The blog is generally 2,000 words long. Occasionally, for sport, I edit it to exactly that.
There are days when enough has happened by lunchtime to fill those 2,000 words. Today was one such day.
Before we get onto that though we need to visit Xora. Simply – Town (Kythira Chora on the signs).
From our portside residence the hill climbs steeply towards the town, and then becomes a cliff. The height gain is only 200m, but at 5pm with the temperature still topping 30° it was going to be tough.
Tough. But worth it.
The largely Venetian town on the hilltop is a beauty.
It combines the best blue shuttered white buildings that we’ve seen so far with the drama of steep cliffs, a castle, and a dozen little churches built into the hillside, even into the very face of the cliff.
The village had been all but abandoned, but of late chichi holiday homes have emerged from the ruins of traditional cottages. There are more architects on the main street than you’ll find in any English town. The gift shops sell exquisite wares. The little supermarket stocks everything from essentials, through fine wines, whiskeys and even a good range of diving gear. That might not paint a picture of authenticity, but it is certainly beautiful, and what is authentic anyway?*
We put our feet up outside a taverna while our faces slowly drained their high colour from the hot climb. Our one beer left us as tipsy as a shared bottle of wine normally would and The Wanderers giggled their way down the hill.
Back down at the van a trio of important women of about my age berated me for parking in “their” spaces. I used my best Greek to apologise and say I’d be gone in the morning. It was enough to satisfy their need to say their piece.
We reflected that in over two years on the road, and sometimes outrageous parking spots, it was the first time someone has said something.
On our morning stagger Polly and I found this cottage in need of love.
With this view.
Imagine how much that would fetch in Cornwall.
Tripod dog and I had to crawl under a few monster spider webs to get there. Once we had got our eye in we saw these beasts all over.
Driving up the hill was a whole lot easier than walking, but the van was showing 34° and it was going to get hotter.
How many times when it’s like this do I reach for the window buttons only to find that they’re already open?
Our 15 mile drive had two planned stops. The first was Mylopotamos.
A small island’s best sights are generally on the coast, but this little village bucks that trend.
It’s a village of affluent hippies, the types who look stunning in rags, probably because those rags were once riches. There’s a herbalist, a basket weaver, a potter and a vintage clothing store. These are not the shops of your typical Greek spot. It smelled wonderful. The flowers were glorious.
The village name means mill on the river, and in the past 22 water mills worked the stream. Today only one survives. Activity on the water is mainly from the ducks, until the Neraida waterfall.
To get to the falls we followed a ragged footpath that dived through a dense fragrant growth of pomegranates, vines and fig that all but covered the old mill buildings.
The first reward was cooler air.
The second was pure magic (oh god, I apologise if that sounds like clickbait – but it’s true).
The falls cascade over rock smoothed by limestone deposits down ten metres or so to a perfect pool. In the pool no nymphs frolicked, but the incredible electric blue creatures that were between dragonfly and butterfly made damn good stand-ins. The pool was crystal clear and had newts, frogs, micro tadpoles, waterboatmen and more. Mayflies, dragonflies, butterflies, and the nymphs’ stand-ins all flitted about in a scene that on TV would have left you expecting CGI.
The water was cold, the first time I have felt cold in months, and to swim in fresh water felt so good. Under the falls was extremely cold. I wish I could have taken pictures there.
A mile or so towards the coast came our next width challenge.
The Kastro is the largely abandoned old town and castle of the Venetian era (in ten years I bet this will be developed into something expensive and special).
Perhaps the Venetians didn’t have had VW Crafters. Perhaps they considered the Transporter was big enough.
To get between the buildings demanded folding the mirrors. That’s a tough call. You don’t know what’s next. There could be worse. If a gap is hard to drive through then it’ll be a whole lot harder to reverse through, up hill.
We made it.
What I saw of the village looked interesting, but I have to admit my mind was more on keeping ArchieVan safe than it was on the historic remains.
The next heart in mouth moments were soon to follow. The narrow road that switchbacks down to Limnionas must have been designed by a Go-kart racer on acid. It’s often no more than 2.5 metres wide with an unprotected 100m drop to one side and a rough stone wall to the other.
Occasionally I’d glimpse ahead. I knew it would be worth the effort, but this driving is more than the British test ever prepared you for.
At the bottom of a 4km descent is the perfect little bay of Limnionas, the most westerly point of the island.
There are 12 tiny buildings, and a church no bigger than the van, all in the island vernacular. White painted. Of course. Blue doors and windows. Of course. Curved roofed. I could see into one, it had a simple raised bed platform with mattress, a few chairs, a fireplace. These would once have been homes.
One has been rebuilt and has discrete solar panels, a satellite dish, neat rendered walls. It would be a perfect retreat.
Over three days we were mostly alone here. A couple stayed in one of the hovels. Two old boys visited theirs daily. Families came and played on the safe beach. In the distance the Mani, a rugged area I love on the tip of the Peloponnese, came in and out of view according to the haze.
The lack of wildlife is made up for by the incredible volume of the scratching cicadas. By mutual agreement they strike up their chorus at around 7.30am and then go at it hard until dusk.
They’re difficult to see, especially in a natural environment. We were lucky that Minty spotted this fellow trying to blend with a telegraph pole in Kapsali. I know his picture appeared last week, but he fits better here.
