Part XIII: Through the pistachio trees

Hiking the Israel Trail: The trek around Zichron Ya'acov to the Crocodile River makes for good family fun.

This section of the Israel Trail makes an ideal early-summer walk. Suitable for families, its variety of scenes and settings will also reward serious hikers. It divides comfortably into four very different parts: the steady climb though the Horshan Nature Reserve, the much tamer, privately-owned Ramat Hanadiv Nature Reserve, a challenging descent of the Carmel Snout and a finish at Beit Hanania, with a level walk along the well-preserved Roman aqueduct that once provided a constant supply of fresh water to Caesarea. It is worthwhile making this walk into a long day hike. Though only 14 km. long, you will appreciate the extra hours to make side trips to the Ramat Hanadiv Rothschild Mausoleum, whose gardens, one travel writer noted, "surpass any I have seen in Paris." Just note that they close at 3:45 p.m. You will also enjoy exploring the recently uncovered Hirbet Alik - a Herodian fortress and Roman-style bath. Going further west brings another surprise - Mansour el Akeb - a Byzantine farmhouse built over ruins from the Second Temple period. Both are within the Ramat Hanadiv Nature Reserve. And do spare some time to walk a kilometer up and down the Beit Hanania section of the Roman aqueduct - its changing colors with the setting sun create a perfect ending to the day. Join the trail on the southeast side of the traffic-lighted junction of Route #70, and the unclassified roads leading to Meir Shfeya and Zichron Ya'acov (bus #836 from Tel Aviv). The route skirts the south side of the main road for the first kilometer, and passes covered expanses of juicy loquats. A sharp turn to the south, and it's uphill right into the Mount Horshan area, which has been protected as a nature reserve from the time of the British Mandate. The climb is arduous in places, but there are plenty of level stretches where you can get your breath back. It flattens out and becomes more shaded after some two kilometers, with carpets of daisies - the first I saw on the entire Israel Trail. There are a couple of unmarked forks in the path - if in doubt, follow the overhead pylons. The few, rather outsize, cattle around don't seem to show much interest. THE TRAIL opens out onto the summit plateau of Mount Horshan - an ideal short picnic stop. You are in a grassy expanse, with oak and pistachio trees. Take time to absorb and enjoy your surroundings. You will see the very old quarries for local building stone, which harmonize, rather than clash with, the forest to the east. The southern expanse extends down to the coastal plain, all the way to the three chimneys of Israel's largest power station at Hadera. With its powerful red-colored lights that are visible at night over most of the coastal stretch between Tel Aviv and Haifa, it has been officially named Orot Rabin, or "Rabin's Lights," in memory of the assassinated Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. The red-roofed homes of Zichron Ya'acov and a forested backdrop complete the rest of the circle to the west and north. And the overhead pylons bestriding the plateau have the presence and dignity of galleons in full sail. Unfortunately, the occasional rusting vehicles are insufficiently decayed to acquire the dignity of sculpture. The path makes its way along a stretch of minor road, some farmland, and eventually crosses Route #652 (just outside Zichron Ya'acov). Passing around the Ort School, the uphill path takes you into the private (free entry) nature reserve, which honors the region's great benefactors: Hanadiv Hayadua (literally, "the well-known donor" - who preferred to remain anonymous during his life), French-born Baron Edmund de Rothschild (1845-1934). It was his philanthropy which made the development of the pre-state Zichron Ya'acov possible. A lily pond ushers you inside, and you are soon standing at the foot of an archeological treasure: Hirbet Alik, a recently uncovered Herodian fortress and Roman-style bath. The latter was supplied with water from the Ein Tzur aqueduct, right above. One of the most complete to be discovered in this country, it is the only aqueduct from the first century BCE where water continues to flow as in the past. The bathhouse complex is a relatively small building for the use of a few bathers, with its hot water pool heated by the passing of heated air between the partly exposed hypocausts (small pillars) under the floor. THE LANDSCAPE becomes more formal as the trail markers guide you past eucalyptus trees, benches and waste paper baskets, right up to the ornate iron gateway bearing the red shield (rot schild in German) of the Rothschilds. It is topped with "industry," "harmony" and "integrity" wrought in Latin. You are by now about two and a half hours into the walk. Stop and visit the gardens. The five parallel strips (signifying the five branches of the Rothschild clan, and also the Baron's five visits to the Holy Land) lead up a grand staircase to the shades of carob and palm trees. Those with a nose for local vegetation will appreciate the aptly named Fragrance Garden. Nearby is the circular fountain, complete with signs in Braille. Further on is the Rose Garden, sporting the specially developed Edmond de Rothschild species of rose. Follow the tunnel to the graves of the Baron and his wife, whose remains were interred in this burial crypt in 1954. A 25-minute walk along a well-marked and well-maintained path will bring you to Mansour el Akeb. Discovered in 1873, it includes an agricultural compound belonging to a Jewish family from the first century CE. Storerooms, stables, two water cisterns and a winepress were added during the Byzantine period. There is evidence that squatters turned its ruins into homes of sorts during the medieval period. The trail soon passes through an iron gate and you are on the southernmost tip of the Carmel Range - the Carmel Snout. Keep left, with views of Binyamina straight in front. There are potentially lethal, steep drops to the right, down to the coastal plain. Tell those with weak nerves to keep away, and not to look in that direction. Progress is slow, as though the Carmel Mountains want to hold onto you. The surface is weathered limestone, with deepened breaks between the joints of the rock. Watch each step carefully, so that you get to the bottom with your ankles intact. Never tackle this section in wet and windy conditions, and under no circumstances attempt it in the dark. Give an hour from the iron gate to your first steps on the coastal plain at the bottom. Watch for the trains as you cross the railway, and then look behind you. The Carmel Snout looks like a range of cliffs. Geological evidence shows they are just that, for the Mediterranean covered the coastal plain when the sea-level was a little higher. Wave action undercut the Carmel range, forming the cliffs of the Carmel Snout. Downhill mass movement of the weathered material has covered the lower parts of the cliffs. Within the surroundings of vineyards and forests of pistachio and jujube, the path meanders to the Taninim (Crocodile) River. The path markers actually direct you to cross the river over a pipeline. I didn't. Not because of the crocodiles - they were wiped out over a century ago - but because the railway bridge ahead seemed a drier, if less direct, way to go. Your walk reaches the terminus as you get to Route #4 at Beit Hanania, with its bus stops for Route #921 to Tel Aviv and Haifa. However, it's worth adding on a round trip of a kilometer or so to explore the outstandingly preserved arched Roman aqueducts ahead of you, designed by the engineers of Hadrian's Tenth Legion, who served in Palestine in the years 132-135 CE, around the period of the Second Jewish Revolt. Part 16 of the Israel Trail series.