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Saturday, 4 June 2016

"Worth waiting for"

As I set out

I set out on a sunny morning to visit the road above Liapades – a village on the gentle side of Corfu’s western cliffs, a kilometre off the Corfu-Paleokastritsa road.
Riding and then wheeling my bicycle, I’d found the secret road before. I’d picnicked in a vineyard from where I saw a blue V of sea where the steep coast breaks into Paleokastritsa – the only harbour on the west coast of the island. In the car, she driving of course, I tried to guide Lin there. Stumped, after struggling to negotiate a succession of steep alleys out of the top of the village, we argued for an hour.
“There’s no such road. What a waste of time!”
This time I cycled from Ano Korakiana to where one of the five roads from our village leads west to the busy route between Corfu town and Sidari in the north. Until the lights that restrict traffic to single file through Skripero. Trucks and coaches scared me as they always do, despite years of cycling. One mistake, a wobble in the back draft, I’m a crushed beetle. Mark asked me in the bar why I don’t wear a helmet.
“You think it’d make a difference?”
A kilometre beyond Skipero I turned left onto a small road, escaping the rush of the traffic. The road wound through woods and meadows levelling towards Dukades, its rooftops seeming to nestle under the cliff that hangs over Liapades Bay.

In lowest gear I peddle up to and through the square where people – villagers and visitors – are sitting happily over drinks, shaded by vines. I continue down again to the Paleo Road, a short ride to its junction with the Ropa Valley road which climbs past a disused taverna proclaiming itself “always open” – probable casualty of the unending 'loop of doom'; downhill again for half a kilometre to a side road that leads to Liapades.

I peddle up to the plaka’d platea, across it  into a narrow exit heading steeply upwards. I dismount and push. The village slips behind. I see Ano Korakiana in the distance, through olive trees.

Now I’m on the narrow metalled road I was seeking. This time I follow it further, until it levels among olive groves and vineyards with fleeting views towards high Angelokastro and the roof of the monastery of Paleokastritsa...

...A file of two-stick ramblers comes by, descending. I cycle on a kilometre or so to a breeze block apothiki where the metal road stops and the route divides into three.
Hm? I select the track that leads down hill curving inland. It's hotter, hardly a cloud in the sky. The path becomes unrideable. I walk. This walk-pedal combination suits me, as though I were travelling with a horse. Down the track goes; yet circling, without obvious direction, between hollyoak, broom and oak – land that seems without obvious ownership; forestry. Now and then it levels and is smooth enough to cycle but then it rises again becomes more rubbled before sloping down again. I wonder where this is going, but hope for a useful destination. I stop to sip water.
After an hour the path has been going up, still winding. Without views I’m losing my direction. I’m sure I’m about to join another path or road that will get me downhill. Instead I come to one final slope before the track ends at a levelled space....
Dead-end with a view

...affording magnificent views across the island to the mainland between Parga in the south and the tail of Albania to the north.

I’m in the company of two big diggers, recently used, sweating oil and diesel. They’ve carved out a flat space between boulders tugged out of the red ground.
“So! Having colonised the coast, the property business is driving into the interior, preparing foundations for two ‘desirable’ retreats with lengthy drives”

For all the view, I’m angered by a path that’s led me to a building site. Another sip of water in the heat. I’m walking back the way I came. I see a small side track I’d passed on the way up. Ah-ha! It leads steeply down to a small building sprouting pipes – a pumping station. I can see the Ropa Valley road over the trees below. Clusters of Meadow Brown butterflies rise as I wade through high grass and wild flowers. I’m surrounded by bird song, pigeons cooing, muting the sound of distant traffic on the road I’m trying to reach.

I rest the bike and prospect. Here's another apparent cul-de-sac - a pile of bull-dozed stones...

...but just beyond it is an abandoned olive grove, but I still can find no downward path. I think I’ll try the end of the grove. I retrieve my bike; wheel it through the grass, heave it over a low dry stone wall...

...walking further into the grove. Surely there’ll be a way out at the end of this. The ground is flat, covered in twigs and crisped olive leaves. The boundaries are impermeable – banks, dry stone walls and thick undergrowth.
But for the heat and the olives this reminds me of explorations in the Highlands, hemmed in at times by near impenetrable forestry tracts. I retrace, wheeling back up the steep and overgrown side track. Another kilometre’s walking. I see another road – green and shaded, looking as if made longer ago...

Parking the bike, I scout this for half a kilometre. It leads straight down through overhanging trees and shrubs with no compromising curves and rises. Surely this way will get me to the valley floor. Back to my bike and I’m free-wheeling swiftly beyond the point explored; steadily down, sun sparks flashing through the passing greenery. At last I’m heading somewhere. But – oh-oh - around a slight bend and I arrive at another olive grove quite surrounded by forested banks;...

...a secret space, choice location for a coven; no way out except the way I came. Do people cherish such places; choose them for their isolation?
Finishing my bottle of water I begin to relish the idea of a very cold beer – recalling the well-known scene from Ice Cold in Alex, when John Mill’s, runs his finger down the condensation on the outside of a fluted tumbler of just-poured beer, looks at it for a second, drinks it in one and declares to his three companions, “Worth waiting for”.
I trudge back up the green lane to the rogue track I shouldn’t have chosen. The remaining two I'll explore another day. No more diversions now. I open the ginger beer I’d reserved. Loosening the cap I lose a third of the sweet drink in released bubbles. Back, after three hours wander, at the point where the road divided I cycle smoothly back to Liapades; chastened. It had been like one of my dreams of being inescapably enmeshed in obstacles to my intended destination. I didn’t stop on the way for that beer, but headed down the Sidari road, fast down hill. At Doctor’s Bridge I turned north again for a gentle two kilometre pedal up to the Ano Korakiana turn, and another two to home, parking the bike and strolling down to Piatsa.
‘Mia Megali, please, Stamati” Mark joined me.
 “Lovely ride!” I said “I’ve been exploring the woods above Liapades”

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Simon Baddeley