A naturalist’s account of an eight-day walk across the massif of Tymphi in Zagori, a remote mountainous enclave in north-western Greece. Bounded by the great forested defiles of the Vikos and the Aoos, the region has a wonderfully rich and diverse flora and remains the realm of the bear, lynx and wolf. Based on numerous visits during twenty years, the author’s intimate knowledge of the mountains and their flowers and wildlife is woven into a history from pre-glacial times, encompassing the lives of Palaeolithic hunters of 13,000 years ago, the third millennium activities of the Molossian Greeks, and the subsequent pastoral influences of the nomadic Sarakatsani and transhumant Arumani people. The account is truly an evocation of the genius of place, as told by a ‘man of the mountains’.
Although I'm no longer free to travel abroad and even less able to climb mountains, this book was recommended by a friend, as a good read for an armchair naturalist and how right they were. I've rarely been so effectively transported into the wild by descriptive prose and although unfamiliar with much of the flora and wildlife described really felt as though I was there with the author. There is a lyrical tone to much of the writing which doesn't detract in any way from the accuracy and insight of species descriptions; indeed it often enhances the accounts greatly. Some of the accounts of birdsong are truly very beautiful and deeply moving, encounters with butterflies reveal idiosyncratic behaviours, and the descriptions of flowers suggest the eye of an artist. In short much of this writing is a joy to read.
Also to any naturalist fortunate enough to visit Zagoria this book would, without doubt, be indispensable as the author clearly has a remarkable knowledge of the flora and fauna and sets it within the historical context of the region.
For myself, I found that this book is best taken slowly. The fact that this resulted in its taking a long time to read was no problem; indeed, it was one of those books that one wishes would never end. To be able to spend a few minutes experiencing vicariously that exciting landscape, flora and fauna, was as therapeutic as it was engrossing. Having read it from beginning to end, I shall now do a lot of dipping into it via the excellent looking index, probably with the aid of the internet to find illustrations of the plants and birds the author found and so beautifully described. The book's range is impressive, taking in geology, prehistory and more recent history all in an equally well-informed manner.
The author is that now rare phenomenon, a knowledgeable person who communicates knowledge, and in the process, enthusiasm, quietly and thus effectively. The writing is dense, shunning the meretricious and the superficial, but will appeal to anybody with, or desiring to gain, a deep love of natural history.
After a decade working as a museum-geologist and university tutor Michael David Jones spent twenty-five years organising and leading natural history expeditions, introducing others to the floristic and wildlife wonders of some of the world's wild places of which the 'lost' mountains of North-west Greece is but one of many. From the arctic to the Sahara and the Cantabrians to the Himalayas, those explorations nurtured a personal affinity with the natural environment seeded during formative years in the English countryside and mountains of Wales. Childhood quests for Emperor moths and Merlin on the Stiperstones and Long Mynd, and for the saxifrages of Snowdonia were the prelude to searches for Musk Oxen and Snowy Owl in the tundra, Houbara and Bibron's Agama in the Sahara and rare rhododendrons and primulas in the Garhwal Himalaya. The author now divides his time between Wales, the east Aegean islands, and Lycian Turkey, the subject of further writings.