The summer solstice usually brings on a melancholy. I love light evenings. I know the darkness is a long way off, but that knowing doesn’t stop the sadness that accompanies its approach.
This year though is such a mess that I was able to enjoy the longest day without the dip.
Our little cove doesn’t have high cliffs, but they’re enough to bring an early sunset. On the 21st we ate our dahl and red cabbage on the porch of one of the hovels as the sun dipped under at 8.30pm. It was the close to one of the most perfect days I can remember.
There are no mosquitos here so we have had the windows open to the stars night after night. Cool breeze. Lapping sea. A million tiny lights in the sky.
Do we have to leave?
Clean up. Thank you.
Our way of thanking our hosts is usually to do a beach clean. It’s easy, satisfying, and does some good.
At Limnionas we took it one stage further. There is a little toilet block, and it had cleaning materials. By the time we’d finished our three day stay it was sparkling clean, and we were pleased with our work.
Greece doesn’t like to rush at things.
Decades after other European countries banned the sale of over the counter antibiotics Greece has announced that it will do the same.
To prevent revolt there’s a three month notice period. You can be sure the Greek mamas will clear every one of the country’s pristine pharmacies of stocks before then.
The ancient capital of the island was built inland at the confluence of two deep craggy gorges. For years Paliohora was unassailable, in part because it was hidden from view of the coast. But in 1537 a Turkish fleet led by the fearsome sounding Barbarossa attached and destroyed the city.
Today you can wind peacefully down a narrow lane, decorated in the island’s summer colour scheme of yellow gorse and purple thyme, to explore the remains. Were someone to set out to build their church on the very edge of a precipice today we’d question their sanity and wonder if money had gone to their head. In Paliohora almost every building has one or more sides built onto the edge of cliffs that plummet 100m to the valley floor.
Everything is open. The worse drops may have a stretch of rusted chicken wire to dissuade children from launching themselves into space, but every footfall is perilous. It’s fascinating, there’s hardly any signage, and all the better for the fact that coming across it feels like a discovery.
It’s a small island. Monday was a long drive taking in the west coast, the old capital and ending on the east, yet we only covered 31 miles. From the resort of Agia Pelagia (more restaurants open than people. Pretty. Empty) there’s a 4km red dirt track to Lagarra Beach and the small lake at the mouth of the capital’s gorge. It was ours. It is ours. We’re still here.
I won’t rest until I have got the van back up the track though. Had it rained this spot would have become home for a considerable time.
After what felt like a holiday week we rolled down to the harbour at Diakofti, bought our tickets, then joined the random assortment of vehicles waiting for the ferry. Although they do this daily there never seems to be a system. Cars are used to push onto the ferry just as trollies are at the supermarket checkout. It all happens in slow motion and it all works in the end.
Kithira is beautiful. Its 40 villages are more pretty than you’ll see in most places. Its beaches are smarter. Apparently it’s as quiet as we experienced for most of the year, but busy with Italians in July and August. It’s not as friendly or as generous as Crete, but the spirit of Crete is special indeed.
Ahead, on the mainland, there are roads big enough for two vehicles. We’ll probably change up to sixth gear for the first time in a week. There’ll be shops. People. It’ll be easier, but we’ll miss our island jewel.
There follows a little thought stream that I’m working with at the moment. Typing it, knowing someone might read it, has helped focus my mind. I’ll be grateful for anyone’s comments.
*Authentic. It’s a term I struggle with. We live in what some consider to be the last authentic Cornish town. But it’s only ‘last’ in that there’s nothing further west of us. Change is constant. A sense of place comes mostly from people, followed by landscape, and then arrangement of the stones that we live in.
We’re born, and that changes the place we’re born into, we move, and by doing so we change the place we move to. We die and that leaves a hole, another change.
When was St Just (or anywhere) authentic?
Was it in the mid 1800s when the Tin Rush was at its height? Back then slave labour forced men down the pits to work in dreadful conditions while their families struggled in disease ridden hovels. Most died very young while just a few grew phenomenally rich.
Was it the earliest time I can remember? That was the 1970s. Then there were farmers working their West Penwith fields with horses. That sounds authentic. It looks wonderful in films, but if I mention it nostalgically to mother she’ll put me right and tell me how hard their lives were then (in Redruth for us).
I considered for a while the church, probably the closest the town has to a constant, it certainly looks ancient. The first church was built there in 1334, but completely rebuilt within 200 years. At some stage the frescos were plastered over, then at a later date they were rediscovered. There was a massive investment in heating. The roof was replaced, and now is being replaced again.
It’s impossible, but let’s imagine that the church remained exactly as it was first built until now. It would still be a completely different place by virtue of its altered standing in society and the utterly different views of its congregation.
In years gone by our slate came from Delabole, our granite from Castle an Dinas. Now the slate comes from Brazil and the granite from Portugal. The deeper you dig, the deeper the answer sinks.
You get the idea. Authentic can only be original.
It is our duty to conserve using the very best materials available, where ‘best’ is a meeting of affordable and environmentally sustainable (another subject for debate).
Conservation depends on change. It’s a difficult concept. The attractiveness of change is subjective.