The inexplicable mystique of Delphi

 

With the successful survey under our belts on Sunday, the catamaran we planned to buy in Athens, Greece, we decided to take a little break.

On the way to Delphi

We headed for the ancient archeological site of Delphi, the Greek religious sanctuary sacred to the God Apollo (the god of light, knowledge and harmony), on Mt. Parnassus near the Gulf of Corinth.

How many miles had this poor man walked to paint the lines on the road?

 

My memories of Greek myths and legends was that this is was home to the mysterious oracle of Apollo which was famed throughout the Greek world for giving cryptic predictions to city-states and individuals about important decisions on battles, political situations etc. I was looking forward to seeing the place that I had heard so much about as a school student.

Once we had got out of the Athens traffic, we had a beautiful drive through a deep and fertile valley (the Kopais Plain) where to our surprise the main crop appeared to be cotton. We later learnt that Greece is the EU’s main cotton grower accounting for more than an incredible 80 per cent of total European production.

We saw many, many, small fields growing cotton
There was loads of fluffy cotton balls at the roadside

We stopped for lunch in Aliartos , a small farming community, opposite a cave with what turned out to be a Medieval tower perched above it. At the back of the cave  we could see the start of a “secret” passage which looked like it connected to the tower – maybe an escape route if the tower was attacked?

The outside of the cave with the tower above
We couldn’t find out much about this cave but we could definitely see signs of a passage to the tower above
Taken from inside the cave

 

Mount Parnassus here we come

Soon after lunch we started to climb up the southern slopes of Mount Parnassus,  and before too long reached Delphi.

Climbing up the slopes of Mount Parnassus
A common site in Greece – sheep at the side of the road
Reaching Delphi

The views were incredible!

Such an amazing view

To reach Delphi Camping where we hoped to stay, we had to drive on a road with the most hair-raising hairpin bends but the spine tingling trip was so worth it.

An incredible reward after all those hair raising hairpin bends

 

We arrived in the early evening and there was good news and bad news. The good news that it was open. The bad news was that it was closing for the Winter the very next day.

Such a wonderful spot to camp
Sadly it was a bit late for a swim

Such a shame as it was a fantastic campsite with the most incredible views over a deep valley densely covered with hundreds of age-old olive trees and onwards to the sparking waters of the Gulf of Corinth.

There were hundreds if not thousands of olive trees as far as the eye could see the in the valley below

The owners of the site were fantastically hospitable and after we had checked in presented us with a small sample tray of olives, tapenade, olive oil – all products from their own trees – and small nuggets of delicious cornbread

This was such a nice touch and very welcome after the drive up the mountain
 

They were so delicious that of course I had to go and buy several bottles of olives, a huge can of beautiful olive oil and some bottles of tapenade too.

So many tempting goodies (as long as you like olives) in the campsite shop
 

We really felt that we were in paradise in this beautiful spot. It was very high up so the air was sweet and clear, even the gentlest breeze generated a beautiful swooshing noise as the cypress tree branches moved above us.

The beautiful pine trees made a lovely swooshing noise – sounded a bit like the ocean

 

Heavenly breeze in the branches above

After a peaceful sleep we woke reasonably early to make the most of the day. We wanted to walk right round the ancient site of Delphi as well as spend a decent amount of time at the museum. Then of course there was lunch to fit in.

View from the road as we drove to the Delphi archeological site

 
We were looking for a place to park in the village of Delphi and was flagged down by a middle aged man who asked if he could help. We explained we needed a carpark for our plus-size vehicle but had found the most likely spot said “no camper vans” at the entrance. “No problem, “ he said “You can go back there, it’s OK. I’m the mayor of Delphi so it’s OK”!


So we parked up and walked through the village of Delphi towards the ancient site but first, following the example of our good friends on S/V Yantara, stopped for “an early lunch” at a very pleasant taverna with wonderful views.

Such a wonderful view from the taverna


After a typical Greek meal of a beautiful salad with great lumps of feta and juicy olives on top, moussaka, chicken souvlakia and a sticky and very sweet dessert, we walked the couple of kilometres to the ancient site of Delphi.

The Delphi site was on a steep hillside


For the next few hours we climbed higher and higher, marvelling at the Temple of Apollo and other temples such as the one dedicated to Athena and around 20 treasuries which were constructed to house the votive offerings and dedications from city-states all over Greece. 

