The Path to Port Gaverne

Bergamot and Verbena. Verbena and Bergamot. I ponder their names as I brush hair from my face, inhaling the fragrance of orange citrus and herbal lemon on my hand as I do so. The unusual scent of the soap distracts me momentarily from the slight climb as we set off on the path to Port Gaverne.

Anesto, our German Shepherd, lurches forward, his lead half strangling him, quivering with excitement as I close the house gate behind us. He knows our race to the sea has now begun! Today our challenge is under thirty minutes so we hurry up to the screeching metal gate, jog across the barley field and arrive at the broken wooden gate ahead. I heave Anesto over it to the lower field, keeping him on a lead as we take up a sprint on the well trodden path to the brow of the hill beyond.

Within minutes we reach it and pause for breath. Poised there at the top of the valley, I turn my face slightly to avoid the sting of the off-shore wind as Anesto looks on inquisitively, his nose twitching and ears upright. From a distance the beautiful Atlantic sends her salty breeze up to greet us. Bergamot and Verbena are now forgotten as we begin our rapid descent to the woods below.

Rasping dog and whipping wind combine with my puffs as we plunge the steep field to the cover of the trees ahead. A deer leaps out from the bushes to my left and startled, bounds away behind us. On down the muddy forged steps we go, towards the beginnings of a stream below. No time to stop for water, we jump its narrow width and I urge Anesto with an “Up!” as he clambers the high granite steps ahead, pulling me with his lead our race now gathers pace.

Beyond the steps the blossoming woodland opens up before us and a hard, smooth, mud path invites us in. Pad, pad, pad goes Anesto; pant, pant, pant goes his owner. Fifteen minutes in now and the path begins to twist beside the widening stream.

We plod the woodland floor at a steady pace listening to the sounds all around us. A squawk from above, a rustle from nearby, but the stream remains silent as it meanders on to the sea. We reach the stone stile and climb over it one after the other. Now we must cross the stream again but here it begins to speak to us in a gently gushing tone.

Anesto slurps at the water as I pause and eye the best route across. Three half submerged stones have been laid out for us but I know I’ll still have to be quick to avoid wet feet. One, two, three I bounce, and call “Up!” again to Anesto as he pulls me up the other side, then off we go again together racing along the high embankment to the next stile.

A scratch to the face from a bramble, a sting to the ankle from a nettle, the woods are playing with us as the stream dances on below. We emerge into a clearing and come to a stop with a sudden jolt. Directly in our path stands an enormous black bull. My thudding heart increases its beat as I carefully wind in Anesto's lead. The ferocious looking bull glares at us from the centre of the field and Anesto begins to whimper, cowering behind me. It's Stalemate.

Frustrating minutes pass as I remain routed to the spot while behind me Anesto twists silent and impatient. The bull remains stationary as if daring me to cross his field. I'm in no mood for defeat today so hold his gaze while gingerly stepping into the clearing. Suddenly an unexpectedly loud “Woof!” escapes from Anesto and the Stalemate is broken. Bored with this game the bull nonchalantly strolls away.

After that good luck we make a mad dash across the field, leap the mossy style and canter on through more woodland. Lost time can be made up when you know the route as well as we do. We shoot past the campsite to our right, hammer our way through a thicket up ahead, “Hup, hup, hup” I laughingly shout, almost breathless as Anesto drags me on towards the sea.

Only twenty-eight minutes have passed as we hurtle around the final bend. Delighted, I swat away the last drooping hemlocks from the path and we emerge into the back of Port Gaverne. White fishing cottages shine brightly in the sunlight as we slow our pace down to an exhausted saunter. It seems this quiet little port is taking its afternoon nap. The stream has followed us all the way. It now slips along silently, bidding us goodbye as it disappears under the narrow road, emerging the other side on the rocky beach where it flows down to join the sea.

Jane Coster

 

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