Symi, Kardamyli and Cricieth: a short tale of literary connections.

One of the pleasures of travelling is meeting people.  One of pleasures of returning to familiar places is renewing friendships.

A conversation with a friend in a taverna on Symi in 2010 sparked my interest in the author Bruce Chatwin.  I had been very impressed by the powerful film ‘On the Black Hill’ based on his book of the same name, not least because it captured all the moods from spring sunshine to grey winter wetness of the dramatic Black Mountains north of Abergavenny which I know from walking and paragliding.  I subsequently read the very tightly written ‘Utz’ but then nothing else by Chatwin.

The spark of inspiration for my extended ramblings around Greece in the first part of summer 2012 came from reading ‘Mani’ by Patrick Leigh (Paddy)Fermor.  I found the writing style heavy going but his description of the ‘desolate’ limestone Taygetos mountains and feud-tower villages of the Mani peninsula in the south of the Peloponnese fired my imagination. It sounded like my kind of country.  I built the entire 1500 kilometre trip, mainly by bus, around that as my main destination and I stayed a month.

Paddy Fermor, hero of the WW2 campaign in Crete, walked across the spine of the Taygetos from inland Sparti to Kardamyli on the west coast.  I arrived on a KTEL bus from Patras via Kalamata.  It was everything I expected.  I walked many miles into the mountains up the Viros Gorge and on well signed, if sometimes overgrown, footpaths to small villages, getting to know the area inland of Kardamyli fairly well before moving south to Areopoli and then Gerolimenas, ever deeper into the Deep Mani.

One walk led me down to the beach at Kalamitsi just to the south of Kardamyli where, drying off in the sun after a very enjoyable swim, a cut-glass English accent brayed loudly to anyone within half a mile: “that’s Leigh Fermor’s house”.   Apparently he lived there until a few days before his death in June 2011 at the age of 96 when he expressed the wish to die in England.

Looking towards Kalamitsi beach

A few days later I was making my way up the dry, rocky bed of the Viros Gorge in search of a path to the tiny, decaying monastery of Likaki when I stopped to chat with a guy walking down the gorge.


The crumbling Likaki church in the Viros Gorge

I’m not sure how the subject cropped up but he told me that Bruce Chatwin’s ashes were buried at a small church in the mountains above the gorge.  When I expressed interest he fished out a small guide book which had a photo of the church, though he didn’t know where it was.  It was one I had visited and photographed the day before.

The Byzantine Church outside which Bruce Chatwin’s ashes are buried

I wondered vaguely if the two authors had known each other but gave it no real attention.

They were good writers, good people, on the writing course I went on at Cricieth in the Llyn Peninsula a few days after returning from Greece at the beginning of October.  We  got on very well, so much so that we all agreed to keep in touch and created a blog to facilitate that and put work-in-progress forward for peer comment.

One piece put forward a few days ago was about famous writers who have swum across the Hellespont between Europe and Asia.  It’s a work not yet completed but it closed a few loops for me.  Two of the authors who undertook the swim, though not at the same time, were Paddy Fermor and Bruce Chatwin.  The draft also indicates that the two were good friends, a fact obviously widely known but new to me, so I checked it out on the internet.  It seems that when Chatwin visited Kardamyli he stayed with Paddy Fermor and they walked together extensively in the Taygetos.  When Chatwin died in 1989 aged 48 his ashes were flown to Greece for burial in the grounds of the tiny byzantine church near Exohori above Kardamyli. Paddy Fermor was there.

Some internet reading for more information:

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