The Temple of Apollo
A replica omphalus which marked the centre of the universe
More temples and the remains of some of the treasuries in the background
Incredibly many tablets inscribed in Ancient Greek still survive and have been transcribed to give a wealth of information on the history, religion and social life of the people of Delphi
This serpentine column once held a pure gold tripod dedicated to Apollo following the Greek victory over the Persians in 479 BC
Doric columns from a large stoa – a votive of King Attalus


There was also a spectacular amphitheatre (capable of seating an audience of 5,000) and at the very top of the steep site, a sporting stadium that could seat 6,500 spectators.

The magnificent amphitheatre
Looking down on the amphitheatre below
Another shot of the amphitheatre from up high
The athletics stadium


This stadium was where every four years, starting in 586 BC, athletes from all over the Greek world competed in the Pythian Games, one of the four Panhellenic Games, precursors of the Modern Olympics. 

Visiting Delphi was an awe inspiring experience

We were absolutely enthralled by Delphi but more than that, we both felt that it had an inexplicable mystique, something awe inspiring and profound.

No wonder the Ancient Greeks considered Delphi as the centre of the universe

No wonder the ancient Greeksconsidered Delphi to be the centre of the world. We could definitely feel the strange and compelling charm that would lead people to believe that.

What a miraculous find. This silver bull was cast in the 6th Century BC

The nearby museum was excellently laid out with many fascinating displays. One of the exhibits that really affected me was a stunning statue of a bull forged from three silver sheets connected by bands of silver-plated copper. This was made in the 6th Century BC.

So full of life and strength

The statue was so life-like and captured the amazing strength and movement of a real bull.

The discovery of the statue of Antinoos
Emperor Hadrian’s “beloved companion” who died tragically

I was also fascinated by the statue of Antinoos who was Emperor Hadrian’s “beloved companion”.  We had learnt about him when we had visited Hadrian’s Wall on the way to Scotland so it was interesting to see an image of this “youth of extraordinary beauty”.

Another treasure was a statue of a charioteer – cast in bronze in 470 BC and erected in honour of the winner of the chariot race at the Pythian Games held in Delphi.

The sculpture would have originally consisted of a chariot and horses but when the piece was rediscovered in excavations in 1896, only the driver and a few fragments survived. How aristocratic and noble he looks!

The bronze cast in 470 BC and erected in honour of the winner of the chariot race at the Pythian Games
This is how the original statue would have looked
A model of Delphi when it was all intact
A copy of the original omphalus which marked the centre of the universe

 

The views from Delphi across the the coastal plain to the south and the valley of Phocis were sensational and as we walked back to the van we were lucky enough to see this amazing vista in the last of the sunlight, the magnificent mountain slopes were bathed in marvellous reds and oranges. Such a glorious sight.

Because the camping site was closed we had no choice but to free camp but we found the perfect spot just a few minutes away with the same commanding views. 

 

Highland hospitality

From Loch Ness we drove to the small but picturesque village of Garve, situated on the River Blackwater – a perfect spot for exploring the Scottish Highlands.

We arrive in Garve

We were very fortunate to be invited to park our van in the grounds of the beautiful home (a converted and beautifully modernised croft) of friends John and Vera. Very generous on their part as we had only met John for the first time reasonably recently when he was visiting brother Bruce in Brisbane and hadn’t – until our visit to Garve – ever met Vera. Despite this, we received genuine Highland hospitality and thoroughly enjoyed a lovely home cooked meal on our arrival.

We were made to feel very welcome

The hospitality continued the following day when John drove us and acted as tour guide on a spectacular road trip around some of the “must sees” of the Highlands.

On the road for our Highland tour

Our route to Applecross and back

Our lunch destination was on the Applecross Peninsula an extremely isolated spot that was only accessible by boat until the early 20th century.

A beautiful view with Loch Maree in the distance

Fortunately for us the settlement of Shore Street, lying on the small Applecross Bay, is now accessible via a winding coast road that would have been a nightmare for us in the camper van so we were very grateful to be chauffeured in a very comfortable car by someone familiar with the tricky terrain!

