In 1954 B. R. Forsyth, from Australia , travelled alone to the Holy Mountain. Athos made an immense impression on him. He often spoke of ” his time at Athos,” but never met another person who also visited the peninsula. This is how he describes entering Athos:
I took a 3 hour bus trip to a spot from where we had to walk to the small port of Dafni (probably Tripiti – HV) . I had the good fortune to meet a group from the American college in Thessaloniki who were spending Easter at Mt Athos and invited me to join them.
The walk to the boat was rigorous- my feet were sore, my body felt worn out, my shoes needed repair, yet my companions made the going fast to reach the small craft that was to take us to our first monastery.
My interpretation of this fragment is that he took the bus from Thessaloniki to Tripiti which takes 3 hours, this is the place where nowadays the boat to Ammouliani starts. Then he walked a pretty long hike to Ouranoupolis because I suspect there was not much traffic on the road (if there was a proper one yet?) because the first car in Ouranoupolis was to be seen in 1959. From the not that long ago (1922) erected town of Ouranoupolis the took then a small boat to Dafni.
The first day was a great experience. Prior to walking and visiting 3 of the monasteries I asked one monk for the use of a small hammer to do a repair on my shoes. He would not assist as it reminded him of Christ being nailed to the cross. One of the Greek boys came to my assistance and the shoe was repaired.
B.R. Forsyth visited, in his own recollection, 6 or 7 monasteries probably only on the westside of the peninsula. We know almost for sure that he went to Gregoriou and Dionysiou as the photo above suggests. He went to the Russian monastery of Panteleimonos to celebrate the Easter services and to Xeropotamou where he was photographed in front of the entrance. It is clear that he also went to Karyes , the place where you get your Diamonitirion (passport).
The next big surprise we got was that the monks were fasting for Easter and there was no food. The Greek boys arranged for us to get bread, olives and wine. Then we went into a 3 hour service in this dark church in separate prayer enclaves. I tried to keep awake and respond to the priests in a similar manner to my colleagues who were accustomed to the ritual.
The photo shows he visted Xeropotamou. In every monastery they were friendly: The monks gave us a warm welcome on arrival and we were invited into their lounge area and offered coffee and a sweet, or snaps with a sweet.
In the Russian monastery of Panteleimonos he experienced the Easter rituals:
The service that night was a great experience. The Russian church was dimly lit by candle light. Around the walls those of us in the service sat. The service consisted of ancient chants said to date back to the early Christian church. There are 2 tables- one man is singing at each table and a third priest is walking between the tables reading to us. At the point of the resurrection there is great jubilation. As we leave the darken church we are all supplied with lighted candles. We circle the church twice and the giant bells started to ring. The noise was intense and dramatic- this was a monastic community. The priests were ringing every bell available and other priests were banging on special boards to build up the excitement of the occasion. The giant bells ceased for a brief time- then they rang 3 times. This was our indication to enter the church again. The church was transformed- every giant chandelier was alight: the monks had set them swaying. All this candle light, it was an amazing scene. We had been in so many darken churches as we traveled between the monasteries and now we were in brilliant light and it was all candles.
The whole account of B.R Forsyth you will find here, Old-School Backpacking