I became interested in rivers when the smoking ban drove me out of my local pub (above) in Devon, and I began to sit in the sun by the little river that flowed past its garden, gazing for hours at the water sliding slowly by. Once I drove to see the lakes at its headwaters, miles up the valley. On another occasion, I visited the rivermouth where it spilled out over a beach into the ocean.
It was just a little meandering river, and I would occasionally wonder why rivers meandered, instead of going straight. A few days ago I had the thought that maybe it was that while rivers are flowing along their paths, they’re also slowly oscillating from side to side. They were pendulums, swinging slowly from side to side, with the weight of their water sliding up one side of the concave river plane, and then back down and up the other side.
Perhaps, I wondered, straight-flowing rivers began to meander when the valley down which they were flowing changed direction, causing them to overshoot the path on one side, and then the other, creating a series of meanders, which would last until the underlying valley changed direction again.
The river Meander is the origin of the word meander. I wondered where that river was, and soon discovered that it had flowed down from central Turkey to the city of Miletus (marked on the map at left) on the coast of the Aegean sea. In the middle of the 6th century BC, Miletus was considered the greatest and wealthiest of Greek cities.
At the same time, I chanced upon an account by someone who had canoed down the entire length of the Meander, until – nearly completely exhausted – he had almost reached the ruins of ancient Miletus:
On my approach to the coast, where the Meander delta meets the Aegean between the resort towns of Didim and Kusadası, I had begun to doubt that I could stay the course. A well-earned break was called for, which explains the short portage I was now making towards Bafa lake, a protected natural park, and to the haven of Kapıkırı, on its eastern edge.
Kapikiri was once the Greek town of Heraclea, and its current residents live among the ruins of the town.
…the casual ways in which ancient Heraclea’s stones have been customised by present-day Kapıkırı – as garden tables and as tether posts for donkeys. Or even as a boot jack: I watched an arthritic elderly man ease off a worn leather heel against a column drum at his front door, finding a functional use for the stone’s fluted corner which its ancient carver probably never anticipated.
The terrain around Kapikiri-Heraclea was quite stunning.
And littered with ruins:
The recovering canoeist stayed at the Agora Pansiyon, whose interior seemed delightfully whimsical:
On my final morning Ozgun, Orhan’s wife, served an epic home-produced breakfast of bread, yoghurt, eggs and a bewildering variety of jams. Heavily ballasted, I returned to the river and continued downstream to another historic highlight – the ancient port of Miletus.
In this manner did I meander down the Meander, and find Lake Bafa, and the town of Kapikiri, and a little restaurant with ashtrays on the tables.