as useful markers. This autumn has been lovely on Hvar. The weather (apart from a few odd days) has been beautifully sunny and inviting. The recent rains have given us a fresh crop of wild flowers to line the route, and then sometime I get a surprise when I look at the photo! Up towards the foothills, there’s purple heather in glorious flower! It’s perhaps a little later in the year than the Scottish heather, but just as lovely. By a pleasing coincidence, just at that part of the trail, we have a view of Vrisnik, rather hidden away on its hilltop perch. Mostly just the church shows from this angle. Vrisnik is named for the heather, or vris in local dialect. As well as the flowers, of course, there are flashes of red berries.This is the season when so many plants fruit, and time was when people would make preserves out of the tastier ones. Of course, not all red berries are edible, and I’d be very wary of trying anything I wasn’t sure of.
Although most of the forests that grow around the plain are aleppo pines, there is also the occasional live oak. For large trees, they have surprisingly small acorns!On the main road past the airport, we find a small art installation at the art farm. We’ve never been past here when it’s open, so it’s nice that the artist is now using the road as a gallery! Her paintings are of the local wildlife – snakes, rabbits, wild pigs and so on. Rather lovely!
And then there are the olive groves. This is one of the traditional crops on the Stari Grad Plain, and a very important one. Olive trees can grow in places where most other plants can’t – at least, not such useful ones. The olives have ripened from green into red, or purple or black, depending on type. It’s time to harvest!Olive picking is a family activity, pretty hard work over several days. You don’t get much olive oil per tree, and people need enough to last them through the year. Some years there’s not much fruit, but this year is proving to be a bumper crop! A combination of a cooler winter last year, a wet spring and dry summer have produced the best olive harvest in years. At least part of that is due to the lack of insects, who didn’t like those conditions. Traditionally, people would wait for most of the olives to ripen before picking, but these days a greener, fresher taste for the olive oil is preferred. The harvest is a mixture of green and ripe olives. And finally, a few miscellaneous sights that caught my eye as we passed. There’s always something interesting to see! I only wish I could manage to photograph those lovely orange butterflies too!