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About the Author

From bicycle touring to backpacking, watercolour painting to clay modelling, the exploration journal captures my journey through many different interests and travel adventures.

I love to find those out of the way places that whisk you away from the concerns of everyday life. Whether this is by wading through an overgrown river or trying new paint techniques is up to you!

Walking the St Paul Trail in Turkey: Antalya to Sütçüler

Walking the St Paul Trail in Turkey: Antalya to Sütçüler

A challenge that we face every year is how to go on a great holiday outside of the holiday season, so to avoid the heaving masses. This year Thomas and I wanted somewhere to go backpacking in May which would be mostly dry but also be suitable for wild camping. Last year it was Portugal, which was fantastic but we wanted somewhere unfamiliar this time.

Our parents also had the same problem from late April to early May, and they settled on Turkey. But not tourist hotspots in the city, instead going to the Taurus mountains and walking the St Paul Trail. This is a 500km way-marked (usual white and red stripes on rocks and trees) long distance walking route that follows old roman roads, shepherd trails and mountain paths.

There are two different versions of the route, one starts at the ancient city of Perge, about 16km from Antalya, the other starts at Aspendos, also ancient and about 46km from Antalya. We decided to do the original route that starts in Perge and save the second version for another year.

The first day of the holiday was traveling from Birmingham to Antalya, which went flawlessly despite rampant rumours of huge airport delays and missed flights. We left home at 12.15 and was through Security within an hour however the flight was then delayed by 1.5 hours. Which meant we got to the hotel at around 1.30am, exhausted but glad we made it.

The morning of the second day was a slow start and then catching taxis all over Antalaya to complete our essential shopping list – Gas, food, maybe a map. Gas was our emergency fuel so it was a relief to find it in stock at the nearest Decathlon. Our primary means of cooking was fire, we have a 1.5l billycan which can be suspended over an open fire and used to boil water and cook.

As mentioned earlier, we were following the footsteps of both St Paul and our parents. The tips for the trail come from Kate Clow’s guidebook, but the more useful information was from our parents about where to camp, where to find water and food, etc. They advised us that the first section (roughly Perge to Akçapınar) was mostly agricultural and greenhouses, so not very nice for walking or camping. We decided to take a taxi from Antalya directly to Akçapınar, Thomas found a taxi rank outside the supermarket and negotiated 600l to take us there. This works out as £26 for 40km so a good deal from an English taxi prices perspective.

The plan to find a map failed, so our sole means of navigating was our favourite map app, I spent ages in the run up to the holiday finding a KML route to upload to the app, and then bookmarking camping spots and watering holes. The first bit of our route took us along the Uçansu river and gradually into more hilly terrain.

Our tendency is to go overboard buying delicious fresh food at the beginning of the holiday and carry loads of weight for the first day or two. It was the same this time, plus we were recovering from the late flight and adjusting to constant walking and the heat. We walked about… 2 miles! The Uçansu valley is beautiful, grassy pastures and lightly wooded hillsides and so perfect for camping. We found a spot close to the river and then relaxed.

The first treat of the afternoon was whilst bird watching, I had decided to take my binoculars and it was instantly worth it. It harks back to one of my general rules ‘if you don’t have it, you will wish you had’. Originally this applied to my camera and photography, but now includes binoculars. On the first day I spotted a Northern Wheatear and a European Roller. We also saw a huge bird of prey, our guess was a booted eagle, but with no clear identification I could only note it using Thomas’s description – “something special, that’s for sure!”

We also heard what was to become a staple ‘disturbance’ throughout the holiday, the echoing sound of a mosque chanting. Even in the middle of nowhere we frequently heard it echoing up the valleys, over the mountains and into our ears, normally at 4am.

In the evening we were treated to the flickering dance of fireflies.

The following day we continued to follow the river, regularly crossing it and recrossing as the track led us. We eventually got to lower Uçansu falls, an impressive waterfall though busy with families and people having picnics.

Finding the path onward was difficult, as the waterfall is surrounded by steep hillsides and no clear route. After some poking around we eventually decided to head straight up and hope for the best. 10 minutes of scrambling then we found a larger track and followed it on to Upper Uçansu falls.

Upper Uçansu was a bit quieter though it’s not possible to see the waterfall, only to look down at where it plunges over the cliff. It’s a nice river with many natural pools carved out of the rock. We had lunch beside the river and used the Sawyer mini filter for the first time. After lunch we thought it was a nice spot to camp and so spent the afternoon resting.

