The Tymphaean Symphony

The Tymphaean Symphony

Exploring the Nature of a Greek Mountain

A naturalist's account of the rich flora and wildlife encountered of Tymphi in Zagori, Greece.


Author: Michael David Jones
Publisher: Brambleby Books
Year of Publication: 24, November 2016
Format and Pages: Paperback, 256pp, with map
ISBN: 9781908241498
Retail Price: £9.99
Our Discount Price: £7.99

Sample text from The Tymphaean Symphony

From the summit of Mitsikeli it had been an undemanding meander towards the rising sun and the depths of the Vikos Canyon, before the ascent beyond Kepesovo and Vradeto to where, on rounding a mountain spur, the magnificent sweep of the Tymphaean massif draws the eye northwards. I had travelled that way before, and would do so many times again, into the realm of Zagori, ‘the place beyond the mountain’ as the Slavic name enticingly portrays. Here, the land between the Voidomatis and the Aoös, homeland of the Sarakatsani and Arumani, is a remnant of the natural world where bear, wolf and Imperial Eagle still survive in an environment nurtured and moulded by the millennial-old pastoral practices of a former nomadic people. I had come, in the early summer of 1991 once more to this Greek mountain fastness, to wander its wooded sanctuaries, karstic slopes and frost shattered summits in awe of its floral wonders, to witness again the grandeur of the Lammergeier’s flight, the shimmer of the Swallowtails’ wing and to savour those moments of ancestral fear and exultation which only lone encounters with the wilderness can provide.

A bird which reserves its most brilliant vocal artistry to daybreak could not have been accompanied by a finer dawn, as a golden glow flowed over the Ghiol ridge towards the Blackbird’s forested dominion. Alone amongst the avian chorus his soliloquy rose to command the air in all too brief a rendition. He would have a family to help feed, so proclamation of territorial rights demanded brevity. What his performance lacked in duration was redressed by composition and delivery, for this is the time when every superlative phrase is embellished with an extended coda and there is barely a pause in the stream of inventiveness; a time when timbre is most refined and ethereal gliding tones most indulged. As I lay listening and waiting for the sun’s warmth, his song alone filled my every moment.

As I climbed, the palmate-leaved masses of Geranium macrorrhizum tumbling in cascades over the boulder piles became ever more extravagant, flaunting their roseate, pink, and purple floral acclamation to the morning sun. There are few botanical sights to compare with this exuberant plant. Not to be outshone, however, and as the acclivity steepened, there in close proximity were two of the mountains most spectacular species of thyme, Thymus boissieri, a carpet of pinkish-purple, and Thymus leucospermus, drapped like a chlamys cloak of royal purple as if discarded by Pyrrhus himself.

For that seemingly inhospitable defile was where a bear occupying its over-wintering den would emerge. I did not have to wait long as the power of habituation imposes a predictable timeframe on these events. The mother appeared first, striding purposefully out from the gully followed by a single cub moving uneasily in the snow.

It is a raucous assembly when the shepherds and dogs are in full cry but musical when they are not, for sheep and goats alike are temporarily attired with bells to assist in locating strays. When moving unseen through the stillness of an evening the throng sings an ethereal song, of metallic trills and tremulations from the sheep, to an accompaniment of tinkling brass from the nannies and sonorous tolls from the billies. Soon this ancient voice, which for millennia has filled the night air on its annual journey from the shores of Parga and the Gulf of Arta, will fall silent.

Above me the lovely blue star, Vega, shone brightly alongside Altar and Deneb, its companions in the Summer Triangle, set amidst the myriad stars of Cygnus and Aquila. Beyond lay the magnificent star-clouds of Sagittarius towards the centre of the galaxy and further still the glorious array of bright stars in Scorpius with brilliant red Antares just visible above the Mitsikeli ridge. A little to the east, Saturn hung low above the mountains of Metsova. It was a feeling of profound contentment which accompanied me once more to sleep.


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Reviews and readers' comments

Absorbing account of a Greek mountain's natural history

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.  Trevor Davis,

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