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Yesterday I realised I had been sitting at my  writing desk for too long and having been trying to get out walking every day this week I decided to take my bike out for a bit of an adventure – that may well end up being understatement of the year!

Writing retreat

I left the writing retreat at 9am full of energy and decided to turn right, which I rarely do and soon was freewheeling down a very long hill towards the village of Rabecal this is a very sleepy place which is known for its artisanal cheese production and museum explaining the Roman ruins which litter the area.

Cheese production

I turned left again wondering if I could cheat and find a way back that wasn’t so much up hill. I passed a small bridge and sat balanced by the wall watching crayfish in the water and appreciating the strings of white wild roses that were dangling right down to the water. It began to rain and I turned left again down a track with a strip of wild flower carpet running up the middle. I should have taken note and soon found myself at the entrance of a field. Jumping off my bike I walked through and eventually made it back onto the main road, drat, right at the bottom of the very hill I was planning to avoid. I have to admit to pushing the bike up most of it.

I finally turned right up a very steep hill (I was in the mood by then) towards Germanelo which is an incredibly high peak sporting the ruins of a castle. It was getting warm again and the flies were just beginning to give me some grief. In fact I was near my best friend’s house and decided I didn’t need to follow the track up to Germanelo and would turn left again and take the short cut to her hamlet. I then realised I was going away from her house and in what I thought must be a smart move, took a small disused track off the road and that’s when my problems began.

In a short while I had met scrub land, filled with vicious brambles and small spiky trees, the slope was steep. There was nothing for it but to plough on as I thought I knew in which direction I needed to go – how wrong can you be. I could still see Germanelo but failed to realise I was on the wrong side. I was also in an area I just didn’t know and yes the castle appeared to be in the right place on the horizon, but could I get back there? I was in a bit of a pickle.

the way

Every which was blocked off by thick undergrowth and going back was an impossibility so I kept on going, having to throw my bike over old field walls and dragging it through vicious brambles and narrow spaces between sharp branched trees. Wherever I ended up I could not make any headway and I must admit I began to have that slight sense of panic, having left my phone back at the retreat.

As I literally hacked my way into the valley with bloody determination I finally made it back onto cultivated land and located a path. My troubles, were, alas, not over. Somehow in my desire to yank the bike through every obstacle the front brake had jammed full on and it was impossible to move the front wheel. Therefore from then on I had to lift the bike from the ground and pull it along by the back wheel. Then the bike chain slipped off and no matter what I did I could not get it out from being jammed in the bodywork. Therefore hot, sweating, scratched, bloody, bruised and thirsty I set off up yet another hill.

After three hours, by which time I had been forced to carry the bike on my back I was so knackered I could barely put one foot in front of the other and with a couple of false starts I finally made it to a small village and stumbled into a café which looked like it was a relic from another planet. This was the café at the end of the universe. I slumped down for the first time since 9 that morning and drank a can of full fat coke – oh what bliss, sometimes water will not do I’m afraid, and watched the huge moving sculpture of flies lazily punctuating the gloomy space. I was grateful they had not all descended on my bloody legs which they had been doing all the way.

It was decided I should abandon the bike at the café and the proprietor kindly lifted it into the back yard, where it remains, until such time as I could get some help and feeling 100% better I finally set off, from the opposite direction than originally intended to my friend’s house around another 3kms away. I heard the church clock strike 1.30 as I arrived at her house. Only then did I realise she was actually away for the weekend and somewhat wearily I walked another few kms back to the writing retreat having managed to flag down the bread lady in her van and ate two warm bread rolls walking along feeling like an overworked donkey complete with plastic nosebag.

Germanelo (rgrant_97) Tags: flowers flores primavera portugal walking spring cam centro senderismo coimbra penela caminhadas rabaal germanelo juromelo

I am bruised in about six places, my legs look shredded by a sharp grater and I took to my bed with TS Eliot, totally wasted. So, what did I learn? That the countryside is quite incredible, the wild flowers and butterflies were a constant source of amazement despite the pain! That I have reserves of strength I did not know I possessed and that anything else should appear easy in comparison. Yet, most of all I realise I rarely challenge myself fully on a day to day basis and maybe this is half a life lived. How much more of me could I use I wonder?  I had plenty of time to think on my five hour adventure and I remembered WH Auden’s words which seemed particularly appropriate: ’To mature means to become conscious of necessity. To know what one wants and to be prepared to pay the price for it.’

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