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C ountry lane followed country lane. We were way off the beaten track - not that northern Jordan really has a beaten track. Almost everybody who visits this so- called desert land heads south to Petra or Wadi Rum. We were determined to take the road less travelled, and so headed north into the forests of Ajloun, driving along ever- narrower byways to reach our rendezvous point at the edge of Rasoun village. There we were greeted with irrepressible enthusiasm by Mahmoud Hawawreh, our guide for a day's walk on the Al- Ayoun trail. This is Jordan's first ever co- operative run tourism venture: three neighbouring villages in the Al- Ayoun district ( which comprises fertile hill- country: ' ayoun' is the Arabic word for ' springs') have got together to establish a 12 kilometre trail, the point being to welcome visitors to a part of Jordan that has, up to now, been overlooked. Any number of paths wind through the hills hereabouts, but this one deliberately passes through all three villages, bringing walkers and local people into contact for, it is hoped, mutual benefit. A short haul up the slope and through Rasoun village brought us to the Soap House, a community project run by Jordan's Royal Society for the Conservation of Nature ( RSCN), where local women are employed to hand- make lusciously fragrant olive oil soap, all from natural ingredients, for distribution around Jordan. As we were served hot, sweet tea, manager Rima Hamzat explained that the income from the project is enabling the young women of the village to go to university for the first time. From here the path took us down into the valley of the River Orjan, lush with fig, carob, pomegranate and cherry trees. As we wandered, Mahmoud related a string of local folk tales, telling us the story of village sweethearts who eloped together to a certain cave, and pointing out which farmers' hives produce the best honey. A former schoolteacher, his English was excellent and he was great company, providing just the right mix of guidance and companionship. Lunch was in the next village, Orjan, where Issa Dweikat - scion 14 The highlights of a trip to Jordan usually include: the iconic Petra, a pilgrimage to Mount Nebo, the crusader castles of Kerak, the Roman city of Jerash and maybe some time by the shores of the Dead Sea. However, this is not all that Jordan has to offer. Matthew Teller, author of the Rough Guide to Jordan, ventures to the less explored north of the country to walk the Al- Ayoun trail. AL- AYOUN THE Trail by MATTHEW TELLER Black Iris, Ajloun Nature Reserve

of a prominent local family - welcomed us to his home. We sat cross- legged on floor cushions as a magnificent spread of salads, dips, pastry nibbles and bowls of roast chicken appeared, all accompanied by flat taboon bread, freshly baked in a clay oven. The warmth and hospitality shown to us by Issa and his family was humbling. After our long, sociable lunch we returned to the path, gaining views into Wadi Al- Yabis - which points the way to the great Jordan Valley - before swishing through meadows knee- high in wildflowers to reach the final village, Baoun. Here, we were welcomed by Sheikh Muhammad, imam of the local mosque, who served us tea in his sitting room and told us the story of Aisha Al- Baouniya, a 16th- century poet from Baoun who rose to become one of Islam's greatest female Sufi mystics. The final stretch of the path zigzagged out of Baoun, picking up a shepherd track for the puff- inducing climb to Tell Mar Elyas (' St Elijah's Hill') - from where, according to the Old Testament, Elijah was raised to heaven in a chariot of fire. We drew breath on the summit amid the ruins of a 6th- century mosaic- floored church, surrounded by panoramic sunset views that were, well, Biblical in both scope and grandeur. That night we slept in a Scandinavian- style wooden cabin - complete with duvets, comfy sofas and ensuite bathroom - amid the oak and olive groves of the Ajloun Forest nature reserve. Birdsong woke us and we stood gazing out over a rolling landscape reminiscent of Mediterranean Europe. Who said Jordan is a desert land? Matthew Teller is the author of the Rough Guide to Jordan ( roughguides. com). The latest edition ( 4th) is due for publication in September. 15 WEBplus Find out about two more walking tours in Jordan on our website. www. audley. co. uk/ traveller/ summer2009 Jordan offers a number of opportunities to stretch the legs whilst exploring. We have designed walking tours in both Amman and Madaba, as an alternative way to see these cities, whilst in the Dana Nature Reserve, a number of hikes are available. We'd suggest taking a guide on the trail from Dana village down Wadi Feynan to the Feynan Ecolodge. A six night trip to Jordan in shoulder season, staying at reasonable accommodation and incorporating time at Petra as well as a day on the Al Ayoun trail would cost from £ 1,400 per person. A longer eleven- night trip in high season, taking in the whole country in depth, staying in good quality accommodation and including the Al- Ayoun trail and the hike from Dana to Feynan would cost from £ 3,150 per person. For more information, please contact our Jordan specialists on 01993 838 415. FACTfile www. audleytravel. com/ jordan Goats on the Al- Ayoun trail