The waterfall is another evident popular picnic spot and bits of it were unfortunately littered with rubbish. There was also a sign in Turkish saying something about camping and fires, so we lit the fire close to the river in a dried-up section and hopefully out of sight. The pine wood was incredibly flammable so lighting it amongst the trees would have been very risky.

A thunderstorm rolled in whilst we washed in the river but cleared up after 30 minutes into a sunny evening.

Two very short walking days meant that the food supplies were starting to run low. Our parents had told us to buy food from restaurants and farmers along the way. We completed the short walk to Kozan and discovered there is a campsite and Pednellissos restaurant on the edge of the village. After loitering and building up confidence I walked in and yelled “merhaba”. A Turkish man appeared and using broken English we bought 4x oranges, 4x cucumbers, 2x apples, 4x peppers, 2x cooked potato, 6x tomato, 2x bread for 50 lira. Quite a good deal!

Just outside the village was our first roman ruin. In any European country these would be commercialised for tourism but in Turkey they are mostly overgrown and can be enjoyed in solitude.

The next stage was a lucky error, we were following the track and it steadily meandered higher and higher up the mountain. After about 30 minutes I started questioning it, but it wasn’t clear from the map whether we had gone wrong. It felt likely we had but as the top was in sight we decided to press on. It took about two hours to the top but then we found a small watchtower and surprisingly a water well. It was a beautiful spot for lunch with 365 panoramic view of the surrounding mountains.

Getting back down was easy and we found the route again where it leaves the track on a bend and is very easy to miss. It goes past impressive roman cisterns, large underground walled pools used for water storage. One of them was covered by large carved rock slabs and we debated whether it was a well cover or a very uncomfortable toilet seat.

The next section between Haspinar and Haskiziloren was one of my favourite, a mostly flat road that contours high up the valley side. With incredible views.

We were planning to use a graveyard for water but discovered it did not have anywhere suitable so we carried on and dropped down a steep valley to the river (tributary of Küçükaksu). We followed the river for a couple of minutes and found a nice spot to pitch up at around 6pm. During the wetter seasons I think it would be either flooded or too dangerous to risk it!

The final treat of the day was when I went for a wash in the river and found a tortoise playing under a small waterfall.

We had a late start and left 0945 as wanted a rest to recover from the previous days late finish walk. The route was immediately difficult as the locals appeared to have blocked off the path with trees and garden waste in numerous places. We were not confident going off route as many of the tracks do not appear on the map app so we struggled through until we hit the main road. From the fish farm there is a massive climb up until the route joins the dirt road used by heavy quarry lorries. If you see or hear a lorry coming then its best to walk off the road and upwind, otherwise you get a face full of dust.

After the quarry it was a great walk along a track running beside craggy cliffs and over 3x passes. We passed a few toilets suspended off the edge of the road and that normally had a water trough nearby however nowhere flat to camp.

We camped after the third pass in a beautiful spot after third pass below the peak of Akçal Tepesi and by shepherd huts with two good water sources. It was a wonderful spot for bird watching and I spotted my first European Serin and Krüper’s Nuthatch.

A shepherd arrived on a banged-up motorcycle as we got up at 7am. He started pottering around and hammering the top of the nearest shed so we decided to pack up and find somewhere quieter for breakfast.

We found another fountain further down the hill but just as we started eating another shepherd turned up and started talking to us. After a while he busied himself lighting a fire. After breakfast he gestured at my binoculars and I handed them to him to look through. He was impressed! After a bit of gesturing and both of us talking in our respective languages he got out his wallet and all became clear! He offered 200l but I wasn’t willing to sell. Firstly as the binoculars are important to me for my bird watching endeavours and also pure value, the actual cost in lira would be about 3200!

The next part of the walk was a long stretch to Çandir and past many more quarries as we descended through the valley to the lake. Walking past quarries with explosions going off and lorries rumbling past was one of the low lights of this part of Turkey. However, the marble blocks themselves were very impressive.

The quarries constantly change the landscape and the footpath route changes along with it. We found it to either be overgrown or blown to smithereens so the best way is to route march along the quarry road and get through it as quickly as possible.

There were two markets at Çandir but one looked shut up and other didn’t sell fruit/veg or bread. We bought some supplies and then walked on to the fish farm restaurant, Canlar Alabalik. The lunch was delicious, incredible tasting trout, which was served in a sizzling hot stone bowl with tomatoes and salad, which cost 100lira for both of us! We then spoke to the elderly woman relaxing at a table and bought 1 loaf of bread, 6x tomatoes for 10 lira.

