A trip to the National Park with my family seemed like an idyllic way to spend an afternoon. The fresh smell of the pine forests after rain, the earthy soil trudged down by centuries of animals and walkers. What better way to spend an afternoon. Although still convalescing from a mystery illness, which had some rather unpleasant side effects, I decided it was time to leave the central heated nest, otherwise known as our Italian home.
My 6 year old niece tucked in her toy Alsation in the back of the car and we headed out at speed to the National Park, my father was trying to negotiate the manual hire car, not something any of us are adept at doing, as we all have automatics. We trundled at snails pace out of the town, briefly stalling on a crossing and ignoring the oncoming traffic at the roundabout. However on arrival at the National Park, my father, seeing the clear open roads that bisected the 1200 Hectare forest, decided to step up the speed. The engine, clearly terrifying the local wildlife allowed us a woodland safari of sorts. The gear crunching and engine revving brought on wild eyed looking deer and flushed out wild boar from beneath their hiding places in the undergrowth. My niece after the initial excitement, of real life animals , turned her attention back to learning Italian on the iPod and the sound of Ben and Holly squeaking their way through another scintillating adventure filled the car. I was harbouring a deep seated loathing for Nanny Plum when we came to a clearing in the woods. Dad, realising that in fact he was not on a racing track slowed down and we pulled into park by a log cabin. Across the way, a wholesome looking couple in their fifties disgorged the last of the contents from their Thermos flask and hung their walking boots from trees to dry them. Earthy looking people who I imagined smelt of sea air and ivy. I was starting to feel my temperature rising and the pains of the mystery illness were in full force. Dad glanced around the car, looking hopeful, with the inevitable undertone of defeat,as he asked who was coming walking? My niece was not leaving the comfort of the car or Nanny Plum and the Alsation was looking equally cosy, the woods looked inviting enough. I surrendered, “Sure,” I murmured, Mum of course was staying with my niece and Ben and Holly whilst I was promised a ten minute walk to the headland to try and see the sea. Ten minutes, that was all, ok I wasn’t feeling fantastic, but ten minutes would be ok. Dad was wearing strange slip on shoes, I noticed this as he chatted, walking at break neck speed up various tracks, whilst I tried to remember which turns we had made along the way.
“Amazing, I wonder if they have any cats of any sort here, lynx or such like?”
No Dad, I don’t think there are any big cats.
“What about wolves or bears?”
I was beginning to think the woodland safari so far, had been rather paltry in terms of wildlife, when compared to the predators that could be lurking in the woods. He crashed on, telling me to pick up the pace as the Park closed at 4 p.m . “We need to be heading back in ten minutes.” He stated this three times, as the slip on shoes got further and further down the track. Then suddenly, as I was casting my eye around for a non existent W.C and ignoring abdominal pains, we caught a whiff of the sea. Frankly, I had given up hope of finding it.
The woods cleared and we found ourselves on a cliff summit, the sound of turquoise waves crashing vehemently against the rocks beneath. Huge Homeric looking rocks, jutted out from the depths of the Mediterranean and the wind whistled past our faces. I stooped to look at the sea in all of its unpredictable glory as it echoed in the stalactite ridden caves beneath. “Take a photo,” I shouted above the sound of the sea.
Dad was now perched seated on a rock. I did the same almost immediately. We are both dreadful sufferers of vertigo and despite the expansive view, we both felt the need to evade the clutches of the horror of “Looking down.”
We settled for seated photographs. After a few minutes, the slip on shoes were off, like a greyhound out of the traps, they left a trail of dust behind them. We were very late and the sun had slipped behind the highest part of the pine forest and the trees sinews were strained against the half light. “Dad, Dad,”- the slip on shoes were going too fast as my Dad took the path to the right. “Wrong way,” I muttered, but the shoes had gone right and he was making his way towards a different clearing. “There’s your mother, dear” he declared with such certainty that I thought he must have found a shortcut. I couldn’t see the grey Renault anywhere, just gorse thickets and wild fauna. ” Just down there.” We were now a good mile from the right track. I told my father to stay put whilst I jogged down towards what I knew to be gorse bushes and what he decided was in fact a great Renault. I could hear them, the slip on shoes were trying to keep up. “Had my father seen nothing of survival documentaries?”
Jesus, one of you can exert yourself whilst the other one rests, but not to be outdone the slip on shoes were running over the rocky paths as we headed for a car that didn’t exist.
The mobile phone comes out, he phones mother. “We’re lost,” he proclaims in the sort of tone that meant he expected mother to be able to solve the situation. Somehow despite being a car with a 6 year old, she was now meant to be a professional tracker with a sideline in Mountain Rescue. I cast my eyes around the pine forest, by the time we made the right track, it would be dark. The woods seemed to close in and there was a sense of standing in a woodland kaleidoscope, the trees in the evening light seemed to lengthen and my perspective was warped. Then I saw it, through the trees was a road, it looked like the main road through the reserve, although there were in fact three different ones. “But there is no road through the woods.” Kiplings ominous poem kept resurfacing as we made our way towards the road. I asked twice for the mobile phone, but my father clung to it, claiming the battery was fading. “Get Mum’s GPS coordinates.” The slip on shoes slid on. He eventually pulled out the phone and used the compass app, “South” thats the way he proclaimed, finger in the air with all the confidence of Captain Mannering. He fumbled for the tattered reserve map, after twenty minutes. I asked him to call Mum and tell her to beep the horn….nothing. At this point I picked up 2 flints and a very large stick, whilst my eyes searched the forest floor for wild boar, who were particularly aggressive when they had young.
After some time, he turned around, “North will lead us to the the exit, eventually, could be an hour and halfs walk.” I had lost all confidence after the compass was produced and had started to eye a large pile of dried sticks and leaves. If we lit a fire in the natural reserve, someone would come to arrest us. Phone call 4 “Well if Aitch and I have to sleep out we’ll be ok.” Higher ground, we need to get to higher ground, I thought as we stumbled along the path. The silence was broken by the squeak of his shoe. “We’ll sleep in the is ditch here.” Holy Mother of God, what , what part of survival had my Dad missed as a Queen’s Scout? He had often proudly told us of his scouting abilities and here he was telling us to sleep at the bottom of a mountain in a ditch, amongst wild animals. The stick weighed heavy in my hand and the trees moved. We were being watched. The first wild horse appeared, followed by a second, third and the rest of a very bedraggled looking herd. ” If they charge us, stand your ground.” Another gem from my father’s survival guide. I remembered my sister saying, pretend you are rearing up, put your hands above your head.” She had clearly never been charged in the British countryside by three burly Suffolk punches. I was beginning to think the slip on shoes were going to hinder the ascent to higher and safer ground and quite frankly if he wanted to sleep in a polluted mosquito ridden ditch he was welcome to it. We had been gone for hours, no sign of the car, I was about to start the ascent and build a fire, when at the next bend the Renault could be seen. My niece, tired of Ben and Holly and high on penny sweets, was waving frantically from the den she had made on the back seat. Dad took my arm, as if we were limping from a post Apocalyptic world and we staggered towards the car.