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Missing on Mt Athos Link to us

wildflower

Wildflower on the track.

For my second day on Mt Athos I have planned a journey which follows the coast North past Xenofontos and Docheiariou monasteries, and then inland to Konstamonitou monastery, where I will stay the night.

From my map, the track to Xenofontos monastery is around 5 kilometers with another kilometer to Docheiariou, and then the inland hike of 6 km. The track is easily followed, cobblestoned in parts, well worn earth in others.

I am alone (except for the butterflies) and not hurried. I maintain an easy walking pace and stop to admire the scenery and other sights on the way.

I pass through olive groves, some recently pruned. There are a few lonely huts near the path and I imagine that they are the abode of solitary monks.

Check out this book . . .
From the Holy Mountain: A Journey Among...

I reach Xenofontos monastery. It is big and undergoing extensive renovations. Over a thousand years old, this monastery has an extensive library and archives. As a coastal monastery, Xenofontos took the brunt of pirate and Turkish raids in the middle of the last millennium. But it has survived, with most of its treasures intact.

I move on to Docheiariou and take a well maintained path inland. The path climbs up into the hills. I hear noise ahead after about two kilometers and there are two workers, cutting and grubbing out any bushes that encroach onto the path. We nod, but we have no shared language.

Track into the hills on Mt Athos

An ancient path into the hills of Mt Athos.

Another kilometer, and then suddenly the track disappears. I forge on through low waist high shrubs and find another path, but after a while this also peters out into bush. I look again at my map which shows a track but there is really nothing for it but to go back - I don't want to get lost in this place. Eventually I arrive back at the track workers and I produce my map and show them where I want to go. They indicate that there is no track this way.

A change of plan then. I'll walk further up the coast to where the map shows a road inland to Zografou monastery and stay there the night. It is a hard 10 kilometer slog in the sun. I think about the pilgrims of the past and respect their courage to undertake the long journeys to places unknown. My water is running out and I am grateful to see the high windowed walls of the monastery ahead.

There is no-one around except for the Bulgarian worker who discovers that I am "just a tourist". He shows me to a room and I rejoin him later in the courtyard to enjoy the late sun.

An old white haired and bearded monk sits on a balcony above us. He is humming a chant. The young Bulgarian looks up and smiles. I can see his enormous respect for the life that is led here.

I don't think I will ever forget the images of the early morning service that I attend the next day. The light from the flickering candles catching on the white beards of the small group of monks. And then this light being slowly replaced by the beams of the rising sun slanting in through windows high up in the roof. It was like a Rembrandt painting. You could stay here for a hundred years and still be enthralled with the sight.

Last day on Mt Athos

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