After 5 months of rambling around the Greek Islands I’m now back in Grey Britain.
I flew back into Manchester on Sunday evening, got back home on Tuesday (5 October) and spent the next 2 days in a surreal, grey world. I started to, unpack and kept interrupting the process, going meandering off on some tangential and similarly inconsequential task. I did some washing, desperately trying to get my brain into gear to remember how the washing machine worked. Once again I stood around in the loo wondering where the bin was for the paper. I couldn’t remember where the crockery was: I found white porcelain side plates in a cupboard and caught myself thinking “those are nice” even though we had them about 5 years ago. Like so much else, looking at them for the first time in 5 months was like a new experience.
Some things I had been looking forward to, particularly seeing the family again and meeting the twins for the first time. Now that was a genuinely new experience. I couldn’t get over how tiny they are.
Then on Friday I went for a walk with Mike. I had been walking virtually every day for the 5 months I was in Greece but this was something altogether different. I struggled to remember what it was like walking in anything but hot, arid conditions. I decided I would have to wear boots but hadn’t appreciated how alien and uncomfortable they would feel in place of sandals. The temperature was reasonably high but very humid so I wore shorts and a T shirt. All the right choices as it turned out. Walking through wet grass and knee high bracken would not have been fun in sandals. More than shorts and T shirt would have been unbearably sticky.
As we were coming from different directions Mike and I had arranged to meet at the telecom masts on the top of the mountain at 10.30. I estimated it would take me 1 hour 20 to get there and so aimed to leave at 09.10. I actually left at 09.35 due in large part to wandering around from distraction to distraction in a befuddled daze trying to remember what to take walking in the UK interspersed with doing odd bits of tidying of the detritus I had deposited when I got home. Being pretty fit after all the walking I had been doing I went roaring off at high speed to try to make up for the late start.
Before I left the street I could see that the mountain was completely covered in thick mist and cloud. Even from the shoulder half way up there was still no sign of the top, just grey cloud.
This section of mountain ha been badly damaged by motor bikes riding illegally on the common and the scarring seems to become worse every time I walk up this way. Disappearing upwards into the thick mist it seemed all the more desolate and sad looking. Reminiscent of the municipal vandalism of bulldozed tracks on some of the islands but without the sunshine.
I reached the first telecom mast at the front edge of the mountain and couldn’t see even half its height. From here the path becomes a broad track, levels off and becomes more deeply rutted by the bikes and 4×4’s biting into the thin peaty soil leaving numerous and extensive linear puddles.
It was not at all like walking in Greece. The warm sunshine, hair-dryer breeze, cypress forests, deeply fissured limestone crags, herb-covered mountainsides, and the sweeping views of the coast and unbelievably blue sea were all missing. But in order to make progress you still put one foot in front of the other. It was nowhere near as pleasant as the walking over the last 5 months but then life is not all a walk in the sun. What would there be to look forward to if life were all summer and sunshine.
No matter how gloomy the prospect, if you stop putting one foot in front of the other you never get anywhere. So I continued to stride out, avoiding the deepest of the puddles and the mud, focusing on the short term prospect, meeting up with Mike and a pub lunch in Newbridge.
I reached the rendezvous at 10.53. I knew the time to be correct because I had set my watch by the GPS which is as accurate as you can get and this particular watch keeps very good time. I knew the place to be correct because there was a telecom mast and a gas pumping station in a compound. Admittedly there was only the bottom part of a telecom mast but the top was presumably still attached and lost in the cloud rather than having been removed. It reminded me of the philosophical debate our English teacher forced us to take part in on the subject ”if there is an explosion in the desert with no-one to hear and nothing to record it, does it make a noise”. It seemed a fatuous debate then and still does now.
Disappointingly but unsurprisingly Mike wasn’t there. We had arranged to be in Newbridge by 12.30 and as he had estimated it to be 2 hours walking from the mast he might well, quite understandably, have set off. This was confirmed by a guy coming out of the compound who said he had seen someone answering the description leaving about 10 minutes earlier.
I followed on down the track, still unable to see more than a few yards ahead. I walked as briskly as my be-booted feet would tolerate. Now I was out of the long grass, brambles and bracken, sandals would have been far more comfortable but then you’ve got to prepare for the whole journey not just bits of it. I decided to try to use my mobile phone to make contact so I stopped to dig it out of the depths of the rucksack, turned it on only to get an answerphone message which led me to conclude that I had an old number nolonger in use. On one of the few occasions I try to use new technology it failed me.
After about 15 minutes of gradually losing height the mist cleared slightly and I could see a lone figure half a mile or so ahead. With a following wind I cupped my hands and shouted with loud drawn out syllables alpine style “Maaaaaaaiiiiiiiike”. I thought the figure paused but then the mist closed in again. But it was Mike, and he had heard my bellowing and stopped to wait. A triumph for traditional ways of communication. He had shouted back but the wind took his words the other way. There was probably some guy in Crumlin wondering who was shouting him.
It turned out that Mike had left the rendezvous at 10.54 on his Blackberry which, when we checked, was showing the same time within a minute as my watch so he must have left a matter of seconds before I arrived. I guess we had been only 10’s of yards apart at that point but because of the mist we couldn’t see each other.
It’s now 18.00on Sunday and I have been back in the UK exactly a week. Despite repeated forecasts of fine, sunny weather and temperatures 20o plus the grey weather continued for several days and then this afternoon it cleared to give a fine autumn day of warm sunshine. Maybe rambling around here might not be too bad after all. Now and again.