During my Sports Journalism course, there was a module on how to write feature articles. Part of that involved descriptive writing and so our tutor Nigel gave us an hour to write about our best or worst holiday memory. I’ve cleaned it up and added a couple of paragraphs (as an hours writing felt a little rushed in parts) but overall it’s amongst the pieces of writing I look back at with the most pride. I hope you like it.
For most people, it was the day from hell. It had just gone midday and the temperature had risen to well above 40 degrees. There wasn’t a cloud in sight and the ever-relenting sun was beating down with ferocity and might.
Rocks were on either side of me. The terrain was almost impossible to navigate, and whereas there had been shade earlier, now there was none. My sister’s shoes, which in her words “had climbed Vesuvius”, had been rendered obsolete by the day’s activities and yet, we weren’t even halfway back to civilisation.
The day had begun with a pre-dawn wake, we had watched the sun rise while on a coach and it would end with a drink at a seaside café. What lay in between, however, was something most normal holidaymakers would avoid.
We weren’t going to see a historical landmark; we weren’t even going to check out a town. No. Instead, we were about to embark on a 16 km hike through a gorge. In August. On the Greek Island of Crete.
To call us insane would have been a compliment.
It had all been my Mum’s idea. She had wanted to experience a hike through the Greek countryside, and had come across the Samaria Gorge. So, despite protests from both my sister and I, here we were – a non-adventurous family breaking the mould and exploring other ways to spend our time.
I fully expected to hate it.
I wasn’t someone who enjoyed walking. Don’t get me wrong, now I do it every day. But back then, I was young and thought anything that could be done with as little effort as possible was certainly the right option.
I’m not someone who enjoys heat. In fact, I despise it. I run inside if it’s too hot in Britain and if I can’t do that then I always seek the shade. Even in Greece, where the heat is more bearable, I didn’t enjoy it. Any pictures we have from that holiday show me lying in the shade. I always come back from abroad looking the same shade as I went, because I just don’t enjoy being in the sun.
Yet, against all odds, when on that rocky terrain, with all shade gone and the sun starting to penetrate my factor-30 sun-cream, I began to realise how much I was enjoying myself.
I was laughing, bounding from rock to rock, taking it in, breathing the clean foreign countryside air and feeling oh so alive.
The scenery was varied, yet always spectacular. On one section of the gorge you walk through a lush green forest, on the next you are tiny specks against the huge backdrop of mountains. One part is easy to walk on, the next is unbelievably hard, and the next becomes easy again.
The thing that struck me was how much the hike kept my brain active. On most long walks, you find yourself drifting towards the classic worries and, I find, you end up hating your activity. The Samaria Gorge walk took away all my worries, and focussed my mind on the beauty, the terror and the sheer magnificence of the place.
For, the Gorge was both scary and beautiful. There are, from memory, little handrails to guide you, and so the bits where you are at the top of the mountains that later surround you, become quite treacherous. But then, when you reach the bottom, and look up at the monuments of nature that surround you, it feels as if you are looking up towards Zeus himself.
And the colour! For a country so barren in August, so bereft of the usual green we are used to, the colours seemed improbably spectacular. They were the same, green, blue and grey (lots and lots of grey rocks) but highlighted by the sun, magnified by the surroundings and amplified by our breaths being taken away, all at once.
Truth is, I didn’t want the hike to end. The next day, as I sat by the pool (in the shade!) at our self-catering apartment, I wished I could be back at the gorge. I love reading, yet it just wasn’t interesting me that day. I love playing in the pool, yet I couldn’t wrestle up the enthusiasm.
The gorge may have sapped my energy but it had rejuvenated my determination and, yes, you could say, left me a changed man.
Climbing Vesuvius, seeing the Giza Pyramids or visiting Pompeii are more traditional touristy destinations but none had the impact on me that the Gorge did.