After lunch we continued on to Yazilikaya Tabiat national park and as we approached the entrance were greeted by ‘ARE YOU TWINS!?’ at the front arch, from a friendly black Dutch woman. She chatted with us and then introduced is to another guy who helped with finding out if we could camp there. We could, but only after 7pm. The guidebook makes it sound common and like an established campsite but it is more of a ‘camp late, don’t make a mess and we don’t mind’ situation. Camping and fires are strictly forbidden in the national park and recent wildfires have destroyed the valley so obvious hikers with big rucksacks are given a firm warning.

They also warned us that the following day would be tough, it is a long climb up out of the canyon and on to Sütçüler with little water. Forearmed with this knowledge we woke up at 7am and found the tent was wet for the first time on the holiday.

They way into the national park runs high above the river along the canyon cliff, with occasional bridges crossing over.

The climb up starts almost immediately once you in the park, going straight up through the woods and meandering along the occasional ridge. There is no water from when you leave the valley until well after the top so carrying around 2 litres of water each is essential.

It took us 5 and a half hours to get to the top and bits of the climb involved scrambling over protruding cliffs and the most exciting bit was when the path disappeared into a cave and reappeared slightly higher up the cliff. Fortunately the majority of potentially dangerous parts had ropes to hold on to.

We had lunch at the viewpoint and the top of the canyon.

We descended into a beautiful valley but unfortunately no water to be seen. Water was running very low so we didn’t spend much time enjoying the scenery and pushed on to a spring marked by our parents. We found a shepherd’s secret spot tucked off the road and with a metal mug chained to the trough.

We decided to follow the road into Sütçüler rather than path in morning and arrived around 11am, with an hour to spare until lunch we decided to have a haircut! It cost 70 lira each and with no haircut specific Turkish to communicate with we let the barber crack on.

After the haircut we bought a lot of food from the local supermarkets and bakery. And then started the process of figuring out how to carry it all, as I jammed a loaf of bread into a side pocket a man from one of the local kebab shops spotted us and came over to say hello. He told us a bit about himself and then pointed out his restaurant so we walked over and had traditional doner kebab and a weird fermented vegetable drink called Şalgam (translates as Turnip water). The kebab was delicious, the Şalgam not so much. He was also happy for us to charge our phones.

The river had dried up below Sütçüler so had to walk further up valley and into mountains. The next river was flowing though full of sheep muck, we found a spot where it looked cleaner and camped under a mulberry tree!

Tips for walking the St Paul Trail
  • Fuel – the Decathlon in Antalya has gas, but there is no other reliable shops that will have gas enroute. It is best to plan to cook with fire.
  • Route – You can download a route map here: Routes. To be absolutely sure you have the latest I recommend contacting Ibrahim at Charly’s Pension for the latest route, he does the paint waymarks and is very helpful. The pension is also lovely!
  • Wild camping – generally you are fine to camp anywhere as most of the route is rural.
  • Animals – be wary of wild dogs, especially near large villages. And there are wild boars in some of the forests. The birdwatching is incredible and there are many other unfamiliar animals – tortoises, large lizards and unusual insects.
  • Water – the water varies depending on section of the route and time of year. Later than June and you will probably struggle. The best thing to look out for is shepherds, stone water troughs and covered wells – literally a hole in the ground with planks over the top. If you climb up high there is unlikely to be water.
  • Drinking water – we used the Sawyer micro filter to purify water from rivers and wells. You can use best judgement for water troughs and springs, if it was cold and coming from the ground then we drank it without purifying.
  • Food – a lot of villages have small corner store style markets, though not always fresh fruit and vegetables as these are either personally grown or traded on market days. You can also buy food from locals and restaurants.
  • People – the people in the mountains and villages were always friendly and happy to either talk through gestures or occasional words, most also translated using smartphones or could ring someone who would translate over the phone. They yell ‘çay’ as you walk which essentially is an invitation into the village tea cafe.
  • Money – we withdrew around 4000 lira in Antalya and only spent that, outside of cities it is cash only. Tourist price inflation (I.E increased prices just for tourists) seemed to only be a problem in the cities.
  • Electricity – its wild mountains so there isn’t any. We used a small solar panel and then asked to charge our phones when at a restaurant, çay shop, or invited into someones home.

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