Written by Carole French
An ingenious collection of hiking trails has been organised by the RSCN in and around Ajlun. The trails not only give you a valuable insight into the town and its lush landscape, but also the lifestyle and activities of the local population. You have to pay – anything between JD8 and JD30 – but the money you spend on taking a tour or following a trail helps towards the upkeep of the Ajlun Forest Reserve and provides a sustainable means of income for the local people.
The trails vary in length and ability. The Roe Deer Trail (included in the JD8 entry fee for the Ajloun Forest Reserve) takes just half an hour or so and follows a short circular trail from the campsite, past an old stone press and the area of the reserve where the deer live; the 8km Rockrose Trail (JD14) is longer, taking three to four hours to complete. You need a certain level of ability for this trail; the first half is all uphill with some steep scrambles, but reassuringly the second half is downhill and much easier. It is guided and takes you through woodlands, orchards and farms. You’ll see tiny hamlets and also presses in a building that was used in Byzantine and Roman times for winemaking and pressing olives.
The Prophet’s Trail (JD16) is a much longer excursion. You’ll need to allow at least five hours to complete this trail. It leaves from the forest reserve visitors’ centre and takes a route to one of Jordan’s oldest churches, the Mar Elias, which was discovered in 1999. This pretty church is said to lie on the spot identified as Tishbe in the Hebrew Bible, the hometown of the Prophet Elijah after whom it is named. It stands atop a hill and has some colourful mosaics believed to date from the Byzantine period when it was built, and a tiny chapel discovered a few years after the church, which evidence suggests probably pre-dates it. The trail continues through meadows and orchards, and includes a picnic near the ruins.
The Orjan Village Trail (JD22) andthe Ajlun Castle Trail (JD27) are the longest trails and follow a course across country to Orjan and into the centre of Ajlun to spend time at its 12th-century Qal’at ar-Rabad castle.
The newest trails are The Houses Trail (JD26) and the Soap House Trail (JD14). A moderate level of fitness is required for these trails as they cover some fairly hilly terrain. The Houses Trail includes visits to The Soap House and The Biscuit House in Orjan and the House of Calligraphy in Rasun; the Soap House Trail just visits The Soap House. You can see local women making soap using natural ingredients, local homemade Tasali Jordanian biscuits and savouries, and learn some basic Arabic and how to write script.
Other than the Roe Deer Trail, which you can join on arrival at the Ajloun Forest Reserve visitors’ centre, all the trails need to be booked in advance and the leaving time from the centre checked at time of booking (Tel: 02 647 5673). The longer trails include lunch and a transfer back to the visitors’ centre. Most are guided, although you have the option to wander freely yourself without a guide on the Roe Deer Trail and the Soap House Trail. The longest trail to Ajlun Castle is assisted part of the way by donkey.