Our first stop en route was to take in the fabulously dramatic view of Loch Maree – surely one of the most scenically attractive areas of Scotland. Queen Victoria thought so anyway, and after her visit in 1877 (and remarked in her diary “hardly anyone ever comes here”) flocks of people followed in her footsteps.

Queen Victoria was quite rightly most impressed by this vista

At each turn there were even more amazing vistas, including of Liathach (meaning ‘The grey one’) a mountain of 3,461 feet (1,055 m) which when seen from the roadside below appears to rise up in a series of near vertical rocky terraces.

We saw so many stunning views

Liathach, when seen from the roadside below appears to rise up in a series of near vertical rocky terraces.

Loch Torridon

The Torridon hills

On our way to Applecross

The head of Loch Carron

The small hamlet of Arinna on the Applecross Peninsula

After all that dramatic scenery we had worked up an appetite and were more than ready for lunch at the legendary Applecross Inn.

The Applecross Inn (stock footage)

Plenty of choice for lunch at the Applecross Inn

Visitors beware!

If we were happy to have left the campervan back at our hosts’ house on the way to Applecross we were thrilled and relieved not to be negotiating the notoriously treacherous Bealach na Ba (Pass of the Cattle), which crosses the peninsula and reaches the height of 626 metres (2,054 feet).

The notoriously treacherous Bealach na Ba (Pass of the Cattle)

Treacherous yes but fabulous views!

High up in the clouds!

Such dramatic views

Thank goodness we weren’t driving the campervan!

Down the other side

On the other side of the spectacular pass we drove through the gorgeous village of Plockton which because of its spectacular setting and traditional Highland atmosphere has been featured in numerous TV series and films, most famously in the TV police drama Hamish MacBeth.

Gorgeous Plockton (not my own photo I’m afraid!)

Loch Kishorn

We stopped at another sweet little village called Duirinish where we saw a small herd of shaggy, hairy and very endearing Highland cattle grazing on luscious green grass on public land (with no fences!) in the middle of the village. A frenzy of photo taking later we were were on our way back to Garve for an excellent barbecue.

The shaggy, hairy and very endearing Highland cattle of Duirinish

The following day our tour continued with a visit to Strathpeffer – a spa town (the sulphurous springs were discovered in the 1770s) developed in early Victorian times but only reaching the height of its popularity after 1885 when the railway arrived (it is said after pressure was excerted by Queen Victoria). A junction on the main line to Kyle of Lochalsh near Dingwall was built which spurred on development and Strathpeffer reached its height as a spa in the years immediately before World War One.

The gracious Coul House Hotel in Strathpeffer

Beautiful interiors

…and glorious gardens

The Highland Hotel was built on a grand scale in 1896 and still retains many of its original features

There are many grand Victorian houses in Strathpeffer

The Strathpeffer line is now closed but the station has been restored beautifully and now houses a small museum and a very nice cafe where we had a delicious coffee and cake.

The station at Strathpeffer has been beautifully restored

Paddington Bear has visited

There is now a very nice cafe at the old Strathpeffer station

In the afternoon we went for a lovely walk around the Silverbridge circuit which is very close to where we were staying.

The Silverbridge circuit is a wonderful walk
Through very pretty woodland…

…..by a glorious foaming river with peaty pools and gushing rapids

The circuit took us through very pretty woodland bordered by a glorious foaming river with peaty pools and gushing rapids and across two old stone bridges.

The Garve Bridge

The Garve bridge was built in 1767 supervised by Major William Caulfeild of the British Army who was inspector of roads for Scotland. Apparently this was built to allow government troops to move around the Highlands after the Battle of Culloden.

The Silver Bridge

The Silver Bridge was a little younger – built in the early 19th Century to provide drovers and others heading south with their goods, an easier route to travel south.

We managed to get ourselves gloriously lost on our way back “home” but the countryside was so lovely and the air so sweet that we were very content to keep walking until we found our way back again.

We eventually found the right path

Home again!

Our highland adventure was completed with a visit to the village of Ullapool for dinner at the Arch Inn. This lovely little port on Loch Broom has a population of around 1,500 but despite its small size it is the largest settlement for many miles around, and an important port and tourist destination.

The light fading on the way to Ullapool

The port of Ullapool

Ullapool village

Sun setting as we arrive for dinner

We were so grateful to our hosts for showing us around this beautiful and fascinating part of the world.