It was Rosh Chodesh Shvat. Spring was in the air as we hiked the trail from Highway 38 to Beit Guvrin. It was a warm, sunny day as our group hit the trail, and a beautiful way to usher in the new month.
The hike started out across lush green fields of the Judean Plain, then we ascended, steadily climbing up through forest. From the summit, Tel Azekah, we could see Beit Shemesh to the east and the Mediterranean coastline to the west. Tel Azekeh was a large town and was often referred to in the Tanach. This is where the Amorite kings were defeated by Joshua, their army decimated in a hailstorm. And, as told in the Book of Samuel, this is where the story of David and Goliath took place. During the time of the Babylonians, it was one of the last places to fall before the destruction of Jerusalem. And when the people returned from captivity, it was one of the first places to be reoccupied by the Jews. There is not much to see archaeologically as the Tel Azekeh dig was filled in to preserve the site. Findings included a fortress and water systems.
Our hike then followed a road and then a dirt path. The sun was warm and spring flowers were in bloom, including crimson kalaniot and violet cyclamen. The walking was gentle and the blazes easy to follow. We saw other ruins, including the remains of what looked like a Roman town complete with remnants of a mosaic floor and a beautiful intact arch. There were many caves in the area that were once hideouts during the Bar Kochba revolt.
Our path (ideal for biking) took us through Brittania Park, which comprises 10,000 acres of the pastoral Judean Plain. We then descended towards Highway 38 and through cow pastures with some very cranky, rambunctious bulls. Luckily no one was wearing a red cape.
The hike continued to the west of Highway 38 and ended on a road passing Beit Guvrin. The total for our day was 20 kms with a 560 m elevation gain. Our walking time, including lunch and a few quick breaks, was six hours.
This beautiful area, with its many bike paths, trails, archaeological sites and caves would be perfect for a return visit, during a time when we would not have to focus solely on following the blazes.