Above and beyond

I entered a mountain writing competition last month run by the John Muir Trust.  The theme was ‘The day a mountain changed my life’ so my entry was probably a bit low key, but what can I say, that’s my style. (Actually, it’s a rewrite of a post I did a while back on hiking in Snowdonia, but from a more inward-looking perspective.)

It must have been 6am when I unzipped the tent, or thereabouts, judging by the grey light that draped across the mountainside. The two bodies that were crammed in next to me lay motionless, matted hair sprouting from the tops of sleeping bags.

I slipped on my boots and staggered out into the cool air. Whether it was the noggins of whisky from the night before or the rolling view that made my head swim, I couldn’t be sure and I headed for a nearby rock to steady myself.

As I gathered my wits, I became aware of the shrill calls of sheep bouncing about the horseshoe curve that enclosed our camp. I spied their white shapes, shuffling across the farthest reaches of the slopes, as though they were all trying to outdo each other in their quest for the next tuft of grass.

My gaze travelled further down the valley towards a golden light that had only just broken across a neighbouring peak. From there, I turned my attention to the sky and watched how the clouds mingled together; reforming and reshaping as if the day was still busy sorting itself out.

After a few minutes, it occurred to me that not a single thought had passed through my head about where I was and what I was doing. In this environment, there was no need to figure things out or analyse the situation as I was so used to doing in my day-to-day life. It was enough to just observe and be in the moment.

But more than that, everything that was happening before me seem to make perfect sense. This was life in its most fundamental state; the shifting forces of nature, adapting, renewing, destroying and replenishing in one continuous, majestic display.

Just then, a muffled groaning broke my trance as the camp began to stir. Rich poked his head out of the tent and we exchanged mumbled greetings, but I didn’t feel able to convey what I had just experienced, at least, not in words.

I looked about the ridgeline, knowing we would soon be up there as we made our way to the top of Snowdon and beyond. The thought left me with a sense of trepidation and awe as I anticipated how many other breathtaking scenes we were likely to encounter on our expedition. Then, with a growing light, our day began.

All roots lead upwards – part one

Following a satisfyingly high-speed train journey from Lake Como to Florence, we begun the second part of our holiday in Italy. The first had involved the baptism of my 8 month old daughter and all the preparation, organising (and socialising!) had left us in need of a break. What better place to do it than in Tuscany!

Taking a local train out of Florence we arrived at the rural outpost of Sant’ Allero where the owner of our accommodation picked us up.  A five-minute drive brought us to Agriturismo Petrognano, a converted farmhouse in the hills of Tuscany where we were to stay for the next four nights. The place was idyllic and incredibly peaceful, not least because, being out of season, we were the only guests on site. 100 hectares to ourselves not to mention a swimming pool…

The first day we spent exploring the area’s fields and olive groves, which threw up the occasional surprise such as wild roe and an extremely aggressive cockerel (!) Then we treated ourselves to a four course dinner cooked by the host, Christiano, with cold meats, a pasta dish and meat platter followed strawberries and Chantilly cream.

The next day was the main event; a visit to the city of Florence. We took the train in and set about exploring the streets. The cathedral was the principal sight as we left the station and was probably one of the most impressive buildings in the city. But with queues around the block to see inside, this was no way to spend a day and with my mums original 1960’s map as our guide, we roamed the elegant streets.

Not long afterwards, however, we fell victim to a powerful thunderstorm, which had everyone, tourists and Firenzians alike, running for the coffee shops. A large ice-cream later and a barrage of street-sellers trying to flog us cheap umbrellas, we headed for a series of steps that rose up to Piazza De Michelangelo. It turned out that not only did this bring us to an unprecedented view of Florence, but also to a great area full of restaurants and local shops virtually devoid of tourists (all too busy walking over the nearby Pontevecchio).

On top of that, the sun came out, making the climb and the view all the more worthwhile.